Aimee The Great: Mental Health Awareness - Breaking the Stigma

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Mental Health Awareness - Breaking the Stigma

During the autumn of 2007 I was residing in Montana, this is where I met Linda. She explained that she moved away from her husband because his depression had pushed her and pushed her and put her in danger. I know it was naive of me, but for some reason I didn't understand what depression really meant until I heard this woman talking about her husband. She said being in a family with someone who suffers with depression was like a show dog. Her theory was how show dogs are well trained at not showing any weakness. While most people treat there dogs beatifully, my friend said other dogs were starved and beaten and felt threatened by their owners, but they preformed empiably. She said this was what her life was like, her husband was so scared to ask for help. So instead of counseling, medication, and/or therapy, her husband's depression had created a huge wedge in their marriage, worse his inaction to receive help had pushed their teenager to a breaking point. She decided she would have to leave to keep her child safe.

The more I visited and talked with Linda, I realized that what she had been describing was my whole life, the never knowing who you were going to deal with that day, the screaming, the throwing things, the trying to make everything perfect. I was all-too familiar with her story, as it had been my own.

My father suffers from severe depression. I had never understood what the problem was before that moment in this lady's kitchen. I had heard my mother say the words, but they didn't mean anything. "Depression" in my mind just equated to "sad". I didn't understand the severity of depression, how it slowly pulls you away from the sunlight into complete darkness and suffocates you.

As a child I only understood that my dad didn't seem to really do anything except sleep and play on the computer. Often my father would sleep on the couch all day. I didn't understand why he didn't work like my friend's dads. Because of his "naps", I was given the assignment of watching my little brother every afternoon and after dinner, during Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy and Star Trek: The Next Generation. I resented watching my brother and resented my father for making me do "all the work", and as most people who project their problems, I had a few issues with Jean Luc Picard, why would he make me suffer like this, watching a two year old isn't any fun when all you want to do is "explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations and to boldy go where no one has gone before".

Once in a while my father would turn into SUPER DAD™. SUPER DAD™ took care of everything. And everything was perfect, in its place and exact. SUPER DAD™ checked homework, 5s not up to snuff, then I was to write 5 over and over again on a legal pad until it was perfect. Handwriting sloppy, don't worry, you can practice cursive until your hand cramps. Summer vacation? Not for daughter of SUPER DAD™, instead let's make sure you NEVER forget math skills again by doing long division, high denominators fractions to add and subtract and tons of multiplication tables. I am not trying to complain, merely explain what life was like for me. SUPER DAD™ didn't last, he would eventually drop the cape and climb back onto the sofa for a long awaited nap. It's hard being super. Sleeping dad was better than perfectionist dad, and much better than screaming-throwing things dad. Or runaway dad.

Sometimes the housework, or the arguing about dinner, or whatever, would make my father drive away. Just leave us for no reason. The last time I remember him walking out was a few days shy of Valentine's day 2006. I can't remember if we were arguing, or if there had been any warning, but he said he didn't need all of this mess and packed his bag and left. Usually I would sense his itching feet and hide his car keys and wait for my mom to come home and calm him down, but I wasn't fast enough and he left. My mother came home from work and asked where he'd gone. All I could do was shrug. There was no real answer. We didn't hear from him for almost a week. He just came home, like nothing happened. He had missed my brother's birthday and tried to give us money, a lot of money, as an apology. I told him I didn't want his money. But I didn't tell him that what I really wanted was for him not to leave and give up on us. I didn't realize it was the depression driving him away, creating problems that weren't there, blowing things out of proportion.

Linda had driven over 2,000 miles to share with me that a person with depression is broken, but can receive help by being open about sharing their struggle, asking for people to be understanding and not holding a chemical imbalance against them.Suddenly my childhood made sense and all of the pain and resentment went away. I had questions, but I knew my dad would have given me a better childhood if he could have. He was incapacitated by depression. I found a scripture that helped me understand that despite the issues my family had, we can forgive and move on and I truly believe in the here-after we will not struggle with any health issues.
"And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy." -Doctrine and Covenants 130:2
I shared that scripture with Linda and we both cried at the thought of having loved ones that won't suffer any more.

It wasn't until years after this incident that my mother began to share the skeletons in the closet. During 1986-1994 my dad struggled with getting his depression medicine correct. The doctors decided it was better to have him sleep all day, then actually try and figure out what the correct medicine and dosage. What I had perceived through a child's eyes as laziness, as a debilitating mental disorder. There were other factors that added to the depression, but my mother still chooses to keep the secrets from my family.

She believes that not sharing the facts with my brothers, because "they will never understand" and "wouldn't forgive him anyway". I truly believe as we are honest about the past, my brothers could forgive my father and enjoy the last years of my father's life. My dad now suffers from Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus, which is an acute deterioration of the brain. I want them to understand he did the best he could.

Because of my experience I truly believe we need to be open and honest with one another. Depression is NOT contagious and the people that suffer at not "crazy". They are hurting.  There is help out there, there is medication, and therapy, but first there needs to be honesty and understanding

Because of this woman, I was able to love my dad. I know that sounds terrible, but I didn't get it. I wish I had, I wish I could have cried with him instead of just thinking he was trying to ruin my life or that he was "messed up". It's not him, it's not his fault. He didn't ask, or want, to be this way.

During November's LDS general conference, a semi-annual broadcast, Jefferey R. Holland gave a great talk on depression, said he, "We may feel “like a broken vessel,” we must remember, that vessel is in the hands of the divine potter. Broken minds can be healed just the way broken bones and broken hearts are healed. While God is at work making those repairs, the rest of us can help by being merciful, nonjudgmental, and kind".

Near the end of his address, Elder Holland said the most beautiful thought-- something I had essentially told Linda one day as we sat across the table together and cried together.

"I bear witness of that day when loved ones whom we knew to have disabilities in mortality will stand before us glorified and grand, breathtakingly perfect in body and mind. What a thrilling moment that will be! I do not know whether we will be happier for ourselves that we have witnessed such a miracle or happier for them that they are fully perfect and finally “free at last. " - Jeffery R. Holland, Like a Broken Vessel

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