Monday, July 16, 2012

My Melancholy Baby

Living with my parents have brought many new insights into their habits, personalities and beliefs.  Some discoveries were total surprises.  Some were mere confirmations of past suspicions.  For me to live with my parents meant facing a demon that has followed me for decades and in facing it I received the power to overcome it.

My father has a very low opinion of himself.  This has been clear since he spent time in the hospital in 2004.  I do not remember him being like this when I was growing up.  However in the hospital he was highly medicated and I guess less inhibited about hiding his emotions.  I would go to sit with him all day to keep him company.  I would cross-stitch "cardinals in snow" while we watched TV and talked.  We talked a LOT.  This may not seem unusual to most people, but until January 2004 I had never had a conversation with my father that lasted longer than 10 minutes.  I do not exaggerate.  Growing up I was painfully aware of my father's shyness.  He was a good father.  I saw him as a giant when I was little.  He could fix anything and was always there for me when I was scared or injured.  One particular memory I have occurred when I was 8.  He ran down a hill to scoop me up as I lay bleeding profusely from my bare foot after stepping on a large piece of glass.  I remember seeing the blood on his good pants and feeling bad about it.  He didn't care.  His greatest concern was about getting me to the hospital for stitches.  I always felt safe in my father's arms.   He had a quiet strength that came through despite his lack of conversation.   

At Kristie's 25th Jubilee-2001
So as I sat with him in the hospital I was quite surprised when he announced that he had not been a very good father.  I was flabbergasted.  All I could do was look dumbfounded.  Finally, I said, "Are you kidding me?  Daddy, I drove 600 miles to be here, Bill goes out of his way to come see you, Frank is flying in from    San Diego to be here and Kristie has received permission to leave her cloistered monastery to come here for the first time in 28 years!  Why in the world would they do that if you had not been a good father?"  In that moment the stilted relationship with my father disappeared and we began to talk about everything and anything.  It was the turning point I had wished for my entire life.  During that year I drove to Ohio alone 6 times.  My father and I spent countless hours together during his numerous hospital stays and rehab.  I knew it was probably due to the medications, so I accepted the gift knowing it could end.  I have fond memories from my time in Ohio.

The morning after my parents arrived in Atlanta in 2009 I found my father in the kitchen crying.  I think waking up here was a bit disorienting.  He started talking about being worthless and wishing he was dead.  I stood there not knowing what to do.  I was 50 and I had never seen my father cry before!  I hugged him and told him it was going to be okay, that he was going to be okay.  I realized through the next 2 years that that scene had nothing to do with being disoriented.  My father would constantly put himself down, call himself stupid and a waste.  It was extremely difficult to hear because his words were the same words I heard in my own head about myself.  My father seemed angry and depressed about his loss of usefulness, but it was more than that.  He was melancholy.  In 2011 I realized that being melancholy was probably genetic and therefore the reason I felt the way I did.  After 2 years of caring for my parents it was difficult to fight the dark moods. Everything felt so hopeless and I felt like a trapped animal. I was disappointed in my life and the choices I had made.  It was like getting sucked into a vortex or falling down the rabbit hole as in "Alice in Wonderland".  I felt overwhelmed taking care of my parents.  It was much harder than I thought it would be.  As a result, I had alienated most of the people in my life.  Looking back on it I can't blame them for abandoning me.  No one wants to be around a gloomy person.  Being melancholy is hard work and I had had enough.   So I decided to fight it.  I forced myself to smile, laugh, act happy and pretend to enjoy things I did and people I met.  Pretty soon I realized I wasn't pretending anymore that I was truly happy, smiling because I meant it and getting joy from life itself.  Someone I recently met remarked I had a delightful joie de vivre.  I had to smile because just one year ago I wished I was dead.  People seem to like me now.  They respond positively to me anyway.  My brother Bill remarked the other day when he came to visit how surprised he was to find me being so happy and gregarious.  He expected to find me dour and down about taking care of our parents.  I think he might have dreaded the visit because of it.  He says that he, too, suffers from occasional melancholy.  Genes, gotta love 'em!

Don't misunderstand.  I still get melancholy once in a while, but I am able to hide it from most people..  I have also noticed a change in my father, as well.  I'm thinking that our moods fed on each other, but once I changed my behavior his moodiness seemed less frequent.  I haven't heard him disparage himself in awhile so I hope that means he believes it less.  I do regret not knowing I had the power within me to control the melancholy, but I have the rest of my life to make up for it.  

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