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Thursday, January 8, 2015

Lincoln Wasn't Happy!

My dad is gone so I will only have supposition in this life. He grew up in a very closed family where everyone had well-defined roles. I don't imagine there was much forgiveness if anyone deviated from their roles. I don't imagine anyone was welcome to have ideas or opinions other than those they were handed. I assume the narrow world my dad grew up in made it hard for him to parent me.

I will readily admit I was a handful. I had a lot of emotional problems. Was it the personality I came with or the place where I ended up? Maybe having been given up at birth and placed in a "home" for my first three important bonding months (a revelation that came every day of my first three months with Audrey), and finally being adopted by a couple whose wife had no desire to be a parent screwed me up. Maybe spending two years with that jackass (women DO have choice and she most certainly had plenty of time on this one) was too much. Or maybe after she left us and I was forced to spend every other weekend with someone who didn't care how obvious it was that she didn't want me around during my formative years left me a hot mess. Maybe I was born with a proclivity toward depression. I've only recently realized that either scenario has brought me to this place and regardless of which, it's mine to work with.

My dad was often frustrated by my inability/unwillingness to easily conform to the role I was supposed to fill. He was not a bad person or a bad parent. Being a parent, I now understand, you do your best with each issue that comes up. I know my dad did his best. But his narrow existence and no understanding of people at a deeper level made it impossible for him to wrap his head around my issues. He sent me to therapy in sixth grade because I had a shitty attitude. The therapist decided that I was suffering from depression and suggested that we have therapy together. He sent me there to get fixed not to offer me a "pity party." He pulled me out of therapy because that was obviously not working. We never discussed depression. I had no idea that it was a real thing. I didn't know they had medicines that could make things better.

The summer going into tenth grade my dad had had enough of my attitude. He took me to court for being unruly. I was sentenced to house arrest, community service and therapy. I was pissed when I visited the new therapist. I knew my dad had already told her I was just a pain in the ass and so I went there every Wednesday after school and took an hour long nap on her couch. She wasn't going to help me. Eventually she was able to convince me that she wanted to talk to me and hear what I had to say. Once I did, she decided that I had severe depression. My dad decided I didn't need to go anymore and that I needed to stop feeling sorry for myself. Again, I didn't really understand what depression meant or that it was something more than being sad.

Around this time, my dad taped a quote to the refrigerator by Abraham Lincoln that read "I reckon people are about as happy as they make their minds up to be." I looked at it several times a day. It pissed me off. Every day. I didn't have the Internet to google it so I assumed that this weakness of mine had been understood for generations and written off by men we were given to admire.

When I was a new mother at 21, I had a series of terrible things happen in quick succession which I had no capacity to deal with. I started therapy and taking medication for depression. I remember being on campus and realizing that the medicines were working. I found a pay phone and called my mom (the one that raised me) at work on the 800# and tried to explain that I could literally feel the springtime. I could smell it, I could feel the sun and I could actually enjoy it. I knew this sounded weird but it felt wonderful. She was the one person I could tell who wouldn't make me feel stupid. Because I was on welfare, once I was diagnosed I was sent to a clinic for follow up on my care and treatment. The new therapist decided on a new diagnosis, bipolar disorder, which every doctor since has assured me was a misdiagnosis. The new treatment helped me find my way to a 300 lb frame and kept me from seeking further treatment for 20 more years.

At 41, I had to get back on anti-depressants. I found myself in the darkest place I could imagine. Every day when I got in the car I hoped a semi would hit my car and kill me on my way to work. I desperately wanted to die but knew if I killed myself my mom and Audrey wouldn't get the life insurance. When it occurred to me how bad things really were and how instantly they would be cured (for everyone, I believed) if I were dead, I stopped drinking (the 3 month experiment of my own cure had failed miserably) and sought real help.

I was lucky to find two therapists and a doctor who really understand me and will call me out on my bullshit, when necessary. They validated my belief that I was a good person. They allowed me to find positive adjectives to describe myself. And they offered me a safe place to be hurt or angry or sad and not feel like I needed to apologize for it. I was able to hear and believe that I suffer from depression. I now know that depression doesn't mean I'm crazy. I was able to believe that the fact that I am a sensitive person isn't a bad thing. In fact, it's quite lovely. I care about people at a very deep level. That's lovely. My friends know they can call me at any hour of the day or night to cry and I will care for them and support them and promptly leave the state to come to them, if needed. That's lovely, too.

Although we always struggled to get along, I genuinely loved and respected my dad. He really was an incredible man. He was the toughest man I've ever known. He truly was a bad ass. In my lifetime he never had a sick day. He was diagnosed with cancer in March of 2008 and given 6 months. He took three years (thank you very much). He had nearly three years of chemo and radiation. He went back to the store every time afterward.

I witnessed the most beautiful tribute of his esteem the night of his calling hours. It was February. It was wicked cold. The line of people who needed to pay their respects wrapped through the funeral home and out the door. I heard no complaints from the people who waited in the winter cold to say goodbye to him. I only heard stories of his grace. The stories were funny. He played ridiculous pranks on the girls that worked at the store back in the day. The stories were heart-warming. He went out of his way to do things for his customers and employees, often secretly needing no attention or praise for his generosity. The stories were revelatory. I met the man that dad was renting grandmas old house to. Dad was always very concerned about having good, respectful tenants who would care for the home my mom grew up in. Dad recently told me he was so happy to have found a good family to rent it. The man was very intent on taking care of the landscaping as grandma had been. He was always on time with his rent and was the best tenant dad could hope for. This man was quietly waiting in line to give condolences to his landlords family. I had no idea who this guy was as he was coming closer to me. I greeted him with a curious smile. He shook my hand and told me what a wonderful man my dad was and that he was the man who was renting my grandmas house. I hope my face didn't show what I was thinking. This tall, bald, intimidating looking man who was wearing a leather jacket and looked like he may very well have come here on his Harley was the man my dad couldn't say enough about? This was a man I couldn't imagine my dad comfortably having a conversation with, let alone allow to move into grandma's house. I had to leave the room to collect myself after I met that man. He showed me that my dad was a more accepting man than I'd thought. Maybe it was age. Or pending death. Maybe it was the many conversations where I cried or yelled and begged him to open up and see beyond his narrow scope. I guess it doesn't matter. He was a great man to me before that night. But he was something much more after.

I don't know... I've spent my life resenting my dad for not understanding my depression. It didn't make me a bad person but it did make me hard to deal with. While he wasn't able to understand or embrace the part of me that was naturally sensitive, I was not able to embrace the part of him that was naturally closed and confused by my  sensitivity. In my adulthood we were able to find acceptance of one another. Sadly, tolerance of someone is a long way from understanding and embracing them.

It's hard to work through my issues with my dad now that he's gone. I don't know what happens when you die. But I believe he can see me. I believe whatever comes after this life offers wisdom. I believe he understands me now and is proud of the parts of me that he never knew about or understood. For some reason believing in his pride allows me to come closer to finding my own. I'm pretty sure that's not healthy.


6 comments:

  1. You offered me someone to talk to when I was down. I'm sure your dad would be proud of how kind and compassionate you are! I'm here for you to talk if you ever need to! :)

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    1. Lisa, thank you so so much! You are lovely!

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  2. What a read...amazing at how so many find differences to be wrong and not just different. Wonderful perspective gained.

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    1. Thank you so much for your understanding and support!

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  3. Wow, Angie. What a wonderful way to walk us through what it is to forgive and embrace a difficult loved one when we can no longer walk new paths with them. To free yourself from one narrative while opening yourself to a new strong one, without throwing away any of the facts of the story. To show beautifully how this can be done.

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    1. You are so lovely. Thank you for your support and understanding. It's felt quite lonely exploring my memories and feeling misunderstood. It's so nice to find people who do understand.

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