I seldom thought of this before because, with my wife's help, I have organized my life to minimize depression. I write at home. I keep most sources at a phone-length distance. I use exercise to keep the blues at bay. Readers are kind.
Yet my current depression, over my son's impending tribunal, has left me physically devastated. My wife and daughter, even my son, seem able to continue on with their daily routines.
I can't. I have an ache in my gut, I can't eat, can't sleep. I cough for no reason. The only exercise I can do is walk, and I walk incessantly.
Yesterday I walked to my family doctor. I didn't have an appointment, but he has recently expanded his office, added a colleague, so he had time to see me anyway. He found I have elevated blood pressure and listened patiently to my symptoms, then the reason for them.
"If it's like this for a few weeks you'll live," he said. "Some people lose a parent and can get back on their feet in a few days, others take months. You're within the range of normal." He gave me some samples of a sleeping pill, suggested a psychiatric visit might be good, added they might prescribe anti-depressants. I was more than thankful.
But this kind of depression can kill. I have seen it. It was a decade ago this last summer.
My dad lost his business in 1994. Business had always defined him. He had run a TV repair shop for 23 years, then bought a lock shop after breaking his hip in a fall. (The picture at right dates from 1986.)
Then he ran the lock shop into the ground.
By the time I visited, in 1992, the place was a shadow of its former self. All the corporate contracts which had once assured cash flow were gone. There were no customers. There was almost no inventory. There were no employees. Once in a great while someone came in to have a key made. My dad made it with what seemed his regular good cheer. Then he went in the back and lay down.
My dad had been working 70 hour weeks as long as I could remember, from 9 to 9 weekdays, and from 9 to 6 on Saturdays. He didn't know how to be home, didn't know from retirement. My brother-in-law was the one who had the nerve to close the shop. I just looked at it as a place of horrors, and urged the action on him. ADD rendered me a coward.
So there he was, aged 73, without a business, without a job, without an income. There was some Social Security, but he had already mortgaged the house, the business assets were gone, the $189,000 he'd won in a lottery during the 1980s was long-gone.
So he died. Inside, he died. Suicide doesn't always require an overt act. As we age, we can do it covertly.
I wanted to cheer him up badly. I wanted him to see his grandchildren. I invited him to Atlanta. I used the frequent flyer miles I was earning through the dot-boom to get him a free first class round-trip ticket.
Which he lost. And was so embarrassed he bought another one at the Airport.
We took him to visit his sister, then living in South Carolina. He was quiet, except when a cop caught me in a speed trap. Then his old charm returned, briefly, and he talked the cop out of it.
I drove him around town, showed him the sites. He sat impassively. I took him to the YMCA, to swim in the pool. He forgot his trunks and swam in his underwear. I encouraged the kids to talk with him, tell him about their lives. He sat and listened. He didn't reply.
The only hope I saw came when we were driving around town and he suddenly said he'd like a hamburger. We pulled into a Zesto's. He added a chocolate malt to the order. He downed both with relish (and ketchup). He almost smiled. It was about the only thing he was eating, so I did smile. After he left I learned such treats were among the things he'd been absolutely forbidden, but I think it's the best thing I did for him in all those weeks.
He left early. He'd taken to sitting outside, on our porch, on our porch swing, ignoring the new air conditioning inside. When I asked him why he complained about our new dog (whom you've met). Either that dog stays outside or I'm gone. Jenni called his bluff. He called the Airport.
My last memory of him is at the gate. You could go to an Airport gate then, with an aged parent. You can't do that anymore. I suspected he would die soon, so I tried to give him a hug, tell him I loved him. He shrank from me, as from a blow. We shook hands. He left.
Dad lasted two more years. All my siblings tried their very best to save him. My sister bought him an expensive heart operation when he collapsed at her home over Christmas. But he was determined, absolutely determined. If there was nothing to live for, why live?
My dad passed away 8 years ago, next Tuesday.
The official cause of death was heart failure. But his heart had failed years ago, when his charade of doing business was exposed, when he was taken away from what he most cared about. Depression killed him.
I would really like to say that this cautionary tale is pushing me toward health. But ADD is a life sentence. I may appreciate my son's struggles more, I may appreciate my father (at last). Our family is now incredibly strong, four loving people instead of two parents and two kids.
I can't say what I'll feel if we lose my son's appeal. His SAT score came in today, a 1310. His report card came in Friday, a few minor problems but overall not bad, given the curriculum.
Jenni says he'll live. He says he'll live.
Will I? The nightmare remains, the fear, and I can't eat, can hardly sleep. The tightness in my gut remains. Will it explode?
It might. At times I think of the explosion as a blessing. That's when I know I'm depressed. And depression can kill.