Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Depression.

Face of DepressionThis morning I woke up.  Thank God.  As I was making the bed I thought about my plans for the day. Making a cup of cinnamon coffee. Writing my blog. Banking with E.  Shoe shopping with M. The first two items on the list made me happy.  The third, not so much.  The fourth delighted me.

Then I had this thought.  My two daughters are my best friends.  Then I had this thought.  I wonder if they’d find that pathetic.  I know I’m not theirs.  Nor should I be at their ages.  Then I had this thought.  My mother was my best friend.  Then I had this thought.  When she died I not only lost my mother, I lost my best friend.  Then I had this thought.  That blows.

Then I started to cry.  Bawled my fucking brains out as I was making the bed. The whole nine yards. Messy tears and snot all over my face, the pillows, sheets and my new shabby chic comforter.  Which by the way, was incapable of providing neither the degree, nor the depth, of comfort required to stop this sorrowful eruption of muck and mournfulness.

Then I had this thought.  I’m sad.  Probably even depressed.

I come by this melancholy honestly.  Not that he talked about it.  Not ever.  But I think The Old Man was depressed, most of his adult life.  Maybe it was because he was Finnish.  Their suicide rates are high, especially in the winter, which is long, cold and dark.  Much like Northwestern Ontario, where he lived his entire life.  I got out when I was twenty-four.  It was too dreary for me.  On so many levels I can’t even begin to describe.

What caused his depression?  Who knows. I can only speculate.  One part environment.  One part DNA.  One party magical mystery tour. The Hammond Organ

The Old Man sought refuge and relief from his misery in alcohol, watching sports on TV, buying new shoes, eating anything laced with sugar, swearing at inanimate objects, going to church on Sundays, shoveling snow in the winter and digging in his garden in the summer, umpiring little league games, taking long Sunday drives, scratching our dog’s belly, and sleeping. The older he got the more he slept. He was often antisocial, spending long hours alone in the spare room, behind closed doors watching TV or reading the daily newspaper.  There was a Hammond Organ in that room that he tinkered with but never really learned to play.  (However, he was an accomplished spoon percussionist.)  The memory of that room, and his self-imposed exile and isolation, makes me sad.

People didn’t talk about their feelings back then.  Men especially, kept things under wraps. Stiff upper lips and pulled up boot straps. The Old Man stuffed his sadness inside a profusion of plaid flannel shirts, only to unleash it every three months like clockwork, after a long night at the neighborhood saloon. The Crest on Red River Road.  Instead of manifesting in tears, his hurt took a far darker, menacing form.  He’d come home seething with anger.  Uncontrollable rage.  He never hit anyone because he was like a small yapping dog.  All bark and no bite.  But he ranted relentlessly and bullied the shit out of Ma and her kids. He was an unholy terror. It was one hell of a time.

During those dark nights of the soul, I hated him.  Wished him dead.  Prayed to God to strike him down with a bolt of lightening.  A precise and explicit message from heaven.  But that didn’t happen.  Thankfully.  Because the truth is, The Old Man was a good man when he wasn’t drinking. He had a kind, tender and sensitive heart, and he loved his family fiercely.

And he was ill.

An alcoholic.  But the alcohol was merely self-medication.  The deeper illness was depression.  It makes me sad now to think that we didn’t know that.  I mean, we knew intimately the subject matter of his rum and coke induced rages.  The things that angered and tormented him.  But we never understood why. Our family knew very little about the pathology of alcoholism as a disease.  And even less about depression.  Back then depressed people were crazy.  Plain and simple.  It was far better to be a self-pitying miserable alcoholic.

Over the years, I’ve often wondered if while I was praying to God to strike him dead, if he was doing the same thing. He went to church every Sunday.  What were his prayers?  Did he pray for help?  Beg for healing?  Did he seek forgiveness?  Did he find comfort there? Did it any of it help?  I hope so.

So here I sit.  Years and miles away from Northwestern Ontario.  Daylight is breaking.  How do I deal with my sadness?  This depression?  The tears that stain my cheeks and cover my shabby chic comforter? I do this.  I write.  I run.  I do yoga. I take long walks along quiet country roads.  I take photographs.  I play with my dogs.  I love my family fiercely. I eat well. I take vitamins. I talk to my wise girlfriends about deep dark feelings.  I pour my heart out to my husband.  I listen to my children and look for clues on how to live a joyful life. I laugh my guts out.  I pray.  I meditate.  I write letters to God. I count my blessings. I get up, go to work and give it my very best shot.  I play my guitar and my clarinet. I read books. Listen to music. I dream. I hang out. I waste time. I watch TV. The Old Man Hipster

But I don’t drink alcohol. I don’t do drugs, except for the occasional ibuprofen. I do my best to stay away from sugar, especially white. I don’t give myself pep talks. They don’t work. I also don’t scold. Engage in self-pity, self-loathing or self-flagellation. I watch my inner dialogue. I try not to spend too much time alone in this room.  Although that’s challenging because one of the things I love to do most requires that I spend long stretches of time in isolation.

Over the years I have found solace in motivational books and tapes, teachers, preachers, the wise and the enlightened. I’ve learned acceptance. Of what was.  And what is.

Will I ever be completely free from depression and sadness?  No. The truth is, I don’t want to be fully extricated. It’s part of who I am.  Like my hazel eyes and crooked smile.  It’s the fuel that fires some of my richest writing. The fountainhead of a few of my best ideas.  My literary wellspring. It’s what allows me to feel things deeply. Not just my suffering.  But yours.  And yours.  And yours. I shed tears for all living creatures. Even the dead rats I come across on the country road I walk.  I like that about me.

Depression reminds me of my humanness.  My weaknesses and strengths.  It dictates that, in order to stay healthy, I must stay connected.  It opens the eyes of my heart. And unleashes love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, hope.  And above all.  Empathy.

I get it Dad.  I get your pain.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: 23 Days

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On Friday, April 26 E had surgery to remove cancer from his mouth just below the tongue. It was radical. It was a miracle. It was the longest 23 days of our life.

We held vigil. We prayed. We held hands. We circled the wagons. We kept the fear at bay. For this is what love does. There were evening cross-town drives. Desolate cement parking garages. Elevator rides. And endless corridor walks. The TV amused and kept him company. There was a lot of hockey. He discovered Duck Dynasty. A clipboard filled with lined paper was his only means of communication the first week. He said a lot with his eyes and hands.

Family, friends, and colleagues visited daily. There were puppy dog visits in the sunny tranquil courtyard. Our daughters danced and entertained. Our grand daughter brought sweet little girl kisses. There was a quiet Sunday morning visit with our son.
Strawberry plants grew on the windowsill. Happy-face daisies sprouted from the end of his bed. Photos blossomed on the cork board. Magazines and books grew in little stacks. Coffee from the outside was brought in. There was a glorious view from his seventh floor room. It was heavenly.

And this is what those 23 days looked like.

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Five Days.

E with his bass jamming at home.

E with his bass jamming at home.

In many ways I’m a creature of habit.  Sometimes I wish it weren’t so.  But at times it’s a blessing.  I slipped as easily into this new routine as my favorite summer flip flops. Driving across town to the hospital that first night felt familiar.  Like I had done it a hundred times already.

Truth was, I had.  Flash back a decade.  Same time of the year.  Same weather.  Same heavy feeling in my chest.  Except a different vehicle.  Different driver.  This cross-town trip had been part of our daily evening routine those last few months of Ma’s life.

I hated that this was so easy to do.

E was still in the ER when I got there.  It was a different wing with a large flatscreen TV and chairs set up in rows like it was movie night at the local community centre.  The chairs were full of patients and their respective support groups.  Beleaguered husbands and wives. Friends and lovers.  Sundry others.  Some of the patients were hooked up to IV’s on portable stands.  The place was bustling with movement and activity.  Even those with IV’s were shuffling around.  They reminded me of the Walking Dead.  Eyes wide open but with no particular destination.  Just a scent embedded in their nostrils and an indestructible urge to follow it.  E wasn’t one of those.

I found him in a hallway propped up on a gurney and hooked up to a couple of IVs.  Fluids and antibiotics.  These would be his primary sources of sustenance for the next five days.

He greeted me with his usual wide toothy grin and rascally blue eyes.  He looked better than he had in days.  It was a relief to see him smile.  Maybe things were turning around, I thought.  In a way they were.  It was a subtle shift.  But I could feel it the second I saw him.  After more than two decades with this man I could read him like a cheap paperback novel.  Smiles like that do not lie.

“I’m feeling much better,” he said as I leaned in to kiss him.

“You look a million times better,” I said. “What’s with the hallway?”

“Waiting for a room.  I could be here all night.”

“I’m just glad you’re here being taken care of,” I said.

I stood next to his gurney while we visited.  Moving aside for passing orderlies or nurses pushing stretchers through the narrow corridor.  It was noisy and more like a Pub then a hospital. The season aside, there was something uncannily festive in the air.  I kept my gloves on while we visited. Partly because I was chilly but mostly because I felt submerged in germs.  People were coughing and hacking all around us.  My imagination was running rampant.  I couldn’t shake the fear that I’d catch some crazy incurable virus or ugly transmittable disease and land up in a gurney next to E.  Although I couldn’t think of anything finer than lying next to him, one of us had to remain healthy.

I don’t know how long I stayed with E that first night.  Time takes on a different dimension in situations like these.  It stretches on endlessly.  And it flies by in a second.  I only know I left when we were both too tired to visit any longer.  I kissed him goodbye and headed home.

This would be my afterwork routine for remainder of the week.

When I visited E the next evening he was in a private room. The lights were too bright.  Glaring and jarring.  It was like a science fiction movie.  It hurt my eyes.  Assaulted by fluorescent lighting. E was still hooked up to the IV and looked so small lying on a normal sized bed. I had grown used to seeing him in small cots and gurneys.  To see him looking so frail and vulnerable took my breath away.  He looked like a little old man.  Just like his Old Man in fact, the year before he died at eighty-seven.

Where was my E?  How had he gotten to this place so quickly?  Was he really this feeble?  Rail-thin and boney.  His cheeks sunken and sporting shocking grey stubble.  And his voice.  It sounded just like his father’s.  Not E’s.  Who was this old man that had taken my love hostage?

I took a deep breath and forged on.

We chatted leisurely about his day as if we were in our own living room unwinding after work. He was full of praise and gratitude for the care he had been given by the nurses.  All things considered he felt good.  He jokingly referred to his portable IV stand as his dance partner.  He sashayed her through the hallways, he laughed.  Round and round in circles just to get some exercise.  For a moment, I was jealous of a steel pole and a plastic bag full of saline water. E’s mouth was still in pain and his tongue was swollen.  Yet things were improving.  He ate green jello.

I kissed him on the cheek.  Not the lips.  I didn’t want to touch his mouth for fear it would hurt.  It was difficult to imagine that my kiss would not bring pleasure to his lips.

I stepped out into the dark rainy night.  Alone.

On Wednesday night everything changed.  Originally, E had been scheduled to have a CAT scan after the surgeon gave him the results of the biopsy, which wasn’t supposed to have been for another week or so.  But because he was already in the medical stream the doctor ordered the CAT Scan that day.

The surgeon had been in to see E earlier in the evening.  M arrived right after her last class.  She was curled up comfortably on the little leather couch under the window, her grey flannel knapsack resting next to her feet.  She was chatting quietly with her dad when I walked in the room.  The lights were still blaring.  There were no soft shadows cast.  I took the chair under the hanging TV.

I had barely taken my seat when E broke the news.

“I don’t know how to say this,” he said. “So I’m just going to say it the way the doctor told me.  I have cancer.  It’s the early stages. The doctor said he can take care of it.  He’ll get rid of it.  Don’t worry.”

Don’t worry.  Don’t worry.  Don’t worry.

I wanted to throw up.

“That’s better news than it could have been,” I blurted. “And if you’re going to get cancer, this is the place to be.  We have the best of everything here.”

I rattled on.  Spewing the fragmented bits and pieces of information I had picked up from work.  One of our clients at the Agency was the BC Cancer Foundation so I knew something about treatments and research.  How advanced our Province was in this field.  While the advertising crone spouted lines of optimistic copy from a recent campaign, all the wife wanted to do was ram her fist through the wall.
On the way home, M and I stopped into the little Mexican cafe up the road from our house and picked up beef burritos.  We sat in front of the television and ate in silence.  The room reeked of salsa, refried beans and fear.

On Thursday night my sister and her boyfriend came to visit.  She had called E earlier to see if there was anything she could bring him.  He wanted KFC.  He wanted solid food.  Anything but green jello and tomato soup.  He craved something nasty.  Junky. Greasy. Chicken licken good.  She walked into the room with the illicit contraband concealed in a brown paper bag.  You could smell it the second she got off the elevator.  E’s eyes widened with delight.  And gratitude.  He opened the bag immediately and ravenously started in on the chicken.  It hurt his mouth but he didn’t care.  It was the first solid food he’d had in a week.  Green jello doesn’t count.

It was good to see him eat something that didn’t require a straw. We were like proud parents feeding solids to an infant for the very first time.  Grinning from ear to ear.  It was a surreal visit.  If not for E being hooked up to a monitor and IV, we could have been drinking tea and chatting around our kitchen table. The conversation ebbed and flowed.  Intermittent at times.  B regaled us with stories of his misbegotten youth.  We laughed.  We stared at the floor.  We were silent.  Then it was time to leave.

I kissed E on the cheek, whispered I love you and said goodnight.  I didn’t look back.

I had Friday off but still had to get up early for a doctor’s appointment that I had booked weeks earlier.  I was sitting in the clinic waiting room taking Instagram photos of my boots when my photographic musings were interrupted by a text.  It was E.  He was getting sprung from the joint.  Hallelujah.

By the time I got to the hospital he was going through the check-out process with his nurse.  It was the first time I’d seen him upright in five days. Without the IV stand, he looked like himself. E had returned.

E drove us home.  The sun was shining for the first time in five days.  It was a large blue sky.  Just like the ones that hung over 204 when I was growing up.

Things were looking up.