It wasn’t until a few years ( after a series of panic attacks that I didn't understand) that I learned all about the depression that had plagued me for a good chunk of my life, called dysthymia then, now called PDD, Persistent Depressive Disorder. It is a mood disorder, a type of chronic depression that lasts for years, even a lifetime; but it is often never diagnosed because those who have it assume their sadness, fatigue, and low self-esteem are simply part of their personality. That was my case. I knew I had experienced long periods of feeling blue and vulnerable, but I never entertained the thought that I could take medication that would balance the chemicals in my brain and lift my mood.
Oddly enough ... it was one of my father’s mood swings, a deep, clinical depression, that opened my eyes to the fact that I, too, was depressed. I was taking a leave from work, staying home with my kids, ages two, six, and eight, when my father called me with the news that he was being kicked out of the psychiatric unit to which he had been committed, because his insurance had run out. I already knew he was going through a serious depression. I had even visited him in the hospital not long before his phone call. His voice was distraught, almost child-like. He didn’t know where to turn. My first thought was “suicide,” so I hopped on a plane and within a few hours arrived at his house. I had never seen him this bad. All he could do was sit in a chair with his head in his hands.
The next day I started combing the phone book for every in-patient and out-patient facility in town, but we were turned away everywhere we went. I couldn’t leave him alone, for fear he would take his life... I knew I was his lifeline, and I felt desperate and lonely. The next day I called my preacher back home, who referred me to the best psychiatrist I have ever known. I immediately packed up my reluctant, helpless father, and we headed back to Elm Creek. He saw this doctor the very next day. After taking my dad’s history and the long list of medications that had no effect whatsoever on his depression, this genius doctor identified what he thought would be the best course of medication and therapy for my dad, whom he diagnosed, for the first time in my father’s life, with bipolar disorder. We were in it for the long haul.
The first two weeks, my dad and I saw his doctor every day, then twice a week, then once a week, until he was finally dismissed, a completely different man, six weeks after we first entered the doctor’s office. It was during his recovery that I learned all about depression and bipolar disorder through long conversations with the doctor and the books he recommended. He told me that I should find a project for my dad that involved physical activity, so despite my dad’s initial reluctance, I took him to Home Depot and bought supplies to build a kids’ playhouse. As the weeks passed by, I was awe struck as my father’s entire physical and mental demeanor changed. The doctor made it very clear that my dad must immediately connect with a psychiatrist he recommended, when he returned home to Tulsa, since taking antidepressants could result in full blown mania if my dad didn’t stay on a lithium regimen to control the highs.
It was less than a year after my dad went home, a few weeks before Christmas, that he called me, I thought, to wish me a happy birthday. But he was in a rage, accusing me of being a vicious, neglectful, ungrateful daughter. He brought up every perceived “slight” I had ever visited upon him, including the slave labor that built that playhouse, and never mentioned the fact that I had saved his life less than a year before. He then asserted that I would NOT be getting a gift from him for my birthday, and that he would send Christmas gifts for the kids, but certainly not for me. His accusations were a cold slap in the face. I knew he was obviously off his meds, but his words cut me deeply. I told him, through tears, “OK, you never have to see me again, but if you ever want to, I’ll meet you on the couch at the psychiatrist’s office.” Several months later he apologized, saying he didn’t know what had gotten into him, but obviously I knew what had happened, and I was done trying to save him. It was his choice to abandon the meds that made him a civil man, and I was through being his mother.
From that point on, I kept both my physical and emotional distance. It was not long after my dad’s rant that my husband's mother died, and I plunged into a depression that frightened me. But I knew this time, there was an answer to my pain. It was the first time I took medication for my depression, and it would lead to a lifetime regimen, after some experimentation and a few nut job psychiatrists and therapists, on a drug that works for me.