Mental Health: Dysthymia

Dysthymia: A Ray of Light

That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end.

– Elizabeth Wurtzel

A common metaphor often used to reference depression is the lotus flower. The lotus flower grows deep underneath the surface of muddy, dark ponds. It has to find its way to the surface in search of sunlight in order to bloom. Yet, somehow even while having been submerged under mud and mire, it still manages to blossom into a beautiful flower, unscathed by the muck that once surrounded it.

As I go through this process, I sometimes find myself feeling as if I am stuck in mucky, dark waters. It feels as if I am engulfed by darkness.

Every now and then I get a ray of light pierce through and I am reminded that God still hears me. I am reminded that I must continue pursuing the light in order to bloom.

Murky Waters

One of the roots that my depression thrived on was this emptiness that I would feel from time to time. I always thought that emptiness came from not receiving closure with my relationship with my father. In turn, it has also affects how I interact with men, but that’s a different story for a another time.

Throughout my journey all I really long for is to be able to enjoy the simple things in life and live out my purpose. I don’t want riches or fame; I don’t care much for fancy things or recognition. I just want to enjoy the small things like a dinner with my family or walk in the park with just my thoughts.

I did not understand it at the time, but now when I look back at my father it seems as if that was what he longed for as well.

A ray of light that made it’s way through the murky waters is forgiveness.  As weird and odd as that might sound, depression has sort of helped by giving me a glimpse into my father’s battles. This insight gave me a sense of understanding and compassion towards his condition.

Hiding in the Dark

I remember as a small child, age 4 or 5, my dad would take me to the park and we would sit on a bench for hours until it turned dark. We’d look off into the night sky and I would see this great pain in his eyes. At some point, his sadness turned into distance and I knew… I knew that my soft spoken father with a knack for cooking, a love for literature, a curiosity for the unknown, and a talent for repairing old broken appliances, simply as a hobby, because he was a body shop painter by profession, would start to change into an unrecognizable man.

In retrospect, my father most likely suffered from severe depression. He was a brilliant man, but he could not hold down a job, even when he was sober. He would find any excuse to stay home and sleep for days at a time. It seems my father was in a perpetual darkness and alcohol was that one thing that could numb out the pain.

My father tried hard not drink. He really, really did. He went to church, he would find junk in the street like old television sets and fix them just to give them away, he’d cook amazing meals, he’d read for long hours at a time, he would go to the beach and the park and just think, he tried Alcoholics Anonymous, he planned trips… I mean he tried.

But, after a couple of months and sometimes even years of soberness, he’d give into that one thing that he knew would numb the pain. It wasn’t the only thing it numbed, it numbed his heart, it numbed his conscious.

It began with a Pepsi can. My dad always carried with him a Pepsi can. He loved Pepsi and after running around for hours at the park, I would go and sneak a sip. But, I knew there was something terribly wrong when he would not let me drink from his Pepsi can. I knew it wasn’t because he was concerned about my glucose levels, but rather that his secret would be outed. See, he’d start off by hiding his drinking by pouring beer into his Pepsi cans.

Once alcohol would take control of him he transformed into an entirely different person with mood swings and a volatile temper. He would be OK one minute and the next he would be in a rage.

For instance, I remember I was about 11 or 12 years old and he had asked my mom for hot soup. I was given the task to deliver it. He waited until I turned around to pour the hot soup down my back. I don’t know why he did that or what upset him, all I knew was that my back was burning. Another time my sisters and I were sleeping, it must have been a Saturday morning, and he was livid about something. He poured urine on us and yelled obscenities.

I can’t explain how worthless I felt at the moment; how incapable I felt because I was unable to protect my younger sisters; how desperate I was to have a normal life. It was hard for me. I wanted to hate him, because hating him was a lot easier than loving him.

I never understood why my dad couldn’t love me. I never understood why he couldn’t hold me and protect me, why I couldn’t feel safe around him, why I couldn’t get close.

To make matters worse, how he treated my sisters and I was with indifference, but how he treated my mother was just cruel. He would beat her black and blue with no remorse. He belittled her and he broke her down to the point where she lost sight of reality.

As a child, I felt as if I had lost two parents. One to an alcohol addiction and another to domestic violence. It was hard for me to forgive them.

But, now battling the war inside me, I understand. His pain was so intense that he was just seeking refuge. Unfortunately, he picked a self-destructive path. Depression is not an excuse to allow someone to hurt you or to hurt others, but having experienced sadness for such a long time I can at least understand why he ran to alcohol for comfort.

Follow the Light

When my father passed away, the hardest thing for me was never having the chance to share my happiness with him. Never getting the chance to see him smile when holding his first grandson, never seeing me graduate with an advanced degree, never walking me down the isle.

I just wanted to see my father happy. I wanted to see him smile and laugh.

Now, as an adult I see a lot my father in me. I have a lot of his quirks and I share a lot of his struggles. I don’t drink alcohol often, maybe once in a while I’ll have a glass of wine… and by once in a while I mean once a year at a holiday party or something. I don’t really like alcohol. It makes me sleepy and it’s just not my thing.

But, I struggle with other unhealthy habits. These habits help numb the pain, but they surely don’t help my spirit.

I guess at the end of the day I can say that as much as I hate depression, it touched me in such a way that it helped me forgive and move away from bitterness.

So, if my experiences have taught me a few things it’s the following:

  1. Follow the Light. For me this means to trust God. Things happen for a reason, we may not understand why, but we can always learn and grow from every experience. Sometimes, we have to just take a step back and worry less about what is wrong and just experience life as it comes.
  2. Forgive. Forgive yourself and others who have caused you pain. Lack of forgiveness will only cause bitterness and bitterness is a breading ground for darkness.
  3. Don’t hide. Hiding your struggles will make it impossible to see the light at the end of the tunnel. My father did not admit to his struggles and after years of darkness he found refuge in addictive behaviors that were self-destructive. A not-so-secrete-secrete of mine is that I actually ended up seeking professional counseling because of my own self-destructive behaviors (more to come on that).

Best of luck on your journey! Stay blessed.

3 thoughts on “Dysthymia: A Ray of Light”

  1. When I start worrying about a problem, I remember what you told me once that your father would always tell you… “if you can solve the problem why worry… if you can’t then why worry.” Good and bad memories (we all have them), how we let them mold us is up to us. We can learn from them and pray we don’t make the same mistakes our parents did. We will make our own mistakes and hopefully our children will learn from them. It’s the cycle of life. Praise God for his grace.

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