My dad wants to kill himself. That's a fact I live with a lot. He's threatened to do it and sometimes jokes about it. He told me a few months ago he was going to kill himself before Father's Day. I know it might seem to some that he is just looking for attention but I think he is hoping I will give him permission. That will, obviously, never happen.
I was a teenager when my father fell into a depression. I don't remember much about that time except that he didn't seem well and I thought maybe it was my fault. I used to cook for my family and I thought I had poisoned him. I was just a foolish kid. I don't know why I can't remember that time clearly. Either the things the led to his admitting he was depressed didn't seem that important at the time or I was just a selfish teenager wrapped up in my own problems. It is most likely a little from column A and a lot from column B.
I don't even remember my parents telling my sister and I that Dad was going into the hospital. My first clear memory about anything being wrong, aside from thinking Daddy couldn’t get out of bed because I poisoned him, was the empty space in the house where he should have been. My dad wasn’t one to hang out after work. He was usually almost home for dinner and then suddenly he wasn’t.
He checked himself into the psych ward of the hospital my mother worked at. This meant she could visit him during the day and she would bring back status reports on how he was doing. It broke my heart to think of my dad alone in some strange hospital room and not being able to visit him and it broke my heart to think of my mom sleeping alone at night.
The diagnosis was a chemical imbalance of the brain. The only way to fix that was with meds and so Dad only needed to be in the hospital for a couple of weeks. He even came home for a visit in the middle of that time. He borrowed mom’s car and came home while she was at work. We made jokes about his “big escape.” Dad looked better already but I think he was just trying to keep our spirits up. Later on he told me that the psych ward was awful. He didn’t like his roommates and he didn’t like the place and he never wanted to go back.
After his release, Dad was better but things have never been the same. He’s not the only one who changed because of that time. I went from thinking “Daddy is superman!” to “Daddy isn’t bulletproof” and that thought has terrified me more than anything else. Everyone realizes at some point their parent could die, but it’s not something I was ready to consider. Who is?
The fact is that while I’ve always thought of my mother as tough, I never thought she was “strong.” When my dad was in the hospital, I came to see her as the impenetrable one. Her feelings were important but his feelings more so. I know that sounds awful because I love my mother fiercely but I decided she could take care of herself and obviously my father couldn’t. I could be a brat to mom because making her mad or unhappy wouldn’t mean she was going harm herself. I convinced myself that I had to be “perfect” to my father or … else. I do want to reiterate that I was a teenager so if you asked my dad today how perfect I was as at, our answers would probably be different.
For me, perfect was always checking his mood and desperately working to make him smile if he seemed just the least bit unhappy. I am sure my constant need to talk comes from the trying to fill the gaps in silence when he would just grunt an answer to a question. Those were times I could tell he was in a dark mood. The one word replies were sometimes a sign that his medications weren’t working like they should and he might need to try new doses or even new medicines altogether. There were a few times that he stopped taking his medication on his own but he only tried that a few times in the beginning.
It’s been 20 years since my father’s initial diagnosis. In that time, I fell into my own depression and convinced myself that if I were to kill myself, it wouldn’t matter to anyone. I didn’t try to get help the way he did. Luckily, my one tentative attempt at ending my own life was not successful but it did give me perspective on how he must feel and struggle every day. I always known I am loved but it’s easy to imagine that everyone you know will be fine without you. My dad thinks things will be better without him or at least he is sometimes so down he doesn’t care whether it will be.
I refuse to allow to him to believe that he has a choice in the matter.