Wednesday, October 14, 2009


October 14th, 1997, was one of those days you don't forget. I remember I got in late and my roommate told me that my mom had called and the message was to call immediately regardless of the time I got in.

I remember how my mom's voice cracked.

I remember how my roommate left when she heard me start to cry, to give me privacy.

I remember my parents coming to pick me up, even though it was an hour's drive.

I remember the guilt I felt. Surely it was my fault. I'd been so wrapped up in being a new college student, I'd sent a belated birthday card. Belated! Surely that had been a tipping point, to be forgotten on your birthday, to be forgotten on your birthday by your daughter.

There were so many things I wondered about, should have but didn't ask. Where exactly was he born in Texas? What kind of farm did he grow up on? When did he join the Army? Was he drafted or did he volunteer? Did he want to be a K-9 handler or was he assigned that task? Did he want to be a many tours did he do in Vietnam? Had he retired from the Army, or was he medically separated? Did that motorcycle accident that made one leg shorter than the other happen while he was in the Army? How did he meet my mom, and what did he like about her at first?

So many questions that would never be answered because they'd never been asked. Would he have answered them, the man who was known for his silence, though every where we went with him someone seemed to know and like him?

He came with my stepmother for my high school graduation. I was so excited for him to be there. Mom had remarried shortly after I was born, and the man who raised me I have always considered my dad. But my biological father, he was still special to me, to us. The two couples, my parents and he and my stepmother made a point to get along, to talk and laugh and include all of us kids in the feeling of family.

So he came to my graduation, and afterward when we went to the boardwalk on the beach for crab dinner and a live band, I danced with both my dads. I remember that night well. We all laughed, we sang along to the music, we danced, we enjoyed life.

I felt like I was on top of the world. I felt beautiful in my graduation dress, I felt smart with my top 10% tassel tucked in my purse. I felt loved.

Months later I was unable to comprehend the turn of events. I was 17 and crying at home in my dad's arms, my mom's eyes red from crying. Someone, perhaps my dad, called the college to let them know I'd be out the next day, called my ROTC commander to let him know I would miss the official physical fitness test. I was engulfed with a raw grief, with guilt, with questions. Why did this happen? How could he have left us all so willingly?

On October 14th, 1997, my biological father rolled towels along the door cracks so that the dogs within the house would not come to harm from the exhaust fumes that would bring him to his end. He pulled his vehicle in the garage, closed the garage door, and left the motor running.

Sometimes when nothing else is in my mind, I wonder what he was thinking as he carefully set down the towels. As he sat in the car, waiting for a never ending sleep. How deep his pain must have been.

Sometimes I think of my stepmother and how hard it would have been to pull up after a long day's work, to open the garage and find him there, unmoving. How that moment of disbelief turns to despair and grief.

Sometimes I wander down the road of what ifs. What if we had seen the signs so evident in hindsight? The distancing of himself from his hobbies and activities, the distraction when he was normally very focused.... all the things we sat and thought of in those dark hours afterward. What if we had really seen them and acted on them?

So this is my PSA:
Clinical depression can kill people. I'm not talking about the kind of downs everyone has from time to time. I'm talking about the lingering darkness that swallows up everything bright and sunny and leaves only a heavy burden of gray, about a feeling that is so strong it can be physical.

Anyone can get clinical depression. Guys get it, ladies get it, rich, poor, intellectually minded people and people who didn't get past 8th grade. This is an equal opportunity disorder.
There is sometimes a genetic factor, but sometimes a significant emotional event (the negative kind) can trigger it. It is a chemical imbalance, not a failure, not a character flaw, not a weakness.

Perhaps the perfect analogy is Diabeties. Once you've had it, you will always need to monitor it, may need medicines to control it, and if left unchecked could be deadly.

If you ever find yourself so far down in the darkness that even after several weeks you aren't able to claw your way up and out, there is help available.

If you have a friend who is withdrawing from life, who exhibits signs of depression, make it a point to be there for them. You can't force people to get help, but you can be there, get other people to be there, non judgmental and supporting.

Oh, and one more thing... if you have a friend or coworker or acquaintance who loses a loved one to suicide, please offer only sympathy. I had the distinctly uncomfortable experience at the job I had at the time (and quit shortly thereafter) of having someone tell me matter of factually that my father would be going to hell for taking his life. Even if you believe can imagine how that felt for me.

The following I got from my Google search:

The American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) lists nine symptoms for major depression, five or more which must be present over the same two-week period, including one of the first two: 1) Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day, or 2) Markedly diminished pleasure.

The other seven symptoms include: 3) Significant weight gain or loss, 4) Insomnia or hypersomnia, 5) psychomotor agitation or retardation, 6) Fatigue or loss of energy, 7) Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt, 8) Diminished ability to think or concentrate, 9) Recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thinking, suicide attempts.

These days, depression is regarded as the result of interaction between genes, environment, past experiences, and biology. Stressful events can trigger a depression and bad lifestyle choices or circumstances or past trauma can make one a sitting duck.

Your doctor may give you a "depression test." The most common is the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAM-D), used by clinicians and researchers to assess the severity of one’s depression and to measure one’s improvement (if any) over the course of treatment or a clinical trial. The HAM-D includes the DSM-IV symptoms (some listed more than once), plus anxiety (including physical anxiety symptoms such as heart palpitations or sweating), sexual dysfunction, and general aches and pains such as backache. These symptoms should arguably be included in the DSM, and perhaps in the next edition one or more of them will.

That's the end of my PSA. Updated: other post (by another blogger) on this subject:


  1. I remember that night, too...though I couldn't begin to put myself in your shoes, to know what you were going through...I just prayed for you and loved you.

    As to depression, even though mine was only during and post pregnancy, I know EXACTLY what that feels like (the symptoms least some of them). You actually feel like you have this black cloud hanging over you wherever you walk, just like the cartoon, and NOTHING snaps you out of it. I remember realizing I was a completely different person...and not liking this new person! Everything is overwhelming, and you don't really care. I remember WANTING to want to do something. Looking at my sewing and thinking, "I wish I wanted to do that...I wish I felt like it." So, mostly, I ate and played stupid mindless computer games (when the kids were asleep) because then I didn't have to think. It's a horrible feeling, like you're trapped in this state of saddness and you have the hardest time getting happy or excited over anything. It is truly a real thing, not just something people labeled on women right after they've had kids because they were tired and overworked. (talking about for me...I realize other things can cause depression). And here's the weird thing, it had NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with my babies. Nothing. It was a completely separate entity.

    Sorry, I tend to leave much too long comments. :) But you know me, long-winded. But I will say this, with God and with time and with my loving family, it got better. But because of my experience, I soooo understand that it is truly a REAL thing.

  2. I had forgotten about pregnancy related depression, which unlike other types, doesn't necessarily need to be monitored for return depressive cycles.

    I remember you saying how sick you were with the boys, nausea and such, so I am sure that didn't help!

    Hugs to all the moms who experience(d) that cloud of darkness.

  3. Though I've heard that if you've had postpartum once, you're more apt to have it again, and supposedly, it can get worse each time. (shrug). Not sure exactly how true that is, just what I've been told. Though mine did get worse the second time.

  4. Thank you. I think you know, I'm with you 100% on getting help for depression. I'm so incredibly sorry for your loss.

  5. I can't imagine going through something like that. This is such an important message. Thank you for writing about it.


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