When I was in college one of the engines we used for practice was a big old ugly Deutz that had definitely seen better days. Someone along the way had dubbed it “the dark side of the moon” (I’m guessing in reference to the Pink Floyd album) and it stuck. If you look up what the meaning behind that album is, there’s one interpretation that I love. The author states:
“…The album discusses the philosophical and physical ideas that can can lead to a person’s insanity, and ultimately an unfulfilled life…”
That engine has since been sent to the dump, having outlived its purpose as a training tool, but it will remain the most memorable diesel I took apart. I think that the speculative explanation of the meaning behind the album kind of suits that retired engine, in that it was missing so many parts after years of students taking things off and failing to put them back. There was an ever expanding pile of parts on the workbench next to it, and trying to deduce what was supposed to go where could bring bouts of insanity. And not being able to put the Deutz back together in its entirety was most definitely unfulfilling. That engine was left physically in shambles, to the point of no return.
A friend of mine is an avid Pink Floyd fan, and requested a painting years back in tribute to them. I don’t remember if I took a picture of it or not. Probably not because I don’t document most of my art work. It was The Teacher if anyone is familiar with it, and he still has it in his home to this day. Whenever I think of Pink Floyd I think of that engine, my friend, and my Daddy. Daddy was a Pink Floyd fan, and an artist so it all ties in to my memory bank.
One of my strongest opinions is on depression. Most people have found themselves on the dark side of that moon once or twice, and it doesn’t always have the same landscape or even scale of darkness. There are so many factors that tie into that one remarkable word. The marks it leaves, the ripples that lap out from pebbles dropped into that big black lake, the signs and side affects, and how it differs for every individual. If you’re wondering why I’ve jumped from Pink Floyd and a decrepit old engine from college days right into the bleak topic of depression, it’s because I honestly equate that phrase to depression. Anyone who’s ever suffered from depression, or has bore witness to a loved one caught in the throes of a dark moment can probably understand my comparison.
The world has started to recognize depression as a serious “illness”, and there is much more awareness on the subject now than there used to be. When Robin Williams committed suicide, the masses were shocked. How could such a notoriously funny, happy comedian succumb to suicide? Mrs. Doubtfire was depressed? It was proof that everything presented on the surface is not indicative of the deeper layers. There are varying degrees of depression, and by no means am I an expert on the topic, but I have been a survivor of my own depression and have also had my life altered irrevocably by depression in loved ones. So I feel like laying out my personal experiences and views on such a widely debated and previously taboo subject.
When I was 9 years old, my father committed suicide. It was the first huge turning stone in my life. You ever wonder when exactly it is that children lose that wondrous sense of innocence they view life with? I’ve thought about it a lot over the years. Personally I think it’s when they first experience heartbreak. Every human being will at some point be forced to suffer a blow they’re not initially willing to accept. A pivotal experience they’re forced to recover from. It could be the death of a parent, or sibling, a family member or pet. It could be a divorce of their parents. It could be as simple as learning that Santa Claus doesn’t really exist, or that wrestling is fake. This seems like a big discrepancy, and maybe you’re thinking How on earth could you compare losing a loved one to finding out Stone Cold Steve Austin is a fraud? One of the best life lessons I learned was that everything is relative. In Deep Blue Sea, LL Cool J describes Einstein’s theory of relativity pretty accurately:
“Grab hold of a hot pan, a second can seem like an hour. Put your hands on a hot woman, an hour can seem like a second.”
Not the same situation, but same principle. Something bad can seem to go on forever, something good can seem to pass in a blink of your eye. But it’s different for every person. If my worst heartbreak came from losing my father, that doesn’t mean it hurt any more or any less than someone who’s worst heartbreak was moving to a new city and losing all their closest friends. It’s all relative. You can’t compare your pain or grief to that of anyone else’s, because we all experience things that make or break us differently. And some people are fortunate enough to have their first “life lesson” in pain be finding out their parents lied about the big jolly man coming down the chimney on December 24th every year.
As a child, you view the world in perfect, untainted, naive clarity. Everything is as it seems, and there’s no grey area. It takes those moments of growth to force us into the realization that life isn’t always fair. It isn’t always good or bad, happy or sad, do or don’t. Those simplicities we favour in our youngest years become complications as we start to see more and more of the world, and experience things that no one can describe quite right. When you’re five, you view the tree in your backyard as a haven. You have a treehouse that your parents built, there are limbs to climb and explore, animals to watch, maybe a swing to play on. There’s nothing to be thought of other than getting up that tree, enjoying it as it is, and coming back down again. Maybe at ten you see that treehouse as childish. You’re not a baby anymore so it doesn’t hold the same appeal it used to. You’d rather be out playing track down or on your pogo stick with friends, and only little kids can spend endless hours with make believe friends in trees. By fifteen, you don’t even notice that tree. It doesn’t do anything for you anymore, just serves as a reminder of how simple life was before school and tests and friends and enemies. Before experiencing life through the eyes of a growing adolescent. You remember that time you fell out of the tree and broke your wrist. You remember the year a hurricane came and broke down the branches that housed your childhood playground, and you were stuck cleaning up the mess and branches while your friends were at the mall. Same tree. Same memories. Different views. The magic has worn off. As you get older you learn to look for the tougher parts of things. Because after your first traumatic experience that begins to shape your realism towards life, you now know that it isn’t all easy. It can’t all be explained from a book or Mom or Dad, there’s a grey area for things that used to be so easy. Every boo boo can’t be forgotten about after a bandaid and a kiss. You really realize that some boo boos are internal, and only you can make them better. And there isn’t always a blatant sign for how to go about fixing them.
The change in our views of the world continue after our initial turning point. The older we get, the more we experience, the more cynical and guarded we become. It gets a little harder to come up with positives when you find yourself drowning in negatives. You grow up and learn hard lessons in loss. In failure. In deceit and dishonesty. And sometimes those things can weigh down heavier than you realize. A lot of people don’t really recognize they’ve been on a downward spiral until they hit rock bottom. Human nature is a constant natural insult of ideals. “Be good, but not too good. Enjoy the moment, but don’t stop focusing on the future. Get mad when you’re wronged, but don’t do anything rash. Dream but don’t be unrealistic.” And so on and so on. There’s a balancing act expected of every faucet of life, and sometimes it’s natural and easy to flow with. But sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s a war being waged without any training in combat.
One of those wars is depression. And as aforementioned, there are definitely different types. Some people literally have a chemical imbalance that doesn’t allow them to see the world in full colour, everything always seems stark and dreary and grey, with occasional glimpses of colour. These are the types that benefit from antidepressants because you can’t change the chemical processes in your body with psychology or behavioural/situational changes. The only way to start seeing life as more than a burden or chore is to get those chemical reactions balanced with drugs, and learn to live a happy life with the assistance. Some people have degrees of depression which are brought on by life experiences. Sometimes therapy can help. Behavioural modifications, drastic changes in their environments, becoming aware of triggers and removing those toxins can help. This is why it’s never a one-size-fits-all when it comes to mental health. Everything is relative, but we can only experience our personal interpretations of situations or feelings as such and it’s not always easy to figure out. There isn’t a quick fix for most things in life, and depression least of all.
Now I’m going to delve into my own battle with depression, cause all I can really give is my personal take and feelings on such an overwhelming topic. So, as I said, Daddy committed suicide when I was 9. I feel like my whole world ended right then and there, and I started to build a new one in the aftermath. I’ll do an “Ode to my Fallen Angel” at some point, because most of my memories of Daddy are happy ones. When I was still carefree and young and blissfully content as all kids should be. This particular post is more so about the ways it shaped me, the negative affects, my stages of grief and then my making peace with his decision, and why I’m constantly wanting to fix people or help them fix themselves. Also this is my modern journal, and it’s a painful relief to get some of the ugly out of my system.
I was Daddy’s little girl, so as anyone else who’s shared that title can attest to, he was my knight in shining armour. When I wanted my first pair of platform shoes and Mama nixed the notion, Daddy quietly took me out to the Shoe Company, bought me my black Bongos and I was happy as a clam. We just bonded from my birth, and he was my hero. I’m much more like my Daddy than I am like my Mama, Quinn has always been a total Mama’s boy and they too are so much alike. Quinn and I both acquired lots of traits from both of them, and I like to think we’re a good combo of both. It’s hard to explain the different kind of relationships I had with them, and I know parents always say they don’t love one kid more than the other, but 9 times out of 10 there’s one of their offspring they identify with more so it’s a distinct variance in the relationships with the others. When Daddy died, Mama was left trying to forge a new relationship with me because before, it was kind of them and us for the most part. We were a super happy close knit family, don’t get me wrong. But it was just different between each parent/child duo, I think that’s fairly common. A family balance at its finest. Mama was left trying to play the part of both parents, grieving silently and in a kind of solitary confinement, because she had one kid who didn’t understand what happened and was SO angry and SO confused, another kid that was also unaware of the changes about to happen and experiencing his own pain, and then her own loss of her love and best friend and partner, and the fact that life continues on even when you feel like the whole universe should stop. So my first experience with depression was certainly after Daddy died.
Looking back on it, I can see the changes now. I can pinpoint when I started to go off track, when my mentality flipped and grew cold and hard. I began smoking the year after he died. Started getting into bad stuff that I’ll leave for another day. Started being defiant and dismissive and all around difficult to be around. It wasn’t until I was forced to go to a psychologist in boarding school that I really saw how far I’d fallen. I honestly believe that we’re wired to forge on, regardless of inner turmoil, because we’re genetically coded to be survivors. We have a fight or flight instinct, and you don’t always know when you’re in those modes. Most of the time we’re in flight. But there comes a time when that flight can lead us down a dark path and we’re so focused on looking for the light at the end that we don’t notice the darkness closing in. And when you’ve made one too many mistakes, or had one too many close calls, or one too many failures, that’s when you stop and take it in. You see that you’ve lost sight of that light and you’ve become lost on your path to it.
My psychologist did what she was trained to do, and quickly pinpointed the root of my anger and behavioural issues to be the death of my father. At the time I remember being so resentful, and still so sad and confused, that I thought “Great, you’re a genius. I’m fucked up because my dad committed suicide. Not a revelation lady, what a waste of time.” But every session after that became easier, and I started understanding the relationship between my subconscious and actions. I was amazed by the science behind it, and decided I wanted to become a psychologist too. I figured that I was cured, no longer going to be a problem child and now that I was forced to admit my deepest and darkest fears to a stranger, I was on the path back to happiness.
Except I wasn’t. Wasn’t cured. It’s not as simple as being able to identify the primary source of whatever it is that breaks our fragile psyches in the first place. That’s the stepping stone to recovery, but then you need to work through it. It’s all well and good to know that you’re unhappy because you don’t like your body image for example. But if you don’t take stock of what the contributions to that are, and how to go about making changes to alter your perception and ultimately fix the issue, you’re left with being an informed victim of depression. You’re not becoming a survivor by sitting idly and hoping it will fix itself. Just knowing the cause isn’t a solution. You have to figure out what the main reason behind it is and then learn to cope and learn to heal. If the problem is chemical, you try different meds until one works well with your body and mind, and you can confidently get back on track and learn to see life in colour again.
I didn’t do anything to address my depression from my traumatic childhood. I was still mad at Daddy. Still couldn’t rationalize how he could have hated his family so much that he couldn’t bear to live at all. Why didn’t he just leave? Why did he have us if he didn’t really want us? What did I do to make him so sad? Normal questions in a child’s mindset. Not the same questions I ponder about him now. I spent my youth feeling lonely and bitter, I felt abandoned and unloved and unwanted. Yes, now I know that I wasn’t. Now I can see with empathy what everyone around me was going through, and I can understand their actions. But as a kid, it made no sense and in all honesty I was entitled to selfishly deal with my own demons and screw everyone else’s. So when I got into high school, and hormones started changing and the normal adolescent problems came up, all it did was get worse. I tried to commit suicide myself when I was 16. It was a useless attempt, and now I see that it was more a cry for help than anything else. I’d gone on antidepressants, didn’t react well with them, didn’t deal with the reasons my teenage self was depressed in the first place, and chalked it up to “genetics”. You’d have to google the ins and outs of it, but basically if someone has a parent who suffers from depression, there’s a greater likelihood that the child will develop it too. It’s like a cancer in its own right. Malignant in some cases, benign in others. So I got off the antidepressants and sat down to muddle through what was happening. It was at that point that I went from being angry and confused with Daddy’s death, and began to empathize. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t mad at him. I was sad for him. It took me allowing myself to hit the same rock bottom to truly look at his situation and say “I’m so sorry Daddy, I wish I would have known you were feeling like this.” If you’ve never been suicidal, it’s hard to actually put yourself in the shoes of those who are. You kind of hit a mental space where you feel like you’re a burden to the people around you, and you truly believe their lives would be better without your dark cloud swallowing their sunny days. No, it’s not rational and it sure as hell isn’t true. Because I think anyone would take a sad loved one over the memories of them and a grave to visit. I used to lock myself in my closet with my cat Cookie, and just cry and cry and cry. I didn’t want anyone to see me falling apart, and I didn’t understand why I was. I don’t even remember what it was that pushed me over that edge now, but I just remember feeling so alone and unlovable, like I was wasting space that could be better used by someone else.
Crying is different for me now than it was when I was younger. Mama rarely cried when I was growing up, Quinn was always a happy child so he only ever cried when I was trying to dismantle him limb by limb, or putting him out in our yard sale for 1$. All while smiling like a lunatic, so many baby pics of us have me laughing while he’s crying. And no I’m not a psychopath, I just didn’t like him as a baby. He was too quiet and well behaved, and I’ve always been loud and curious aka getting into shit I shouldn’t. Off topic haha, shocking for me eh? Back to the crying, basically I wasn’t raised around loads of tears, Mama was busy working and raising two kids, and since I had a huge chip on my shoulder and felt like I was suffering through life alone, I didn’t cry in front of people. Occasionally when drinking with friends in high school, I would have these heart to hearts and let people in. Always in tears, always sad memories, always feeling a love I will never forget. Now I cry just as rarely, but it actually feels good. It’s basically my pressure relief valve. When I get too sad or upset or overwhelmed, instead of pushing those feelings down I let them run their course. If that means half an hour of ugly crying, so be it because I feel cleansed when it’s done. Weakness isn’t asking for help or knowing when you reach limits and just can’t carry on. Strength is knowing when these moments come, and being strong enough to swallow pride and say “I’m not okay”. It helps to have people you love and trust who will listen with no judgement, hold you when you need it, wipe those tears off and help however you need it. But getting to the point where you can openly admit you need help is the biggest battle. And most people suffer in silence unfortunately.
Not all depression ends in suicide, but almost all suicide is the offspring of depression. I admire anyone who has battled those deep, dark sides of their moon and come back from it. You don’t always make a full recovery, but as long as you take steps forward with the steps back, you’re doing just fine. It took me getting to the sad point of wanting to end my life, to understand the man behind the cause. I now think back fondly of Daddy, and I’m not mad anymore. I found a way to forgive him, and also to forgive myself. Hindsight is 20/20 so when someone loses their battle with suicidal thoughts, you can see their faraway eyes in pictures. The smiles that don’t quite make it to those eyes. The grief being reined in so tightly because they don’t want to further burden the people they cherish so greatly. And honestly you couldn’t have done anything differently because you didn’t know. If you’ve never been suicidal, you can’t understand right away that the fallen angels thought they were being selfless, not selfish. But having been a survivor, of both those thoughts and as a partially orphaned child due to it, I can honestly say that Life Does Go On. It’s not always easy, and everyone has different causes of their sadness, but it is all relative and everything does pass. And usually the hardest battles you fight provide the sweetest victories.
This is why I will always identify with someone who has some serious baggage. I love people who have scars that run as deeply as mine because it’s almost like a brotherhood. Survivors. Doesn’t matter what you survived, or how you think it rates on the scale. There is no comparison for anyone else’s pain or grief to yours. There can only ever really be understanding. Understanding of the hurt and pain carried by all of us. Understanding that everyone has different limits to their tolerance of their pain. And understanding that we’re all fighting battles internally but sometimes we all need a little help. I’ve been much happier in recent years. Long story short, I learned to cope with Daddy a little better, I dropped bad habits and people, and started pouring my energy into becoming better. Making a palpable effort to grow into someone I could like, instead of hating what I saw every day in the mirror. And there are still days where I’m not very nice to myself, as we all have. But I count my blessings more than my burdens, and I also know that I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without it all. It’s hard losing people you love, but it’s harder to lose yourself. Depression wears many different faces, has so many different causes and triggers, and is always a personal fight. But there is also always a solution to it, just have to keep those gloves up and stay in the ring for another round.
Earlier this year I found some of those old feelings creeping up on me and immediately went and found a psychologist. I was referred to her by one of my closest friends and biggest inspirations actually. We talked about my need for stress management, got to the root of things, and just as quickly as I felt the cool shade starting to close in, the sun came back around. I vocalized my newest fears and feelings of inadequacy, and just having her to bounce everything off made a world of a difference. I’m extremely self aware, so I can see when I need help objectively. My father’s depression shaped who I am today in so many ways, but I’m also proud of the survivor I’ve become and I know he would be too. I am very vocal, I actually do well with constructive criticism, and I love to talk things through. Communication is key. I’ve learned to channel my hardships into motivation towards my triumphs.
I guess what I’m trying to convey in this long-winded stream of consciousness is that we can all find ourselves on the dark side of the moon. Find ourselves living a life that’s unfulfilling and feeling those beating wings of madness that fly a little too close for comfort. I find writing helps me cope in some ways, hugs and heart to hearts with people I love help, the gym is a wicked de stressor. I’ve discovered a few different methods to dealing with my roadblocks on the path to a happy, fulfilling life. And those methods will change and evolve as I do. I just hope that anyone who is dealing with their own demons can keep fighting, keep surviving a day at a time, until they find their own methods and breakthrough. Do whatever it takes to stay in the game. I don’t believe depression is a weakness, nor something to be ashamed of. We all suffer blows that can take a little time to recover from, and some of us are unluckier than others with how many we take and how hard they hit. Be patient, be understanding, and most of all hold onto anything that gives you hope. There is always a glimmer of light to be found, and the victory of beating those demons is indescribable. Find your rainbows and chase em folks, cause we all go through life changing ordeals, but we all deserve to love and be loved. In the end, that’s the most powerful drug of all.