I was planning to finish up and post a political commentary blog about Bernie Sanders today. However, the news of Anthony Bourdain’s death prompts me to write about depression.
Other than a few transitional times in my life I have never suffered from depression. But I believe that my father did, especially toward the end of his life. He struggled with his weight, with a food addiction, and, I think, with the deep shame that often accompanies such a struggle.
He did love quite a lot of people. Loved them well. To an extent, I think he allowed himself to be loved by them in return. But receiving that love fully was always hard for him. Quick-witted and self-deprecating, he would laugh off compliments or just sort of skip over them entirely. He was a talented writer and a gifted speaker, but I think the burden of that talent, the pressure to “do something with it,” was difficult for him.
Dad passed away a little over 4 years ago. I know now that he quietly suffered from congestive heart failure. His own ailments were not something he ever really discussed, especially not with his children. His heart gave out and he died suddenly at home. He was alone when he died. I wish he hadn’t been.
I’ve spent time working through the guilt. I would guess that most people who love someone that struggles with depression feel guilt. And helplessness. Maybe even anger sometimes, which then becomes more guilt. I did all the things that people who love someone with depression maybe try to do. Talk to them. Write them letters. Encourage them. Ignore them. Yell at them. Cry for them. Ask others to help them. So many times I would think to myself, “What am I supposed to do? He’s a grown man. I can’t force him to be happy.”
It’s true. People have to choose their own path. There is no magic formula to save those that suffer from mental illness. There is certainly no amount of money and no magic pill that can do it. I don’t know what the answer is. I wish I could finish off this blog with a resolution. Some insightful, enlightening answer to the question “why do people suffer”. I wish I could say that my experience with my Dad taught me some universal lesson I could share with you that might help you. But as with most lessons in life, it just doesn’t work that way. There’s no comprehensive way to overcome depression or anxiety or addiction or any number of other mental illnesses. There’s no perfect way to avoid pain.
I would say to you though, that it is ok. Whatever you are or aren’t doing to help someone with depression. It’s ok. If you are making yourself available, that’s ok. If you can only call occasionally, that’s ok too. If you haven’t spoken in weeks, that’s ok. If you talk every day, that’s ok too. We do the best we can for the people we love.
I can also say with absolute certainty that if you are suffering from depression, you are loved. You deserve that love. Nothing that you think about yourself can change that. Nothing that you do can change that.
I love my Dad. He knew that. He loved me. I knew that. Sometimes that’s all there is. And that’s ok.