I posted last week's blog, Depression, on Facebook and a friend commented that, “This is one of the clearest descriptions of depression I have every read.” There's no way for me to express how much that means to me, but I'm going to try anyway.
When I was in my mid-twenties, my father married a woman who had adult children of her own. She set about making her daughter into the daughter my father never had. It has always seemed to me that my father jumped at this chance to have the Father Knows Best relationship our baggage prevented him from having with me.
Obviously I have lots of issues with the whole situation, but the one I'm getting at today involves depression and imposter syndrome.
Talking with my father's wife (hereafter known as Bane) not long after they were married, I happened to mention depression. I could have been talking about medication or maybe my father's reaction, which was unsurprisingly less than supportive, to my first major depression; I only remember that I was talking about depression with regard to myself. Her response was, “I know all about depression because [her daughter] has real depression.”
For years, when asked what my main beef with Bane, I would perseverate on the time I mentioned my love for reading and she asked, “Have you ever read Chicken Soup for the Soul?” I told my brother that once and he didn't really understand my point, saying, “Well, that is a book.” My point was about depth and substance and nuance, but I wasn't making it very well. Wasn't communicating well. I don't have an issue at all with people who read those books; it wasn't about the books. It was about her picture of herself, and her daughter, as the easy breezy beautiful solution to my broody difficult mess. She is sunshine (Chicken Soup for the Soul) and I'm not worth the effort to slog through the muck (Jane Eyre). No, my book choice there is not random; I'm the metaphorical crazy wife in the attic.
But the words and stories that would communicate my real feelings about my father's new family were too painful to look at, let alone discuss with anyone.
I knew then, as I know now, that Bane was full of shit. But knowing something intellectually rarely translates to knowing it emotionally; not without years of therapy and practice.
I was also brought up to believe that my reality and internal narrative weren't reliable, that others' were more accurate than mine, so I had no defense prepared for this woman. Bane had a reality that didn't gel with anyone else's, yet she always came out the one on the record.
I lived with my father in Colorado for a while after he and my mother were divorced. At one point, he was dating a woman named Sharon; I learned later that he had dated Bane first, but she had dumped him. Sharon was the first woman he dated that he introduced, or even talked about, to me and I really liked her. I came home one evening to a ringing phone. It was Sharon asking if I had seen my father. He was supposed to have picked her up for a date that evening, but he never showed up. This was before cell phones, so there was no way to get in touch with him other than calling his house, hoping he would pick up. This was totally out of character for my father, so we were both really worried. We talked about what to do, but it wasn't like there was a bar or other place where my father was known to generally hang out, so the only thing we came up with was to call hospitals to see if he'd been admitted to one. That seemed pretty drastic, so we decided to wait for an hour or so to see if he showed up. He came waltzing in the door about 45 minutes later. He had blown off his date to talk to Bane about getting back together without the courtesy of a phone call to Sharon, like he was a selfish, disrespectful, churlish 15 year old idiot.
Though we didn't meet in person, that was my first encounter with Bane and her effect on my father.
My father died almost 15 years ago. There were two memorial services: one in Colorado, where he and Bane still lived, and the other in the small, Arkansas town where he and my mother both grew up. I didn't go to the one in Colorado. I had been there with him in the hospital before he died and I didn't feel as though I'd been a part of his life in Colorado for a long time. Instead, I went to Arkansas, where I had family and knew I would see people who had known my dad since he was a kid. Even so, Band seemed to dominate the narrative. She had a portrait displayed at the memorial service, a lovely picture of my dad as a child, only it wasn't actually my dad. It was a picture of his older brother, who died of leukemia when my father was 12. Even though most of the people at the service had known him at that time, I seemed to be the only one who noticed it was not my dad in the picture. I mentioned it to Bane, but she insisted it was my father. I recently found the original of that picture. My uncle's name is written on the back in my grandmother's handwriting. Even so, Bane's narrative stands.
My father served in the military for 22 years. We lived in six different states and moved at least ten times, including when we lived with my grandmother while my dad was in Saigon during the Vietnam conflict, before I was 12. When I was about 14, my dad retired from the military rather than move our family to Pakistan for my brother's senior year of high school. My dad left the military a decade before he even met his second wife, but the flag presented at his graveside to honor his military service was presented to her; to a woman who has no idea what it means to be in a military family.
I have long suspected that Bane manipulated the changing of my father's will, but didn't worry too much about it because the terms seemed fair to me. They created a series of trusts – the main trust holding their joint assets and to be divided between their combined four children when they both passed and a trust each containing their individual assets before they were married. Those other two trusts, the ones holding their premarital assets, would go to the individual's two children after the death of the surviving spouse. About two years ago, she tried to get my brother and I to sign away our rights to anything my father had left for us. The document she sent didn't jibe with the letter she sent in a separate email. Also, the point of the document seemed to be to reinstate Bane's brother as trustee if something happened to Bane, who became the trustee about a year after my father's death. I apparently signed that document, though I have no memory of it. The date coincides with my oldest son's two-month immunizations that resulted in him sleeping only 30 minutes at a time for about two weeks, so I'm not surprised that I don't remember. I had a former prosecutor friend look at the new document Bane wanted me to sign and we agreed there was something fishy going on. So, instead of signing the document she sent me, I began to look for a lawyer.
I won't go into great detail about the issues right now, but I will tell you that Bane has been served with papers to remove her as trustee. I thought I had come to terms with my emotions about all this, but seeing the actual evidence pile up has stirred up a hornet's nest in me.
As I said, it's one thing to know something on an intellectual level, but the emotional reality of it is another thing entirely. I'm having nightmares where I am telling my father about the things his widow has done. It's present day in the dream, but I'm not sure if my father is a ghost or if he's still alive. What I do know is that he has excuse after excuse for why Bane's actions don't mean what I think they mean. Because Bain's reality reigns even in my dreams. Which is what makes them nightmares.
This situation isn't the reason for my depression, but it's certainly a factor.
Maybe I've never really been depressed. Maybe me laughing at a joke somebody told proves that I'm not depressed now. Surely depression is an all-the-time kind of thing. I must be faking it. I'm only pretending. Passing myself off as depressed when I'm really an imposter.
Except that my friend said my description of depression was accurate, so maybe I'm not such an imposter after all.