Zelophehad’s Daughters

Sometimes I Dream

Posted by Mike C

Sometimes I dream that I’m watching a girl drown. The water is deep and dark, the current is strong yet gentle, almost caressing her. It seems to be a slow-motion drowning, lacking in drama and velocity. And I’m standing right there on the shore, waving my arms ineffectually as I look on in despair. I am useless. Sometimes it seems that she isn’t even trying to swim, and I become frustrated as she stops stroking and kicking, apparently consigned to letting the waves calmly wash over her and carry her out to sea.

My daughter suffers from depression. Her first major episode, at least as far as I could perceive, began in middle school when her mom and I were divorced. Since then she has had significant ups, and many good times and good friends, but the dark cloud that is the absence of purpose and meaning, hopes and dreams, seems to follow her like an unruly, unwelcome companion. Meds have helped, therapy has brought some relief, but deep down, the terrifying emptiness that I imagine never seems to leave her alone.

I do not understand it. I seek for empathy but I’m sure that I just don’t comprehend what she experiences. Even as I tell this story I know that I’m getting it wrong. As much as I don’t want to experience depression myself, I truly wish I had empathy. I wish I could say to her that I understand what she is feeling. I wish I could provide her that shelter and support.

At other times I wish that I could take her suffering away and suffer in her place. But the cruel reality is that that is not an option. This little girl, who I blessed as a baby to be a happy child, who sang and scrubbed the floor in imitation of Cinderella as a 2-year old, who always, always laughed at my jokes (the true sign of a blessed spirit), has a disease that neither I nor the doctors can take away. She now enters adulthood and I wave my arms ineffectually and look on in despair. I have an inkling of what David must have felt when he cried, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

And I rage, rage against the cruelty of fate and the human condition that causes her to suffer so (I don’t believe God has anything to do with it). I hate mental illness. I just hate it. Perhaps I don’t have the standing to feel so violently about mental illness since I have not experienced it first hand, but I loath it.

To my further dismay, my daughter’s suffering has shone a harsh light on my deepest flaws. Because sometimes while she is suffering I feel not empathy, but frustration and annoyance. Why can’t she do more? Why won’t she do more? She is so sweet, intelligent, and fun, but as I fret about her lost potential, I sometimes allow my delight in her personality, her being, to be forgotten. I have hope that she will be able to function throughout her life, that she will find joy in learning, work, family, and faith, but I let that hope eat away at my compassion. Under the guise of worrying about her future success, I lack patience for her current difficulty.

I wish I had answers, both for her suffering and for my dysfunctional way of coping. I truly believe that she will learn to manage, that it will get better, that she will grow strong as she faces this adversity. But as a father I sometimes let my fears engulf me. At these times, however, what often brings me solace is the Atonement; I feel that the Atonement has something to say to me. And yet I don’t quite know what it is. I don’t understand the Atonement, its theories all seem inadequate, but the story of a parent afflicted by the suffering of a child speaks to me, and somehow I am comforted. The sky brightens, the sun comes up, and I dream that my daughter is standing on the beach, waving at me through the mist. And she is smiling.

10 Responses to “Sometimes I Dream”

  1. 1.

    As a person with a family member who has depression, I relate to this post SO MUCH. Thank you for spelling out the conflicting ideas/feelings that the family members of people with various mental illness may have. Understanding that it’s not their fault, wondering why they can’t do more, then feeling guilty for thinking about it. Oh the guilt. Really enjoyed your post.

  2. 2.

    Thank you for posting this. I have family members with depression and I need to be reminded of how to show compassion and sympathy.
    Your image of a girl drowning is very intense, and appropriate. It makes me realize how little I understand, how much I can’t do, and how often I try to forget their pain.

    I wish you and your daughter the best. I’m glad she has a father like you.

  3. 3.

    Thank you, BethSmash and Jessawhy. I was hoping that by writing this post I would remind myself to have more patience, compassion, and understanding. I am glad that it helped you as well.

  4. 4.

    Mike, this is really beautiful. I think this point is especially fascinating:

    I have hope that she will be able to function throughout her life, that she will find joy in learning, work, family, and faith, but I let that hope eat away at my compassion.

    Hope isn’t something I often think of as something damaging — it’s interesting to consider how it can actually be problematic when it’s put too much in tension with things that are out of your control.

  5. 5.

    Great post, Mike. I have more experience being the depressed person than being the family member trying to help the depressed person out. Thanks for showing me a new perspective!

  6. 6.

    I hate the hopeless darkness, too. It’s not much easier to look on someone else’s depression even when you have some idea what it’s like yourself. Sometimes it’s like you are watching yourself drown while waving your arms ineffectually from the shore, all at the same time. Thanks for sharing this. I hate that anyone has to go through it.

  7. 7.

    At other times I wish that I could take her suffering away and suffer in her place. But the cruel reality is that that is not an option. This little girl, who I blessed as a baby to be a happy child, who sang and scrubbed the floor in imitation of Cinderella as a 2-year old, who always, always laughed at my jokes (the true sign of a blessed spirit), has a disease that neither I nor the doctors can take away. She now enters adulthood and I wave my arms ineffectually and look on in despair. I have an inkling of what David must have felt when he cried, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

    This paragraph especially speaks to me. About a year ago, when it was becoming more and more painfully evident that our son was suffering not just from a physical disability but from cognitive delays as well, my husband and I went out to lunch one day and I found myself breaking down in the middle of the restaurant. As I said to my husband that day, I would give anything if I could take on my son’s disabilities and the challenges that he will face throughout his life as a result. But I can’t. I can give him every resource and every bit of help I can muster, but neither I nor anyone else can spare him the pain of social judgments he will inevitably face. The same passage of scripture has often crossed my mind.

    Right now my son is that two-year-old that your daughter was, full to the brim of life and charm and sparkle (and vociferous tantrums, it must also be said). And it breaks my heart to know how abruptly and how brutally that joyful light could be put it out.

  8. 8.

    […] guest post is brought to us by my daughter, the crooked girl. Recently I wrote a post on my perspective of her depression, and I invited her to write her own experience. This is what […]

  9. 9.

    #4 – Maybe the word “hope” is not correct in this context.

    “I have hope that she will be able to function throughout her life” He hopes she will be able to function, – of course because he loves her and wants her to be happy, but also – partly because then he won’t worry about her…his resources will not be taxed by her needs. Instead of being meekly and long-sufferingly available for his daughter, he is hoping that she will not need him too much.

    “I fret about her lost potential” means that the author wants what HE wants for his daughter, not what she or God wants for her. He wants “future success” for her, knstead of God’s will.

    And it is so brave for the author to admit this to himself and to us. It is our deepest guilt and our deepest reality that we are selfish, self-preserving, weak, whiny, and we hate pain. I myself suffer from depression, and I tell you that NO ONE – not even my husband or my mother or my father or anyone else who loves me – would be willing to take it upon themselves, even if it would relieve me. It is that terrible. I would not take it on for someone else, either – not even for my own flesh and blood son or daughter.

    So here’s where the Atonement comes in: only One was willing to take my pain upon Him. That is why I worship Jesus, and not my loved ones. And Jesus will strengthen my loved ones to be His hands when I need them. And He will teach and guide and cradle and permit me to suffer when I need it. His will for me is not relief, it is immortality and eternal life. I trust Him. I trust Him enough to not hate the ones around me who don’t suffer, who let me down, who make my affliction worse. And I trust Him enough to not hate Him, the One who allows this affliction to remain.

    There is no shame in being too weak to help each other. There is no shame in being frustrated, annoyed, for not offering shelter or support, for lacking empathy, for being impatient. This is the human condition. But there is guilt. And only the Atonement can wash away our stain.

  10. 10.

    I think you are perceptive and correct, Angie. If I examine myself I see that my concern is about my daughter and me both, not just about her. I also agree with you that my weakness and selfishness is probably inevitable and OK, but that it is something I may be able to transcend over time with divine assistance.

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