I feel as though I should start this by saying, through all his faults, I do love my father. Truly. OK, now to the story.
I’ve been lying to people for weeks. No “big” lies, but not exactly “little” lies either. But lies most of us tell. They ask, “How are you?” and I respond, “I’m doing aight.” I’m not. I’m not aight. I’m the furthest thing from it.
I should have caught it earlier. The weird sleep patterns, the lack of appetite, the increased alcohol consumption, the fatigue, the lack of motivation to do even the things I enjoy. Depression. I’ve been here so many times before. I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder and depression back in 2008, after spending most of that spring and summer experiencing daily panic attacks that ultimately prevented me from graduating college. Since then, I’ve certainly had depressed episodes, but nothing I couldn’t identify immediately and then do all I could to correct. I was slipping this time around.
That’s another lie. It isn’t that I didn’t recognize what was happening, it’s that I didn’t want to do anything about it. I didn’t want to be strong. I didn’t want to fight back. I’m tired.
I’ve been feeling like I’d much rather sink into it, let the depression envelope me in all of its distorted comfort. Because…well, this brings me back to my father.
I’ve never had a very good relationship with my pops. I’ve never really had a decent relationship with him, either. Whether he knew it or not, we were always at odds with one another. He thought he was raising me. I knew he was crushing me.
Like many a father, mine is an old school patriarch. He saw his role as provider and disciplinarian, not much more. He practiced the kind of masculinity that I often critique: the unfeeling,
The older I got, the more I saw him trying to shape and mold me into the type of man he thought I should be, the more I resisted, the more he made me feel unloved. I got the sense that if I wasn’t perfect, the way he saw perfect, he would never love me. He pushed on school, on extracurriculars, on household chores, on the music I listened to, on the way I dressed, on every conceivable facet of my life. Any slip from his perfect vision was cause for swift and harsh punishment. It only hurt more that he could brag about me in front other people, friends and strangers alike, about what a great son he had, but could never bring himself to say those words to me.
Whenever I say this, I sound like I’m whining. When there are fathers in this world that are so much worse, the only complaints I have to register is that mine wanted me to do my best. I wish that were all there was to it. His method of parenting bred in me a deep sense of inadequacy.
I’m supposed to be grateful that I had a father in my life. But when sending him a text to wish him happy birthday triggers anxiety, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be grateful for. I can’t speak to him without feeling worse about myself, no matter the conversation. And whenever something genuinely good does happen in my life, I can’t help but feel it just isn’t good enough. For him.
Or, more damagingly, that I’m not good enough for the good in my life. I feel guilty. I feel like I’ve stolen all of my achievements from someone more deserving. I feel people who claim to love me have it displaced. When depression slinks in and tries to take over, I’m OK with it, because I feel like that’s exactly what I deserve.
I keep searching for validation or my worth, my beauty, in my work and friendships and romantic entanglements and Twitter and money and clothes, largely to no avail. Because all of those things are fleeting. There’s a void that I’ve become adept at talking around.
I’m profoundly unhappy with my life. And not because anything is wrong. By almost every measure, my life is great. But I don’t feel worthy of it.
That’s something that can only be corrected from within. But depression convinces me that I shouldn’t, that I can’t, that it’s not worth it. It offers the validation of my worthlessness and comfort in never having to fight back against that thought.
I wish I was just fishing for compliments here and that would make it all better. But it doesn’t. Trust me, I’ve tried that before. This is me attempting to be honest with myself. Depression can’t win against honesty.
I’m listening to a lot of Raphael Saadiq lately (not because I’m depressed, because the man’s a genius) and his song “Staying in Love” where he sings: “Falling in love can be easy/staying in love is too tricky.” He was talking about romantic love, but I think the same is true for self love. I fell in love with myself once, but I’ve yet to figure out how to stay there. It wouldn’t “cure” my anxiety or depression, but I wouldn’t be so prone to accept depression if I could figure out how to love myself more consistently.
I’m committed, now, to trying. For anyone else out there dealing with the same, I hope you can find a way to try, too.
Mychal Denzel Smith is a Knobler Fellow at The Nation Institute.