Tuesday, June 16, 2015

My Son to the Rescue (Instead of Father's Day, How About Son's Day?)

Depression can creep around a hurting soul like ivy. What’s worse is the big D entices you into a gloomy way of life, sometimes to a point of no return. But in many cases, happiness is waiting with a change of perspective, and in my situation, a nudge from an unexpected hero.

            My darkness started in 2000 when in one week, I changed jobs, bought a new house, moved to a different state, got married, and my father died of cancer. The following year brought the loss of my mom and grandmother, and a layoff from the job I loved. Save for the birth of my son and a couple of other blessings, life looked pretty bleak. The recession had cheapened my profession almost into oblivion and I was running scared. Through it all, I worked hourly jobs, determined to help provide for my family, and hated my predicament. Later, I would learn that this noble attitude of staying busy and keeping my nose to the grindstone with angst is called projection in psychiatric circles.

            The worst was yet to come.

            New Year’s Eve 2012, my wife blindsided me with a divorce notification. Looking back, I couldn’t blame her. I was miserable to live with. If I thought I was next to worthless before, I turned into a train wreck after that. Each email from her attorney sent me into a panic. A day didn’t pass where I failed to bawl. The greatest pain—I’d let my son down. No more happy family. Guilt became a powerful ally for depression.

            On the advice of counselors, friends, and family, I read self-help books, stuck with my workouts, and mingled, but as far as I could see, rock bottom was where I’d stay forever.

            A surprising source showed me the way up. At a comic con, my son, cash burning a hole in his pants, paid $20 for a shoddy necklace—we’re talking about the kind you find in gum machines—which, of course, fell apart within an hour. I tried to dissuade kiddo from begging for a refund, certain they’d tell him to get lost. In tears, he hounded me. I relented. We meandered back to the vendors’ table. They were very gracious and promptly swapped with him. My jaw nearly unhinged in amazement. I had been so twisted with funk that a simple refund seemed like a miracle. It marked the first hint that my view of the world had strayed way out of alignment. I told my son that very instant that he’d made a lasting impression and I would commit to working on my attitude. He continued being an inspiration because of how well he adjusted after the divorce. His grades remained strong as did his spirit. Most importantly, he loved me.

            Soon, the self-help books started making more sense. This theme kept cropping up in them and resonating with me: You have all the tools right now to achieve contentment. Like with any discipline, martial arts for instance, time and practice is critical. I didn’t just become giddy overnight. In fact, operation happiness seemed undoable many times, but I kept plugging. Per my therapist’s advice, I maintained a journal of bad things, recording my first thoughts about them and knee-jerk feelings. After a few months, I learned that a super high percentage of the entries were non-issues. Most of the ‘horrors’, I didn’t even remember. My thoughts and feelings in the situation were off-the-charts unjustified. This realization to just roll with it felt like gaining a superpower.

            Compassion burgeoned in me. Taking one day at a time, challenges weren’t so insurmountable. Rarely did anything bother me. I found love again as well.

A better job with great benefits and hours also came my way. Although not fitting to my background, it turned out to be a gift that kept giving. The position, which required lots of customer interaction, earned me constant praise on my voice. Remarks like: “You should be an announcer,” or, “I could listen to you talk all day,” flattered me often. They reminded me that during the college days and shortly thereafter, I performed in restaurants and coffee houses. On my girlfriend’s requests, I picked up the six-string again. With a fresh outlook on life, and a passion for ‘remaking’ oldies with my own style, I've been hanging with musicians again. The best part is: my drummer son wants to be a part of it. Courtesy of Tumbling Dice, junior got to sit on stage with their drummer. Who knows? Maybe I have the next Bruno Mars on my hands.

As adults, we often think of kids as flexible, especially when it comes to physical aspects like sports injuries or their ability to sleep in the most awkward of positions. But if we really take a closer look, their flexibility across the board is astounding. With today’s technology alone, they are constantly relearning. To find myself again, all I needed to do was relearn. And it proved to be a great rediscovery.

My friends listen to me play and tell me that they’re glad to see my smile again, that I’ve come a long way. I always answer, “It wasn’t me. Of all places, a convention for superheroes, my son flew in and gave me a blast of his powers.”


Sisters of the Quill said...

That was so sweet. You should be sure to let your son read this, if he hasn't already. I remember your dark days... and I was so excited for you when they ended. The chemistry in our depressed brains certainly can create a horrific and scary disaster out of most anything. Glad you crawled out of the dark days. And how nice that you give some of the credit where credit is due. May you continue to find the happiness within you. - Karen

Chiseled in Rock said...

He's read it, Karen. Thank you!

Patricia Stoltey said...

That's a wonderful story, Dave. It's amazing how sometimes it's our kids who pull us through the bad times as though they were the strong, wise adults.

Cardinal said...

This is one of the MOST heartwarming columns I have *ever* read. I'll admit, I teared up and that's rare for me. You have an absolutely phenomenal son. And you know what? You truly *deserve* that young man, because he had to learn somewhere and that shines the light on *you.*

Enjoy your Father's Day, Dave. Somehow, I know you will. :)