The dark side of Dad’s life was the depressions he went through. It’s only been in the last few years I’ve been able to really put all these things together and understand what he went through. Part of this is because I’ve gone through these things. I’m going to share some things about myself that I’ve never shared with anyone. But, they need to be shared for two reasons: first, I need to work through them; and, second, so others can work through these issues.
The dark point of my life was early in 1989. I was taking classes at The University of Akron in chemical engineering. That’s no big secret. What is a big secret is that I was struggling with suicidal thoughts. I never got into drugs or alcohol through this period. I also was always able to talk myself through the fact that suicide was not the answer. But, I was on that tightrope, where I could have fell off the edge. I didn’t understand it then, but I understand it (at least in a better way) now. I just thought my life was heading in the wrong direction. What I really wanted to do at the time was study for the ministry. But, I felt pressure from my parents to go into engineering. I was gifted in mathematics in school, so a push for engineering was natural. Please understand, my parents were not the type that would try to pressure me like that. But, at the time I didn’t understand that. I was feeling a pressure that was in my mind. Sure, at that point they would have liked me to go into engineering, but had I felt more comfortable talking to them, perhaps I would have never gotten to the point of having suicidal thoughts.
Talking things through is an important point for anyone struggling with these issues. There is a hopelessness one feels and it feels that hopelessness may never go away. I’ve seen it in Dad and later in 2008 really felt it. By 2008, I had the understanding to better understand what was going on.
For about the last fifteen to twenty years of Dad's life (maybe a little longer, I can’t say) I watched Dad go through cycles of depression. In the late 1990’s he had a stroke. He recovered, but it may have been a contributing factor.
The crushing blow for Dad was forced retirement from Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company in 2002. He showed up one day and was asked to leave—after 36 years of service as a lab technician, which included work on several patents. One patent was for a curing process for the rubber compounds. Another was for a glow-in-the-dark marking that would be used in tires. To have a lab technician involved in these things was uncommon. Part of this was a special friendship he fostered with one of the engineers named Ramen. So, he was doing things lab technicians normally weren’t involved in. This was an area he showed his creativity.
Goodyear was firing employees who were closing in on full retirement. Dad received the ax. He was ushered out of the building and the contents of his locker were brought down to him in a box. He was later involved in a class action suit with other employees who were fired improperly. I’m not sure Dad ever got over that—he was so faithful (a wonderful trait he had) and then was kicked in the nuts. It was a brutal blow.
Dad went through cycles of depression. His thoughts were completely irrational. I remember him worrying he was going to die, because he couldn’t defecate for several days. He was worried things would back up in his system. He worried a lot about his legs and keeping up leg strength. This was particularly true when he had torn cartilage in his knee. In his mind, he wasn’t going to walk again, but he only faced a minor surgery. He also had some minor dental problems (obviously I’m not counting the major problems after his cancer diagnosis in 2013) and was constantly worried about his teeth and them rotting away.
At times, we had some arguments as I was trying to help Dad see things logically. It wasn’t until I faced some depressions of my own that I realized logic and depression are separate things. You can’t help someone that is depressed by winning a logical argument over something they feel. Dad also struggled with panic attacks and anxiety and struggled with some addiction to anti-anxiety medication: particularly Ativan through this last bout with cancer, but he desired the magic happy pill throughout every depression. From what I’ve seen, these pills may be necessary in certain situations, but often just mask real issues that need to be dealt with. I’ve also seen you need to be careful with these pills.
One medication that was terrible for Dad was Klonopin. He thought it made him better, but what it really did was make him numb to all emotions. Unless you’ve seen depression firsthand, you just don’t understand how hard it is to see someone that loses their spirit. There were points dad developed a blank expression—none of his heart or spirit showing through his countenance. As I consider things now, I realize with the proper course of treatment this may not have been necessary.
During one depression, Dad ended up in the psychiatric ward at St. Thomas hospital in Akron, Ohio. I visited Dad several times. This psychiatric ward was a dark place. There was a spirit of oppression that permeated the air. It’s hard to explain. It’s a heaviness that can be felt. I’m not sure how people are supposed to regain health in a toxic environment.
One evening they showed Dad, mom and I a video. It was about electroconvulsive therapy. The video painted this wonderful picture. Dad initially seemed receptive. Of course he was. He was depressed and wanted relief. They were offering him the magic pill! That evening I did some research. This treatment (also called electroshock therapy) is brutal. They run electricity through the brain and give someone a grand mal seizure. The idea is to reset the brain. I was frightened and angered. Mom and I talked to Dad and helped him see it wasn’t a good choice. The staff was pushing for the treatment.
I never met the doctor behind this brutality, but was ready if necessary to find where he lived and attack him if he wouldn’t back down on the treatment. I meant it. Beating this monster within an inch of his life would be true justice. The doctors who perform these treatments are vampires—willing to suck the life out of others for their own benefit (big profit). This treatment should be immediately banned. It’s no wonder the psychiatric ward at St. Thomas was such a dark place. Evil was hanging in the air and traumatized patients were walking the halls.
I think it was around 2007-2008 where I started to put the pieces together with Dad. 2008 was a hard time for me. I was approaching my 20-year high school reunion and I was single. I still am. I ache for a mate, but just haven’t met the right person. I suspect I do have a diminished attraction to and attractiveness towards women due to SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)—something I’ve started to understand only in the last few years as I’ve reflected on my life. There are many struggles I face that disappeared when I lived in Florida. Dad was diagnosed with SAD. There are therapies to treat this. Unfortunately, Dad wasn't diagnosed until later in life; and, as I'm learning more through my own personal experience, Dad may not have been given proper medical advice. SAD can be quite debilitating if not treated properly.
Anyhow, back to 2008. I was struggling working two teaching jobs—one online at Liberty University and the other on campus at Bohecker College. At times I was teaching three classes for Liberty and six at Bohecker. This was a peak schedule. It could be as low as four or five (usually it was six or seven) while at least having one and up to three at Liberty. I was on-fire about teaching and gave my all to my students. I didn’t realize until 2007 how much that was burning me out. I’m still currently teaching as the Department Chair of General Studies for National College in Stow, Ohio. I also teach at the Youngstown campus and occasionally at the Canton campus. Right now I’m looking for a new career. I’ve had to face the fact I’m an introvert. I love people, but they wear me out.
Dad was also an introvert. Introverts are energizers. They give themselves fully to others, but this can be to their own detriment. I’ve only come to fully understand this recently. I wish I understood this personality bent earlier. Maybe I could have helped Dad out more. I don’t feel guilty. I did the best I could with what I had, but I now have more. That’ why I’m sharing, so others can learn. I wouldn’t be surprised if many people that are the kindest, gentlest or most energizing (that’s how I am, although I’ve had to give less due to burnout) also end up with severe depression. I wouldn’t call Dad an energizer. I’d call him kind and generous. He warmed those around him. I don’t think he fully understood it and I didn’t really understand this personality trait until he was in the middle of his battle with cancer. At that point, we just needed to deal with the cancer, but I suspect Dad was the type that just couldn’t stop giving himself to others.
The burnout I was facing in 2007 and 2008 started me researching into what was causing this and the effects of stress. People that are extremely driven (or under much stress) can wear out their adrenal glands. This changes the body chemistry, but it also changes the brain chemistry. It open up pathways that cause the brain to get stuck in anxious thinking—at the worst panic attacks and also extreme anxiety. Once those pathways are open, they can’t be closed through logic. Over time, with rest and a good mindset, those pathways can be closed. But, the racing, anxious thoughts just can’t be turned off like a switch. In some cases, it requires changes in lifestyle to close these switches over time. It’s a ramping down process as opposed to a switch and it is based on altered brain chemistry. So, someone can’t just go from depressed (or anxious) to normal thinking immediately. It can take considerable time. Around the summer and fall of 2008, I was experiencing panic attacks—particularly the thoughts of never having kids and being alone the rest of my life. It’s something that still bothers me.
From 2006 to 2008 I took some doctoral classes at Kent State University in Education. I also started doing standup comedy in 2008. I’m thinking my first performance was June 3rd. I remember it was in a comedy competition at the Funny Stop in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. At the time I was teaching speech (as well as writing and management classes) and was thinking of a possible career in standup comedy. I now realize that wasn’t a proper thought process, but my thinking was messed up due to stress. I wasn’t doing well in my doctoral classes. My grades were great, but I hated academic research and writing. I had all these various threads in my life that were tearing me down. My brother was also struggling with alcohol abuse, which added to my problems, as I was worried about him drinking himself to death.
Had something not changed, I may have been in trouble. But, I applied to an MFA program, which was a co-venture between The University of Akron, Kent State University and Youngstown State University. Figuring I would be accepted, I applied to teach English Composition classes at The University of Akron. I wasn’t accepted for the MFA program, but was offered a job (in one interview, which seemed too easy) at The University of Akron. I left Bohecker. For a short time in September, I was finishing out a Saturday class at Bohecker, but the job at The University of Akron was far less stressful. It was enough of a life change to lower my stress level to the point I wasn’t dealing with an anxious brain.
I suspect part of the reason behind an anxious brain is a vivid imagination. I have it and Dad had it. Dad was involved with several patents. He also liked to design tomato planters. In an earlier blog I shared a poem he wrote. I don’t think he ever learned how to use his imagination. It’s only been in the past few years I’ve learned how to use mine through the creative outlet of writing.
Dad’s father, Bill (William) Tipton, passed away when Dad was only four or five. His brother, My Uncle Ted, became the man of the family and Dad’s father figure. Uncle Ted went off to work. Dad was left alone with his mother, Lena. She had severe, rheumatoid arthritis. She constantly poured negative thinking into Dad’s head about health problems and how she was suffering with the loss of her husband. Dad was her counselor, something he shouldn’t have been doing at that young age. Grandma was mentally, spiritually and psychologically abusing him. I don’t think it was intentional. She genuinely loved him. It was simply a consequence of the grief she was going through and her own struggles. Dad was set up to have negative thinking about his health. It followed him through his life. This is a life lesson. If you’re struggling through something, don’t use a young child as your therapist. It can leave them scarred for life.
Dad never talked to me in-depth about all the things his mom poured on him. I heard about them through mom. I suspect Dad was simply too kind to bad-mouth his mother to her grandkids. But, early in my parents’ marriage, Dad and mom helped care for Grandma Lena. So, mom saw it firsthand. I was too young to remember or comprehend.
DEALING WITH DEPRESSION
Since I’ve suffered some with depression and saw Dad suffer, let me share some ideas on dealing with depression. I believe this is a societal issue that many people face. Addressing this problem will require more than a band-aid. It will require changes in our society.
Good people experience depression. It’s easy to stigmatized depression or other mental illnesses. This isn’t fair. Good people become depressed. Dad was a kind, gentle person. People loved him. It’s weird that we don’t understand someone’s impact until after death. So many people have shared kind words about how much Dad meant to them.
Sometimes someone becomes depressed because they are a good person. They give of themselves—their kindness, compassion and mental energy to others. Over time this can wear someone down. In a society of takers, the givers can end up empty.
During many of the depressions I went through, I couldn’t afford help. People without the means don’t receive treatment. That’s one of the truths of our capitalistic economic system, which may more resemble feudalism or fascism than true capitalism. That is a debate for another essay, but in feudalism or fascism a small group has all the power and are free to operate in immoral ways in order to meet selfish needs. According to Mussolini, fascism is a mix of the government and corporations. Does that sound like our current system? We will see a rise in mental illness. We have a diseased society and a symptom of that is people can’t adjust. And, it’s often the most caring people that can least adjust to our diseased society.
Depression is integrated. By that, I mean depression affects a person holistically. There are physical problems, psychological problems, social problems, socio-economic problems, spiritual problems, family problems or traumatic events that can all contribute to depression. There is no one trained to handle these problems. In our education and economic system, we train people to be specialists. There are doctors who understand the body, psychologists and psychiatrists who understand mental problems, sociologists who understand society, family therapists who understand family dynamics, and pastors and other religious leaders who understand spiritual problems. At least this is the theory, although my life experience has shown there are few people in these fields who have mastered their specialty. And, even if they have, they don’t understand all the various other contributing factors to depression. Treating depression requires someone who understands all these fields. The treatment requires a well-versed generalist in the entire human experience. Our society doesn’t train people in that manner. Our education and economic systems produce individuals with myopic viewpoints. This isn’t just detrimental to the treatment of depression. It affects the entire functioning of our society. Few see the big picture.
Depression isn’t logical. It’s easy if a loved one is depressed to try to talk them out of their depression. It seems on the surface that depression is connected to illogical thinking. Because of my background in teaching, I understand how people think. There are truths that have great impact on the treatment of depression.
Our thinking and our feelings are intimately intertwined. When we try to convince someone that their depressive thoughts are illogical, what we are asking them to do is to tackle the problem from a purely logical viewpoint. This is the wrong approach. First, people that approach the world through pure logic (detached from emotions) are often monsters. Our emotions play a big part in our morality. We wouldn’t want our loved one to detach their emotions and their thinking. If they did, they would no longer be the person we love!
What I’ve discovered through teaching is that we often grab someone emotionally first. Once we have the heart, then we impact the mind. In depression, emotions are the horse. Logic is the cart. So, I’m suggesting another approach. We need to begin treating depression by making a person feel better. If we build up a person emotionally, eventually their thinking will start to change.
Sometimes it may be best for a person outside someone’s immediate circle to provide support. For a loved one, constantly dealing with irrational thoughts is wearing. It’s easy to lose patience. Or, for the irrational thoughts of another to impact our thinking. Of course, finding an outsider that can truly help is difficult. And, it’s only possible for those who have the means.
If we attack a person’s thinking, what we are doing is invalidating them. We’re telling a person, “You are wrong.” That makes them feel worse. And, once they feel worse, it begins to impact their feelings.
What seems illogical from your viewpoint isn’t illogical from their viewpoint. Our viewpoint is derived from our experiences. Dad lost his father at a young age. Dad’s mother poured toxic thoughts into his head. Dad had struggles with work—with overbearing bosses and was eventually tossed out the door like a useless tool that was no longer needed. Based on all these experiences, his thought-processes were logical. His thought processes weren’t logical to me. I had a stable childhood with loving parents. Of course, from my experiences, some of his thoughts didn’t make sense.
Imagine someone’s view on the world as being molded in clay—not normal clay, but a heavy, thick clay that resists being mold. The heavy hands of time and experience are the only things with enough strength to shape this clay. If these hands have molded one’s viewpoint into a monstrosity, it won’t change over night. It will require these same heavy hands molding through time and experience.
Our society is filled with people whose clay has been molded into a monstrosity. We have people who grew up in poverty, who were abused as children, who may have faced the ravages of war or other problems. The heavy hands have bent, twisted and morphed the clay of viewpoint into something dreadful. Recovery requires these heavy hands creating new experiences, but these heavy hands must now operate in the gentlest of ways. We must show someone unconditional love—over and over and over—until they begin to feel better. Once they begin to feel better, eventually their thinking will follow. But, it may take months, years or even decades for complete recovery.
Gentleness doesn’t mean softness. If a person may hurt themselves or others, immediate, drastic steps may need to be taken—short-term in order to overcome that crisis. Such drastic steps need to be bathed in a long process of unconditional love. Unfortunately, our society is not conducive to this process.
Socio-economic issues lead to depression. Much of our economic system is based on dog eat dog. It’s an unhealthy competition based on the idea that in order for me to rise, I must step on someone else’s back. This is evident in our workforce, our school systems, our streets and prisons. The romanticized rugged individualism of America society is the socio-economic version of survival of the fittest. It’s Darwinism applied to society.
I know some people proclaim that we are a Christian nation. If you believe that, then get off your ass and make this country operate according to Christian principles. Christians must be involved in social justice. The Old Testament tithing system wasn’t just a system to care for the priests. It was a taxation system that cared for the poor and the needy. The messages of the prophets are filled with biting accusations towards a society that didn’t take care for the poor, the needy, children or the widow. The Old Testament disallowed gleaning of one’s field or vineyard, so the poor could be fed. The Israelites were not allowed to charge each other usury (interest on loans). There was even the provision of the Jubilee, which cancelled out debts and returned property to the original owners. Does this sound anything like our society? I know things are different now, but the principles are the same. The Biblical ideal is a society that cares for every citizen—not a disjointed collection of rugged individuals that are solely concerned about me, myself and I! In order to achieve that, we may need a revolution—one that changes our government, our economic system, our system of corporate servitude, our education system and our society as a whole. If we had a society that ran according to Biblical principles, we would not have the extreme socio-economic oppression that is a key contributing factor to depression and other mental illnesses.
Hard-working people are denied the opportunity of a good job, a good education or a fair break, simply so some rich bastards can become a little richer. We The People have become We The Bankers and We The Corporations and we have handed over the keys to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to an oligarchy of villainous snakes.
We have a society where people are constantly trampled under someone else’s foot. That foot may be the foot of useless politicians, mean-spirited bosses, or the opportunities that one class has that is denied another.
When my Dad was escorted out of Goodyear Tire & Rubber, he wasn’t just given the contents of his locker in a box. That box contained his self-worth. His 36 years of service, his involvement with several patents, his hard work was trampled—simply so some useless corporate heads could save a few bucks while denying people their retirements.
Conclusions. As a society, we can do a better job helping those who suffer from depression. But, simply treating the individual is not enough. We must grasp that the depressed person isn’t the disease. The depressed person is simply a symptom of a diseased society. And, we’re becoming more diseased every day!
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