Thursday, July 5, 2012

Back-story: A clue to chronic depression

This is one of the most difficult posts I’ve written.
I want to tell you a story that will provide a clue to why I or anyone else might suffer from chronic depression.
It’s an incident in my life that offers a small explanation about why I have struggled with feeling “good enough” all my life, about why I still have times when I feel worthless and hopeless.
My therapist told me that those worthless and hopeless feelings are at the center of my chronic depression. That’s what we work on during our sessions together, when we analyze specific personal interactions and role play, where I practice being more assertive and strong.
I’m telling this story so you can understand the things that can play into depression, including chronic depression.
Perhaps you can see yourself in this situation and know that you are not alone.
My parents were not evil people. What they did to me through the years was wrong. What they did to me was probably what their parents taught them to do. That’s not an excuse, just perhaps a bit of a reason.

This story takes place in the kitchen in our farmhouse. I don’t remember exactly how old I was. I was probably 8 or 9 years old, definitely under 10 because we moved from that house when I was 10.
The kitchen in my first home, the white frame house with the red tin roof, was the center of the household. We had no formal dining room, so we ate in the kitchen. When company was there, it wasn’t unusual for them to sit around the kitchen table drinking coffee and talking.
The distinguishing image of that kitchen for me was the floor. It was made up of linoleum squares, alternating green and yellow.
It was a real green, not an avocado 70s green, and a real yellow, not a gold yellow.
The squares were perfect squares, not rectangles. They were about six or seven inches on each side. The entire kitchen floor was covered with this pattern.
It was in the evening. We had been somewhere—probably church, probably a revival service. We—Mama, Daddy and my second brother and me—were standing around the kitchen having a drink of soda before going to bed. It was probably either Pepsi or Dr. Pepper, because those were the sodas that we usually had in the house.
I was drinking mine from a Dixie cup. We had a dispenser of the cups in the kitchen. What probably happened was one bottle of drink was opened and shared in Dixie cups, with Daddy drinking what was left from the glass bottle.
I remember laughing. I don’t know if I said something I shouldn’t have or if it was my laughing that was wrong.
But suddenly Daddy’s hand was in my face. His open hand slammed into my nose and mouth.
I remember how numb my face felt. I remember crying and trying to drink my soda from the Dixie cup through lips with little feeling. I don’t know if I was ordered to finish my drink, if I really wanted the drink, or if I was being defiant in continuing to drink, like being slapped in the face wasn’t going to stop me.
Why do I remember that when I was spanked and slapped other times during my childhood? I don’t know. I remember the numbness of my face so much, and the difficulty of drinking from the cup with trembling lips.
The slap seemed to come out of nowhere. I wasn’t anticipating it, so I must not have realized that I had done something, or said something that would make my father mad.
I usually knew if I was treading the line of making one of my parents mad at me and was putting myself at the risk of being spanked, slapped, or yelled at.
When I told this story to my therapist, he asked me how it made me feel.
It made me angry. It made me feel defenseless. It made me feel like a terrible person. It confused me. It made me feel worthless. It made me feel hopeless.
I do not want to feel that way now, and I am working on that. My reaction to my childhood is not going to adversely affect my whole life. I am going to beat this depression.

What are you determined to overcome?

25 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing this, Tina. I know that it could not have been easy to do so.

    I once heard somewhere that one of the worst (in terms of long-term effects) things a parent can do to a child, is to hit them in the face. It makes sense that this would be a memory that you don't lose, as it seems to have been a moment that changed things for you ... a moment that you may have realized that you did not have to be doing anything in particular to be treated in this way.

    Either way, no matter the reason, I'm sorry that it happened to you. It shouldn't have. Thank you again for sharing your story - I think that the more we speak of the pain, it allows others to do the same ... and I believe with my entire heart that we all deserve to heal.

    Take care.

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    1. Amanda, Thank you so much for your understanding words. It was a confusing incident. I believe, also, that we all deserve to heal.

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  2. Thank you for this story Tina. You have such a nice way of bringing things and inviting us to share our stories. Pretty challenging though!
    My mom told me a story about torture that was truly horrific, even for adult people, when I was only four years old. It made me incredibly scared there would be a war again, it made me feel powerless, it made me distrust people and it made me feel lonely as there seemed to be no other children that worried about these things. It got stuck in my mind and went with me where ever I did go. In that time my OCD started too.
    I now know that my mom and dad could not really help telling me far too much about the war as they were just children themselves at the time and were pretty traumatised by it. But that hasn't helped me with the feelings it gave me. I've been working on it for a long time and they have definitely improved, but fear and insecurity are still never really far away.

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    1. Klaaske, I can understand how hearing about such horrible things at such a young age stuck with you. You learned too early that terrible things can happen in the world. I'm glad your feelings of fear and insecurity have improved, and I hope they continue to do so!

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  3. Thank you for sharing this on your blog.

    I am sure it is very painful to relive that memory. I cringed when I read it.

    You will beat your depression.

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    1. Elizabeth, Thank you for your encouragement! I appreciate you.

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  4. Thank you for sharing your story, Tina. I know it's not easy. While my parents never hit me, they had friends visiting once, and the mom slapped me in the face because of something I said (no clue what it was, but I was a polite child; it couldn't have been that bad). Anyway, what hurt me the most is that my mom didn't say anything to her friend; she just stood there.....I think she was in as much shock as I was. But to this day, I still remember it, and it still upsets me.....sharing helps us all!

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    1. Janet, That's terrible! I can imagine your hurt and confusion.

      Thank you for always encouraging me!

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  5. This story made me weep. How frightening that must have been! And like many children, you took on the abuse as somehow being your fault.

    My family didn't hit. It was cutting, hurtful remarks that came out of the blue. Even all these years and all the therapy later, I am always bracing for someone's disapproval. I will catch myself with muscles tensed, and have to stop, breathe, and relax.

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    1. Nadine, Cutting, hurtful words can be as hurtful as physical harm, I believe. The effects certainly stick with us. I'm sorry you had to go through that, and I'm glad that now you have the tools to deal better with the anxiety.

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  6. Beautiful writing. When I read things like this, I wish that parents who slap/spank would read it and try to see things from the child's viewpoint. After working for Children's Protective Services doing investigations of child abuse (my first job out of college), I made a resolution to never hit my children for any reason. I believe there are other ways to handle any situation.

    No power yet :-(

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    1. Thank you Lisa. What a difficult job that must have been, to work for CPS! I think it takes a special person to do that job, and you are one of those.

      I'm still hoping for power for you soon!

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  7. I am saddened that you had that experience. Really sad, reading it broke my heart.
    I have some memories from my childhood that stand out for me also. I was never hit, but I was humiliated many times when I asked for things a child asks for and had a glass of hot dishwater thrown at me for voicing my opinion. Not ironic that I learned to keep my opinions to myself then is it?
    I'm glad you were able to express this out in writing and hope that it is healing for you to do so. If we could give hugs through the internet, you would have one now.

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    1. Thank you so much, Krystal. I can feel the hug! :-)

      That is awful to have hot water thrown at you, and to be humiliated, too. I can understand not expressing yourself for fear of more trouble.

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  8. That is a sad memory. It sounds like you are on working hard to overcome it. I HOPE you do and have faith that you will.

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    1. Thank you, Melanie. It is a sad memory, but I am working hard to overcome the effects of such memories. Thank you for your encouragement!

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  9. From this experience, it sounds like your dad taught you a very important lesson: avoid him at all costs. This is what my father taught me through his unwavering violence: Fathers are mean. Men are to be feared. Authority figures are unpredictable. Don't speak. Mind your manners. Go play. On and on... It wasn't until I was in my 30s that I could look men in the eyes.

    Like Lisa, I wish parents would stop and think about what they're teaching their children when they react violently to what is actually normal childish behavior. Children are people with feelings and thought processes. They're soft clay and parents have a tremendous influence on how that clay molds and hardens.

    That said, all parents make mistakes. God knows I made a ton of them.
    But being willing to sincerely apologize to our kids can go a long way towards healing. Unfortunately, many parents from the previous generation don't like to admit they screwed up. They'll say things like, "I did the best I could" which to me is a huge cop out. Your father can't undo the pain and confusion he instilled in you, Tina when he smacked you like that but he can apologize now. Your depression likely won't vanish overnight but it wouldn't hurt.

    I know. I'm probably just an idealist. :) Thank you for sharing, Tina. We have a lot in common.

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    1. Grace, Thank you for your thoughtful and kind comment. Idealism is a good thing, I think!

      My father died 15 years ago, and he never apologized. I don't think it ever occurred to him that he had mistreated me. We didn't discuss it. But we reached a sort of peace when I was in my 30s, in the last few years before he died.

      My mother has never admitted doing anything wrong. The spanking didn't hurt me, she said (and she sees it as all spanking).

      I took a class about parenting years ago when I was a health educator. I remember the instructor saying that when parents said their children grew up "just fine" even though they were physically disciplined, it was IN SPITE of being spanked, not because they were spanked.

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  10. Tina, I am sorry. Sigh. You should not have had that happen to you. You are right - it is not an excuse, but it probably was how a lot of parents were taught to behave years ago. A situation like that is very demeaning. : (

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    1. Thank you, Sunny. Yes, it was very demeaning--that's a good word for it.

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  11. Exquisitely painful portrayal of that memory. I am very close to my dad, and I believe fathers do so much to help or hurt their daughters' sense of worth. I am so sorry your father did not treat you with respect and love. And I agree with some of the commenters - being hit in the face is one of the most intrusive and emotionally damaging forms of violence, I think.

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. Your blog is a place of refuge and understanding.

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    1. Thank you, I appreciate your kind words!

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  12. Oh Tina, I am so glad that I found your blog! I was diagnosed with OCD as a teenager and now as a young adult I find that even though I have been through the meds and the therapy, I still face OCD in so many of my day to day acts of life.

    Thank you for sharing your story. I have learned through my counselor that one of the most powerful way to take the power out of the memories is to remember, accept and label the emotions. When we do that we can learn to move on rather than just pushing down the memories.

    While my parents didn't physically abuse me, I still remember the way my dad made me feel at times. Like my needs didn't matter or like I had to tiptoe around him. I remember waiting in the dark to be punished or being afraid to ask for things I wanted (a glass of milk in the restaurant for breakfast). If I have learned anything, it is that our careless, seemingly innocent actions can hurt our children for years to come. Children don't need much in the way of money or things, I think they really just need unconditional love.

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    1. Welcome to the blog, and thank you for visiting! I appreciate it. I am glad that this post resonated with you. You are so right. Children need to know they are loved unconditionally. It's so important.

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  13. I always say the same thing about my parents Tina. They are certainly not evil, but they didn't deal with me in a proper way, they didn't treat me right

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