Mental health awareness: all the little things

Brooke Lewis, Coeur d'Alene Reporter

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We can never predict the amount of time we are going to have with someone, or fully comprehend the value of a moment we share with them until it becomes a memory. All that can be known for certain is that if I had known back then what I know now, this story would be a very different one to tell.
It began as a typical Monday during the crisp fall season of Colorado Springs. I had been cheerleading for my high school football game when out of the muddled autumn horizon, my father had appeared in the stands. I remember the look of surprise that fell upon my face as I noticed his presence, for, at this point in the season, I had grown used to nobody coming to watch me cheer.
My energy and the overall performance had elevated significantly as I was now motivated by an audience that was meaningful to me. I proudly pointed out my father to my teammates and put on the goofiest facial expressions that I could in an attempt to make him laugh. I was shocked to notice that he was smiling, which was highly abnormal based on his standard behavior throughout the past few years.
When the game ended, I enthusiastically ran over to him with the same kind of excitement and adrenaline you would see in an adolescent child. There was something vastly different about his general persona that I couldn’t quite put my finger on; nevertheless, I did not give it considerable thought at the time. He eagerly asked, “What do you want to do now? Is there anything that you need to get tonight?”
I knew then, as we walked back to our car, that my father was having one of his particularly cheerful days, one in which he hadn’t experienced in a very long time. I took a moment to ponder anything that I might have needed before the morning. I was not about to ruin this fairly sporadic and infrequent happy disposition, so I hastily responded with the first thing that popped into my mind. “Well, I do need a new mascara!” He paused for a moment as he tapped his fidgety fingers on the steering wheel. “A new mascara it is!” he exclaimed, and we set forth on our seemingly meaningless venture into Walmart.
After purchasing the mascara, I suggested that we go to the McDonald’s inside of the Walmart, just like the good old days. You see, back in middle school, my father and I had a much closer relationship. We had a tradition that every Friday that he picked me up from school, we would go to McDonald’s for a chocolate milkshake and a Filet-O-Fish meal. He was my best friend back then, and I never needed anything else. He agreed to the McDonald’s idea, and we sat down to eat.
I recall talking to him about dating advice since I had been going through puzzling adversity between two of my best male friends at the time. He seemed distracted as if this had not been the precise subject matter that he intended on talking to me about. His hands were shaking as he lifted his beverage to take a sip. I got up to re-fill my Coke, and when I returned, his pale blue eyes were glossed over as if he were about to cry. It is important to note that never did a single tear escape from his weary and fatigued swollen eyes.
Perhaps at this point in the evening, I should have discerned that something was very wrong. Subsequently, I must have been too young and naive to fully understand the gravity of the mental state that my father had progressed to in the past couple of years. He was no longer able to hide his severe clinical depression from us and had begun taking numerous medications to numb the paralyzing sting of the pain he had endured from underneath our noses. Under the influence of these medications, he was barely a human being, let alone a father. He could have best been described as a zombie–a coherent, able bodied figure with the capacity to walk and talk but marked by an absence of all emotion. This made it inexpressibly difficult for us to become aware of the types of thoughts that would fester inside of his head.
On this day, however, he was unrecognizable and seemingly changed. It was as though the weight of the world had suddenly lifted off of his shoulders and he was a brand new person. It again took me back to a much simpler time in my life. Back when my father experienced real emotion, his random and spontaneous adventures were not so unusual.
My childhood memories were filled with spur-of-the-moment tarantula hunts in our 13 acres of farmland. Together we would construct platforms and nets so that I could sit upon his lap on top of the highest tree that we could find. We would watch intently as the sun gradually disappeared into the vibrant auburn horizon. Shades of pink and orange danced across the twilight sky as I felt the weight of the world beneath our feet, and we would daydream about the rest of our lives. We would vividly imagine that one day, I would grow older and we could build an even larger treehouse, even higher so that we could hold even more of the sky below our feet.
My father would always fantasize about wanting more as if these minuscule moments we spent together were not enough in his eyes because one day, he wanted to be able to give me the world. But during this very simple moment, this was all I ever wanted out of life. In my eyes, all these little things would always be enough.
On the drive back home we conversed about numerous, serious moral subjects, those of which I can’t quite recall how we came to deliberate. We talked about racism and homosexuality explicitly and the importance of never judging a book by its cover. That at the end of the day, underneath all of our flaws, external facades, and relative decision making, we are all human.
We then began to reflect upon my father’s perspective on the devil. I always respected his logical intellect and thoughtful ideas. He was presumably a Christian; however, he did not believe in the devil or the concept of the place we deem hell. I always felt that the reason behind this belief was more driven by conviction and fear rather than objective reasoning.
I decided to ease the mood of the heavy conversation and take advantage of his particularly joyful demeanor, so I changed the subject and told him one of the cheesy pickup lines that one of the football players used on me earlier that day. He laughed, but I remember being surprised by the fact that he laughed a little bit too hard. Little could my sixteen-year-old self, consumed by my present trials and tribulations, have known that this would be the very last conversation I would have with my father.
Perhaps I should have given the true meaning of our evening together a little more thought after he had asked my brother immediately after we got home if he would be interested in going to Walmart to get a new Lego set, his favorite toy at the time. He did not, however, take my mother on a special one-on-one spontaneous expedition with him, for my father was a highly intelligent man. He knew that if he had done anything too substantial and out of the ordinary with each of us, our family would catch on to what he was planning.
On the very next day, Oct. 29, 2013, we would be informed by local law enforcement that my father had taken his own life.
While Mental Illness Awareness Week was the first week of October, mental health awareness is an ongoing issue. Please seek help if you, a friend or a family member is suffering. For more information:
Call the National Alliance on Mental Illness
800-950-NAMI
[email protected]
M-F, 7 a.m. – 3 p.m. PST
Find help in a crisis or text NAMI to 741741