What not to do when someone tells you they have depression

I check my dad’s websites once in a while to see if anything’s changed. He’s pretty good at glossing over the fact that he disowned me by simply not talking about any of us kids. For someone who talks about running a family, homeschooling, and even a bit of “motivational” stuff, he failed at following what he teaches. Or at least, he does a very good job of pretending he is actually a good father, teacher, and leader, and that he’s an ethical person. Well, he is a good teacher, but that’s it. Unless ethics can be separated from abuse, in which case I suppose he is ethical but just incredibly stupid.

Here’s one thing that made me blurt out “F*CK YOU” when I read it. I don’t want it to be googleable, so I’m just going to rephrase it. He said that over the years, he taught a ton of people about stress and depression, and how to cope with stress.

Like hell he did.

Senior year of high school. I’d been batting what I now realize is incredible depression. Major. I was hurting myself, but in “justifiable” ways. (I was only cutting my pimples off with cuticle scissors. Right now that has subsided to an occasional nervous habit of skin-picking, which is similarly bloody but not as damaging.) I did a lot of research on the family computer, deleting history and the cache all the time because I feared I would get in trouble for having depression. All of the screenings told me I needed to see a doctor immediately. The symptoms matched up for months and months.

Finally I told my mom, cautiously, secretively, when I “happened” to be in their bedroom at the same time she was on the pretense of using their bathroom. Which isn’t that much of a pretense, since the main bathroom almost always had one of us kids in it. “Mom,” I said, hesitating, trying to gather the courage, “I think I have depression.”

“Tell dad.” Fear flitted across my face, and she saw it and said, “He’s in a good mood.”

He wasn’t. He was actually in one of his moods that was a precursor to his “weird moods” that made us all tip toe around him trying hard not to “set him off,” which was a precursor to his “on the edge of rage” moods where he nearly always failed to handle stress, which led to him picking even a small thing like some stray dog hair on the kitchen floor to blow up in a rage.

I wanted to believe my mom, though. My heartbeats thumped against my chest, vibrating up my throat. Fear raced through all my senses, making my legs feel wobbly. No. I’d rather try to deal with depression than tell him.

But mom told me to, and I must obey her, I thought. My OCD about spiritual matters grabbed hold of me.

dad was sitting on the couch in the semi-darkened living room, his laptop perched on a pillow in his lap because those stupid Dells run hot. It was almost my little siblings’ bedtime. The light from the dining room cast a harsh shadow on everything.

“d-d-dad?” I tentatively began. mom was in the hallway, observing, trying to be unobtrusive. He was engrossed in whatever he was doing on there. I think he was managing his online classes that he taught for an university.

“Mm,” he said, his jaws clenched. I knew it wouldn’t end well. But mom told me to tell him. I needed to obey.

“I-i-i think I have depression.”

He said angrily, “You don’t have depression. You have no reason to be depressed!” Only his lower teeth were showing. I checked the Westminster clock on the piano out of habit. 7:30 pm. The lower pendulum swung round and back, round, and back. He raised his voice more and more as he continued yelling. “…we’re paying for your graduation. You have a dog. You have a house over your head. You have clothes.. You have no reason to be depressed!” The deep maroon seeped up his toward his receding hairline that gave him a Mickey Mouse shaped face.

He raged about how expensive my cochlear implant was. My hearing aids. My glasses. He raged about how he nearly died of pneumonia to work to buy me those hearing aids. He raged about how I was a spoiled brat too big for her britches. I continued to stand in the exact same spot I was when I told him those dangerous words: “I think I’m depressed,” and I continued watch as he yelled. Except I wasn’t exactly all there.

I tried imagining a Patronus getting in between me and him, except I couldn’t sustain it. Then I imagined building a brick wall between me and him. A wall was what my oldest little brother said he used when dad raged at him. Except my wall morphed include steel. But I couldn’t sustain it. The onslaught went on. I just sort of mentally retreated into myself as he raged about how ungrateful and disrespectful I was to think I was depressed after all the effort my mom put into teaching me how to speak and listen when I was two and diagnosed with deafness. He raged about how antidepressants make people kill themselves.

He asked questions he already knew the answer to. Why am I depressed? he yelled. “I don’t know, dad.” “I don’t know dad” he mocked, and continued to rage, his voice getting ragged. Finally he raged that I was grounded. That I needed to quit being a spoiled rotten brat. That I was going to work my tail off with extra chores and be happy about it. And then the rage subsided. Well, no, it was there, but he was done yelling, having gotten it out of the system. As I turned to prepare for an extra early bedtime, I looked at the Westminster clock again. 8:30 pm.

I saw mom, and made eye contact with her. She nonchalantly shrugged her shoulder, indicating to me that I brought it on myself. Depression was my fault. And offered no comforting words. A few moments later, she came to me to relay a message from dad, since he didn’t want to tell me himself. I could see the doctor about it if I wanted. But I would pay for it, not using their insurance. And I would pay for any pills and treatment out of pocket, not using their insurance. To someone who just started a part time minimum wage job, and someone whom dad had just monopolized the little income I had by going in on an used car he picked out when I wanted something cheaper. More affordable. I had no money for treatment, and he knew it.

I was angry, because I knew he was depressed and refused treatment. mom verified the depression part some months prior, and told me he didn’t want to take medicine.

It wasn’t until I moved out at 21 that I finally snuck off to the doctor–on their insurance still–got diagnosed, and started taking Zoloft. On their insurance.

I told mom. I told her I didn’t want to tell dad because, well, remember when he yelled at me in my senior year of high school?” Her reply to that? “I remember.” mom told dad. dad emailed me, saying he had depression too, but didn’t offer much else. I didn’t want to talk about it. I just wanted to be sure I wouldn’t get raged at when they got the medical statement from my visit.

So, like hell my dad can teach about the dangers of stress and depression. He can’t handle stress. Judging from all the times he raged and abused because we accidentally did the wrong thing that set him off–he can’t. He can repeat general advice about stress, though.

He refused to acknowledge depression. And even now, on his website, he talks about depression as in feeling “funky.” He’s good at repeating platitudes and good sounding quotes from other leaders, though.

He talks about leadership, about leading families. Being the headship, if you will. But he failed to be one for our family. Instead, he ruled over us by instilling fear, abusing us, and by trying to buy our loyalty and appreciation through shopping sprees at Target. That’s not leadership. That’s displaying the hallmarks of a classic cult leader.

I am angry.

If you’re reading this, dad, I hearby give you a hearty “F*ck you.” Have you noticed I refuse to use upper case even when using a proper noun when referring to you and mom? You have not earned the respect of the titles of “Dad” or “Mom.” It will take a long time to earn my respect again. And I’m still working to wrap my head around the concept that you will never reconcile with me. That you will never apologize with any sincerity. That you will never recognize how wrong and abusive you were. And still are. Just like a classic narcissistic.

I only can hope that my mom and brother are doing what little they can to protect my four little siblings, but I kind of doubt it. Little ones, you are strong, you are brave, and I am always here for you if you ever want to reconnect. I will help you get treatment and therapy for the fall out of the abuse. I will give you support. I have been praying for you, even when I feel angry at or distant from God. I love you.


Filed under: Abuse


Leave a comment
  • A couple of years ago, when dealing with the explosion of my former relationship with my mother I came across an article by author/therapist Mark Sichel.


    It helped me realize that I was not being a coward by leaving, I was not responsible for breaking up my family, I was getting stronger.
    Best to you on your journey.

  • In reply to Stacey67:

    Stacey, thanks for sharing that link. That helps so much. Hugs to you.

Leave a comment