Depression in the family

Seb lay in his bed half-naked, the room filled with the odour of urine from the bucket he had used since morning. Mika and her brother could not see the state of the rest of their father’s body but his head painted a bad picture – his hair and beard were overgrown and his eyes deeper in their sockets and soulless. Seb also dragged his words and did not get up to greet them, signs that he did not plan to interact much with them. 

Relatives and neighbours had been talking – the arrogant and talkative lawyer, full of criticism for anybody but himself, had not left his room, let alone his compound, for weeks.

Relatives, neighbours and his caretakers said he hardly ate so he had lost weight and become so weak that he could not walk to the washroom next to his bedroom, hence the bucket.

Mika had planned to give Seb, her absent father, a piece of her mind – while straight-faced, calm and tough but mean if necessary – for the emotional abuse he put them through when they went to him for school fees as sent by their mother. This time, she had told herself as they drove to his house a stone’s throw away from their mother’s, she would not buckle like she did years before when she wanted to understand why he left them behind. This time, unlike that holiday when she was about 12 years old, she would deliver an unplanned speech, raw with emotions, because it was time.

When Mika walked into Seb’s room, however, she was too taken aback by the state of affairs to even say hello. She was first to walk in but her face sank with every glance she threw across the room while trying to assess the situation. She sat on a stool adjacent to her father’s bed and looked away, too sorry for Seb to give him that piece of mind. Her brother didn’t help matters – he was overly calm, his voice much lower than usual, and it was clear he did not want to rattle Seb. 

Realising what’s important

On their way back to their mother’s house, Mika realised Seb did not need a tough talking-to because life, as they say, had caught up with him. 

He needed medical checks and his family in order to get back to the arrogant and talkative lawyer, full of criticism for anybody but himself, because this version was better than that bedroom version of him.

A doctor needed to explain the loss of interest in his job, family, friends and neighbours; the loss of appetite and why all he wanted to do was sleep for hours; irritability enough for his children to instinctively walk on eggshells in order not to rattle him; the hopelessness – a drastic change from a man who loved his job to one who did not care enough to go to his office and do it; the state of his mind – nobody knew what was on it because he did not speak much and barely kept conversations going. 

A doctor needed to tell them if not depression, then what, because Seb had been managing his heart condition well.

Seb was a lawyer – all about order and power – so when his health deteriorated and his children suspected depression, he was willing to go to the city to see doctors. In that one crucial way, that dream he worked very hard to achieve was his saving grace. Even in that state, he felt the power that came with his title and was going to try to keep it from sipping out completely.

Power, however, was not going to be enough to win the battle. In the city, Seb still preferred keeping to himself, barely chimed in during conversations, slept most of the day, ate little or nothing, put off visitors, failed to take a bath and wore the same clothes for days.

Simple things to do

So with the little cooperation and while still walking on eggshells, Mika and her siblings thought it wise to begin by coming up with a schedule. Seb would wake up at about 8am, take a shower and then have breakfast. He would then have sometime by himself – to do what he pleased – because that would not simply be taken away. Since one of the children had taken time off work, he would take him for a walk if he was agreeable and then out for lunch, if only so they could say at the end of the day that he made it out of the house. Doctor’s appointments were slated for the afternoons and after that, they would return to the house for dinner together, without fail. This was how Seb’s standard days would go and his children would stick to the schedule for as long as necessary, because in his state, a schedule was crucial.

Doctors and restaurant meals took money so they also had to come up with a financial plan – everyone would contribute, simply, because the only way out was for everyone to feel the pinch. It was only fair, but the four children were asked to make it known if they were stretched so adjustments would be made.

Two weeks into the visit, Seb’s mood lifted, especially when all his children were around him, which was usually at mealtimes. They all learned that they needed to make time for a family member in need. They also learned that this time would sometimes feel wasted or unappreciated but that they had to give it anyway because it brought everyone a sense of belonging that they had not felt since Seb walked out on their mother all those years ago.

New beginnings

The children never knew exactly why their parents got divorced and never spoke to each other again but the stories revolved around infidelity on Seb’s part, complaints that their mother did not carry herself as society expected, her hot temper, and boredom on his part – something about needing a challenger, somebody other than the woman who helped him start his law firm.

But it had been years, so as much as Seb’s children wanted to understand what happened, they knew they had to let the pain of past events go and move forward in this chapter – one in which they unreservedly put affection on display and helped each other.

As time went by, Seb slowly, though reluctantly, reconnected with some of his old friends and opened up more about his circumstances, and then asked his children to help him, albeit not by saying he needed them. And then came a significant test – that which entailed returning to his small-town home and maintaining the new system – personal hygiene, as much exercise as possible, taking his medicine, going to work, balancing time alone with time with relatives and friends, and fighting self-pity.

The children would check on him regularly, directly and through his friends, to ensure he remained in good health. They would also ensure he travelled to the city every few months for check-ups and kept surrounding him with unconditional love, for his heart’s sake and so he would see clearly how they wanted him to love them all those years ago, when all he spewed were money and emotional abuse.

Going forward

As he recovered, Seb undoubtedly felt his children’s love and they felt it too. In their own ways, they learned to get past his mistakes and theirs, and to make better decisions for their own families’ sake. 

At a relative’s wedding months later, Mika hugged Seb like a daughter should hug her father, and he hugged her back. And in that moment, she knew he would walk her down the aisle on her wedding day, with her three brothers behind.

It seemed that the worst had passed or that the only wounds that remained were those buried deep inside Seb, his children and their mother. There couldn’t be a set time for that kind of healing to take place but as individuals, they knew what the risk was so they looked beyond their own well-being into that of their larger, beautifully broken family. 

They would go for the dinners and take the trips, they would help each other with small and big dreams and lift each other up; they would make sacrifices for each other and put their strengths, unique personalities and other qualities into good use and keep growing as a family.