The Great Depression
As a kid I loved being in my room with the door’s closed, I was probably 10 when I inherited of a stamp album that was to be added to my own two previous volumes. I loved the way that despite having not had the opportunity to be on holidays abroad I could travel around the globe and discover countries. Fan of history as I was, I used every vehicle available to me to learn, starting from the Buffalo Bill Bibliotheque Verte Series* to my Wild West Panini Sticker Album.
I developed an interest for the fascinating and epic battle of Little Big Horn personified by the enigmatic Colonel Custer. He came across as the most complex character I had virtually encounter, I had a conflicting opinion about the chap and was not too sure what to think of him as an individual.
In my newly acquired stamp album I was overwhelmingly surprised to bump onto a series of German stamps, on a few of them the original value had been overridden and clearly stated 5,10, 15 and even 20 million Marks for some, at first I thought I had discovered an hidden treasure , I told my cat who was also a keen ‘’Stampologist’’ that maybe we had become suddenly super rich, actually we were not and the stamps belonged to an era mysteriously called ‘’The Great Depression’’ I was not quite sure what took place in 1929 so I reached out to the big dictionary that had the function of encyclopedia in our house.
‘’The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression that took place during the 1930s. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations; however, in most countries it started in 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s. It was the longest, deepest, and most widespread depression of the 20th century. In the 21st century, the Great Depression is commonly used as an example of how far the world's economy can decline had devastating effects in countries both rich and poor. Unemployment in the U.S. rose to 25% and in some countries rose as high as 33%.’’
It’s at that time too that I realized a same word could have different meanings, in French first and later on in life I also realized the very same word could also have the same double edge in English. I am talking about depression.
White walls and a framed rainbow painting above a bed next to a minimalist lamp shade sitting on a bed table is what I recall when I first saw my father. I had not seen him for 10 days. The place he had been transferred to was an average provincial psychiatric hospital on the coastal line of south Britany. The place he had been transferred from was a large regional A&E from the same region.
10 days earlier @ 6.14 in the afternoon I had picked up the phone and called the emergency number, the operator asked me if I was on my own, I said yes I was. My mum who worked as a cleaning lady was doing overtime. As for my dad he was the one I was calling for.
My father was sleeping when I came back from school and the door of his room was shut, I was stepping into my own room talking to my cat when I heard a massive noise which sounded almost like a deflagration. I rushed to the room next to me to find my dad lying on the floor, he had fell probably after making an attempt to get up, there was a large amount of multicolored pills in various opened flacons, never been great at math’s but I did not need to add two and two to understand where the missing pills had gone (I had already been there 18 months prior). After the operator asked me to confirm the address I went down to the friendly neighbor on level 3. I was very calm; my father was still unconscious.
Depression, that was what the consultant said, I thought about my German stamp, how awkward it was to think it was the same word. I did not know too much about the meaning of the word itself but a series of events were bound to lead to this tragic day. I am not going to make you cry or make you feel unnecessarily uncomfortable so I will keep it brief.
My instinct knew that this day was coming, alcohol, verbal abuse, violent arguments, my grandmother’s passing and the inability to talk about the previous suicide attempt had rhythmed a turbulent family lifestyle. Not always sure I would always be able to go home despite having a key had made me very situation critical ready for my age.
At any time, I could have stepped into emotional warfare or become a collateral casualty on a battlefield of suppressed feelings, everyday had the potential to become a playdate with destiny. Anyway, past the dramatic aspect and violence of the event that day I was relieved to see the Rapid Response Unit Team from the Fire Brigade taking over. My mum was still not home; it was 1979 there was no mobile phones in those days.
At first I did not want to go there for a visit, fair to say it would have taken a lot to impress me but I had a bad premonition even though I was a very composed child. I guess the rainbow in the painted illustration was probably meant to reassure me however the journey to my father’s room was to become one of the scariest experience of my life.
As soon as I set a foot on the hospital grounds I had a bad feeling, for no apparent reasons the atmosphere became suddenly very heavy despite the most welcoming playground I spotted from the rear passenger seat. I thought it was intriguing though that nobody of my age was playing there, the car was parked and we made ourselves known at the reception, the lobby had the familiar smell of hospital.
In the hall way an old man grunted and spitted at me while an autistic teenager was attempting to escape the vigilance of two massive male nurses, passing by the large TV room I tried but failed to capture some eyes that would tell me this was a place for comfort, not a 19th century style asylum where each and every altered behavioral pattern was sent to. At that very instant all I could see was a ballet of heads trashing up and down.
In the end we finally reached my dad’s room, I noticed immediately that the furniture was safety proofed, not a sharp angle in sight, I suppose he was considered as being a risk to himself. I thought to myself there was not a chance in a million in a reoccurrence providing the amount of sedatives I could spot on the table, it seemed valium was the candy of choice for improvised sleeping parties. He was happy to see us though, there was half a smile, a sorry son and why am I here question, this is all I was capable to register as I was still recovering from my own ordeal.
Not much was said that afternoon, maybe I did not listen, my brain was shaking with incomprehension, what was this place? I thought about the Tarzan movie where the elephants walk in procession to a cemetery, not sure why but I convinced myself this place was a brain dump. I could not wait to leave, my bones ached and I felt an atrocious pain in my stomach, I remember I slept really badly that night. My dad came home three weeks after.
Why I am telling you this…?
I cannot help thinking about the collateral aspect and impact of depression, what if the best friends, the family, the siblings or more simply a colleague develop some form of guilt, what if they feel powerless? I know it was a bit more than 30 years ago but nobody ever asked me anything, no how was I doing? nor did I need anything? I guess I coped. Have things changed since? I think it has, at least it is largely accepted that depression episodes affect the immediate entourage too, frankly it is very hard and sometimes impossible almost to be around a severely depressed individual.
There are depression tool kits available nowadays I am told, not sure if it does address the worry, the anxiety of not knowing the disease next steps. How can you anticipate and address the potential risks when a person you knew has seen himself/herself taken over by the disease?
So as I would have done when I was a kid I got back to a dictionary to reacquaint myself with the simple notion of what is depression, it is ‘’
a mental condition characterized by feelings of severe despondency and dejection, typically also with feelings of inadequacy and guilt, often accompanied by lack of energy and disturbance of appetite and sleep’’
How can you support somebody who has entered into a depressive dimension? Simply put; make an effort to have your eyes open and I mean wide open but more importantly listen, be available to engage even for a brief moment, and while I know it is against all fire safety recommendations please
DON’T SHUT THE DOOR
If you are in crisis, please talk or contact somebody who can help
Samaritans116 123 or email email@example.com
Console1800 247 247 – (suicide prevention, self-harm, bereavement)
Aware1890 303 302 (depression, anxiety)
Pieta House01 601 0000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org - (suicide, self-harm, bereavement)
Teen-Line Ireland1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 19)
ChildLine1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)#
Also a useful resource about Mental Health
Asia & Asia-Pacific
Cat ‘n’ Stamps
My Old Man
Bi Polar Cartoon Series by practiceofmaniadotcom
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