My father was passed out cold during my visit to the rehab center yesterday, and I left feeling depressed. I hadn’t seen him in a week because I had a business trip to California, and I kept hearing about how much better he was. I wanted to see for myself.
But he slept the whole time. That’s probably for the best. The more sleep he gets, the better.
But the self-absorbed side of me was feeling cheated as my gaze alternated between him and the floor for more than an hour.
Sleep has never been a problem for Dad, and I’ve inherited that trait. Like Dad, I can fall asleep at the drop of a hat. I’m particularly susceptible to sleep during a wave of depression or anxiety. My brain has a kill switch that goes off in times of maximum stress.
I’ve learned to disable the kill switch in recent years, because I’ve learned it’s better to face your problems with both eyes open.
But I know that to a certain extent, Dad’s deep sleep is because he’s depressed. Who wouldn’t be after a stroke and nearly a month in the hospital?
I’m told Dad has always gone through depressed periods, and it’s always been somewhat surprising to me. He’s always been able to appear in complete command around us kids. Even after my brother died, he seemed to be in control of his emotions, though I did see him cry once during that period. I’m sure he cried more than that. But I almost always saw Dad in control.
Looking back, two things come to mind:
–That he could be in control as two of his three kids suffered sometimes debilitating illness (Michael’s asthma, my Crohn’s Disease) is amazing to me. After Michael died and I got sick a few more times, he got to deal with another child in crisis: My sister, who has gone a few thousand rounds against depression herself.
–His sleeping patterns have probably been driven at various points by his own depression. Call it his own kill switch.
Before my parents divorced in 1980, my mother used to leave my father in charge as she took off for Sammy’s Patio on Revere Beach. I don’t hold this against her because their marriage was damaged from the start. Who wouldn’t want to find solace in a bar under those conditions?
My father would fall asleep instantly. I always chalked it up to exhaustion, given his relentless work schedule. But looking back, maybe there was some depression in there and the kill switch was taking over.
I used to spend those nights watching all the bad TV the 1970s had to offer. Sometimes, I’d get into trouble, especially the kind that involved matches and plastic.
Recently, I had a conversation with Dad where he acknowledged that his orderly exterior often masked huge emotional difficulties when I was young.
That still floors me.
At the same time, it makes perfect sense.
Life is unfair. We have to be able to carry on in the face of adversity.
The kill switch was one of the coping tools in my father’s arsenal.
It’s a tool he passed down to me.