Of Depression, Parenting, and...Cat Pee

"You’re only as happy as your saddest child,” the doctor reminded us.

It’s been a difficult week in my world.

On Tuesday, a Facebook friend of mine’s status update was, in fact, a suicide note. It started with “I began to think about ending my life several weeks ago” and ended with “I’m tired. SO I got the gun, loaded it up, and blew my head off.”

Despite a long thread of comments begging and pleading this person to please, please, please reconsider taking his own life, he went through with it. Now a teenage girl is left without a father.

On Wednesday, another Facebook friend posted that her 21-year-old son had gone missing. He left the house for school at 4 o’clock in the afternoon and hasn’t been heard from since. They found the car he drove to school, but that’s about it. It’s a parent’s worst nightmare and I’m praying hard for a happy ending for this family.

On top of those two things, my older son is still stuck in a major depressive episode. I know I recently wrote that I wasn’t going to focus on my son and his issues in my blog posts anymore, but I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention his ongoing struggle.

Pardon my language, but depression is a fu**ing b**ch, and like addiction, it’s a family disease. When one of your children is battling depression and talks about wanting to die more than they talk about wanting to live, you can’t help but be consumed by it. Especially when that child refuses to try so many things that could possibly help them feel better.

Depression is a black hole of despair. When someone is in it, it’s so incredibly hard for them to think there could be a way out. So they build walls around themselves and isolate.

Deep down inside, they may actually want help, but they firmly believe that nothing will make a difference; so they don’t even try. It doesn’t matter how much you love and encourage them.

The circular thinking ― I want help but nothing will help me so why try anything because it won’t help? ― is maddening to the people who care the most.

Especially parents.

Yesterday my wife and I took one of our cats to the vet for a check-up because the cats in our house have been acting kind of strange for a while. (For what it’s worth, our cats fit perfectly into our family. One of them even takes birth control pills for dogs to help him with a chemical imbalance in his brain.)

We got to talking with the doctor about changes in our household environment that may be influencing the cats’ behavior and mentioned that our son was back living at home and going through a major depression.

When he heard that, the doctor paused for a moment. He then told us that he had lost his oldest son, who also struggled with addiction, to suicide. We had a good conversation about addiction, depression, stigma, and how it all impacts the entire family. He said our cats may be acting weird because our son is home and feeling so low.

And because our son is feeling bad, my wife and I are affected, too. (”You’re only as happy as your saddest child,” the doctor reminded us. Ain’t that the truth.)

Cats can sense when the humans they love aren’t at their best, and that can sometimes lead to some bizarre feline behavior.

I confess: I don’t like cleaning up cat pee from the basement floor or the front hallway. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s just a minor inconvenience. So I’ll keep doing it as long as I have to.

Perhaps the cats’ stray peeing will stop if my son can somehow find his way back to a happier place. I know he can do it. But until he decides he can do it ― and I hope and pray he will eventually get to that point ― I will keep the paper towels and disinfectant close at hand.

“I felt like my heart had been so thoroughly and irreparably broken that there could be no real joy again, that at best there might eventually be a little contentment. Everyone wanted me to get help and rejoin life, pick up the pieces and move on, and I tried to, I wanted to, but I just had to lie in the mud with my arms wrapped around myself, eyes closed, grieving, until I didn’t have to anymore.” ―Anne Lamott

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.