In early 1958, Papa rented out his farm and entered the Veterans’ Hospital in San Antonio because he couldn’t take care of himself any longer. Mama said we had to cut back on what we spent – no more new clothes or Sunday ice cream cones at the Double Dip. I felt devastated.
Back in the spring of 1953, Papa moved from our home in Amarillo, Texas, to his farm near Hereford. When he came to visit us the next two Christmases, he parked his dirty, old Ford pickup, engine wheezing, out front. Both times Mama saw him through the living-room window and hurried to the bathroom to put on fresh lipstick and brush her hair. A Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra record played, and the rich aroma of fudge and divinity on the stove filled the house.
The first year, when I was ten, I ran to open the door and wrapped my arms around Papa’s waist. He bent to kiss the top of my head. Then Mama walked up, put her hand on his shoulder, and invited him in. “Hello, Jim. It’s so good to see you.”
Papa walked to the couch and let the presents he brought tumble out of his arms before sitting down beside them. One with pink wrapping fell on the floor. I rushed over to pick it up and asked, “Is this for me?”
“Yes, Kitten. Why don’t you open it?”
I couldn’t get the ribbon off fast enough. A doll with blond hair told me she wanted out of her box. I pulled apart the little legs and walked her across the floor, then spoke for her. “My name’s Mary. Would you like to see me dance?” I twirled her around and looked to see if Mama and Papa were watching.
Tears of happiness inched down Mama’s cheeks, but Papa stared like I’d done something terrible. He shouted, “No, you do it this way!” He stood up, grabbed Mary, and made her stomp across the carpet.
Mama asked, “Jim, why did you do that?” He looked straight ahead, then walked out the door and slammed it. I closed my eyes and tried to pretend it hadn’t happened.
The second Christmas, when Papa arrived, I was afraid to go over to him and stood off by myself. He brought only one gift and handed it to me. “Merry Christmas, Kitten.” His eyes wide, he pronounced the words precisely.
I slowly unwrapped the package to reveal Sandra, a doll with black curls. As I caressed her cheeks, Papa seized her and bent one leg back until it broke. Then he sat down on the sofa and covered his face with his hands. He said, “I’m sorry” over and over until Mama walked from her chair and sat beside him. She took his hand and said, “It’s alright, Jim.” He laid his head on her shoulder and all three of us cried.
Both years, after he left, I asked Mama, “What’s wrong with Papa?” The first time she said, “He’s sick, sweetheart.” The second, “I don’t know. His doctor thinks he should go to the hospital for a while.” Then she pulled a hankie from her dress pocket to wipe her eyes.
The next few Christmases, we waited at home all day, but Papa didn’t come. Once Mama tried to call him and told me she let the phone ring ten times.
He’d told us he didn’t want us to drive out to see him. Every couple of months, Mama got a check in the mail with a short note after he’d sold a crop or some cattle. She always wrote back and I sent a drawing, but otherwise we didn’t have any contact.
One late afternoon in December 1959, when I was sixteen, the phone rang. Mama sat on the chair in the hall and listened for ten minutes, taking notes and nodding her head. After she hung up, she hugged me and said Papa’s doctor at the hospital was giving him a new kind of medicine, an “antidepressant,” that could make him better. “Your papa might be coming home again.” I was afraid to hope.
On May 17, 1960, Mama and I were making meatloaf for dinner when the doorbell rang. My sticky fingers turned the knob. There on the porch, wearing a wrinkled blue suit and holding a bouquet of pink roses, stood Papa. I called Mama and she came running. He smiled and said, “Hi, Kitten. Hello, Grace.” His face had more furrows than I remembered but his voice sounded the same. “I think it’s over. I want to stay, if you’ll let me.”
The FDA approved imipramine, the first tricyclic antidepressant, on October 2, 1959.
Scroll down to read about Larry’s inspiring book on depression.
Title: Transcending Depression: Quest Without a Compass
Author: Larry Godwin
“Your book about depression is incredible. I only wish I had read it before my husband attempted suicide jumping off the roof of the home we were building. It is invaluable to everyone, particularly those who have depressed spouses or children and don’t fully understand the feelings and consequences of not getting the appropriate help.”
In 1971, at age 29, I recognized I suffered from depression. This personal narrative represents the chronology of my illness, the highs and lows, as well as my attempts to understand it and cope with it. Selected entries from my personal journals constitute the source and follow an authentic progression over time. In them, I relate insights about the origins of my disorder. I also describe thoughts and feelings that arose and my reactions to events that took place at various times, as influenced, for better or worse, by psychiatric medications and supplements.
The primary motivation for presenting my history is to encourage others who grapple with either chronic depression or occasional bouts. I hope my journey resonates with some, validates feelings, and sparks the thoughts I’m not alone and I will feel better.
This book can also help family members and friends of the mentally ill find compassion and enable them to understand the struggle. It could, as well, benefit those who care for the depressed, and interest the curious and the voyeur. My goal is to save lives.
My roller-coaster odyssey with depression has spanned 49 years. Despite wishing to state otherwise, I have not found a lasting solution and cannot wrap up my story with a bow. However, I believe I have transcended my illness in the sense of coming to terms with it and rising above it. Although coming upon a cure seems unlikely, I have reached a comfort level that allows me to tolerate depression, live with it, and function acceptably much of the time, interspersed with periods of contentment, happiness, and even joy.
Although I contemplated suicide many times, and developed concrete plans once or twice, I never gave up. Rather than take the emergency exit, I searched relentlessly for remedies and coping mechanisms. Although often feeling worn down and deeply discouraged, I persisted in hoping better times might come.
Shortly after the onset of my mental illness, I acknowledged it and sought help, figuring I wasn’t going to recover on my own. Over the decades, many therapists and psychiatrists, most of them competent and caring, have lent their expertise, and I usually embraced their recommendations and heeded their advice. At the same time, I declined to surrender to them my quest for recovery, and instead played an active role myself. Thus far I have experimented with 36 psychiatric medications as well as over two dozen supplements, including vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbal and homeopathic products, hormones, stomach enzymes, and probiotics. I kept meticulous notes on each, recording dates and strengths, and analyzed the results to determine which helped and which worsened my condition. I also tried acupuncture and hypnosis.
I continue to ask my loved ones for support, providing them the fulfilling opportunity to help, and they give it without reservation. I indulge my cravings for protein and chocolate, both of which are sources of amino acids, and, in the case of chocolate, many other mental nutrients. I pray, exercise, and meditate. During the midst of a depressive episode, I usually stay busy, minimizing idle hours when negative thoughts might come up. I structure my time and stick to routines, which furnish mileposts to carry me through the day.
I continue to journal, often daily, exploring thoughts and feelings to discover direction and find validation. I employ introspection and converse with myself through writing. I remind myself this hopelessness, endless as it seems, is temporary, and I will overcome it. Rereading the entries months or years later, I recall previous hard times I weathered and recognize the healing accomplished. My wisdom, resilience, and strength often surprise me.
As a consequence of adopting these strategies, I have acquired an imperfect compass to navigate the depression labyrinth.
During the course of my journey, two paramount truths emerged. The first is that the intensity of my mental illness is not constant. Rough patches, even excruciating ones, prove short-lived and abate long enough for me to breathe and gain perspective.
The second is that living is important, for each year I accomplish much good that serves others. If I’d taken my life along the way, I would have denied those I love, acquaintances I care for, and, through my writing, strangers I’ll never meet, these gifts: empathy, support, and encouragement.
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My first book, Surviving Our Parents' Mistakes: Healing the Scars from Childhood Mistreatment, debuted in 1999. My articles about depression have appeared on the websites of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and the Canadian Mental Heath Association. I live with my wife, Cathy, in Missoula, Montana.
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