It’s days like today when I think I know what my Papaw went through. He was my grandpa, my mom’s dad, and though never diagnosed professionally, had serious depression. He would sit at the kitchen table for hours – most of the day, most days – and not speak to anyone. He could go days without more than briefly grunted answers to my cheery grandma’s questions regarding meals. He’d sit and sit and sit.
I used to stay with my grandparents often. Weekends, stretches of days, or week-long visits during summer. When I was very young, grandma (a decade younger than Papaw), was still working and so I was left with my papaw till she got home from the factory. Papaw mostly just let me go play and do whatever I wanted; they lived in a converted one room schoolhouse, surrounded by fields and approached by a gravel road that was oil sprayed once or twice every year to keep down the dust.
Growing up an only child kept me imaginative. I loved staying at Grandma and Papaw’s. I made Hot Wheels roads in their gravel drive, found toads to play with, and always had time to draw. There were two rules: No going up the ladder in their small barn, and no going on the disused front porch for fear I’d fall through the rotten boards. I, of course, would creep around both when I was sure I wouldn’t get caught; what kid wouldn’t?
Papaw had his better times. When those lighter moods would strike, we’d sit and have Etch-a-Sketch drawing competitions (which often started with complicated brick walls and moving to the challenge of circle drawings), solve Rubik’s Cubes (he was so good at those!), and do jigsaw puzzles. We’d also read, do crosswords and word searches, and occasionally listen to baseball games on the radio. Sometimes, if he was feeling particularly good, we’d get in his old pickup truck and go grocery shopping.
We always got along perfectly; I knew when to leave him alone, and he me. We had nicknames too: I was Sharkey, and he was Murph. I can’t recall where Murph came from, but mine was because I was on a Myrtle Beach vacation with my mom and dad, merrily building a sand castle, when the whole rest of the beach rushed to the water’s edge shouting about a shark. No matter how loudly I was summoned to have a look at the nearly beached creature, I was deeply hyper-focusing on my castle building task. I missed the whole thing. (I now know this was an early instance of ADHD.) So, Papaw called me Shark(e)y – which he spelled with an ‘e’ and that’s fine by me.
Papaw – born: Silas Garfield Clapp – never saw a doctor or dentist in his life until his deathbed in a hospital. He was born at home, and I wish he’d had the option to die there too. No psychiatrist had ever had a crack at him, and so it’s only my family that knows how deeply depressed he was. My mother had it as bipolar. I have it as bipolar tendencies with dominant ADHD. Every generation evolved a little. Every generation suffering.
It’s no secret that I’ve struggled with depression for decades, but even more acutely after the death of my mom in 2010. I come up for air when I can, but I am sitting here typing this because I don’t know what else to do today. I’ve done some work, I’ve cried, and I’ve sat still just like Papaw.
I take medication for my ADHD but not for depression. In the past (in the US) I was on a different medication and my Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and that management kept depression away, mostly. The available medicine here in the UK is less effective, but still helps the ADHD. The difference, however, means that fighting depression is much more difficult. Add that to mourning, a divorce, and trying to make a living as an artist and you can perhaps see why I struggle.
But I’m not writing this to ask for understanding, pity, or advice. Not in this post, and typically, I’m not that kind of person anyway. I’m writing because I wanted to tell you a little about my Papaw, whom I still miss fiercely though he died in the 90s. I miss his daughter, Virginia, too, though I haven’t written a Letters to Mom in a long time.
Papaw, I understand. And I know that just sitting for awhile is ok.