By Shehr Bano Hassan
Sitting across the table from my therapist, a tissue in my hand pulled from the box she had placed in front of me upon my arrival, I said: “I really am my father’s daughter.”
My therapist was clearly taken aback. This is not what we were talking about, but I had avoided saying it for so long now. I was a depression cliché.
My father’s personality was always brought up in conversation with family members. They described him as quirky and eccentric. I would take pride in how he wasn’t like other dads. ‘He always wears black, has long hair and he lets me do whatever I want’, I used to tell the girls in my school. The truth is, I never wanted to accept the fact that my dad was ill. I’d never tell them how he cried in his sleep or that we went days without speaking.
It was only in my late teens, far from the person I once knew, that I began to fight the things I now recognize in the memories of my childhood. University was a turning point. I worried about work, about my mother, about relationships. I worried about being worried. I started having nightmares, meeting anxiety at night as a guest I had not invited but was being forced to dine with. Feelings of hopelessness became the norm, like everything and anything I did meant nothing because I was living in the shadow of something I could never escape, something that was in my blood.
The realization that I was depressed and anxious was only made worse by the sheer disappointment of leaving my therapist’s office, knowing I could never come back because I could never escape my own fate: a depressed man’s depressed daughter. I was angry at myself. How could I have seen him suffer and let myself become him?
I asked my mother one day: I really did become Baba, didn’t I? She answered: ‘No, you are stronger. You came out of his depression, you’ll come out of yours too.’
She was right. I had let myself be defined by my father’s mental illness. Moreover, I had let my father be defined in the same way. Yes, he had depression, but he was not just his depression. He was also a great father. He was a great storyteller, and an even better comedian. He loved to read to me, but even more to laugh with me. If I was to define myself through my father in any way, I’d say I got his courage. I am not a cliché, I am his and I am brave.