I have three sisters who suffer from depression. Their diagnoses range from bipolar to high-functioning anxiety and depression. In each of them, their symptoms started to blossom in their teens. My mom and dad really didn’t know what was happening or what to do, so they chalked it up to teenage mood swings. Now on medication, my beautiful sisters are able to function, be their best selves, and live a healthy life.
I have watched my sister get washed over with guilt. I have listened to them all ask, why? I have watched them all try as hard as they can to be strong and beat it on their own without medication. I have witnessed how much of their life it has taken away.
I have watched my mother cry from across her living room, as she rocked in her rocking chair and looked out the window, telling me about rushing my older sister to the emergency room because her medication was making her feel suicidal. Her child was suffering. Those are her babies, and she felt helpless.
I know my younger sister has stayed in bed all day, unable to function or care for her kids. She says it feels like she is underwater.
Both of my parents experienced mental illness, as well, but didn’t realize it until later in life. They now have medication, go to therapy, and are getting what they need. They are different people, happier and more alive than they ever were while I was growing up because of the resources available to them. Back then, only a few decades ago, mental illness just wasn’t talked about as much as it is today.
My grandmother once told me all six of her children were on anti-depression medication. She suffered from postpartum depression but said, “In my day, you just called it the melancholy and you sent your kids to stay with a friend and were told to go bed, or you suffered in silence.”
She also tells me stories of her father and his depression, how he would get very quiet and withdrawn, then start drinking and disappear for weeks at a time while his family had no idea where he was.
I want to kick depression’s ass. I hate what it does to the people I love, but I realize they all know what they are dealing with and are able to get the help they need when they need it. There was a time, however, when they didn’t feel as safe as they do now.
Depression seems to be a self-discovering journey. I’ve been told when you start to feel symptoms the first thing you do is question every move you make and beat yourself up more than anyone else ever could. You wonder what they hell is wrong with you and think with time, more sleep, maybe some exercise, you will turn back to your old self. But that isn’t always the case. I adore my sisters and it has been excruciating watching them go through something I don’t understand.
For some reason, depression has left me alone, but I am nervous for my kids. My teenage son has been a little withdrawn ever since he started puberty, the same time depression hit my sisters. The are now in their 30s and 40s, and still affected by it.
I constantly wonder if my son is depressed or if this is just normal teenage angst. I’m on the constant lookout for signs. I talked to him regularly, and check in to see how he is feeling. I wonder if I am being too pushy or if he needs his mother to leave him the hell alone — something we both know I just can’t do. But I can’t help but wonder if, like my mother, one day I could be staring out the window one day talking about how I had to bring one of my babies to the emergency room because they wanted to take their own life. This thought chills me to the core.
Studies have shown depression is hereditary. It skipped me for some unknown reason, but I have been surrounded by it my whole life. I feel like I know what to look for, I know the questions to ask, but what if I am wrong?
I worry about all my children, but I keep looking back to the generations before me and the lack of awareness and resources regarding mental illness. I realize how far we have come, how much help is available, and I am hopeful even though I also worry. Even though I don’t relate to what it feels like to be drowning in your own sadness, I can provide my kids with the tools they need to cope if need be.
I am teaching my kids there is no shame in depression, whether they feel it or someone they love does. I will continue to be open with them and check in regularly even if everything looks happy and safe on the outside, because you can never be too sure. And I would rather be a pushy, annoying mom who checks in with her kids too much, than dismiss something serious as normal moodiness or teenage behavior and feel regretful later.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, and you need help, please call Lifeline and get the support you need.