How My Mom Saved My Life From Depression
Back rubs and loving words can be the difference between life and death. My mom saved my life in our living room one summer, when my newly-experienced haunting insomnia and debilitating depression left me unable to do anything at night but lay awake on the couch and cry. She would sit with me, her hand gently placed on my 16-year-old back, and softly say, “It will be all right.”
It all began a few months earlier, at the eye doctor, when I had my first panic attack. My heart started beating out of control and I was consumed with a dreadful confidence my heart was about to give out and I was going to die. My thoughts began to race, I started to sweat profusely, I lost my vision and I passed out. Upon coming to, I felt as good as new, almost as if my mind and body had “reset.” So, we weren’t worried. At the time it was an anomaly, a weird experience to be sure but nothing more than an interesting story … until it happened again later that day. And again. And again. The panic, the existential terror, began to grow until it consumed my entire being. I was just as anxious about the thought of my next panic attack as I was during a panic attack, and it wasn’t long until anxiety was almost the only emotion I seemed capable of. I quickly developed agoraphobia and refused to leave my home. It was as macabre as any ironic metaphor can be: I was stuck inside of my house, but I was really trapped inside of my mind.
I was in hell.
I lost more than I could handle: my mind and body, my job, my basketball team, my relationships with my friends, my dreams for my future.
The only thing that wasn’t a part of my downward spiral into the abyss was the relief I found in seemingly endless bottles of medication. The pills could reduce the panic, but not rebuild my life.
I discovered depression — “real” depression. “I can’t feel joy” depression. “I can’t imagine what hope feels like” depression. “My favorite things are so meaningless to me now that they only make me want to stop living even more” depression.
And so I paced around my house all day. I took long, scalding hot showers until the hot water was exhausted and could no longer burn my skin. I sat in dark rooms and sobbed. I prayed. God, did I pray. I yelled at my parents and sister. I argued with myself and covered my helplessness with a sense of weakness, shame and blame. And at night, I did my best to lie on the couch instead of pacing around the house endlessly like a scene out of a horror movie. Days were unbearable, but nights were still somehow worse. So I laid on the couch with my face buried into the back seat cushion and I cried quietly. My mom would come in periodically throughout the night, pat my back and whisper words of love in a calm and confident voice that perhaps only a mother can summon.
I know she was in as much hell as I was. I can’t imagine watching my child go through that amount of struggle without the ability to help. She was there at my side because she loved me, but who knows what else was going through her mind. Maybe she got up throughout the night to make sure I hadn’t hurt myself (hell, she probably couldn’t sleep herself). Maybe she patted my back and encouraged me as a way to try and convince herself things truly would be alright. I don’t know. But there are not many memories I can re-experience as powerfully as her loving presence, a gentle back rub, and a prophetic, “It will be all right.”
It’s been over a decade since that summer. I’ve been on more medications than I can name and seen more doctors than I can remember and paid more medical bills than I can afford. I still struggle with anxiety and depression, but my mom was right. I am all right, it is all right, and it will be all right. As I write this, I can’t help but wonder if it was her motherly love that forcefully willed into existence my long but steady recovery. The right medications, therapy, diet and exercise routines, mindfulness practices and relationships help me lead a satisfying and meaningful life. But the dark nights do occasionally return. And when they do, my mom saves my life again with the memory of a lesson taught, experienced and learned.
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Thinkstock photo via Highwaystarz-Photography