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Living With My Mother's Depression

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There was nothing terribly unique about the day my entire life prospective changed. I went to school as usual: a bright — if easily distracted– eighth grader, learning basic algebra and reading “To Kill a Mockingbird.” There was nothing there — I know, I’ve combed those memories a thousand times — to tell me that day would show me a side to my mother I’d never seen before.

Thinking back, I always knew there was something standoffish —


My mother was distant woman, who —


Growing up, my mother and I weren’t —


OK. Breathe.


To this day, it’s difficult for me to address my feelings regarding my mother and how she completely turned my life on it’s head. Subconsciously, I think I always knew something wasn’t right. I mean, the only time she ever expressed affection toward me or even said she loved me was when it connected directly to some positive thing I’d done — some scholarly achievement, more often than not.

I learned pretty early if I wanted to be loved, I had to be good. Always good; always giving the right response, staying perfectly in-line. The fear and anxiety I attached to disappointing my parents — my mother — was so intense, I rarely got in trouble as a child, and when I did, it was the end of all things in my mind.

Now… well, I guess those lessons weren’t hers. They were jagged little shards of her own childhood, coming up and slicing into fresh, new victims. God, I remember how hollow it sounded sometimes, when she did manage to say she loved me. Like it was practiced; expected.

Not. True.

But I still yearned for it. Of course I did, I was a child — her first born at that. I wanted so badly to learn what it would take for her to love me properly. I struggled to figure out if the way she did was properly, and that other type of love (limitless and without clause) was the stuff of movies and fantasy.

I was too young to really understand what was going on, but life doesn’t wait for when you’re ready.

On that random day in the middle of my eighth grade year, I came home to an empty house. Later, I would find out my younger brother was just next door with my aunt, but in that first moment, I was terrified. There was such finality in that house. It was just as empty as I was, even with everything still in its proper place.

I remember feeling dread as I checked each room for a sign of anyone or anything every living there. I think I knew even then… I was looking for my mother’s body.

The only reason I didn’t find one is because of intervention from one of my mother’s best friends. I wouldn’t really understand the gravity of the story I was told until later — years later — but this is how it was explained to me:

My mother sent a letter to her best friend, saying she wanted to kill herself and that she would take my brother and I with her in the process. Her best friend called the police, and she was institutionalized for her own safety and ours.

That’s it. There was no further explanation or discussion. My mother would be miles away in a mental health care facility for months following that, and I would only pick up the story of why years later. I wouldn’t learn about the abuse her mother had bestowed onto her and her siblings until I was halfway through high school. Even now I really don’t understand it all.

What I did learn is this: her psychologists diagnosed her with chronic, severe depression. During her time in the facility, she was only allowed to see us a few times a month. Each time, she was nearly incoherent with the powerful antidepressants they prescribed her, but… she was still, somehow, more engaging with my brother and I. I could see, even though I hated that dulled-down, incapacitated version of her, that whatever was happening there was helping her. At 12 years old, I could see that whatever they were doing at that mental health facility was repairing decades of damage my mother had suffered with silently my entire life.

Maybe that’s why I’ve always wanted to go into psychology.

I am not without my own scars. Now, in my mid-20s, I can see them clearer than ever before: my need to be acknowledged, my difficulties expressing myself, etc. To this day, this is something I can’t really talk about, let alone with my mother. Our relationship has improved by leaps and bounds, yet I cannot silence that voice in the back of my mind.

The one that is waiting for the day I get the call; waiting for the day it happens.

Every time she falls into a low point, I live in fear. I get tense; my friends question me about the changes in my personality. How do I say “I can’t move pass the fear that my mother will kill herself today”? How do I get to the stage of being able to tell her how her illness has shaped my life, too? Should I ever? I don’t have a clue.

I’m writing this for selfish reasons. My mother is the one who was diagnosed with chronic depression, right? But I live with my mother’s depression, too.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Originally published: April 22, 2016
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