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The First Time I Was Honest With My Mom About My Depression

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The first time I told my mom about my depression was also the first time she saw me smoke a cigarette. It was December 2011 and I was in what I later came to realize was an incredibly unhealthy relationship. The girl I was in the relationship with and I just had a major fight (which wasn’t uncommon), but we had both been staying at my parents’ house over Christmas break (which was uncommon). The fight had been over the phone while I was gone at a rehearsal and she had sent me a text message saying not to expect her there when I got back. After the rehearsal ended, I rushed back home to discover she was gone and had hidden her bags in the closet to make me think she had really left for good.

Needless to say, I was an emotional wreck. To escalate matters, I was leaving in a few days for a semester-long internship that was nine hours away. It was likely I wouldn’t see either the girl or my parents in person while I was there.

I needed to smoke and I didn’t care that my mom was there to see it. Being the mom she is, she was worried and trying to help and understand what had happened. One cigarette ended up being the point from which everything I had been hiding in my life would come spilling out of my mouth.

I’ve been depressed for years, I told her. I’ve wanted to die more times than I could count and I’ve tried on several occasions. I had been drinking heavily and combining it with whatever substances I could get my hands on, saying I was having fun but really trying to numb the pain I felt constantly.

As you would expect, she was in tears the whole time. I had known this would happen, but the first words she spoke when I was done formed quite possibly the most heartbreaking sentence I’d ever heard.

“What did your dad and I do wrong?”

Now, it took the perfect storm of terrible things happening for me to have spilled my guts. But if I had known she was going to take it all on herself and feel the weight of it in the form of guilt, I can 100 percent guarantee I wouldn’t have said anything, no matter what the circumstances were.

It was one of the most painful conversations I can ever remember having. I didn’t know how to articulate it wasn’t their fault. Watching her feel that much guilt made me feel even worse, like I had put this burden on her and would’ve been better off not saying anything at all. But feelings are at best, temporary and at worst, misleading.

Several months later, my mom and dad came down to visit me where the internship was. During this visit, we sat in a pub and had a beer and they asked me questions that were more personal than they had ever asked before. They wanted to know what I’d been going through. They wanted to understand more. They wanted to know how they could help, regardless of if it was anyone’s “fault” or not. The next day we took a day trip to Disney World and while standing in line for the Twilight Tower of Terror, my dad asked me about my experiences in going to counseling. Did I find it helpful? Did I think it was worth it?

Years later, I write about my depression and suicidal thoughts publicly. I try to encourage people to be open about their pain, to talk to the people surrounding them, to let people love them. And while I believe strongly in what I’m doing, I have no doubt every time I post something about my pain, it’s hard for my mom to read.

But I know for a fact our relationship is better for it. I can say without hesitation, as hard as those first conversations were, they were worth it for the conversations we get to have now. When I’m hurting, when I need people to speak truth to me, I know they’re there and they’re willing to listen. They know me better. They can help me more. They can love me deeper.

And that’s worth a million hard conversations.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Image via Thinkstock

Originally published: March 7, 2017
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