I have been wanting to write this for a while now – probably a couple of years – but just don’t know how to do it. The reason is that I am scared. We all know fear is the mind-killer, so perhaps it’s time to be brave.
You see, I suffer from depression. It’s not such a big deal if you just say it like that, is it? I have suffered from it since childhood and have had bouts of really quite extreme depression, the worst occurring 2007-08, lasting about 6 months to such a degree that I was effectively immobilised. I sat all day every day in a chair and used the weight of my laptop to stop me getting up and killing myself. I was pretty scared then, because although I wanted to die, I didn’t want to leave a mess behind for the family to sort out. It seemed that, given I was such a useless burden I should at least try to shuffle off the mortal coil as quietly as possible.
We won’t go into the lack of care available. That’s a different post. People are suffering still just as I did then. It gets reported as numbers, but they are all people.
That was then, and now I don’t feel that bad most of the time. It’s still there, in the background, nagging away, but no longer so strong that I feel unable to resist it. I put it back in its box, and I keep it there, every day.
That’s not what I especially want to write about though. The details and the tragedy and the triumph belong to my personal life, back here in reality, not in cyberspace. I don’t know you and you don’t know me; suffice it to say that after a while, probably about 3 years, I finally got the better of my black dog, at least for now. It’s the way it is, not your problem.
The thing is – and this is entirely predictable – The Guilt. Having worked pretty hard to get to this happy state of being and having sustained it for the longest period yet, now I can look back and see the damage I have done to my family. To my children. They all suffer low moods quite strongly (I am not talking about the odd day of feeling a bit down); one of them suffers badly from depression and gets suicidal.
So how much is genetic and how much is learned? My family has a long history of depression. In fact I think my great-grandfather suffered it, and this leads me to think there may be a genetic component. He was discharged from the police in the 1880s with “vertigo”, a symptom I also experience, and apparently a common one in policing at the time and used as a euphemism for “mental breakdown” or depression. The thing is, he never knew his son (it’s complicated because my grandfather was illegitimate and his mother didn’t tell – or couldn’t find – his father).
I didn’t know my grandfather (the son) as he died before I was born. I am told he was a quiet man who sat in the corner behind a newspaper and didn’t talk to people. Sound familiar? Anyway, two of his three children, my father and uncle, were prone to a form of mild depression.
My mother also suffers from depression and has done at least since I was a child. She told me once that she was going to take an overdose when I was small (pre-school) but I came in and stopped her. Certainly a lot of my childhood revolved around trying to cheer her up, or at least avoid her temper. We were not close.
Here I stand, a depressive from a line of depressives. And my children all seem to suffer too. Did I learn it from my family and teach them? Or have I passed on faulty DNA? It’s a bit late to worry about it now, but it intrigues me. But this also is not the nub of it. I am avoiding it still.
Why am I afraid?
In essence it goes a bit like this – mad or not.
My role in the family is to sort things out. I am the one who is good in a crisis, and assertive with difficult people, and stands up and shouts if necessary. That bad temper, born of years of depression, has been honed to a solid tool for protecting my family. Trust me, you don’t even want to look at my kids funny.
My husband is a lovely, kind, thoughtful , patient, loving person. He is also a dreamer, and proud of it. Certainly it means he can cope with me, so I am grateful for it. However, it also means I don’t feel able to show too much hesitation as he tends to panic a bit; the quid pro quo of his being supportive and gorgeous is that he can find it hard to be decisive. The partnership works in so many good ways, and I don’t want to break it. I’m scared of breaking one of the best things I have.
It’s not like the children don’t know, or at least suspect, that I get badly depressed. But they don’t know how close I came to killing myself and neither does my husband. Now that I feel stronger, I don’t want to scare them. I’m scared of scaring them in fact, especially now it’s history.
How do you broach it anyway? Sitting at the dinner table I could gaily announce “Oh, did I mention…? I wanted to kill myself a while back, it’s fine now though so don’t worry. More carrots?”
Quite the conundrum, for me anyway.
Not a pretty story. But true.
If you also suffer depression, endlessly, repetitively, know this. Finding the way is the hardest thing, but a way can eventually be found. We can all change. I am no different.
The light in me salutes the light in you.