I’ve mentioned before that I come from a past of mental illness. I grew up with a mom who struggled with depression, among some other issues for which she never sought treatment. Several years ago, I severed ties with her because I finally realized that the “relationship” I had with her was toxic. I don’t talk about it because when I tell people that I haven’t spoken to my mom in several years, they don’t understand. How does someone not talk to her mother? She’s my mom after all. Without going into details, let me just say to anyone out there who is judging me right now or can’t fathom not talking to your parent: if you had been in my shoes, you would have done the same thing. Or you wouldn’t have, and you’d be miserable right now.
But that’s a post for another day. Maybe. I went through therapy and these last several years have been so much happier for me and so perhaps I won’t talk about it. I don’t really need to. However, I mention it because I, too, have struggled with depression throughout times in my life. At times, I’ve had to take medication or as I always loved to call them, my “happy pills”. Over the last several years, however, I’m at a place of peace. I contribute it to my healthy lifestyle. Eating plant-based, running, and learning to live in the moment through meditation have helped me build a strong, thriving mental health without the use of medication or therapy. It took years to get to this place, but I’ve reached it.
My oldest daughter, on the other hand, is currently in that dark place. She has always been an anxious kid. We always thought she was a good kid who just didn’t want to disappoint anyone, and so she always worked hard to do her best. Looking back now, though, I realize that she was probably already showing signs of anxiety: stomach aches, nervous energy, always worrying about things. Never feeling like she was good enough, despite our words of encouragement. When she started college, things deteriorated for her. She started having anxiety attacks; she was sick all of the time and couldn’t sleep or eat. She moved back home, started seeing a therapist and psychiatrist, started medication and things seemed to get better for her. Because she finally started feeling “normal”, she stopped seeing her therapist, took herself off her medication and for months, things were going well. However, over the last couple of months, the anxiety and depression started to come back. She has started coming home to stay with us for a day or two at a time because she doesn’t want to be alone. She came home to stay with us a couple of days ago and as we were all sitting around just chatting and laughing, tears started streaming down her face and when I asked her what was wrong, she said she didn’t know. She said that this is what happens to her now. She cries and feels sad and alone, even when she is with her family and friends.
As a parent, I can’t tell you how heartwrenching and absolutely frightening it is to watch your child go through something like this. As someone who knows what depression feels like, I know that no magic words will take it away. You don’t just “get over it.” It’s a physiological, biological disease that only therapy and medication can help. The coping mechanisms like exercise, healthy diet, meditation, etc., come later, but when you’re in the dark chasms of depression, only medication can dig you out of that hole. My husband and I don’t blame ourselves for this, although there have been times when we’ve looked back at how we parented and wondered if we could have done something differently. But I know that this is a genetic, biological disease that unfortunately my daughter has inherited.
Today she is going back to the psychiatrist and I’m going with her. We will get her through this phase of darkness and she will see light again. I keep telling her – no, PROMISING her, that things will get better. And they will.
I’m posting this blog because if you know anyone who is going through this, please, encourage them to seek medical help if they haven’t already. Depression and anxiety isn’t something that people just “get over”. Words like “Stop worrying so much” or “You have so much to be happy to be about! Why are you sad?” don’t help. People with anxiety and depression can’t stop the way they feel. They know it’s not normal to feel this way, but they can’t stop the feelings or help themselves. Professional help will give them back a normal life.
I also feel like it’s important for people to be able to talk openly about depression and anxiety without judging and stereotyping. People with depression and anxiety aren’t crazy; they aren’t being drama queens or kings; they aren’t just attention seekers. These are legitimate illnesses, just like diabetes or heart disease. It amazes me how open and honest my daughter is able to be about her anxiety and depression. When I had it, I kept it to myself. I was embarrassed and ashamed. I was worried that people would think I was crazy. But I wasn’t. I was just ill and I got better. My daughter is ill and she will get better, too. You, your family member, or friend will get better, too, with the right help.
Out of the darkness, there is light.