When I was 9 years old, I spent Saturday mornings laying in bed with my mom, watching morning cartoons while she napped through the rest of the AM, usually after a night at our local bar(sorry Mom which of course you aren’t reading this, but you know it’s true). This particular Spring day was no different, as I watched Recess while she snored quietly on the pillow next to mine. My dad was a golfer, and Mother Nature had blessed us with an early abundance of crisp comfortable air and sunshine, which meant I rarely saw him on weekend mornings. I was okay with this…as it freed open my parents’ bed and also gave me an escape from my 15-year old sister and the room we shared…she wasn’t particularly fond of me during this era of her adolescence. It was on this particular morning, as I tapped her on the shoulder as a freckle-faced, buck toothed, and glasses-wearing third grader, and asked if she would stab me with a butcher knife, as I knew I no longer wanted to live anymore.
During these pre-pre-teen years, girls began their conniving and passive aggressive ways of bullying. I was not innocent, but I certainly had been victimized quite more often than normal in the past few weeks. My “friends” had built up a silent treatment pact against me, for whichever reason third graders may justify it with. If I remember correctly, I had let it slip to my very best guy friend that my very best girl friend had a crush on him…and clearly that was means for being ostracized. Ok, regardless…it sent me into a frenzy of dread going to school, knowing I would have nobody to hang out with on the playground or lunch table. Perhaps it was a whim of dramatization, but I will never forget my mother’s reaction to this statement, one which helped shaped the ideology of suicide and mental illness, even as young as I was.
“If you EVER say that again, YOU ARE GOING TO A COUNSELOR!” She screamed at me. And when I say screamed, in no way, I am not exaggerating. I won’t forget it…this memory is as vivid as ever in my mind. Her words shook me to the core, as I immediately knew I had said something very very wrong. The negative connotation of “counselor” really wasn’t a foreign concept to me- kids in my classes saw the guidance counselor all the time, but THOSE kids were different. Divorced parents with mismatched clothes and learning disabilities. Parents who died tragically with behavioral issues. Not kids like ME. I went into my room and cried silently until my dad got home from the course. Both of my parents came into my room and over silent tears, I confessed to my father what I said, as my mother stood in the doorway of my room, furious. The memory gets a little blurry here, as I do not remember his reaction, but I do know one thing; it was never further investigated, and I was written off as an over dramatic, overly sensitive little girl who needed to understand that “kids will be kids.” Their reaction was ANGER rather than concern that I had immediately contemplated I would be better off dead than dealing with a troubling situation, perhaps a tad over-dramatic but nonetheless quite abnormal for a girl my age. I was pinpointed as being selfish, attention-seeking(although this was not in my nature, as I’ve always been a quiet kid), making their lives difficult when they had given me everything. Yes, I felt these emotions even back then. It’s a feeling I’ve never quite been able to shake from that moment on, even if I didn’t mean what I said. It’s the beginning of what shaped my ignorance regarding mental illness.
As time went on, I obviously rekindled, then fought with, rekindled, then fought with, and rekindled with the same group of friends over the course of my pre-teen and teenage years. Truly irrelevant to the point of my story…but let’s clarify something; my depression is NOT situational, nor has it really ever been. I was never bullied severely; it’s always been inner-circle passive aggressive bullshit all females for some reason like torturing each other with. Some of these girls are my absolute best friends now, and others I seriously can’t even look at to this day. Just wanted to clarify, as the “trigger” of my depression was not because of the way others treated me. In fact, I don’t even really know what made my “gun” go off. Just wanted to make that clear.
Fast forward many years later, I experienced a whirlwind of frenemy backlash from a particular friend, who sought joy in seeing me hurt, for some reason unbeknownst to me. For Senior Superlatives, she led a secret campaign to try and get me voted “Moodiest”, despite the fact it not only failed, but was dismissed as an inappropriate award for our yearbook. When I asked her about it, she wrote me off, as if it weren’t something to be considered offensive, and although I played it off as a joke, I secretly knew my mood swings didn’t affect anybody else as much as they affected me. They weren’t outlandish depressive or mania states…sometimes I just need to be alone, even in a group of friends at school, and people saw this as “weird” or me being in a “mood.” Sometimes on weekends when everybody was out, I preferred to stay at home, unless there was drinking involved. When I tried to explain this to her, and even brought up the fact it may be linked to some sort of depressive behavior jokingly, in a true sign of desperation to write off the fact it MIGHT be true(while thinking OH GOD please let her disagree) she shrugged it off and told me “I don’t believe in depression.” And that was that. I felt idiotic but secretly agreed. I had taken psychology- it definitely existed, but not for me. Nobody would believe in depression for me…I was just going through a rut, and people could see it however they wanted to. The reassurance was short-lived but made me feel better about my declining emotional state, even in high school.
I mean honestly, I could recount tales and tales and tales of things which were not “normal” growing up or even as recently as 2 years ago and the way I lived in my life, most especially my body image and growing up with somebody who was utterly infatuated with physical appearance. But it could honestly be a novel in itself, and I’m not sure if I would ever be ready to share that with anybody at this moment in time.
Again, fast forward YEARS later, during the VERY beginning phases of my real downfall, I confided into my father about my erratic behavior and sleeping habits. Although he did not say much, he helped me set up an appointment to see a therapist. I begged him not to tell my mom as I knew her reaction would not be of support, but my parents don’t keep secrets so he did anyways. I went for a few sessions, but stopped after an encounter with my mother while returning from a rather successful appointment. “So what did your therapist say? Are you DEPRESSED?” complete with a smirk.
Her condescending words HAUNT my mind to this day. In fact, I have tears in my eyes as I write this. I wonder if they ever haunt her mind late at night, when she wonders what I’m up to. I wonder if she ever regrets the way she spoke to me in the manner she did, which abrupted the entirety of my relationship with that psychologist. It was truly a domino effect, as I never returned to therapy again until 3 years later, after I had been committed to a psychiatric ward for suicidal thoughts and HAD to. I wonder if she ever feels responsible for the years that followed, the partying and compulsive spending…the only glimmer of happiness I could seek out in a whirlwind of darkness. I wonder if she truly remembers the way she treated me when I needed her the most. Her backlash prevented me from getting help for years. Sometimes I am bitter, and she is no stranger to this…when we are fighting, I will use words dripping in animosity to hurt her…this always makes me feel very guilty. And although she did play a HUGE role in the way I viewed mental illness growing up, I know the ignorance was not her fault. She saw it all as a reflection of her raising me. She was completely unaware people could just be born this way, despite the fact it is VERY prevalent in my family history, just not really talked about.
Let me state something very clear here: my mother is NOT a bad person, but she is very controlling and terrified of what I am capable of, but not in the sense you would think. She’s scared to lose me, to let me go out into the real world and reach my FULL potential because she thinks I will forget about her, but I have learned that I can’t tiptoe around her feelings for the rest of my life. And in regards to my mental health, she is one of the most supportive people I know about my depression now, although VERY overprotective, despite the fact I am 24 years old. Without her help now, I wouldn’t have survived the recovery phases, and I am forever thankful for that. It’s been a long journey of forgiveness, and the way she treated me while I was sick but before it was diagnosed is basically THE reason why I advocate for awareness. Ignorance is so painful. If you don’t have the support of a parent or loved one, please seek it somewhere else. Somebody cares. I promise you that. I do not want anybody to end up like me, with so many lost years to the demons of depression, completely hopeless. The resources are there, the support is prevalent, but it may take some searching for someone you can trust in order to take action…but please, do not wait. Time is precious.