i am about 30 years old. when i was a kid growing up in the 80s and early 90s, i didn’t know what depression was. i’m sure many of us can say the same thing – even as recently as 20 years ago, mental illness was not nearly as widely accepted or discussed as it is today.
it’s especially significant to me because my dad battled severe depression throughout my childhood. starting when i was in fourth grade until his suicide when i was in seventh grade, i watched a transformation come over him. i saw the sadness, the fatigue, the anxiety. i saw him withdraw from our family and retreat inside of himself. he started taking naps instead of playing with me. he stopped asking questions about how i was doing. his eyes had no light in them anymore. even as a young kid i knew that he was suffering from something – but what it was, i did not know. we didn’t talk about it as a family. my mom just tried to keep things “normal” for my sister and me and probably didn’t think it was appropriate to talk about his depression. but in my gut i still knew something was wrong.
the first time i ever heard about “depression” was the morning he killed himself. i have this vivid memory of my mom pulling me and my sister close to her and telling us that my dad had a sickness called depression, that he was taking something called antidepressants, that he never would have done this if he weren’t so very very sick.
it fills me with regret and anger that my first awareness of depression was at such a traumatic moment. i wish, i wish, i wish that i could have had a less jarring introduction to mental illness, but that’s just not how it happened for me. for a long time i associated depression and medication with suicide. in my thirteen year old mind, depression wasn’t a medical illness but a dangerous, deadly force that resulted in the ultimate rejection a child could experience. it was too personal and too painful to see it as a medical condition.
so in my early twenties when i started to recognize symptoms of depression in myself i was scared. when i started taking antidepressants i was scared. i was scared because i thought this meant that something was fundamentally wrong with me. i was scared because it reminded me of my dad. i didn’t think of it as having and treating an illness. i rarely told anyone about it. i thought of it as a personal flaw that if i just worked harder or tried harder or wished harder or ran harder i could get rid of.
it has taken hitting the absolute rock bottom for me to finally accept that i have an illness and that i need medication. after a hellish year of severe and debilitating depression and anxiety, my perspective has begun to shift. my aversion to talking about my depression has been blown wide open and it is out there for my world to know. i have a mental illness. saying that is both scary and liberating. it’s loaded for me but it’s also allowing me to feel some acceptance. maybe it is allowing me to understand some of my dad’s pain as one who suffered from the sickness of depression. maybe.