My normal was doctors and meds being prescribed to her; her lazy Susan of pills that sat upon our microwave. The AA and NAA meetings that I sat and coloured through as a child. My normal was a mother who sat in her room for hours and hours on end. Alone and weeping. Zero laughter. Very little excitement or enthusiasm for life. And almost no physical touch during the dark moments. Almost as if the zest of anything had been squeezed out with such violence that only a shadow of a person prepared meals and drove me places.
I thought everyone at 14 had mothers who cut their faces in a fit of rage within their depression. Then I visited my "best friend" and realized that wasn't true. So I didn't say anything. Because talking about it only deepened the realization that depression not only consumed our household; but stalked me in my mind. Always pretending things were better then they were. Never sharing the intensity behind the abuse that came with this mental illness. This illness that I despised. That I hated. It wouldn't ever touch me.
So forgive me. I didn't understand depression. I wanted to. I really did. It missed me in the the passing of genes and I've never experienced it myself. I have lived with it though. I've been a one woman audience to the chaos it brings. But the actual all knowing feeling isn't something I am intimately in tune with. Just like I can't comprehend not being able to take care of your children. Or cutting your wrists because the pain is so bad. Or requiring your child to parent you through another psych ward intake as you beg the doctors to admit her because you can't do another night of suicide watch. It doesn't make sense to me. And if that comes across critical please know that's not the purpose. I genuinely cannot psychically fathom those feelings and emotions. I don't think I ever will. But I have dug deep; done the first hand research of this disease. For most of my life I had zero empathy for my mother and her "issues." Why couldn't she snap out of it? Often in her darkest days I would scream and scream for her to figure herself out. Get her act together and move on. Why did it haunt her day in and out. It looked like such a weakness to me. Until the depression killed her and she committed suicide. And then something clicked.
I'm embarrassed to say for many years I judged. Full-on gavel in hand judged. And I am sorry. So sorry. Because I was without empathy. And THAT is the worst thing you can withhold from someone suffering. Maybe it was because I was so full of rage that even as an adult I struggled to have empathy for friends with depression. I always had sympathy; but never empathy. And that's not the same at all. Brene Brown describes the difference as: "sympathy being the pity we feel for someone else's hardships whereas empathy is the "me too", the act of putting yourself in their shoes." I cringe at the thoughts that once ran through my mind. How high on my horse I sat. Because in my head if I judged it, twisted it, or mocked it - the "it" didn't have any weight, or value. Which meant they were just "sad". And anyone can stop being sad.
Depression isn't sad. It isn't a sappy movie that triggers some tears or a really good cry. It's not Adele on a rainy day with a glass of wine. It's not the weepy feeling we get when our monthly cycle comes, or the tears we weep when miss our best friend.
It's torture. Absolute pure and utter torture. And I am not using that word lightly at all. It attacks the brain in ways in which those of us who aren't struggling can't imagine; and then we expect you to snap out of it and make dinner. As if you have any control over this all encompassing pain that you can't shake off. It enters your soul and refuses to leave. Or allow you to get out of bed. Or pick up your crying child, or have a shower.
Imagine an open sore. On your arm or leg. One that was cut long ago. It oozes and weeps through whatever bandage you place on it. Sometimes the pain is more then you can handle and you just have to lay there, while other times you can still move but only in a fog because the throbbing is still there. It's always there. And yet you carry on. You try to wake up, get dressed and smile. Mostly pretending. Always pretending. That is depression. The sore that may scab, hopefully scar; but always there.
Here's what I know to be true now. About my mother who suffered and about my friends who are suffering. They aren't sad. It's not just a rainy cloud day. And I'm sorry I ever thought that. I'm sorry if I ever pushed you to "just smile" I wish now I hadn't pushed so hard with my mother; as a child I didn't comprehend it but as an adult I think she could have used some empathy. Some "me too" in my words and actions.
So as National Suicide Prevention week begins I'm humbled. Humbled to be able to walk alongside my friends who are suffering and honoured that they would willingly share their story and allow me to love them where they are at. So if your struggling and crying out for help; let me hold your hand.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.
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