Every event, every person, each one is a learning experience. Big or small, consciously or subconsciously, each is a learning lesson. Sometimes we even learn lessons the hard way from people we least expect to learn them from. One of the lessons I learned early in adulthood was listening with an open heart, and I learned this from my mom, but not quite in the way you would expect.
My mama and I had many a beautiful, profound, silly or tense talk (especially during pre-adulthood!), but the one talk I wish could have been different is when I told her I was diagnosed with depression. My mother was the prayer wheel that people turned to and because she was my mom, I turned to her. Since my teens I had known something was not right with me, but when I was diagnosed I was looking for guidance, instead I was met with a judgmental ear and that those things should not be talked about in public and only the weak let themselves get this far and i did not raise you to be weak. Those words will stay with me forever. She did say she would pray for me, but I knew in my heart it was not the way I had hoped it would be.
Time jump to 2017, my mom had passed just over two and a half years earlier and I am in intensive therapy trying to piece my jigsaw puzzle of a life back together the right way….instead of making pieces fit, I was putting them in their correct places. During one of my sessions my therapist asked how my relationship with my parents was, and I told her they were my rock. I couldn’t imagine life without them, nor would I want to. After I got home I remembered my conversation with my mom about depression and the next week, back on that couch, I complained about how I wish she could have just listened. I went on to tell her that I believed this is why my depression got out of control, not because my mom reacted badly, but because in one way she was right, I wasn’t strong, and by that I mean I didn’t know how to stand up for myself then, like I was learning to do in therapy, and have learned to do now in present day life.
I was angry, because that conversation left me in a position of ignoring my diagnosis and not seeking further help. I had wanted my mom to listen to me with an open heart and without judgment and I had received just the opposite. Mama didn’t know how to handle the subject of depression, because it was never spoken about when she was growing up, it was a stigma, and to this day it is a stigma so many of us are still advocating to end, and why we’re still trying to end it, I don’t know. The stigma should no longer exist.
People who suffer from a damaged mental health don’t do it to get attention, we don’t make this up because we need people to fawn over us, I wouldn’t wish this illness on my worst enemy, because plain and simple, it’s awful. It’s hard during those early days of diagnosis (and sometimes long after diagnosis), when you feel broken, or damaged, or you wonder “why me?” or “how did this happen?” You question if it runs in your family, because no one wants to talk about it, or are you the first one to be “off”, but modern science has proven it is a real thing, it isn’t something that can just be cured. It’s not the blues, everyone gets the blues from time to time, but people with Mental Illness get the blues on steroids.
From the standpoint of a child who needed her mother during a very difficult time, I feel like I need to express the importance of parents listening to their children, or even more so, people listening to those who reach out. It’s one of the hardest things to do, because we’re so busy judging ourselves, we’re sure someone else will judge us too. Even if you feel you have open dialog with them, they could still be masking something beneath. I am not saying hound them, but when they come to you, please don’t immediately think it is something you did wrong. Listen to them with your heart, listen to everything they have to say and when they’re done, go from there. If family counseling is necessary, don’t shy away. Every family dynamic is different, I love my parents, but we aren’t perfect, no one is.
My mom listened to me about many things throughout my life when I would come to her, but this is one of the very few times she could not wrap her head around an issue and it was something we never talked about after that day, because I didn’t want to be judged again. When she died one of the last things she said to me was, “I need you to be strong, because I won’t be here to make you strong.” Turns out, after much soul searching, I was much stronger than either of us thought I was.
Please, don’t ever give up on yourself. Even in the darkest battles, even when you can’t see it, the strength is there. On those days when have to put on that outer-smile and make it from point A to point B, know that this takes strength.
Together we can all advocate to #ENDTHESTIGMA of depression (use the hashtag!) and be the hand that reaches out to those who need us most.