Living with depression is difficult.
It’s a thick presence that hangs in the air, invisible but tangible. It’s heavy, inescapable, constantly there. It’s like cigarette smoke, it clings to you even when you’re not aware of it.
It’s the sickness that nobody sees, that nobody will be sympathetic to. Not even yourself. They’re just feelings, aren’t they? You should be able to control it, stop it from taking over you. Do we control when we’re happy? When we laugh? It should be easy to find joy in life. There are so many good things, so much to be thankful for.
But it’s so, so hard.
Living with depression is never knowing when the black will hit, when something you do or say so carelessly will mean so much.
Is it harder on the ones who have it, or those who are helpless to stop it?
My mother was diagnosed with depression when I was ten.
It didn’t mean anything to me then. My mother had always been unsmiling, unhappy. It was normal. It was the only way I’d known her.
And like most self-absorbed children, I didn’t think much of it. I was ten. There were friends to make, games to play, homework to do.
There were lonely nights by myself, sobbing behind closed doors, loud arguments I pretended not to hear. It was just normal.
I was ten, then eleven, then twelve.
I changed schools, and the new school was so different. The other kids didn’t play what I’d always played. Instead of swings and monkey bars, they traded cards, and bounced a ball between them as if that were fun.
I didn’t get it.
It was so hard to talk, to these people who had nothing in common with me, to these people who all had their own friends and had no need for another.
It was so, so easy, to blame someone, anyone.
There were arguments. There had always been arguments. They were had, and sometimes they lasted an hour or a day, but then they’d be over with, and then we went on with our lives. It was normal.
Except one night I had an argument with my mother, and the next day she was in hospital from overdose.
Was it my fault? Before then, I hadn’t known words could make such huge impact.
There were promises, of course. My father promised to change, I promised to try harder at school, my mother swore she’d never try to take her life again.
But things were different now. I was aware of the monster that hung over our heads, of the poison that laced my words.
I learned to smile like I meant it, to offer honeyed words of encouragement, to stay sweet when my mouth was so, so bitter. I learned to keep my words locked deep inside, where they could not poison anyone.
I was twelve. It was impossible to contain all those sour thoughts. Sometimes they’d explode out in a spew of anger and frustration. Each time, I feared how fatal they would be. But I was only twelve. I had time to get better.
And I did.
My smiles seemed so genuine. I was such a happy child.
It was better with the saccharine layer. My mother smiled more, laughed sometimes. There were jokes and cuddles, and snapshot moments I held in my heart. It was better than it had ever been. I imagined this was what a perfect family was like.
Of course, snapshots, like all photographs, fade. And this illusion had never been very solid. And so the walls I had so carefully built to protect us, fell.