My daughter, who was attending college at the time, called me after a particularly trying day to inform me that according to her psychology professor, depression isn’t real. Apparently it can be controlled by changing our perspective of things. I immediately called him a loser under my breath before my daughter reminded me that everyone can have different opinions and that teachers are not always right, despite having a Ph.D. I had taught her that, but my mama claws came out after so many years of watching her struggle with depression, amidst my own struggle with the disease.
As a child, I had been very affected by depression because my older sister began her journey with it as a young 12 year old. Having never experienced it myself until I started having children, I didn’t comprehend the severity of feelings that accompany such darkness. All I remember is wondering why my sister cried 2-3 hours a day and that my parents spent a lot of time talking to her and taking her to different doctors. In my childish knowledge, that equated to less time with me and my other siblings. Our whole family seemed trapped in confusion and inability to help my sister heal. Us youngers were angry at her for causing such upset in the family. My mother was filled with guilt for not being able to fix the pain. We all hoped it would just go away. It did not.
In fact it took well over ten years to find a solution. Ten years of doctors who told her it was all in her head or misdiagnosed her. Ten years of being a guinea pig in the hopes of helping others someday. Ten years of other family members and friends looking at us with pity, and wondering what was wrong with us that we would deserve this nightmare. In the end, a combination of three different medicines working together (along with prayers, exercise, and my sister’s daily determination) that made it possible for her to come up for air.
If the story ended here, it would be a little depressing (pun intended). I wish I could say that it all got easier, the medicines worked forever, and none of the rest of us suffered the apparently genetic disease. But I can’t. What I can tell you is I will forever be grateful that my sister’s suffering made it easier on the next generation. Because we had endured together as a family, and had developed compassion and understanding over the long years, we knew immediately when symptoms began showing themselves in our children. There was no wondering what to do or fear of taking medicines or guilt at other people’s comments. In fact, there were quite a few less comments because not only were we stronger, but the medical world had come around to accepting and talking more about the realities of depression. Now it seems we have taken a step backwards.
I could give you statistics and facts about depression, but I have experienced it firsthand, and don’t need facts to tell me it is real. I would never trade my experiences because they have made me who I am. I had a wonderful childhood and fabulous parents despite the ups and downs. My sister is my best friend. I have learned that strong families are forged through trials, if they continue to put one foot in front of the other.
A cautionary word to those of you who have never experienced true, deep down depression (and I’m not talking about a bad day). Please refrain from judgement. Just because it isn’t real to you, doesn’t mean it isn’t very real to someone else.