A few months ago, I was sitting in my grandmother’s living room with my sister Leslie, my mother and, of course, Grandma herself. That day, my grandmother told Leslie and me a family secret that had been buried so deep we’d never heard it before. We’d never even heard whispers about it.
The family secret involved family violence and mental illness. It involved my mother’s siblings being removed from their parents’ custody, divided up, and temporarily placed in orphanages, institutions, and a predecessor of the current foster care system.
My mother had never told us she’d been in foster care as a child. If my grandmother hadn’t brought it up that day, I’m sure Leslie and I would never have found out. As far as my mother was concerned, it was a memory she’d rather forget. As she put it, “What happened in the past has no bearing on the present.” She wanted her shame to remain a secret, even from her own children. Mom was not happy with Grandma for telling us.
“We’ve gone too long not talking about these things,” my grandmother said. “It’s been almost sixty years of pretending these things never happened.”
And then she brought me into the conversation, saying, “Giselle had the right idea when she saw a therapist in university. She needed to talk to someone, so she did. That’s the healthy approach.”
My mother was livid. She shouted, “Don’t you ever mention Giselle’s therapy again!”
I looked around the room. There were only the four of us, and we all knew I’d been severely depressed as a young adult. I asked my mother, “Why don’t you want her talking about my therapy? It’s not a secret. It’s not something I’m ashamed of.”
My mother snapped, “Well, you should be!”
The room went silent—that heavy sort of silence that sits on your chest, making it hard to breathe.
“Why should she be ashamed?” my grandmother asked. “She needed help and she got help. That’s admirable, if you ask me.”
“No, it’s not,” my mother said. “When you go around saying you’re depressed, you’re in therapy, who’s everybody going to blame? The mother! Everyone will think it’s my fault.”
“Who is everyone?” my sister asked, after keeping quiet for a long time. “There are only four of us in the room and we all know.”
My mother said, “I don’t want to talk about this.”
And that pretty much shut down the conversation.
Though I don’t think it’s a healthy attitude, I can understand my mother’s fearful defensiveness. If anything, it made me sad for her. Maybe she’ll never be able to stretch her emotional boundaries wide enough to discuss her past. But to shut me down so adamantly, and to insist that I muzzle my experience with depression? It was jarring, to say the least.
That’s why I’ve decided to write a book about living with depression. Not to spite my mother, though I kind of see how it might come across that way. No, she’s welcome to feel ashamed on my behalf, if she so chooses. Writing this book is important to me because I don’t want other people to feel ashamed of their depression. Being depressed is bad enough without being shamed for it!
My depression peaked when I was in my late teens and early twenties, but it never went away. I still live with depression. Though I’m no longer seeking therapy to cope with day-to-day life, I find that talking to other people helps tremendously.
I’m sure I’m not the only person in the world who’s been chastised by a loved one for admitting I’m depressed. Fortunately, I have a partner who understands depression intimately, because she’s experienced those lows too. I can’t overstate how much it helps to have someone in my life who gets it because she’s been there.
That’s what makes this book so important to me. I’m not a psychologist (I failed out of the psychology program at the University of Toronto—I was too depressed for success!), but I am a writer, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from spending time around other writers, it’s that a lot of us are depressed.
We battle depression. We live with depression. We cope with depression. We all have our own takes on how it interacts with our lives, and how we interact with it, but with fifteen years of depression under my belt, I’ve learned that sharing and communication makes a huge difference.
But I can’t do this on my own. I need feedback from other writers—other writers who are now or who have in the past been depressed. If you’ve got experience with depression, I need your opinions. I’ve written out some questions and included them in this survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/8SQ7RJC
You can fill it out anonymously, or leave me your author name and bio for attribution. If you fill in your email address, I’ll be only too pleased to send you a copy of the book when it’s written—though, realistically, this book’s going to take a while to compile and compose. I can’t write this book without your input, so I express my humblest gratitude in advance. Thank you for your time and opinions!
(And if you think of any other questions you'd like answered in this book, please put them in the comments and I'll do up another survey. SurveyMonkey only lets me ask 10 questions at a time because I'm cheap and I only have a "basic" account. Basic is code for free. LOL)
Hugs, and the very best of luck to you for this brave and inspired prjoect.ReplyDelete
Sounds so familiar, family secrets and all. So far I've only had mild bouts of depression (I'm more of an anxiety girl) but I've still been living with it my whole life. I've heard this as well from my family: my mother has battled severe depression for a long time (among other things), including at least four suicide attempts in my lifetime, and my grandmother's reaction every time was 'what will people think?' and is instantly defensive. Sadly there are so many people who take mental illness personally like this.ReplyDelete
This is a great idea. I'll be interested in seeing the finished product.
You'd think my mom would be used to mental illness by now. We have two close family members who are schizophrenic, and my father was... well, I don't know what, but he was something (he was "institutionalized" at one point, but I don't know what for).Delete
After everything my mom's been through in her life, the fact that she takes my depression so personally, like I embody her failure as a parent, really isn't what I need. But I guess it's what she needs to do, so I don't talk about it with family.
My girlfriend referred to my family as "sterile" the other day and it made me cry because it's sooooo true. In my entire adult life, I've never told my mom I love her. I can't speak for my childhood because I've blocked most of it out. *sad LOL*
I'm coming from a different viewpoint here, Giselle. My mother was a manic-depressive, and ended up killing herself (it's shocking still to say, even though I headed up that Suicide Prevention blog hop). Anyway, so what you're doing is very important. And especially not to keep quiet about it. I'm going to forward your link to a former student who is Asian, and is a writer. She's had a lot of problems in her community because they don't "believe" in it.ReplyDelete
I looked at the survey, and it's not really from my viewpoint to answer. But if you have questions for me, feel free to contact.
Thank you for spreading the word, Louisa, and I'm so sorry for your loss.Delete
Thank you for doing this, Giselle. I've been battling depression, anxiety disorder, and abuse-related PTSD most of my life. In high school, I asked my parents to find help for me. My mother's response was, "You don't need help. I've been crazy. When you need help, other people have to tell you, so since you're saying you need it, you don't." Those were her exact words, and I have never forgotten them. I was fifteen.ReplyDelete
A month later, she caught me attempting suicide and told me, "Don't do it again. You're just trying to get attention. You don't need help."
Mental illness in my dad's side of the family goes back at least to his grandmother, and probably farther but we don't know about it. My dad is severely depressed. I don't know about my mother's side, but she's been diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorder.
When I talk to them about my war with mental illness, my dad is supportive. My mother still tells me to just get over it, stop thinking about the past, and that I don't need help.
As the parent of a child (well, young adult now) with the same diagnoses I have, I have done everything I can to let her know that any help she needs will be found, and that these are ILLNESSES, just like diabetes, or fibromyalgia, or any other chronic health condition. They are not something to be ashamed of. Not something that you can just "think better." And if you need help, it's available and you shouldn't be afraid to ask for it.
Thank you for doing this project. And positive energy to you for your journey. I'm glad you have a supportive partner.
Wow, what a story. Seems like a lot of us have had similar experiences seeking family support and not getting it. Thanks for sharing. I really appreciate it.Delete
I am a writer as well and write romance and women's fiction. I've been battling depression for 30 years and it is in my mother's family history as well. My daughter now has problems with depression at age 40. I feel the same way you do and make no secret of my illness with anyone. I've been in therapy and take antidepressants.ReplyDelete
In an effort to get the subject of depression out into the mainstream of romantic fiction, I've written a women's fiction novel that I'm in the process of revising. There is too much depression out there not to address in this genre at some point.
It's been a difficult book for me to write, both because writing about some things would put me into depression just going through it all in my head. Plus, I knew I'd never get anyone to read it if I wrote such that the depression was as relentless as it really is. People would put it down as being too depressing to read. LOL So, I carefully injected some humor and warm family times to break up the portions about her illness. I am also writing a blog for Savvy Authors about writing through depression because so many authors suffer from it and one of my main problems writing is getting myself in front of my laptop to write. Writer friends talk about evil day jobs and kids keeping them from writing but for me it is being unable, some days, to type a word or paragraph.
I'd be happy to help you with your book. Is it fiction or non-fiction? Ask me anything about my condition and my experience writing with depression. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll fill out your survey as well and if you'd like to see my own novel, I'd be happy to send it to you as long as you realize this is a rough draft at this point.
I hope writing about depression has helped you process your own life. That's a big part of the reason I want to write this book. So selfish of me! LOLDelete
I'm not a writer as such, but I've lived with depression all my life and so did my mom. It took me 40 years to stop denying that something was really wrong and get help-counseling, medication, etc. Believe me. I know what a battle it is and that all the counseling and medication in the world won't help if I don't decide to keep a positive attitude. I wish you well in writing and that the book is a success.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Lena. I appreciate the well-wishes.Delete
I've read that children of people with mental illness are prone to depression. Gee, wonder why? I wish you and your sister and grandma had continued your conversation -- and let your mother walk out if she chose. Don't let her keep controlling you, please!ReplyDelete
I'm not sure if it's just the mood I'm in, but I feel extremely defensive by the suggestion that I would let anyone control me. Maybe that's denial talking... I don't know... I just don't feel that that's the case. Anyway, I'll leave it at that.ReplyDelete