In the past year since I have moved back to Birmingham, Mountain Brook has been plagued with a number of needless tragedies. Because of this, I cannot stay quiet any longer. I posted something along the lines of this article and I got an overwhelming response, I feel compelled to embellish and hopefully I can touch a few more lives. I may ramble my way through some of this so bear with me.
I suffer from Depression. There, I said it. It is out there. It stinks. Some days I wish I could get a brain transplant. It hurts so badly. Deep in my soul it hurts. Some days it just hurts to live. Sound familiar? Keep reading.
So many people suffer from this disease. Yes, it is a disease. Look it up on the internet. NAMI is a good source. They will give you the technical signs and symptoms. They will tell you what to look for. This is my cancer. People openly talk about all forms of cancer. I am here to talk about mine. I am here to give you the personal side of this disease.
Moms, do you have those days you can barely get out of bed, empty the dishwasher or fold the clothes? Climbing Mt Everest sounds easier than “whipping up” dinner. How about all those PTA meetings and events, baking cookies and brownies that have to look like something on Pinerest. What about the smocked dresses for church and the matching bows and outfits for your four children who must look like they did not scream and yell the whole morning you were getting everyone ready to praise the Lord? You didn’t sign him or her up for a private coach when he or she was in first grade. It is hard enough for those moms who don’t suffer. What about those of us who do? I did all the smocking and yelling before church. During the sermon I sat there quietly praying that God would give me the energy to be able to hang up all those fancy clothes that I feel like burning!! What about finding the right decorator to make your family room look like a museum? I have a bad back and looked tirelessly for a recliner that would fit my small frame. Guess where I found it? Goodwill. I still haven’t gotten it recovered. It is my writing and reading chair. My children are mortified when they bring friends home and foam is sticking out. But it gives me that throwback feeling like I am an important writer who can’t think straight if all her stuff is in “order”
I am right in the middle of my children trying out for their prospective squad. Some days the guilt consumes me. Guilt is something that everyone deals with. Believe me when I say it is ten times worse when you suffer from depression.
Men, sometimes you have it worse. You are the soul bread winner. You have children to feed, clothe, and put through college. Shoot, rec league sports are so expensive now you are tempted to take out a second mortgage so your child can have the best bat and the best batting coach. How can you let your daughter live without those $400.00 pair of boots? What about the country club dues and assessments and that house on Lake Martin that you can’t live without? Heaven forbid you miss your dogfight on a Saturday morning. How are you supposed to put one foot in front of the other each day when all you want to do is pull the covers over your head and disappear? Cavemen aren’t supposed to be depressed are they?
Depression and suicide are tough when dealing with adults. The thought of losing a spouse or close relative to suicide is horrible. To know they felt there was no other option can send anyone reeling.
Now think about your child. I can remember being depressed in fourth grade. Can you imagine trying to deal with such dark feelings at such a young age? These are supposed to be carefree years, making “S”’s on your report card, playing on the playground, taking ballet classes at Steeple Arts. I am a girl so I don’t remember what sports were available then for boys. All I remember is trying so hard to feel carefree and I couldn’t do it. Boy did I play the part though. My husband says that my best feature is my smile. I started perfecting that smile at a very early age. My parents had no idea. I have three much older siblings who were dealing my parents fits during this time. In my depressed mind, I thought my dark thoughts were not valid enough to warrant their attention. So I suffered silently. Depressed people can barely understand these irrational thoughts much less share them with someone. Who would understand?
Middle School and High School were tough. That first year in Jr High when all four elementary schools converge is frightening to even the most confident children. It was my personal hell. I remember having a lot of stomach aches on Mondays. Somehow I trudged through it. I put that smile on, made good grades, and danced my heart out. Steeple Arts was my saving grace. We all put that black leotard over those pink tights and tried to stay far away from Mrs Coates “stick”! It is important for your child to find their niche during these crazy years.
I was a cheerleader and Dorian in high school so I made the “cut” in the hierarchy. Inside, each day, I lived my own private hell. I had it all, right? I had good grades, made the “squad”, had dates, was in the “right” sorority. And yet I was miserable. I had no idea how I was supposed to express these irrational thoughts and deep pain to someone. Who would understand such a thing? I sure didn’t want any of my friends to know what I was thinking. I didn’t want my peers to think I was crazy! They would not like me anymore.
By my senior year, I did want to die. Everyone was so excited about going to college. I was expected to attend Alabama like all my family, pledge one of two sororities and experience the perfect college life. I knew in my heart I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t pretend anymore. I tried in some meek way to explain to my parents that I couldn’t handle that life. My mother loved college!! She couldn’t understand why I didn’t want that same experience.
That summer I went too far and became suicidal. They labeled mine a cry for help; which it was. But still It was not something anyone talked about then and still people don’t want to face the fact that their spouse, loved one or, heaven forbid, child could feel so bad that they felt no other option was available than to end their life.
It is real and it is here to stay. Unfortunately there is no cure. Drugs can only do so much. The rest is up to us to want to step out of our own private hell and take the steps to get out of our heads and begin to enjoy life the best way we know how. There are counselors who have years of training and working with people with depression and suicidal attempts. There are some really good ones out there. It is a tough road to find the right fit for you. You may have to explain yourself over and over until you find that one who can help you personally. That right there can be a huge reason not to go for help. Don’t give up.
Teenage depression and suicide is a tough topic to face. I gave you my scenario. I hope I have given you some insight on what might be going through your child’s head. Every trained counselor and youth educator can give you a list of signs to look for. Unless they suffer from depression, they can’t tell you what is going through these kids’ minds. The pressure to have perfect grades, the perfect friends, the ideal high school “experience” is very high. Some of this pressure comes from within. I believe this is a birth order thing, but I digress. Top that off with depression and it is even tougher for these kids to handle. We want our kids to be perfect!! They can’t be depressed. I can’t send them to a therapist. What would my tennis team think, what would my garden club “friends” think?
Tell them to stuff it. You are going to fight for your child. If you have any suspicion that your child may feel this way, get help. School counselors are paid and trained to be discreet. They know the best therapists in town to deal with your particular issue. These kids hide behind every façade they can. They are the valedictorian and the homecoming queen. They are also the quiet ones who slip through the cracks: that “good” child of yours who never makes any waves or seeks attention in anyway. He makes good enough grades, plays a sport or is on a squad and always tells you everything is FINE: Freaked out, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional. That is a dangerous word. I use it myself on many occasions. My sister has caught on though.
Don’t forget your elementary child. I am witnessing through my children how much pressure these young kids are under to excel at an activity. Hours and tons of money are spent with special coaches in ALL activities. Ask yourself: “Is my child going to play at a D1 school or the pros?”. Ask those kids who played for Saban and left early so they could feed their family, how much extra money their mom had to pay for special coaches. Give your child a break. Let them be a kid. We have these great small neighborhoods around but no one is home anymore to play. They are all out perfecting their “swing”.
Depression is genetic. Social and economic factors don’t help. I believe situational depression does exist as well. My mother suffered from the genetic kind but I never really knew how much until after she died. No one talked about it. I wish I had known. Maybe I could have better understood why she laid in bed some days or forgot to pick me up from school. If you suffer please talk with your children about it. They need to understand why mommy is still sleeping or Daddy is always snapping at them. They need to know that if they feel this way, they are not alone. This is where we break the cycle.
Parents, if you suffer, give yourself a break some days. The dishes and laundry will be there when you get back. That sales quota is going to rise in six months again any way. How many more hours can you bill this week? If your spouse suffers, bear with them. We know you want to shake us and tell us to snap out of it. We wish it could be that easy.
I know I may have rambled. This is an important topic for me. I am almost 47 years old and I am tired of being quiet. You may think I am even crazier for writing this, but I hope I can at least touch one hurting soul. If you have read this and can relate in any way, please know you are not alone. Talk to someone. I am in the school directories. It may be one of the hardest but most rewarding things you could do for yourself and your family.
I am so far from the perfect parent. Parenting teens is like trial by fire. I know one of my children suffers and I want to build a wall around them to protect them from the pain. All I can do is keep pushing them to talk. As with any illness, I can get pretty mad at God. People tell me that God has a plan for me. Maybe this is it right here by sharing my story.
I would like to make a special shout out to my husband, Dennis. You are my rock. I love you to the moon and back. Thank you for sticking with me through this roller coaster.