My history with depression..
Since my last blog on depression I wanted to touch a little on my history with it. This one will get pretty personal but I think it’s good for me to get some of it out and explore where I think my depression comes from. It’s not always easy to admit or acknowledge the things that have happened in our life, especially when they change us.
As I mentioned in my previous blog, I have noticed depression quite a bit among my generation and in my area of Central Appalachia. Growing up I got glimpses into what depression looked like and it wasn’t pretty. My grandmother was and is a manic-depressant, along with being bipolar. When I was six years old she had a nervous breakdown which led to her completely trashing her home, the one that my mother, family, and I grew up in. I wasn’t able to grasp what had happened. Everyone around me knew that, so I was told someone had broken in and destroyed the home. Not long after that incident my grandparents filed for divorce. I was furious. This person had ruined a home I knew and a large part of my family. I remember asking again and again if they had caught who had done this, but it was always “No.” It wasn’t until I was about ten or eleven that I found out it was my grandmother and her mental health issues that I had long sought after. I was mad at first, but even then I knew it was beyond her control. My anger was lost but found again from time to time as my grandmother found alcohol as an outlet from her depression. She developed another disease to combat one she already had.
It’s easy to see where my grandmothers mental health issues might stem from. She was born into poverty, lost her mother to tuberculosis when she was a toddler, and bounced from orphanage to orphanage during the 1950’s as my great-grandfather became an alcoholic after my great-grandmother’s death. He would would come back into her life during those years sometimes, usually with a new stepmother. One of them was evil personified. Every day after my great-grandfather went to work, she would beat and abuse my grandmother. One time she beat her back into bloody stripes and poured bleach into the wounds. With bruises and marks that could be hidden and anything else blamed on playing in the neighborhood, this went on for sometime without my great-grandfather knowing while working 10-12 hours in a mine. Another reason he didn’t find out was because my grandmother was threatened not to tell, but not her life. She threatened my grandfather’s. If she told him, her stepmother said she was poison his food she made for him everyday breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Eventually my grandmother broke down and told him everything chasing him down one morning on his way to work. From what I was told he turned around and struck the stepmother with the car (not seriously), and after an argument, she was kicked out and a divorce followed immediately. It was a story that you hear about in movies. I would have had a harder time believing if it weren’t for the scars down her back she still has today.
There’s no doubt abuse like that still happens today. We hear enough of it on the news to know that. What’s frightening is what we don’t hear about. I wasn’t abused growing up, however. I grew up in poverty and probably saw somethings that a kid wasn’t supposed to see growing up, but I did have a loving family that never, ever physically or emotionally abused me. I was much more fortunate than a lot of kids here in Appalachia.
There was one thing, though. Something about me, my family, that stuck out as I got older. I didn’t have a father. It wasn’t until I was about seven, when my mother married my stepfather, that I even thought much about it. I just thought that’s the way it was. I had my family and I was happy. My mother busted her ass to make sure I had everything I needed. Right before she married my stepfather she graduated from nursing school and became an LPN. After she married, I took to my stepfather but questions like “Should I call him “Dad”? were always on my mind. I began to question why wasn’t my biological father there. I eventually found out at an early age that he had left when he found out my mother was pregnant. With a son he already had from a previous relationship, he signed away all his rights to me. He didn’t want me but I can remember this not sinking in completely. It wasn’t until I found out that he had another child after me, by a third woman. With that I found out he had been in my older brother’s life and now my younger sister’s life who have different mothers. I was the middle kid, but the one that was discarded by him. After that I realized what rejection was. I remember breaking down to my grandmother one night asking “How come he didn’t want me?” when I was about ten. If you’ve ever watched that Fresh Prince of Bell Air episode, it was a real life break down like it..
…and I break down every single time I watch that episode. I think every kid that grew up with a biological parent out of the picture completely or sporadically loses it too.
As much as I didn’t want to admit it then, and even now, that rejection stings. While I am certain that I wouldn’t be the person I am today if he had been in my life, it’s natural to wonder why the person who contributed to the creation of your life didn’t want to have anything to do with you after you were born, yet did with his other two children. It affected me. It affects me now. I have no urge to ever see him. I haven’t so much as spoken a word to him in my 25 years. I decided that I wasn’t going to after one point in my life. It was when I was going through my second bout with cancer. Though he never even called during this time, it hit me after a stretch in the hospital when there were questions about me surviving. After my stem-cell transplant in December of 2013 I went home to Virginia. While we knew the cancer was still there, it might take some time for the transplant to work. On a check-up to the doctor, I wasn’t doing well and was immediately admitted to the ICU after it was found that my lungs were filling up with fluid which was also building up around my heart. It was the closest the death I have ever been. All my family visited, pastors came in, and my mother wouldn’t leave my side. I didn’t fully grasp how bad it was at the time, but later on I was told. During this time there wasn’t a single call or visit from my biological father to tell me “Hi” for the first time and “bye” for the last time. I think about that every now and again but I came to the conclusion long ago that someone that callous and negative wasn’t something I need or want in my life.
I remember right after I was in remission I began seeing a psychologist at St. Jude. They assign you one post-treatment which was such a great thing even if I didn’t appreciate it. I remember being asked dozens of times if I was depressed. My answer was always ‘no’. I didn’t feel sad all of the time, which is what I thought depression was. I had times when I was sad, particularly losing friends. The thing about growing up in cancer hospitals is that you make friends, young friends like yourself. The commonality is that you two have that one thing in common: cancer. No one quite knows what you’re going through unless they are or have experienced it. It’s a special common bond that I cherish. It’s something I have with a few friends today, even one I met much later on in life. What they don’t tell you is that the thing that bonded you together in the beginning can be the very thing that ends it as well. One week you can go in for a check-up or treatment, see a familiar face, and always getting to know a little more about them and their diagnoses. The next week you can go in and that person, that beautiful young person, has died. That happened to me a couple of times. One was with a young girl my mother and I adored. She was eight. You feel different things when that happens. My first thought goes back to “I could die.” Cancer does kill people, even sweet eight year old girls that were so full of life. The second thing I felt was: why did I live? You really wonder why you deserve to be here, breathing, while so many suffer and pass away. It may sound like a silly and self-deprecating, but I still ask myself that today.
I’m not special. I’m really not. I have no doubt that I’ve met and saw the faces of many children that aren’t around today. Those kids could be doing so much with their life today and when I’m feeling depressed, I wonder if I am doing enough with mine with the chance of life that I have while it was taken from so many who I passed in the halls of St. Jude. Maybe it was one of the kids that could barely hold their head up after a round of chemo. Maybe it was one of those countless smiles I saw peeking from behind a surgical mask. They deserved life as much as I do. It’s a burden I live with every day.
Depression has surrounded me my entire life and I didn’t even know it most of the time. It consumed me and my family from an early age until I more recently acknowledged my own depression. I have no doubt that my experiences I’ve talked about here contributed to my bouts with depression, anxiety, fear of rejection and failure. Our experiences shape us, whether we like it or not. That’s what life does. It hits us. It brings us to our knees. It never stops coming at you. That’s a lot to take in and we all have these things that happen, good or bad, which change how we think and feel. It’s hard to be positive at all sometimes. To a person with depression, hope and optimism can be almost impossible to even imagine feeling anymore. It’s been hard to look past all of the things I’ve talked about here, but I can see a lot of good things. I can feel them now. As much as I’ve been through in 25 years, I look back thinking it could have been so much worse. I know that because I’ve seen others go through much worse. I have a family I love. I have friends that I love and that includes the many I know only via facebook. You all have been some of the most supportive and kindest friends. I hope this was worth reading. It was definitely worth writing.