When I was a small child, there were times when my mother didn’t get out of bed in the mornings. I didn’t know why at the time. I understand now.
My mother was diagnosed with manic depression, which we call bi-polar today. I don’t know when I learned those words. I can vaguely remember thinking about them at some point and trying to figure out what they meant. I can remember the vague sense of something being wrong. It was a vague sense of being abandoned and alone.
I suppose I was about 4 or 5 years old in the images I recall. I had two younger sisters, about 3 and about 1. My father would be gone to work and we were at home with Mother. And I felt all alone. In a lot of ways, I’ve never gotten over that feeling of being all alone and abandoned. In a way, I’ve been replaying that script over and over and over.
All of the discussion about depression in the past two days — in the wake of Robin Williams’ suicide — has been really emotional for me, because it’s brought up disturbing experiences that I’ve gone through with people who I’ve loved.
My mother was diagnosed when I was about 5. That was about the time when she started trying to leave my father. It’s also the time when she went into a mental hospital for awhile. (I seem to recall it as about six weeks, but I might be wrong.) I saw her struggle for years to be stable and to be the smart, artistic and happy person she was at her best. I wrote more about her last year.
As a child, I wasn’t mature enough to understand what I was watching — or why it affected my life so much — but as an adult I’ve been very aware as I’ve seen depression make deep gashes in the lives of people I’ve loved, most notably an ex-girlfriend.
After two days of thinking and talking about depression, the accumulated feelings just hit me Wednesday afternoon like a crashing wall of water hitting shore as a tsunami. Something in my heart broke again as I felt what it was like to watch two women who I’ve loved walk through such terrible experiences.
And something in my adult self wanted to be able to comfort that 5-year-old little boy and let him know that he didn’t have to be abandoned and alone.
As I feel all of that again, I just want to hold those women I’ve loved very tightly and tell them that I understand them and love them and accept them — just as they are — even though they’ll never be able to hear that.
Depression is a horribly destructive thing, not only for the person going through it but for those around him or her. Despite the fear and the pain that come with going through it with someone, you can’t look away. You can’t wash your hands and walk away. You can’t leave that person you love to figure things out on her own. You have to walk with her.
If you love someone, you stay and you hold on tightly no matter how bad it gets. You don’t get to choose who you really love, but you can choose whether you’re honest about it and whether you’re willing to be dragged through hell with that other person.
If you’re honest, you continue to openly express and eagerly show your love anyway. And if you really love someone, you’re fully present with him or her even in the worst of circumstances. If you don’t do that, the day might come when it’s too late to hold on and too late to make sure the person knows you understand.
I understand a lot of things now that I wish I had understood long ago.