I see articles about and calls for attention to mental health on my Facebook feed nearly every day. I truly understand and agree with these because I have clinical depression, which is very much not simply being sad. I am not a sad person by nature — in fact, most people would tell you that I’m quite the opposite. I’m the one who looks for the silver lining in any situation and can cheer even the most dyslexic student through accounting class (wanna talk about a challenge?), so having a friend reflect to me, many years ago, that I needed to be evaluated for depression was a shock. It’s a fact nonetheless, and I’m handling it like any other chronic ailment: Celebrate the good days, hang on through the not-so-good ones, and do what my doctor has ordered.
Over the years I’ve wondered why I agreed, somewhere in the ether before I was born, to have depression as part of this life. Where is the good in it? Sure, it makes me compassionate for other people who walk a similar path, but that couldn’t be the only reason– I just knew it.
The reason for the gift appeared yesterday, when my older daughter told me that a friend of hers reflected that she has been really depressed for quite a while. I’ve seen the signs in her: withdrawal from events that she has previously enjoyed, sleeping a lot, eating a bit more than usual, etc. I chalked most of that up to her being almost 13 years old. I’ve never raised a teenage girl before, so what do I know about it? She went through the horrible events of last Christmas that caused all four of us to have PTSD, and she’s got a counselor helping her with it. But of the four of us, she’s the only one who hasn’t shown signs of healing. In fact, if anything, she has become weaker, more emotionally fragile, which manifests as crying at the drop of a hat and saying that she is overwhelmed far sooner than I would expect her to be.
Yesterday, when she told me about her friend’s reflection while we were driving home, I suddenly realized why I have this mixed blessing: She needs me to understand her. In the moment she said something, I pulled off the road so I could pay complete attention to her, which really surprised her (I’ve never done that unless she was in trouble). Instead, I sat and held her hand and called her doctor immediately — not because I fear she will hurt herself, but because I know the signs and feel that a medical discussion is in order now. She clung to me most of the evening because she knew I understood. I mentioned to her younger sister what was happening, and my 11-year old amazed me. She immediately reached out to her sister and hugged her, telling her that she also understood and that things were going to get better. It was a shame that my husband didn’t get to witness that scene, as he had stepped away for a few minutes, but it was extraordinary and beautiful. Although she is not out of the proverbial woods by any means yet, some part of her knows that she is heard and that she will get the help she needs. She now has hope where once was only fear.
If nothing else, knowing that I helped my own precious child because of my weakness-born compassion makes all the not-so-good days worthwhile.