Depression in my family builds slowly. The differences are slight at first, but become remarkable over time, with the ability to completely alter your relationship with someone else. When I was a kid, growing up on Cape Cod, the fog would roll in, slowly over the bay, creeping it’s way into the streets near the bay, until, suddenly, you can’t see more than five feet in front of you and you have no idea where you’re going. My experiences with depression have been like that – slow to build and then startlingly disorienting.
When I was a kid, I remember identifying the warning signs in the adults around me – the lack of appetite, the slow and lethargic movement, the staying in bed instead of waking up and making breakfast. I identify this time with the POP of the Pillsbury biscuit cylinder when you pressed your knife into the fold in the cardboard, just before the biscuits were released. When my father became depressed, I got really good at making these biscuits, and it became our weekend ritual. After my parents got divorced. After my Dad moved across the street. After he got sad.
I used to get in trouble for bringing him dinner. I would pile up a plate of food and run it across the street. I wanted to make sure he was eating. I was eight.
I became convinced that I could fix everything. For as long as I can remember, I had a deep-seated impulse to smother depression with my love – as if somehow, by some miracle of my faith, I could fix everything up and make it pretty again, because I was that powerful. And, over time, these types of experiences manifested into heightened awareness of the people around ,e – the slight slowness of speech or quiet change in demeanor becoming indications of a slow decline before a sudden, solid, all-encompassing lapse in everyday life.
I have found that this awareness doesn’t fade over time. Instead, it remains heightened, even long after any sort of impending peril persists. It remains heightened with the deeply instilled memories and the knowledge that at any moment the bottom could fall out, we could all become lost, suddenly, and not know our way back. It remains heightened with the fear that the people around me might someday just not be able to be there. And, I do not say that in a blaming or disparaging way, but it is true. Depression means that things can be one way, and then they can stop being that way for a period of time. As an adult, part of me lies in wait for the other shoe to drop, and it has taken a concerted effort to settle in and realize that I am safe within relationships with my family and sweetheart.
That said, I tend to make what is an often difficult effort to see the silver lining, learning to love those around me for what they can provide themselves and me, at any given moment. I have done my best not to dwell on the dark parts, the parts that no one talks about. I have tried to forgive them for moments when they weren’t able to get up and take care of me. I have grown into my awareness of those around me.
I have learned how to make a really fantastic breakfast.
Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide by Linda Gray Sexton is exactly the kind of book that appeals to a kid that grew up in the shadow of their parents’ depression. Or someone who is, themselves, is depressed. Or both. Or someone who is fascinated by an extremely well crafted memoir. Or anyone who has children. It is the kind of book that is compelling from the very first page, as her ability to verbalize the experiences that too few even want to speak out loud. It is incredibly brave to bare yourself in this way, and she is articulate and confident in her honest depictions of her lowest moments. However, unlike so many memoirs about the barren depths of mental illness and private struggles, this public story is one of hope and triumph. This book truly is a fantastic read.
Thank you to award-winning author Linda Gray Sexton for sponsoring this series, which is inspired by her memoir Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide. I was selected for this sponsorship by Clever Girls Collective which endorses Blog With Integrity. To learn more about Linda Gray Sexton and her writing, please visit her website.