I Feel Guilty for Weighing My Mother Down With Depression
At age 12, my diagnosis led to hostile relationships. I’m still trying to atone for my past.
As an only child to an only parent, my mother was my best friend growing up. I’m thinking about her extra today because as I write, it’s beautiful outside for the first time in what feels like months. The dreary London weather, hundreds of miles from my sweet home of Chicago, never gets me down. The nice days, however, light me up. In honor of the occasion, I am dressed like a cowgirl in a purple-patched prairie skirt with the boots we bought when I first moved to Boston. I’m currently basking in the rays of St. James’s Park and listening to the country music that I grew up on. Albeit a bit unwillingly, it has become a welcome invitation of momentary nostalgia.
As I lay in the grass, staring at the sun, I feel especially grateful that my mama has always called me her sunshine. I wonder how my simple existence could ever earn such a consistent compliment. The kind of comparison that encouraged my 6-year-old self to believe it when she told me how my keen ability to attract bees was merely due to the fact that they believed me to be a flower. The kind of love only a mother could have for a daughter. She let me be soft and took solace in how easily I took comfort in her presence.
Sipping my tropical crush smoothie, the phantom warmth of my mother’s love seeps into my skin. Once again, I’m as content as I was as a small child, running through freezing sprinkler water, blades of grass between my toes and rainbow droplets misting the air. I remember riding bikes together through the cemetery and treating ourselves to raspberries doused in lemon curd in similarly summery scenes. The air is warm, and I miss her extra today.
But being the one diagnosed with chronic depression—then with PTSD and severe anxiety soon after—as young as age 12 did not lead to a well-adjusted individual, let alone to a functional family. It was almost instantaneous how I stopped answering my mother’s well-intended inquisitions about my day. How those momentary refrains from mundane situations led to an entire shutout and shutdown. She screamed at me for years to come back, hoping to see a spark flicker. While an entirely misplaced plan of action, it was understandable nonetheless.
My Mother Watched Me Disappear, and I Blamed Her for It
These ponderings of the past have turned me to dreams of this upcoming summer and our plans for our shared maternal country, Italy. A tour along the Amalfi Coast presents a long-awaited return to the food she made me nightly in my youth and the wine she taught me to love (far before my recent 21st birthday). Dolce far niente, something we do better than anyone. These hopes for long-awaited travels, safe returns to our matriarchal lands, pain me ever so slightly.
Like all of our interactions, it feels almost bittersweet. For now, every time we laugh over lunch until my cheeks hurt, I feel guilty for how easy it is to enjoy her presence and how I used to take our time together for granted. Guilty for the years in my adolescence when I shut out the world, which revolved entirely around our friendship in my earliest memories. To picture the only sun in your world going out, as my mother experienced when I was diagnosed, is haunting at best.
Especially when you know it’s your fault.
My mother had to watch her daughter disappear into a husk before her eyes, and then watch her blame her parenting, which must have felt nothing short of complete shit. She was right to be angry with me when I talked back with reckless abandon. After residing in between the divided homes of an alcoholic and a mother who was never there, being angry was all that she was taught to be when scared. Effective communication is something hard-won.
All things considered, it was an act of kindness when I was banned from wearing long sleeves after a stint with self-harm in my early teens. She ignored what she couldn’t understand, which was much easier than engaging me. My mindset during lost years is entirely unimaginable to me now, but I have mourned for my younger self and now must mourn for my mama.
I’m Strengthening My Relationship With My Mom by Acknowledging Our Mistakes
Every good parent does what they can to see their child smile. For her to lose hers—the one who doctors said was impossible due to infertility—to severe swings of emotions that she had no framework with which to understand is worthy of the kind of empathy I strive to maintain and am embarrassed to have not had when she needed me to understand her most. There is no excuse for any of my behavior that ensued.
With easy access to the trouble associated with a Chicago adolescence—getting drunk on the lakefront, running from the cops for trespassing on rooftops, skipping national-level swim practices—I attempted to force my mother’s hand, to do what I thought was inevitable, to get her to leave, just like every other person had. I thought that if I acted out enough for such a thing to occur, then I could blame the actions instead of myself, as I had for so long. It made me angry that she cared so much, albeit in her own way, because if she cared, then it meant that my father should have, too.
It’s frankly embarrassing to detail the way I thought—to realize the utmost denial I was in while maintaining perfect grades at the city’s top school. Not to mention all of my shenanigans, which I now look back on and wonder how I managed at all. I own those narratives because there should be nothing embarrassing about dealing with your situation with the tools that you are given. My mom reacted in anger as she was taught, and I sunk deeper into sadness as I thought I deserved. By acknowledging the narratives that we are given in this life, we can address how we wish to be better and strengthen our most meaningful relationships through understanding—both for our younger selves and for others.
Things are better now after many years of working through my issues, but sometimes, I can see her fear that I am falling apart again. Sometimes, she still reacts as though it’s the middle of my worst years. But every day, she calls me sunshine. And every time she can see the blue in my once cloudy eyes, she declares to the world how happy her baby is and the winds sigh a gust of relief.