Depression is My Heritage 9/21/06
I’ve known there was something different about my family for a long time. When I was five, I had to go visit my aunt and uncle in Ohio for two weeks. At the time, I really wasn’t sure what was going on, only that mommy needed some time to rest after my baby brother got back from a ten day stay at the hospital and major surgery. For years I never really understood why my mother would do things, or go to see “friends” that I never got to see. Only recently have I learned the true reason that lay behind all of these events, as well as other personalities in my mother’s family.
My mother’s depression started in high school, and got worse in college. She didn’t seek help because of the stigmas that surrounded mental illness at the time. Instead she pushed on, ignoring the occasional “spells” she would have. She made it through college, and marriage with only comparatively minor episodes. After the birth of her first child, however, she was taken by a severe case of postpartum depression. She tried to talk to her own mother, but my grandmother refused to believe there was a problem, sighting multiple other factors as the source of my mother’s unhappiness. After much though, however, my mother told her doctor what had happened. After the birth of her second child they were ready to help when the second bout of postpartum depression hit. My mother made it through until my brother was rushed to UVA medical center, fighting for his life. At eleven months old he underwent major surgery to correct a telescoping of his small intestines into his large as the result of an infection. For ten days she stayed in the hospital with my brother. When she got home she crashed. Her doctor insisted she do something. So, I was sent away while they tried a barrage of medications, and found her a counselor. The two weeks I was away was just enough to get her on her feet; it actually took five years to find a combination that really worked for her. Over the years she has continued to go see her “friend,” who also happened to be her counselor.
During this time, my grandmother found out about what was happening. She was not pleased, to say the least. Her generation had always been told that if you worked hard enough, things would be alright, and that mental illness was in truth either mental weakness, or the fault of the parents for not raising their child correctly. She didn’t associate it with a chemical imbalance. Though she was very uncomfortable doing so, my mother decided to talk openly with my grandmother about what she was going through, and what the doctors and the medicine were doing to help her. The more my mother talked with her, however, the more she came to realize that not only had my grandmother lived with depression most of her life, my great-grandmother had as well. It took my mother and her brother a long time to coax her to try some medicine of her own.
While my grandmother was struggling with the decision of whether or not to go to a doctor about her depression, my only female cousin started showing signs of depression as well. Her father, who is a child psychologist, knew the signs and got her treated while she was still in high school. When she went to college, however, she stopped taking her medicine for whatever reason. She did alright for a while, but then things started catching up with her. In the end she had to leave school for a year to get her condition under control. Her problems had a profound affect on her choice of studies, and she switched majors so that she will now become a school psychologist. I also think that she might have helped my grandmother decide that taking medicine was alright, and that it wasn’t admitting weakness.
My mother told me that the hardest thing about depression for her was think that it was somehow her own fault, or that if she just worked a little harder that everything would be alright. It took a long time for her, and even longer for my grandmother, to except that the problem wasn’t with the person, but with the receptors in the brain. They were not exposed to such ideas as young people, and so the idea that the problem was biological rather than purely psychological was something that they had to learn. My cousin and I are fortunate that we have grown up in a time when the brain is being understood and explored more each day. Hopefully I will never need medication as I have yet to experience the symptoms of depression, but if I ever do, I’ll know that I can take it without fear of what other people think. It is easier to accept help when you know that the problem isn’t your fault.
First Two Page Essay on a Topic of Personal Interest