Letting in the Light

The rape seed flowers are brilliant; they cast a neon luminosity upwards – as if somebody had switched on a light somewhere beneath shallow soil. It looks – from where I sit in a small Northamtonshire village – as if somebody has tossed enormous yellow picnic rugs upon the countryside all around.

I’m here because Mum has been sick. I thought about whether I ought to write about it: about her illness. But I think not to – I think to sit upon it silently – would be to exacerbate the stigma that already clings tightly, parasitcally greedy, to mental illness; my mum has suffered from recurring episodes of debilitating clinical depression since I was only a little older than Hat is now.  Depression is quite black enough without keeping it in the dark. So there it is – out in the open – the reason I’m here. In England. With Mum. Where she has been accompanied by this particular visit from the Black Dog since January.

I came to see if I could make a difference. I might have done. Fleetingly. I might occassionally, with my chat and observations and the energy I have brought with me (along with a small bag and a laptop that has lurked idle beneath the dining table since I got here) have lifted Depression’s suffocating shroud and let brief, brave illuminating shafts of vitality into Mum’s life so that by evening she has the courage, the necessary allied force, to snub Depression and laugh a little. Then again, I might not have done: Depression is persistent. It’s especially persistent first thing in the morning which seems grossly unfair: Depression makes life hard enough as it is without making getting out of bed and facing the day harder still.

Depression has been a part of my life for longer than it hasn’t.  I think it defines me sometimes. But not mum – it doesn’t define her. She is Mum. Depression is Depression.  I need to keep reminding her of the separateness of it all. When the illness floods her and submerges her joie de vivre and drowns out her happiness leaving her heavy with soggy lassitude, when she says, ”I’m being so stupid”, I need to remind her: it’s not you, Mum. It’s Depression.

My children understand why I’m here. We all call Depression by its real name in my house. No point in disguising it with euphemism. Euphemism is stigma’s best friend.

When I go, at the end of the week, I hope I might have loosened Depression’s grip by the tiniest degree. I probably won’t have done: the arrogance I once assumed that I’d be able to fix Mum just by bullying her to wellness left me long ago. But I have to hope. 

And that’s what makes me lucky: because I can: hope.


22 Responses to “Letting in the Light”

  1. dogsbody Says:

    When you go your mother may slip back. But she will have the memory of your visit and a reminder of a loving daughter. That can’t be bad.

  2. Potty Mummy Says:

    RM, great post, and well done for not pushing it back under the carpet.

    We have depression in our family too (though it only ever got as far as Post Natal with me); it has been part of my father’s psyche for as long as I can remember, and my sister has tangled with it too. In both those cases it turned out (after a number of years and courses of useless drugs) to be directly affected by under-active thyroid glands, so was mainly treatable – but I know that not everyone is so lucky as to find a button that can be pressed.

    Talking about it, in public, without stigma, shame or embarrassment is so important. It helps all those who have lived with it – either directly or indirectly – by bringing it out of the shadows and into the public consciousness as a ‘proper’ disease. It helps sufferers to be accepted as really ill, so that they can get treatment.

    I also know how hard it is to accept that you, as a bystander, can have very little impact on this condition. You want to help. You need to help. But the sufferer is trapped in a black cloud, the ‘black dog’ that you wrote of (and who has been a regular visitor to our family for the last 35 years) is ensconsed firmly on their shoulder, and there is very little you can do to move it. You just have to have faith that it will pass, and be there – as you are – until it does.

    Sorry for going on, but I think this is a really important issue. And you are totally doing the right thing.

  3. Primal Sneeze Says:

    I have to admit I was a non-believer until a few years back when a close mate was diagnosed. I had been seeing the symptoms but not making a connection with illness – writing it off to other things.

    She got help and beat it after a long struggle. A long, long hard struggle.

    Today, she counsels others. She tells me she now draws strength from her two children, one whom is Downes Syndrome.

    She kicked it out of her life. I’m still kicking myself for doubting.

  4. Roberta Says:

    Oh Mem,
    I understand your feelings so well. My son suffers from depression. My heart goes out to you.

  5. R. Sherman Says:

    Those who’ve never experienced it truly cannot understand. Of course, they are full of mindless platitudes and bromides telling others to “get over it, already.”

    Some of us know better.

    Best to you and your mother.

  6. Trailing Grouse Says:

    What a powerful post. It affects so many of us, and yes, I say ‘us’: it’s not always someone else and it affects more than just the depressed. Talking about it so sensitively, honestly and humanely is doing a great service to your mother and others who deal with the problem. Really well done.

  7. nuttycow Says:

    Well done RM. As all above have said, mental illness is not something that should be shoved under the carpet. It does affect all of us in one way or another and it shouldn’t be something that any of us are ashamed of. Much love.

  8. Gillian Says:

    Yes, Mem, I’m glad to know where you are and what you’re doing. It is rather wonderful to be trusted with each piece of the picture that you share with us.

    I was diagnosed with depression once, but it was clearly situational, and we were able to work our way through it.

    I’m glad you’re there. Just now, I’m glad for everything that daughters do for their mothers.

    Be well.

  9. janelle Says:

    hey!thinking of you and don;t forget to call me when you are in town…saw Hat on sunday up at Usa running in the green with all the kids…so lovely! lots lots love A XXXX

  10. Té la mà Maria Says:

    very good blog, congratulations
    regard from Catalonia Spain
    thank you

  11. ExpatKat Says:

    What a special thing to share – thank you for trusting us all with this. I wish you and your mum well. Mental illness is still not approached openly enough. Separating the person from the illness is fundamental.

  12. guineapigmum Says:

    Please accept some positive cyber vibes, RM. I may be too late posting this but I hope you and your mum have had good times together this week. I know depression is something that is very difficult to write about and to understand. My sister has suffered from severe depression since her teens and has tried to take her own life more times than I can count. We know that one day she’ll probably be successful. She’s in hospital at the moment and has spent more time in than out in the last 2 or 3 years. I’d write about it on my blog but I think in this case it’s really for her to write about, not me. It does help so much to talk, though. I found writing about my own illness (cancer) this winter very liberating and it made everything much easier to deal with – it also made it easier to talk to people, once I’d written it all down in public.

    Cancer, mental illness – they should all be out in the open, not something we hide away. So thank you for a very moving post and good luck.

  13. maggie may Says:

    Only people who’ve never had it don’t understand depression. One in four people have mental illness of some form or other at some time in their lives. that’s a lot of people! It is nothing to be ashamed of. I am really sorry that your mum suffers this way & hope she gets well soon, once she has got over the loss of you, which will be a temporary feeling.

  14. Iota Says:

    I think you are helping by being there. Physical presence is very valuable, even in the dark.

  15. ann Says:

    It is one of the most mis-understood of illnesses, that and addictions. I have had experience of addictions in my family, both alcohol and drug which bring depression in their wake to both the addicts and the people around them. The hardest thing is not to take it personally, they don’t chose to be that way, it is an illness not a weekness. And there is no-one more unlovable when they are in the depths of dispair, and yet that is when they need the most love. Keep the faith my friend.

  16. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thank you all so much. for kind words, positive cyber vibes. and most of all for acknowledging what I wrote, that depression is an illness not an indulgence.

  17. misssym Says:

    My mum is also followed by the Black Dog. You can’t fix it, but by being there you made it a lot easier to bear, I’m certain of that. It isn’t easy being the child of someone who suffers from this. I know and I feel for you.

  18. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thank you misssym. x

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