The Importance of Separation

Most people assume, and it’s not because they are stupid or insensitive, that Mum will feel better when I relate Hat’s success. Most people cannot understand that my recent visit did not energise her, lift her mood, make her happy. Friends say, ‘that must have helped to cheer her up: your going to see her’. But it didn’t.

Most people don’t know enough about Depression to know it’s not about sadness. Or disgruntlement. Or plain old misery. It’s bigger, much bigger, than that. It’s about indifference and enervation and emptiness and intangible, inexplicable but nonetheless overwhelming despair.

My visit only made Mum feel worse, because she could not do for me, with me, the things she would have liked to do, would ordinarily, when well, have done: shopped, shared bottles of wine, scoured the shelves at Waterstones for a good read.  Laughed.

My text to relate Hat’s news was responded to a whole day later: Well Done Hat it said. For that was all she could manage. And it took 24 hours to summon the energy for those three little words. Well Done Hat. When well my Mum is effusive. She uses exclamation marks to demonstrate her enthusiasm! None of those pepper rare messages now.

Depression is such a heavy weight upon my mum’s shoulders that it diminishes her: its presence is so huge it makes her look small. She says, when I tower above her, that my new e-bay purchased LK Bennett boots are too high. If she were well, she would tell me they were beautiful, a good buy.

And that is why I despise Depression: because it changes her fundamentally. I tell her, because she is fretting audibly about her inability to do anything, her omnipresent and oppressive inertia: ‘you are a quite different person when you are well, you do know that don’t you?’

Yes, she says, I know that, and I offer up a silent prayer that Depression won’t steal that belief from her, as it has stolen everything else.

It is important to separate the person from the illness.

It is especially important when you really love one and really, really hate the other.

15 Responses to “The Importance of Separation”

  1. R. Sherman Says:

    Spot-on comments about depression, which everyone who has a loved-one caught in its grip should read. Too often, well-meaning friends and relatives become angry that someone with the disease just doesn’t “snap out of it.”
    It’s not like that, any more than it’s about friends and relatives “doing” something or refraining from something to help.

  2. nuttycow Says:

    “It is important to separate the person from the illness. It is especially important when you really love one and really, really hate the other.”

    True (and wise) words RM, thank you. Keep at it and know we’re always on the other side of the computer screen should you need a good rant.


  3. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thank you Mr S, i was just thinking that: ‘it’s not like that’; when somebody said yesterday, ‘but seeing you must have helped her’; how? how! i wanted to shout, instead i just said, ‘it’s not like that. but i don’t think she understood.

    thank you nutty: i sense somebody else who knows more than they’d like to about this wretched illness x

  4. Irene Says:

    Thank you for writing this. I suffer from depressions and I just sent the link to this post to my daugher. I hope she will understand.

  5. Mama B Says:

    I’m so very glad for your Mum’s sake that you understand that. That you can manage to see through the depression and love the person, however hidden at the moment.

    I think it is one of the few straws one clutches at – that is – that the tiny remaining, almost obscured, bit of one that can manage a small amount of rational thought hangs on to, like a tuft of grass that stops you sliding inexorably further down into the abyss.

    The worst is feeling that on top of everything else you are hurting, and maybe even losing, the very people you love. You can see yourself hurting them and hate it and yet be unable to stop. Your Mum knows that you understand that and that you are not going to give up on her, and that is enormously important.

  6. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    I’m glad that you were able to send the link to your daughter, Irene, yes, i hope she understands.

    Mama B, i almost wept when i read your words: I think it is one of the few straws one clutches at – that is – that the tiny remaining, almost obscured, bit of one that can manage a small amount of rational thought hangs on to, like a tuft of grass that stops you sliding inexorably further down into the abyss. Very beautiful words, very true. very, very painful for those who are suffering. and thank you for suggesting that, just in trying to understand, i can lessen the tiniest bit of her pain.

  7. Limner Says:

    I’ve wanted someone to understand what depression does to those of us afflicted by it. No one in my family does. Now I’m learning what it does to those who love us. This is even more heartbreaking. You do understand what it’s like for your mom. It’s ten times worse for her though, because she has to live it. She’s missing out on so much joy. You and Hat are missing out on having all of her. But the love you have for your mom is clearly evident.

    I’m beyond happy that you’re able to have a good life with your daughter in the shadow of this dark disease. I used to worry about my own daughter when she was growing up. I fought to stay afloat because of her. She’s turned out quite well.

    You have so much support here. You have people who understand, or want to, and that counts for a lot. You offer much to us as well. Good job, and thank you! I’m rooting for you all. What you’ve written touches my heart.

  8. Voyager Says:

    I wish more people understood like you do. Friends often don’t understand when I cancel plans because I am not up to it. They think thet I should want to see them because they will cheer me up.

    That’s great about your daughter’s school. What a big change it will be after home school.


  9. Miss Welcome Says:

    Most of the time I am fine on medication. I think my own standards that I fall short of (in terms of being a wife and mother), I fall short of in the same way that anyone else does who doesn’t suffer from depression. I’m lucky that medicine works for me (although it makes me fat — grrrr)!

    I think I fear the most that my children will feel what you feel, which is why I try to handle it the best I can and really be there for them. This is a strong motivator. But it would be hard if nothing worked for me. I’m not sure I could surmount it even for the great love I have for my kids.

  10. byrhtnoth Says:

    It is like being buried alive, I think. One cannot snap out of being buried alive.

  11. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Limner – thank you. that’s what my mum has always said: the worst bit for her has always been the worrying about how her illness has affected us, her children. My brother and sister and strong and well rounded and wonderful people who take life’s challenges square on the chin. And I hope that for that most part they consider me the same: strong and well rounded if a trifle bossy!

    That’s the thing, though, Voyager, Depression can’t be cheered up: to suggest as much is to belittle, to underestimate, a huge illness.

    Indeed: what a big change an English boarding school will be from home school in the bush: may she be happy. That’s all i want.

    byrhtnoth: thank you for reading. Like being buried alive. No. One can’s snap out of that. Or like living behind glass as my mum says: you can see life but you cannot hear it or feel it.

  12. Rob Says:

    “Buried alive” – that is a picture that someone who hasn’t suffered can relate to. What would you do if you were buried alive (e.g. one of those Haitian earthquake victims). I guess if you had no hope, then there would be no incentive to take any action. So having, or getting, some hope I think would be the crucial first step. If there was a crack high up and you could hear far away voices or see a sliver of light, that might ignite some small spark of hope. Then what? You’d need to dig yourself out I guess? To do that you would need to acquire a tool of some kind – maybe a spoon buried with you (Shawshank Redemption anyone?). But that would take ages and ages – yes it would, but eventually after days of scooping away the dirt, with suitable encouragement from someone on the outside, you might eventually surface? Maybe?

  13. byrhtnoth Says:

    Rob – But that is just the essence of this kind of torment: There is no possibility of movement. A foot of sand covering one’s feet at the bright, laughing seaside is heavy enough, but this is to be out of reach under the ground. As for hope, there is none in hell.

    For hope to be possible, something other than the present in its terrible immediacy must be conceivable. But from within, hell is the perfect tautology. There is no space outside it. There is no imagination can see its limit.

    Buried alive in this way, one’s relationship to one’s past selves is tenuous at best, and one does not know one’s current self. Or rather, there is no self left. One is, as it were, hollowed out.

    Everything is hollowed out.

    One’s memories of a living life grow thin and pale, become abstract. Words are emptied of their meanings. The world itself loses its capacity to signify. So to hear others speak of ‘hope’ is to hear nothing but people speaking in tongues, and they are without interest.

  14. Rob Says:

    I hear what you are saying. In my experience, many people suffering from Depression do have periods when they are well so, in “reality”, there is hope there. But the overwhelming feelings of total isolation and hopelessness which come with Depression snuff out any positive feelings of hope, and our minds are fooled into believing that there is no hope. I guess it is like when we are in the sweltering heat, we yearn for a cool breeze, but when caught out in an icy storm we yearn for some heat.

    The other thing which I believe is important, is that sufferers need to acquire and develop good “tools”, and self-awareness, during periods when they are well. So that when the slide into the next episode starts, the arsenal can come out to combat the menace of Depression before it gets its vice like grip.

  15. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    byrhtnoth, thank you for such an articulate comment. for those of us on the outside of the illness who want to understand but cannot, who interpret what we see in some semblance of our own language, your description is so powerful that it conveys – to those of us who are lucky enough not to know it to do so ourselves – some small measure of the pain and the inertia. thank you so mukch x RM

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