I can sense it tiptoeing. It’s close. If I turn my head quickly, I think I can see a flash of its shape dart darkly behind shadows. I can definitely hear it, its silence roars and I can feel its cold breath on the back of neck, as dread.
Depression’s descent is stealthy. And then sudden. It begins with the odd tears which you try to explain away, which still fall lightly enough that distraction works. Then comes its brief tangibility as a Real Illness: a day in bed, ‘I feel sick’, says Mum, huddling beneath the covers, ‘I have been up all night feeling sick’. So I fuss and I fret and I go to and fro with plates of toast and mugs of weak tea. I even scour the internet and consult Dr Google for ‘early morning nausea among the elderly’. I see the word Depression but I fail to put two and two together. Or I don’t want to. I want to believe this is a symptom of Gastroesophageal reflux disease for how easy that would be to fix. By comparison. I even write to a pharmacist friend with mum’s prescription to inquire what I can add into the mix to quell stomach acid.
But by the next morning, there’s no avoiding the reality: Depression is back. How! How? Where did it get in? I kept windows open to bright gardens and sunshine, doors wide to friendly voices, to laughter, to a stream of affectionate animals. I kept her engaged and tried, in the face of so much loss, half of her sight, most of her memory, all of her ability to read, to make sure she was busy.
To no avail.
For years, many, many years, Depression’s return always felt like a failing – mine usually. Perhaps that’s because I’m the eldest – so the mantle of responsibility naturally fell to me and especially after Dad died? Perhaps because I had awkward years as a teen – so naturally I was at the centre of my own world, even the bad bits revolved about me – did I cause her too much anxiety, I worried later, by which time it was too late because she had been admitted to a psych ward. I fretted: is she sick again because of the things I have done or the things I have failed to do.
But age and experience and years of bumping up against this monster more times than I can count and I know it’s not my fault. It’s not mum’s fault. It just is; Mum’s own peculiar madness is a part of her normalcy.
I don’t know how long it will stay this time. Some visits are fleeting, some last for months, years. In the absence of the opportunity to escape, to find solace, respite, in books, Mum will feel this episode more acutely.
And so, by extension, will those of us that love her. Tomorrow morning, as today, I will bang determinedly on her door and she will ignore me. But I am persistent, I never give up, I will continue to bang, at intervals, until finally, gracelessly, she will open it and try to stumble back to bed, growing and scowling and tearful, and I will stand over her and tell her she must get up and she must eat the toast I proffer and she must drink tea, even though she is still adamant this illness is Real, ‘I do really feel most unwell’, she will say (because it’s hard to tell herself that which she knows? because she is still hopeful TLC and Gaviscon will mend her) but her protestations will grow fainter as the day progresses and by evening she will acknowledge what I know, that Depression, ‘the bane of my bloody life’ she says, is back. And we will make a pact: ‘you must get up when you wake up, Mum so we can drink tea and walk in the garden’. She nods her commitment. I do not know why Depression is worse in the morning and nor do I understand why forcing herself up despite the yoke of this deadening sickness’s weight is better than lying in bed, experience has just taught me this is so. And she will promise me, on her life, on mine, on all that is good and true and hopeful, that she will be up and dressed as I ask.
And tomorrow morning I will encounter still-drawn curtains and locked doors and my pleas will fall on deaf ears