As a teen around age 15, I began my lifelong battle with depression. Now back then in the mid-1960s, no one believed teens really dealt with such things. Many folks in high school with me did so with their drug of choice—booze, marijuana, LSD, pills, even heroin—but none of those things held any appeal for me. First of all, I knew if I got involved with anything but booze (that was OK in my dad’s book) he would simply kill me, tell God I died, and move on. I was also terrified of all that stuff. I LIKED knowing what was going on around me. I had no desire to take anything that would jam up my faculties, make it harder for me to watch, listen, learn, and KNOW exactly what was happening.
I did the best I could, hanging out with my best friend, Diane, working at the YMCA as a swim instructor/lifeguard—exercise kept me going a lot of days—listening to my radio (didn’t go anywhere without my transistor radio if I could help it, the precursor to all these IPODS and M3P players today) but it didn’t matter because it didn’t last long. When I was 16, my mother had what was called back then a nervous breakdown. They sent her away for a few days and when she came back, she was on some prescription routine of MAOI drugs, the depression drug of choice at that time. She was not allowed to have cheese or wine, fermented foods. Those were, in her book, two of the major food groups and that loss simply added to her depression. She continued to fight it, through a divorce from my abusive father, who left her the same year she turned 40, through an even worse second marriage, and through the birth of my father’s only son (She and my father had 3 daughters). Somehow she always believed if she could have given my father a son, he would have stayed. And as a second impending divorce loomed, three months after the birth of my half-brother, at age 48, when I was 26, she took her own life. Now certainly, no one, myself included, was paying any attention to MY depression anymore.
And now I teetered on the edge. Three days after her death, I was ready to follow her. I lay in the bed, thinking about where all the pills were in the house. Everyone else was asleep. It wouldn’t take but a minute to slip out of bed and take care of business. I considered it very seriously and if not for the grace of God, the patience and love of a very good husband and the unconditional love of a 15 month old daughter named Francesca, I might have done just that. Instead the depression continued to overwhelm me.
At first, I simply hid from it, burying my head in the sand like the proverbial ostrich. I began to realize what a monster depression really was and that it would eventually take me life, one way or another. Day after day, sitting around in a rental house in the snow in a town where I knew no one while Warren was gone to work all day, I chased a little girl who still had to be fed, her diapers changed and entertained and thank God for it, because that is all that kept me alive. And for a long while, I didn’t care. Let the depression come and get me. It’s not like I felt like I had so much to live for anyway. I slowly realized it was a genetic thing, inherited from my mother, who got it from BOTH of her parents, so it was going to happen eventually, one way or another. And then a new realization—if it came after me, it might eventually come after my daughter, right down the genetic line. Now, I had a reason to fight. It could come after me and I shrugged my shoulders. But now the thought that this dragon monster I thought of as the Depression Dragon, might come to attack my child, was a whole different kettle of fish. Now I had to fight. Now I had to win, no matter what.
I started with the research, reading everything I could. Phrases of the day—manic-depression, mania, finding out more about lithium and this MAOI stuff, two major sources of treatment with various results, from fair, not usually good to horrific. There was electro-shock therapy which of course, was made over into more than one horror movie. There was confusion—hurt, men and women did not really talk to each, not like they do today. My father didn’t talk to my mother about her illness. She was his rock, she fell apart and he walked away. A great simplification, complicated by the economic crush of 1969 which under the Republicans damaged and destroyed many small businesses, like that of my parents, i.e., the money ran out and so did my dad. And my mother, with all her other problems, could not bear to abandon the customers they had served over the years and promised to continue their service contracts. The business bore my father’s name. He was the one who had made those promises, not her, to customers all through the 1950s and 60s but she was the one who stood firm on them. Her overwhelming sense of responsibility for a burden that wasn’t even hers to bear, was one more thing that led her to an early grave.
I struggled on but the one thing that always killed me, that always made me cry no matter how much time had passed is when I would remember how much my mama adored the only grandchild she ever met, Francesca. My mama got the chance to know her for a brief 15 months but Francesca would never know her, would never remember the grandmother who loved her so much. It was time to fight this Depression Dragon, the biggest fight of my life.
(To be Continued)
Laura L. Valenti, author
The Heart of the Spring,
The Heart of the Spring Lives On,
The Heart of the Spring Comes Home, and
The Heart of the Spring Everlasting
Between the Star and the Cross: The hoice and
Between the Star and the Cross: The Election
Ozark Meth: A Journey of Destruction and Deliverance with co-author Dick Dixon
We know that Jesus had 33 years Between the Star at his birth and The Cross at his death. We each have a time between our star and our cross. We just don't know how long that might be. The real question is 'what will you do with yours?" Blessings, LV