Taken from Esperanza which is located HERE.
My Grandma always seemed so strong and spunky, it never dawned on me that she lived with depression. There were brief hints of crisis now and then—whispered conversations between my parents, hurried visits to check on Grandma’s welfare—but no one ever discussed the details openly.
If there were other signs, I didn’t know enough then to recognize them—and I probably was too consumed with life as a teenager to pay much attention.
Now I would give anything for the opportunity to talk with Grandma about the depression and anxiety that made me feel for so long that I was the odd person out, the black sheep of the family.
If Grandma had shared the truth about her depression, maybe I would have understood my own symptoms more quickly. Maybe I would have accepted treatment earlier and developed a stronger support system, instead of spending so much time and energy hiding my true feelings.
I was fortunate to grow up in a happy, loving, middle-class family, one of the few in our neighborhood that actually shared daily breakfast and supper together at the table. My sister and I were as close as twins, my optimistic mother posted a list of positive thoughts on our bedroom door, and my quiet father conveyed his caring without words. My strong foundation also included Grandma and my wonderful, witty aunts.
All in all, there seemed to be no justification for the depression that hit me when I entered college.
That’s when I began living a lie. At celebrations, graduations, weddings, baby showers, I felt guilty that I wasn’t as happy as everyone else seemed to be. So I kept my feelings to myself.
Ironically, I was a theater major in college, and a good actress. I made sure no one knew how isolated and different I felt.
It wasn’t until Grandma passed away at 92 that I began to see and understand I wasn’t so different after all. As a family, we began sharing stories about this special person in our lives as we sorted through her belongings and our memories.
I was surprised to learn my Grandma made weekly trips to a psychiatrist until she was physically unable to leave home. I was even more surprised to learn she felt the two people who knew her best were my Granddaddy and her psychiatrist.
The more I heard, the more I saw clues to the depression I grew up knowing nothing about. I learned that Grandma grieved for my grandfather as deeply as she had loved him, and that her grief lasted many years into her widowhood.
I remembered how she believed I didn’t want to talk to her when my new phone blocked her calls before I’d programmed her number into my caller ID list. I wasn’t calling her because I was in a dark place and couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to talk with me. In retrospect, I can see we were each dealing with depression, with similar feelings of worthlessness.
I discovered she saved inspirational poems and newspaper clippings, just as I do. I imagine her reading words of encouragement to remind herself, as I do, that negative thoughts and attitudes are just the depression talking.
In a stack of letters she wrote to me, I found a little book about overcoming depression and the power of prayer and love. It was as if she were still supporting and encouraging me.
With that love and strength—my Grandma’s ultimate gift—I find the courage to open up to family and friends with the truth about my past 20 years of depression. Over the coming months, I began telling my story, although I still felt somehow “wrong” for having depression and I was uncertain what reactions I would get.
The positive response was overwhelming. And once the secret was out, other relatives began sharing instead of hiding their emotions. The shuttered silence in our family is now an open door of communication, admitting others among us who had been living silently with depression.
Now that the stigma is removed, I no longer feel so alone, so apart. I can enjoy events with my family more freely without the burden of covering up who I really am. They support me with a deeper understanding, knowing I need them even when I can’t say so.
It turns out I was never alone after all.