The average Major Depressive Episode lasts around 6 months. While medications can help alleviate symptoms of depression, this average is true whether you take meds or not. After this duration, most episodes undergo what psychologists term “spontaneous remission,” meaning the depression quite literally just “goes away” – for a time, at least. However, my first major episode lasted closer to three years. Natural variation? It’s a possible explanation, but the extended duration of my depression had a direct cause, one which makes the basis of my post today: Parents.
Some months into my depression, after I had begun self-harming, I had worked up enough trust in a peer to disclose my struggles with her. This peer brought the matter to our school counselor’s attention, who then contacted my mother about it.
For the record, my mother is a very kind and thoughtful person whose biggest vice is being a tad too protective of her children. I truly do believe that what I’m about to discuss was the result of mental health stigmatization, not any inherent character flaw in my mother. Regardless, the result has left a permanent stain on our relationship.
When my mother discovered I was depressed and self-harming, she confronted me. My behavior, as she told me, was selfish. Keeping my depression secret from those I care about and who care for me was supposedly a terribly selfish act of disrespect which somehow showed I didn’t care enough about them.
I sat there and took it all. I knew why I hid my illness and my self-harming: I wanted to be strong enough at least to keep the people around me happy. I bore my secret with shame and guilt, hiding it so nobody would have to worry about me. Sitting in silence, listening to my mother’s rants and threats of institutionalization (and I do mean institutionalization, not hospitalization), I felt two things. First, I felt the weight in my lungs dig deeper, recognizing I had failed to keep my depression from harming others. Second, I felt the anger of being judged and accused rising up. I couldn’t believe that the person who was supposed to help me get through anything was threatening me and calling my illness selfish.
Following that discussion, my mother began surveilling me. She logged into my social media accounts and got reports of my text messages to track who I was talking to and what I was saying. She scoured my notebooks for any indication that I was feeling depressed. She forced me to talk to new people every day, claiming I wouldn’t be so depressed if I just socialized a bit more.
I didn’t feel safe or comforted. I felt hurt, disrespected, and betrayed. Any activities I had used to cope were taken away by the threat of an oppressive surveillance. What’s more, I really didn’t even feel welcome in my own home. I went to school to get away. I stayed extra long at practices to stay away. The help didn’t help, but rather only served to push me into uncomfortable situations.
Everything my mother did only caused me to feel worse, and, in the process, she shredded any trust I had in her as well as in those around me. It wasn’t for two more years when I met some rather stubborn new friends that I even began to trust again. Even now, years after my last depressive episode, I refuse to tell my mother of any depressive thoughts I have and obsessively keep my personal files hidden away. Trust was an important part of getting out of my depression but trust is very fragile and hard to build when in that state.