Growing up in my family, life didn’t seem so bad for the family member with serious depression — rather, those who had to live with that depressed person suffered the most.
My brother, who is 18 months older than I am, has struggled with various things for as long as I can remember. One of these struggles is depression.
Through the eyes of a child, I didn't see the crippling hopelessness and lack of motivation that constitute depression. I just saw a mean boy that sucked away every ounce of energy and attention that my mom was supposed to be dividing among herself, her husband, and her other three kids.
Daily, I heard screaming protests in response to the simplest requests. I saw rolled eyes as everyone's plans were interrupted, yet again, because my brother refused to do anything that he didn’t want to.
I listened to horrible insults flung at anyone close enough to hear, and yet if I ever opened my mouth in defense, I was scolded. I needed to be the “bigger person.” He “couldn't help it.” He was “hurting." But to be brutally honest, I wanted him to hurt to pay for the anguish he was causing our once-perfect family, and everyone in it.
I walked into situations and stumbled upon scenes that no child should ever witness, let alone have constantly replayed in their thoughts and dreams.
I felt utterly alone because at that young age, my friends all still seemed to have happy families and couldn't relate to the struggles I regularly faced at home.
The more I saw and heard, the less I was seen and heard. I felt like I started to disappear completely.
I may have little personal experience with what the burden of depression costs those who have it. But I have felt the heavy and dark cloud of hopelessness that can engulf homes and families affected by it.
Depression has cost me a lot. It cost me a relationship with my brother. It cost me years of lost time with my mom. It cost me the ability to confidently hope for or even imagine having a happy family of my own in the future, paralyzed by the fear that my life could follow the same exhausting path as my mother's.
I wish my fingers could type the words to say that as I have gotten older and grown to better understand depression, I now have total empathy for my brother. Or that now that I know I am seen and heard and have a great relationship with my mom, I no longer resent how certain things have played out in my family life. But I’m just not there yet.
Just as there is not an instant, one-size-fits-all fix for those who struggle with mental illness, we shouldn’t expect the hurt their families experience to disappear in the snap of a finger, either.
And just as our loved ones sometimes cannot control their sadness and emotions, we as their family members have a right to feel and acknowledge how our own lives are weighed down by the cumbersome reality that depression brings to all it encounters.
Everyone’s emotions and experiences matter.
Don't let depression destroy families.
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