The blues, the blahs, feeling down, being depressed. We’ve all felt this way at one time or another, but for most, it’s temporary and not too serious. There have certainly been times in my own life when I’ve had what I call depression with a little ‘d.’ It may have lasted a few hours, a day or two, or in a few cases, over a period of months. The worst was going into menopause. My hormones went bezerk and it was rough going for about a year. It was the first time I ever took anti-depressants, having resisted them a long time for some prideful reason. I didn’t need them very long, but I’m grateful that I had them. They helped me get through a difficult transition, and even more importantly, taking them convinced my son to get medical help for his own depression.
Mental illness is tough on the whole family. What began as a difficult time for Jacob breaking up with a girlfriend turned out to be the beginning of some serious depression issues for him. There were numerous late-night calls to me and a few scary e-mails that had his dad and me ready to drive down to campus and pick him up, but nothing I said could convince him to get help. Half a year later and into his second year at college, Jacob continued to suffer from depression with a capital ‘D.’ Talking with him one weekend, I remarked that we were at opposite ends of the hormonal cycle. It can be a hard transition, I said, but there’s no reason to be miserable. When I revealed that I was taking anti-depressants, it was as if a light came on. There’s medicine for this? I guess he had been blinded by the ‘pull yourself up by the bootstraps and get on with it’ mentality or maybe it was just a guy thing. Anyways, he finally agreed to get professional help and eventually found a therapist he liked.
Fast forward six months. Jacob still suffers from Depression. It comes and goes, at least from the outside, but as a college counselor told me, it’s a hidden disability. You can’t see it as clearly as other disabilities. It doesn’t help that our society often wants to deny its reality. It can appear when you least expect it and then slip away again. After the fire, I carefully watch my son for overt signs of Depression. On the outside, he seems fine. He has enrolled for summer school, talked to us about his classes and teachers in a positive way, and even has his dad purchase textbooks online. He seems to be back on track with his life. Fire forgotten. Get on with it.
A few days into the semester, I call upstairs to the kids about the next day’s schedule, and Sarah yells back, Jacob wants to talk to you in his room. Uh oh. I know something is wrong and I feel the familiar dread as I walk quickly upstairs and nervously open his door. I don’t see him at first. He’s on the floor, crammed between the bed and the wall, hugging his knees and sobbing. What is it? Are you sick? Are you hurt? Is your laptop broken? I instinctively revert to the kind of questions I asked when he was a little boy. He can’t stop crying long enough to speak; he just shakes his head with each question. What’s wrong? Are you still blaming yourself for the fire? He shakes his head no, pulling his 6 foot self tighter into a ball, leaning towards me like he did as a child. I put my arms around him. I finally guess. It’s school, isn’t it? He nods. Out comes everything – the lies, the panic attacks, his nightmares about the fire as he sobs and tries desperately to wipe his eyes and nose. I really wanted to enroll. I wanted to go to school. But I couldn’t do it. He continues to cry and talk about how he’s such a bad son, a disappointment to us. I wanted to do it, but I just couldn’t. It’s ok, I say. It’s ok. He continues to cry out all his sadness about his life. I listen and I talk to him, hoping to comfort him, hoping to comfort myself. Eventually he’s all cried out. We quietly agree about getting him some more help. He seems more hopeful now, calmer. I wish I were. I’m sorry. I know. He’s tired and goes to bed. I’m tired, too, but I can’t sleep. I send a quick e-mail to his dad across town, surely asleep at this hour. We need to talk in the morning. I go to bed, but I don’t sleep for a long time.