While some people actually believe mental illness is something you can just overcome by getting more exercise or by removing tasks from your busy schedule, it is a very real thing.
My father was one of those people who believed the former to be true. He didn’t grow up in America, so being depressed, in his eyes, wasn’t an actual illness so much as a temporary feeling.
So, you can only imagine my father’s reaction when my mother told him that she had secretly been taking anxiety and depression medication for years and had been diagnosed with clinical depression.
This is my story to shed a little light on the nonbelievers and anyone else who may doubt that mental illness — more specifically, depression — is not real:
My whole life, my mother was Super Mom. She made it her mission in life to watch after my two older brothers and I. She was there for every single one of my milestone moments growing up and was able to provide a hot meal each and every night.
She was constantly smiling and laughing. She had a personality that naturally lit up a room and was one of the most outgoing people I knew. She spoke to strangers at the grocery store and did other things that would embarrass a teenage daughter.
When my mother changed, though, I started to miss those moments I once felt so embarrassed by.
My mother and father were that couple that acted like they were still in high school, sneaking out of the house to see one another late at night and having kissing sessions on the couch. Yes, sometimes their PDA was a little much, but as I got older, I learned to admire the love my parents still had for each other after 30 years of marriage.
After my mother told my father she had been hiding behind a porcelain smile for several years, her true emotions began to crack that glass mask. She started to cry for absolutely no reason at completely random times of the day. She would sit in her room in fetal position and rock back and fourth. She used to say it helped with her anxiousness.
When I was younger, my mother was always going shopping or getting out of the house on her own just because she wanted to. She embraced and loved her independence. After depression hit my mother, she was no longer able to be alone. She could not be left in the house alone and could not go anywhere outside of the house by herself.
She no longer smiled. She no longer laughed. She barely even spoke. She never ate. Depression took my beautiful, vivacious mother and turned her into a shell of who she once was. She went to doctor after doctor and could not find any solution.
At age 20, I became the mother figure of my household. I cooked the meals, I did the laundry, I balanced the checkbook, I paid the bills, I called my brothers to remind them to take out the garbage, and I comforted my father when he didn’t have his other half.
It took my mother a while to get back on her feet, but today, she is doing better. She is not completely back to her old self, but she is well on her way. She has the support of my whole family; no one will ever walk away from her.
Every day is a challenge for my mother, though, because she wakes up in the morning not knowing how she’ll feel that day. However, each day, she pushes through it. Just like in most cases of depression, my mother was unsure of the origins of her feelings.
She grew up with a loving family and went on to have a loving family of her own.
That’s the scary thing about mental illness: It can strike anyone at any age for absolutely no rhyme or reason. If you feel depressed or anxious or anything along these lines, get help immediately.
Don’t hide your illness, like my mother did, out of fear of people not accepting it. Since she hid it, she initially tried to battle it entirely on her own. No one should ever feel it necessary to hide behind his or her true self, no matter what inner demons you may be battling.
Seek help. Not only will it be helpful to put your emotions and thoughts into words, it will also alert your closest friends and family -- your support system -- that you're in a low place, a place of need. Give yourself the chance to improve. Don't let depression swallow you hole; it will do just that.
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