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Supporting my mam through depression 'We never give up trying to make her feel loved'

An anonymous contributor writes about the complexities of helping a person who suffers from mental illness.

I ALWAYS KNEW there was something different about my mam. Seeing mysterious sickness in someone you love, without any physical symptoms, is very confusing for a child. The paradox of a tired person, going to bed but not sleeping.

Tiredness feeds into mania and hyperactivity, and this was the case with my mam. Nights and days in bed trying to sleep but never sleeping only brought her closer to the edge. You’d get a royal telling off for making even the slightest noise.

She could snap and lose control any time. When someone is that strung out, it doesn’t take much.

Disorder and chaos descended on our household when this illness took my mother away to a dark place. There would not be a single clean pot, cup or plate to eat, drink or prepare food with when we came home from school.

I was 19 before anyone put a name to my mam’s condition. Our family GP was kind enough to explain that my mother suffered with nervous anxiety and depression. If only I had known sooner, I thought, I might not have spent my childhood feeling so confused and scared.

I explained what the doctor had said to my father and my sister. It’s not an easy thing for people to understand. None of my mother’s siblings or parents have ever understood. If I had the choice, I might not have listened either.

But when it’s your own mother – when this is your life, your childhood – there is nowhere to run. And I didn’t want to run, I wanted to help her, I still do. I want people to know it’s not her fault.

Encouraging a depressed person to seek help is not simple. There is a frustration when your loved one comes home from visiting a doctor who has not properly explained how sick, or what type of sick, they are. The “fatigue” misdiagnosis is a wasted opportunity.

My mam eventually switched from our old family GP to a new one. My sister and I often visited that doctor in advance of my mam’s appointment, to give her a heads up on what was happening, and it would make us cringe to be lectured about patient confidentiality.

We never sought information. We went there to give information, knowing how hard it is for a doctor to diagnose a depressive episode in a 10-minute visit.

By the time my mam became suicidal, I had grown up a lot. I had battled my own post-natal depression and had some experience with counselling and psychology. I already knew not to expect anything from extended family members or the GP. I already knew that my dad was too close to the situation to have any perspective or hope left.

My sister and I wasted no energy on dead-ends. We knew that most of the people in my mam’s life couldn’t help her.

We tracked down a psychologist who had treated her in the past. We had to do a bit of searching as my mam was so ashamed that she never spoke openly about seeing her.

But we found her in the end. She was professional and never discussed any personal details of my mam’s case with us.

She saved us all, really. Compassion is what we had found – for us and for my mam. She understood the pressure we felt.

Showing love

Knowing that suicide is preventable is reassuring but also brings a frightening sense of responsibility. We learned to let go of the anger we felt at how our mam had been let down by doctors, family and friends.

We learned to go easy on ourselves, to forgive ourselves in advance if anything terrible should happen. All we can do is try our very best, and try we do.

We try always to show love in the plainest and clearest way possible – so loud and clear that even in her confused, frightened and paranoid state our mam can feel it.

Sometimes we need to realise that trying is enough. We never give up trying to make her feel loved, because that’s what she is: loved.

We’re grateful for every depressive episode that our mam survives and we try also to appreciate the happier times.

When the dawn breaks on 7 May, it will not be the first time that many of us will see darkness turn to light. Every step of this walk for Pieta House, I will think of my mam, who continues to struggle with depression.

I will think of myself and my sister, who struggle to come to terms with our confusing childhoods. I will think of my children and hope that my own journey through the darkness will protect them and keep them in the light.

Darkness into Light is an annual walk/run for Pieta House. The fundraising event takes place this coming weekend, on May 7. Register online here.

Read: ‘Imagine being suicidal and waiting hours and hours for help’

Read: Men’s health: Feel a mid-life crisis coming on? It’s time for an action plan

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