A few months ago, I was sitting in my grandmother’s living room with my sister Leslie, my mother and, of course, Grandma herself. That day, my grandmother told Leslie and me a family secret that had been buried so deep we’d never heard it before. We’d never even heard whispers about it.
The family secret involved family violence and mental illness. It involved my mother’s siblings being removed from their parents’ custody, divided up, and temporarily placed in orphanages, institutions, and a predecessor of the current foster care system.
My mother had never told us she’d been in foster care as a child. If my grandmother hadn’t brought it up that day, I’m sure Leslie and I would never have found out. As far as my mother was concerned, it was a memory she’d rather forget. As she put it, “What happened in the past has no bearing on the present.” She wanted her shame to remain a secret, even from her own children. Mom was not happy with Grandma for telling us.
“We’ve gone too long not talking about these things,” my grandmother said. “It’s been almost sixty years of pretending these things never happened.”
And then she brought me into the conversation, saying, “Giselle had the right idea when she saw a therapist in university. She needed to talk to someone, so she did. That’s the healthy approach.”
My mother was livid. She shouted, “Don’t you ever mention Giselle’s therapy again!”
I looked around the room. There were only the four of us, and we all knew I’d been severely depressed as a young adult. I asked my mother, “Why don’t you want her talking about my therapy? It’s not a secret. It’s not something I’m ashamed of.”
My mother snapped, “Well, you should be!”
The room went silent—that heavy sort of silence that sits on your chest, making it hard to breathe.
“Why should she be ashamed?” my grandmother asked. “She needed help and she got help. That’s admirable, if you ask me.”
“No, it’s not,” my mother said. “When you go around saying you’re depressed, you’re in therapy, who’s everybody going to blame? The mother! Everyone will think it’s my fault.”
“Who is everyone?” my sister asked, after keeping quiet for a long time. “There are only four of us in the room and we all know.”
My mother said, “I don’t want to talk about this.”
And that pretty much shut down the conversation.
Though I don’t think it’s a healthy attitude, I can understand my mother’s fearful defensiveness. If anything, it made me sad for her. Maybe she’ll never be able to stretch her emotional boundaries wide enough to discuss her past. But to shut me down so adamantly, and to insist that I muzzle my experience with depression? It was jarring, to say the least.
That’s why I’ve decided to write a book about living with depression. Not to spite my mother, though I kind of see how it might come across that way. No, she’s welcome to feel ashamed on my behalf, if she so chooses. Writing this book is important to me because I don’t want other people to feel ashamed of their depression. Being depressed is bad enough without being shamed for it!
My depression peaked when I was in my late teens and early twenties, but it never went away. I still live with depression. Though I’m no longer seeking therapy to cope with day-to-day life, I find that talking to other people helps tremendously.
I’m sure I’m not the only person in the world who’s been chastised by a loved one for admitting I’m depressed. Fortunately, I have a partner who understands depression intimately, because she’s experienced those lows too. I can’t overstate how much it helps to have someone in my life who gets it because she’s been there.
That’s what makes this book so important to me. I’m not a psychologist (I failed out of the psychology program at the University of Toronto—I was too depressed for success!), but I am a writer, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from spending time around other writers, it’s that a lot of us are depressed.
We battle depression. We live with depression. We cope with depression. We all have our own takes on how it interacts with our lives, and how we interact with it, but with fifteen years of depression under my belt, I’ve learned that sharing and communication makes a huge difference.
But I can’t do this on my own. I need feedback from other writers—other writers who are now or who have in the past been depressed. If you’ve got experience with depression, I need your opinions. I’ve written out some questions and included them in this survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/8SQ7RJC
You can fill it out anonymously, or leave me your author name and bio for attribution. If you fill in your email address, I’ll be only too pleased to send you a copy of the book when it’s written—though, realistically, this book’s going to take a while to compile and compose. I can’t write this book without your input, so I express my humblest gratitude in advance. Thank you for your time and opinions!
(And if you think of any other questions you'd like answered in this book, please put them in the comments and I'll do up another survey. SurveyMonkey only lets me ask 10 questions at a time because I'm cheap and I only have a "basic" account. Basic is code for free. LOL)