Blessed to be surrounded by numerous people in my life who understand many of my struggles, I often find myself being asked questions that force me to pause and reflect on where I truly stand emotionally. Many in my life are comfortable confronting me with some really intense questions, and I am open to it because without deep, honest reflection, we often end up pretty stuck.
A few weeks ago, someone in my life who also happens to know a lot about the challenges I face regarding my mother’s health asked me a really tough question. We were having a discussion about how I have been managing things since my mom’s stroke in September of 2013 and her recent decline in health. I told her that some days were tough, but I was maintaining pretty well.
I expressed how I allow myself to go through the motions and when it becomes too much, I just cry. In that moment she looked at me and asked, “What are you scared of?” I was a bit puzzled. I mean, shoot, I’m scared of a lot of things. Brooklyn girls are tough, but we are human. She looked at me again and said, “Are you scared that you will turn into your mother?” Well, dag! So much for not becoming a complete mess during our conversation. I just started to cry. I didn’t know what else to do. I mean, how should I feel about myself when I have to admit that my biggest fear in life is becoming just like the woman I have loved and appreciated my entire life– the woman who gave me life?
And no, the fears aren’t about having a stroke, although considering my family history, that is also a very real fear that I have. My grandmother, aunt and uncle all died from strokes. I mean, come on! Clearly, I am scared about that. But the real fear–my deepest fear–is about developing her mental health issues. I am terrified of her depression.
The recent suicide of Robin Williams, a week after that conversation I had, definitely caused me to pause and reflect on my fear as well. I have absolutely no history of depression, but I still wonder if it will ever come for me one day. Rumor has it that my great grandmother had “issues,” whatever that means, and my mom has told me that my grandmother suffered from some level of depression, too. Needless to say, at times my family history has me feeling like I might be screwed. Thankfully, deep down, I know that isn’t so.
The death of the talented actor/comedienne also reminded me of how ruthless depression can be. Sure, race, privilege, gender, and socioeconomic status separate us all, but we can all suffer from the hurt and pain of depression in such a profound way. My mom has often made reference to her lack of accomplishments (although I know she has accomplished a lot), or her lack of wealth as reasons for her condition. I have always known differently, though. The person who appears to “have it all” can be in just as much pain, if not more, than the person who doesn’t appear to have much. Just like the person who has nothing can have far more joy than the person who lives a privileged life. Depression doesn’t discriminate. It came for Robin Williams the same way it has come for my mother, a Black woman raised in poverty who spent her entire life working hard and sacrificing to raise good kids. It comes for anyone, really.
One thing I have learned over the last few years is that there is only so much you can do to help someone who is in the process of restoring his or her mental health. When it comes to depression, there is one thing I just cannot do for my mom. I cannot take away her pain. Through medication, counseling, and a few serious conversations with God, I think that people who suffer from depression can start to see a way out from under that heavy burden. It’s a never-ending battle I would not wish on my worst enemy. I see my mother try to fight it daily, and my deepest hope is that she wins.
So, because of my biggest fear, and the painful truth that the women of my family have suffered, I don’t take my happiness for granted. I am incredibly grateful. I know that happiness doesn’t just happen. We all work at it. But so many people find themselves stuck, unable to manage the pain. Working at it becomes too much.
I stand by my mother’s side, knowing that I want her to live. I stand by her knowing that this damn depression is really trying to win this battle, and we just can’t give up. And I stand by her knowing that although I deeply fear facing this battle that she has been facing for years, the rational part of me knows that I don’t have to suffer the same way. And if I ever find myself face-to-face with this beast called depression, I will be ready and equipped to fight the good fight, because watching and supporting my mother through her personal battle is turning me into a spiritual warrior. I thank her for that.