I Couldn't Understand My Mom's Struggle With Depression Until I Became a Mom Myself

Senior Woman Hugging Adult Daughter

I had a pretty good childhood growing up. Even with my parents' divorce when I was 5, and financial setbacks that happened way too often than I liked, still, I have some pretty sweet memories. While I'm a professed daddy's girl, I'm also close to my mom -- but that relationship took some repairing over the past few years. 


Several years ago, my mother was diagnosed with manic depression. That was so hard for me to believe at the time. My younger sister and I were completely dumbfounded and didn't know how to react. While the first couple years were extremely rocky and complicated, we, as a family, tried to make sense of this new normal.

Prior to my having kids, there were times when I wondered what the heck my mom was doing. Why is she making these random decisions? I would constantly ask myself. Looking back, there were times when my mother was on cloud nine, and other times when you wondered if she was going to lose her mind.

Things took a turn for the worse (for the first time) back in 2002. When I was fresh out of college, my mom started acting weirdly and later checked out -- like went missing. Frantic, I turned to my father, a retired police officer, who did his best to help me locate her. Thankfully she turned up at my apartment a couple of weeks later, but she offered no excuse or explanation for her actions. A few years later, the same thing happened -- only this time, she was gone for close to a month, missed the news I was engaged, and found herself inside the psych ward of a hospital.

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To say I was angry would be an understatement. I was pissed. At the time, I thought my mother was the most selfish woman in the world, who gave up on life and didn't care how it affected her child. I didn't understand it, because I couldn't make sense of what was happening.

Well, all that quickly changed.

While at the hospital, my mom spent time with a doctor who medically diagnosed her as having manic depression.

Yeah, right. (Seriously. That was the only thing that went through my head when I heard the news for myself.) Thinking back to my younger years, I felt like the woman whom I called mom and the person now in front of me weren't the same two people ... at all. And yet, I still refused to believe that my mother had depression.

After all, how many of us hear people throw that word around on a daily basis? Bummed about your day? You might be depressed. Feeling down on your luck? Yeah, it's likely depression. It's used so much and sadly has the power to mask the struggles of people who are truly suffering in silence -- and sometimes don't even know it. (Like my mom.)

My mother and I walked on eggshells around each other for a while. No one wanted to agitate the other person, and both of us were confused about what my mother's new diagnosis meant. But as the saying goes, time heals all wounds. Soon, I started to see my mother in a new light -- because now I was a mother, too.

It's funny how the "mom lens" causes you to look at life differently.

I always knew my mom had an identity outside of being a parent, but when I became one myself, that picture became so much clearer. Rather than look at my mother's past decisions as how they affected her kids, I looked at her for the woman she was, and the struggles she was fighting in secret because she didn't want her daughters to be ashamed of her.

Obviously my mom knew her past behavior wasn't normal (or healthy), but she could never put her finger on what it was. And even though she had to hit rock bottom to find out, her lowest point allowed her to shine a light on a dark area my mom says she's carried with her for decades -- and start fresh.

I'm so thankful to say that my mother is better than ever. Years later, she attends counseling when needed and gets the treatment she needs. Even now, my mom still tries to make sense of her past by trying to provide me with some sort of clarity -- but it's not necessary. I've also tried to apologize for my reaction in the past and for not knowing what to do or how to feel. As you might've guessed, Mom said it wasn't necessary as well.

More from The Stir: How My Depression Has Made Me a Better Mom

Motherhood has opened my eyes to so many things I don't think I would see or understand without kids. Yes, my mother was hurting, but I'm talking about the lengths she went to in order to hide that pain from her family -- even if it meant running in shame. For a parent, there are certain parts of who you are that you try to hide from your kid. And, in efforts to doing everything we can to provide for our children, sometimes we miss taking care of ourselves. That, in turn, can create an avalanche of issues in the process.

My mother is an amazing grandmother to her toddler and baby grandsons. And she also happens to be an amazing mom.



Image via Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

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