Is my mother's condition a recent thing? The diagnosis is, but as to the Depression itself, we really don't know. My mother scoffs at the idea, but also admits that it may have been 'around for a while' but she was 'too busy' to let it consume her. Now she hasn't enough tools to fight it with.
Exacerbated by age, chronic pain and a feeling of not being 'useful', her depression has resulted in an all encompassing desire for death.
It is not easy to know how to respond when your mother says she wants to die. An instinctive "No! You can't die! I still need you, I am not ready to lose you!" is selfish, "Stop being a morbid mother! Tut tut chin up" is likely to result in a fight and "Yes I agree that seems like the best possible solution to the problem" is just flippant. The worst part is that I know my mother means it. It isn't a cry for help, it is a statement of fact. She is ready to die. She wants to die. Dead is better than here.
Ask anyone and they would very likely describe my mother as strong, forthright and honest, with a sharp tongue and fine sense of the absurd.
Many cannot understand how or why my mother has come to be the way she is. They, therefore, come up with theories. Mostly these theories are both useless and intensely irritating. For example, the other day I received a call from a distinctly irate Macaron:
Macaron: Do you know what Aunty Nosey Parker said?
Me: I fear I am about to find out
M: Damn right you are. She asked how our mother was and when I said that she was still rather depressed she said "Darling this is because you and Bouche are still single isn't it? At least Bouche got married once, but you are eternally single no? How can your mother die in peace knowing that?"
Yes......just typical, I could write a whole column about the absurdity of the marriage = happiness equation. Column? Heck, let's make that my first full blown novel shall we?
My mother refuses medication or therapy. The former she says will make her dull, stupid and will 'make me feel better by making me feel nothing'. The latter she scoffs at, saying 'They can't tell me anything I don't already know'.
She lives with two maids in the house she shared with our father, refusing to move in with one of us though we have all offered (ie begged, pleaded, wheedled and whined). On some days she lies in bed all day and refuses to have her hair brushed, on others she demonically sorts, cleans and throws things away, on still others she invites us over, cooks for us, laughs and wears makeup. But no matter what, whenever we hug her good bye, she hugs us back fiercely, as though it is the last time she will do so.
People often say 'But she has the three of you! And three beautiful grandchildren!'. Yes, she does. But people who love you, and who you love, are not always enough. They are not always a 'reason for living', they cannot 'make' you happy.
I once asked my mother how the depression made her feel and she replied 'Think about the worst you have ever felt, and then apply that every day, for many many days in the past, and all foreseeable days in the future'.
The worst I have ever felt? I know exactly when. Shortly after my divorce was finalized, my son left for his first extended period away at his father's house. I was alone, and into my solitude came all the self-hatred I had managed to hold at bay for a very long time. All the terrible things of the past few years tumbled out of the closets of my mind, doors bursting open to reveal every hurt, every betrayal, every indignity. The pain and humiliation consumed me. Killing myself seemed like the only answer. No more having to make the best of things, no faker brave face, no more having to explain, no more pretending I didn't see the pitying glances or hear the snide comments, no more people and their judgments and opinions and lies, no more anything. I found myself standing at my kitchen sink with the knife I considered most efficient for wrist slitting clutched in my hand. A couple of long vertical slashes and it would be over. I would have peace and freedom. I felt incredibly relieved at that thought.
And then somewhere inside me, a small voice whispered 'But what about Trou?'
Trou. My son. The person I loved most in the world. The best of me.
I put down the knife. I lay down on my kitchen floor. I waited till my heart stopped hammering and my breathing evened out.
This isn't a story about how I dusted myself off and bounced back 'boing!' like a rubber ball. It took a lot of love and support and prompting and propping up, but it did happen and I recovered and moved on and forward. But I haven't forgotten how I felt at that darkest moment and when I consider that that is the world my mother lives in permanently, my heart shatters.
Yet, I do not know how to save her, at this stage all three of us are not enough to do it, nor are the three grandchildren we have given her. We cannot save her with our time, our presence, our devotion, our patience, our willpower, our tears, our worry...nothing.
My mother is everything I always wanted to be. I always considered myself her least favourite child, the one who caused her the most worry and heartache, certainly the one she spent the most time arguing with. But my God, she was my hero. She still is. And yet, I hope I will never hurt Trou the way she is now capable of hurting us. By shutting us out, by telling us to go and then blaming us for leaving, by telling us to go and resenting it if we stay, weeping at our generosity one minute and tearing strips off us for our selfishness the next, wanting to see our children and then complaining that they disturb her peace, telling us we bother her with our chatter and then accusing us of never talking to her. It is a confusing, painful, volatile dance.
If you love someone with Depression there is a lot of help and advice and guidance out there, yet, as we have discovered it takes a while to sift through it and discover what might work for you. And once you do, you need to be prepared for it to fail at any time.
If you love someone who suffers from Depression there are many things you will need to be –brave, patient, adaptable, strong, devoted, but most of all you will need to be there for them, ready to stand in whatever spot they need you to.
And love them.
Even when you don't understand them at all.
Even when nothing you do is enough.
Even, and especially, when they don't seem to love you back.
So often, there is nothing I can do to help my mother. But, when her wish is finally fulfilled, I hope she will leave me, knowing, that I love her with all my heart.