Friday, January 14, 2005

For Norah

At lunch a few months ago I asked you how you were, and after a long and thoughtful pause, you decided to tell me. You decided to tell me how sick your daughter was, how the terrible monster of depression has stolen her from your family. You tried to keep it light, but I could see how contrived this was. Perhaps you weren't sure I'd understand, because not everybody does. But Norah, I do, and so I listened without telling you why I understand.

I so wanted to share my experience with you, to say, "Oh me too, don't worry, I get it." But I felt it would take too much away from the honesty and intimacy with which you were speaking. There's a fine line between sharing in a conversation and stealing from one, and I decided not to cross it. But I promised myself that one day I would tell you, partly to thank and honour you for confiding in me that day.

I understand because I've been there myself. Depression is rife throughout my family. One relative in particular has dropped right off the family tree. She's completely nuts, thinks everybody's out to get her, that she's the only "normal" one, and eventually she cut off all ties with the family. This broke my mother's heart - my mother, who has struggled with different doctors and different pills for nearly 20 years. She understands too, Norah. And while she's doing her best to get better, she isn't there yet.

I know that your daughter's illness won't end when she leaves the doctor's office with a prescription, because mine hasn't. That's really where the journey begins, isn't it? The "anti-crabby" pills (as I called them) helped me feel stronger and rational and able to get out of bed, and eventually I felt I didn't need them anymore. That was four years ago, and so far, so good... but I'm watching. That monster might return one day. Maybe it already has - I haven't been quite myself lately. Things that I've always enjoyed are boring, even distressing me these days.

I've made certain choices in my life to try to keep me healthy. I don't have children, I work in a sector that I believe in, and do work that I find meaningful. I limit my contact with my family. I hope you and your daughter can find what works for her, and that your family will get through this. If it helps, you seem to be giving her everything she needs. And I hope to someday tell you this in person, because this just isn't good enough.