I can’t remember getting depressed. It didn’t appear out of the blue. I simply, over one long hot summer, stopped being who I thought I was. Depression is like that I find. It creeps along, quiet, unassuming, and often unnoticed. For something so ambitious and uncompromising, so relentless and persistent, the efforts it adopts to appear unknown and unseen before it systematically lays siege to your mind are really quite remarkable. Maybe it deserves a prize?
No one knew I had begun to struggle primarily due to my age. My parents referred to my teenage years as ‘that funny age’ – I initially thought they meant funny for me, they certainly felt funny to me (and intense, confusing, full of angst and seething blackheads) but I believe they meant for themselves. Funny didn’t mean amusement, or humour. I wasn’t keeping them entertained with jokes and hilarious anecdotes of my great adolescent ‘life and times’, funny simply meant anything I did (or didn’t do) could be filed under ‘it’s just a phrase’ and ‘does not need to be taken at all seriously.’
One day, which I remember vividly, I came home from school, and threw myself down onto my bed, sobbing uncontrollably until my face felt stiff from tears. I had no idea what the matter was except everything felt wrong inside me and I felt all out of shape. My brother – so thin if you turned him sideways he disappeared – sat in his room playing a computer game, heard me crying and crept, somewhat apprehensively, across the landing to peer around my door. Upon seeing me, he thudded down the stairs, shouting ‘Mum, mum, there is something wrong with Henrietta, she’s screaming her head off in her bedroom.’
My mother, always in the kitchen, with a piping hot dishcloth and a bottle of Domestos, trying to blitz anything and everything she deemed remotely suspicious, came thumping up the stairs, and grabbed me by my head. ‘What is wrong with you?’ she shouted in my face. Upon being asked what the matter was all my thoughts; the ones that rattled about in my brain, a sort of odd assortment of broken sentences – some with just their beginning, others without their ends – all fell away, as if a mental precipice had presented itself and they all took a running jump.
When I couldn’t identify the cause of my incredible sobbing and distress, my mother became visibly annoyed. One always knew she was angry by her thin pursed lips and the gradual increase in hand moments. My mother steadfastly believed only others could put her in bad mood; the idea that one of her own moods could have been mixed up and made messy by very own self deemed quite unthinkable. With an firm shake of her head – her hair being curly and wiry always joined in, giving an impromptu lift for additional emphasis – she told me to pull myself together, have a wash because a pink, tear- streaked face didn’t suit me and to join her downstairs for a cup of tea and a ginger nut biscuit.
Mother believed cups of tea could cure everything from a broken leg to the plague and that any form of emotional distress could be eased with a spoon or two of Tate and Lyle, the quantity of the white stuff dependant on the level of impairment involved. ‘It’s just your nerves’ she used to say to anyone who appeared upset while she flicked the kettle on and dusted her best china cups. When I went downstairs, she switched off the radio and gave me a cup of milky tea, and two biscuits on a saucer. At some point she decided this simply wasn’t enough, so rushed away and returned with a chocolate bar, then watched me consume it all, staring at my eyes to see if my wayward tears had been forced into wearied submission.
I became used to having to play along. Keeping everything pushed down and hidden so others could go about their day pretending they knew everything especially that I was ‘at a funny age’ and therefore nothing to worry about. Mother couldn’t deaol with emotions, and she certainly couldn’t deal with depression. My brother, three years older than me, found most emotions terrifying, especially if those said emotions sprang uncontrollably from a hysterical girl’s face and my father didn’t have any emotions to speak of – he had pushed them down so far, mostly they ceased to exist and when they did pop up occasionally, we were all as surprised as him.
Unfortunately, the things we ignore often become bigger the longer they are left to pile up. One can be left with a whole different person living inside them who they cannot let breathe and certainly cannot let out. Importantly, although on the outside, everything may have looked perfect, neat and thoroughly respectable – I went to school, achieved half decent grades, completed homework on time and rarely got into trouble – and mother had tried to bleach anything and everything she disproved of – inside me a storm brewed and in my case, at my so called funny age of fourteen, it made me try to take my life.
It certainly wasn’t anyone’s fault. I don’t think many things are so clear cut, so easy to apportion blame, so easy to understand. It’s not like bleach, not at all sanitised, instead messy and complex and hard to unpick and the only thing I really know, now, the most important thing of all is that I am glad I never succeeded and that I am also quite lucky to be able to think this.
Teenager years are hard for teenagers and equally as difficult, at times, for parents, too and they are funny. I have a teenager daughter, we have some hilarious times together as I expect you have, too with your wonderful kids but we still need to be aware that funny to us, might mean danger up ahead for them.
© Copyright Henrietta M Ross