Today has been designated World Mental Health Day by the World Health Organization. And the theme of this day is “Depression: A Global Crisis”. And with no good segue, here is my own discussion on that, in two parts, unequal in length, alike in their importance.
Part the First
A Canvas Of The Minds was born with the express purpose of discussing mental health, of raising awareness every day, in the best way that we knew how: through the voices of many individuals dealing with mental illness. Two of us had an idea we thought was good, and through the efforts and work and contributions of all the incredible people who have consented to write with us, and with the amazing support of all of you who have read, commented, subscribed, promoted, and encouraged us, we are doing all we can to make every day a day of mental health awareness and education. So while I of course acknowledge how important having a day around the globe focusing on the impact of mental health on everyone’s lives is, perhaps coming from us, it is more rightly a day of thanks. From where I sit, it is especially a day of thanks to all of my wonderful co-authors who share so much of themselves. And I suspect I won’t be overstepping if I say from every single individual involved in this project, it is a day of thanks to anyone reading this, all of the people who give our writing a feeling of purpose and meaning.
Part the Second
As far as my own mental health, and spreading awareness to the very few who still don’t know my story, the first of the most important conversations I will ever have finally happened.
I spent the Sunday before last with my Babygirl (I’ll make this part as short as possible for those of you unfamiliar). I have no children of my own in any way conventionally recognized. What I do have are three girls whom I call the ‘daughters of my heart’. I entered their lives technically as a paid caregiver: a nanny, a baby-sitter. In reality those girls had me, heart and soul, before they were born; and they will have me as such until I take my last breath. Babygirl is the oldest, she will be 13 in a couple of months.
When Babygirl was born, and shortly after, entrusted to my care – those were the golden years. They were the happiest of my life. There were many days I know I woke up not wanting to face the world, not feeling I was able to. But I got out of bed every single day for that girl, and I don’t remember any day being anything but pure joy. She filled my life with an incredible love, as she did anyone who came in contact with her. We were meant to be together, fated from before we ever knew each other, and she left no room in my heart or my head or my life for the depression that had before touched me. I can’t say that I was stronger than depression, but she sure as hell was.
But by the time she was in school, I already had reason to be grateful that she had good parents who weren’t me. My mental health declined severely as I no longer had her around full-time. I reached a point in these years where I saw her rarely. It killed me, but most of the time I couldn’t find a way. And I knew that it was better not to let her see the hell that I was in. It was hard for the grown adults who loved me to be near through the pain and confusion and horrors of my search for sanity. I wasn’t going to expose my precious girl.
Well, about seven months ago, I got well. It’s strange to put it that way, as though I just recovered with the snap of my fingers, poof! like that. It isn’t quite right, you don’t get over years of incapacitating anxiety, panic attacks, and PTSD with the wave of a magic wand. Certainly bipolar disorder will be along for the duration. But in a lot of ways, it does feel like magic to me.
And all that time, through all of these years, I knew conversations would need to be had. For a long while they were off in the mists of Someday. But I’ve been seeing my Babygirl much more often, and in so many ways she is quite grown up, and sooner or later I knew we’d have some serious talks about why I changed, and even disappeared for years of her young life.
I was thinking about how the first of these conversations might start, and how I would handle it, and how my Babygirl would handle it as I was driving up to meet her two Sundays ago.
I found out.
Babygirl and I had lunch and went to a movie. Then we wandered around a shop, and at some point in the conversation, which covered so much, I said something about, ‘When I move out (from my parents’ home)’. My Babygirl then asked a perfectly reasonable question for a girl of her age.
“Yeah, why don’t you move out?”
Here was the moment, and I’ll admit my world probably stopped for a good ten seconds. And I stared at her precious, beautiful, innocent face. And then I asked if her mom had ever told her anything about what had been going on with me these past few years. She said no, and I asked if she had ever heard of mental illness or bipolar disorder. She said no again, and by this time I had her full attention, all the sparkly items and all the other people had faded into the background. Because she knew something important was happening. She is one smart girl, and while she never questioned me about why I stopped coming around, and she remarkably never thought it must be something she had done, and even more remarkably never lost faith that I would come back to her, she obviously knew that something was wrong these past years.
And so I told her the truth. The bare-bones, somewhat gentler truth; a five minute introduction to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder. And she listened, and was thoughtful, and didn’t ask any questions, really. I don’t think that’s exactly what she was expecting in answer to her question. All I needed to say was ‘I can’t afford it’. But I think she was glad to know something, finally, after all of these years. She’s been so patient, after all. And I was very glad to tell her something, finally, after all of these years. Because I could tell her my story with the happy ending included.
I know that isn’t the end, it’s only the beginning. I know that she and I will have more talks, she’ll have talks with her parents, I’ll eventually have talks with my other girls.
As I drove home that evening, I did question the wisdom of me discussing it with her without first approaching the subject with her parents. But they’ve known this discussion was inevitable. And I think they also knew that it was no one’s story to tell but mine, and they trusted me to handle such a serious, important matter in the best way. And I am grateful to them for that.
So for me, on this day designated to raise awareness about mental health all across the world, I am paradoxically most grateful that I have begun raising awareness in the smallest, most important corner of my own world.
© Ruby Tuesday and A Canvas Of The Minds 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ruby Tuesday and A Canvas Of The Minds with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
Beautiful post, Ruby. Your talk with your Babygirl will have a domino effect, I’m sure. She will be more understanding and accepting of those with mental illness, and then pass her feelings on to others…….
She would be understanding in any case, she’s a very gentle, accepting soul. But you are absolutely right, and I hope it helps her pass along not only her knowledge and understanding, but never be ashamed of anything in her life. She has ADHD, and while that’s a developmental disability (I think), I don’t ever want her to be made to feel there is anything “wrong” with her.
Oh, and thank you!
Worth the reblog, of course!
What a beautiful story! I especially love the picture of you and babygirl at the end. It tugs at the heart. In some ways, my children are what have kept me from despair. I tried to hide it from them for a long time, but then I realized that my eldest knew something was going on with me – she is a very sensitive soul, and she just got it even though I thought I was doing such a good job of hiding it and protecting her. And then finally I figured it out – why she was worrying was partly because she realized I was worrying. Even animals can pick up on that, so I don’t know why I thought she wouldn’t.
So we did have a brief discussion about depression. And, occasionally, she has seen me cry. And just like I did for her, she comes and strokes my hair and says “It’s okay, Mommy.” She’s only 12, but I hope I am like her when I grow up.
Thanks again for an inspiring story.
Alice, I think you are such an inspiration. And I know that your daughters will think so, too. Like I said, I was lucky that my girls has other parents to take care of them. I never had to worry about how they would get dressed and fed and the states of degeneration they would see me in (and I’m talking stuff that scared the grown-ups). To be a mom all the time and battle depression and everything else – I am in awe of you.
I think it’s very important that we look at each child and tell them something that we know they can handle, but also that is truth. Another of my girls (who is now nine) has a lot of anxiety herself, and the past couple years were so hard for her, because all she ever heard was that I was “sick”. Which was completely true, but so vague that her imagination went to all sorts of terrible scenarios. So one day last year, when I could see that her eyes were especially full of worry, I pulled her into my lap and talked to her a little. I just told her I knew it was hard that I’d been sick so often, and that some people get sick more than others, but that I was never ever going anywhere, I would always be in her life. And wow, the change that took place with those few words was wonderful.
And it’s a good thing your daughter has seen you cry. It teaches her that emotions are normal. I think it’s funny how a parent without mental illness can express any emotion around their child without thinking, but we constantly worry about how it will affect them (and I’ve done that, too). Your daughter is obviously such a wonderful girl, and she will use her love to be more understanding in all her relationships.
I’m glad you liked the picture. It was tricky for me, because I never post images of my children, because, well, they’re not my children. But this one is from years ago and you can’t see her face, so I doubt her mom would mind. I just really wanted to add something to show our time in a way that words can’t, and that one was the right kind of connection (also, while I have hundreds of pictures of her from when she was young, I have relatively few of her and me).
Oh, thank you for your kind words! It can be difficult being a mom, but I think it’s also so important for children to have other caretakers in their lives to love. You can never have too much of that. Not only does it ease the strain on the parents, but it gives the children another point of view, and a “safe place” to air feelings they might not want to with parents. It’s great that you have such a special relationship.
My father has always said it takes a very special person to take on responsibilities for children not their own. I think he is right. Goodness knows sometimes I look at my kids and wonder when their real parents are coming to pick them up.
You are a wise lady. Babygirl’s mom has always said that she loves that my whole family has basically adopted her daughter (my parents long ago gave up on biological grandchildren, and they are delighted with her and my other girls) because the more people in her child’s life who are there to love and support her, the better. There are already a few things Babygirl has “only told me”, nothing big at all. But I’ve told her that she can talk about absolutely anything with me, and I will never tell her parents. The one exception (which she knows) is if it is something I feel is dangerous, and then she and I can talk to them together. But all my girls have (so far) been comfortable talking to their parents about basically everything, which is great. I am so grateful though that I can and will always be an additional “safe place” for them. Lord knows kids can never have too many of those.
Your father’s words are sweet, and they are wise. And it’s funny, because I agree with him wholeheartedly, but I never think that way with regard to myself. I know these children weren’t born to me, but there was never anything like a choice involved on my part. They were my life from the minute I heard the word “pregnant”. Like I said, meant to be. And I’ll stop before I get all sappy and start crying!
Thank you. xoM
I’m happy that you enjoyed. xo
Thanks very much, Miss QB!
Thank you for this great story, very powerful. Sharing in an open way with those around you can be both the hardest and most rewarding experience!
Thank you, Julian, and you’re absolutely right. I think this was a lot harder to talk about in my head than it was when the moment actually arrived, which is often the case!
aaaaaaaaw what a beautiful post. See what you miss when you are too busy being angry?
I’m glad your Babygirl didn’t take it personally and wasn’t jaded by any kind of perceived abandonment. This is most amazing as that is usually not the case. What most often happens is that the child think the adult left because of something she did. They usually blame themselves for the absent adult. It is somehow their fault, because they are bad kids, or too ugly, or too stupid. I’d say her parents did a very good job explaining that it had nothing to do with her. Either that or she’s a very gifted kid.
Lovely, Ruby, simply lovely. Anything else I’d say would be all, “blah blah blah” so just know that I found this delightful. 🙂