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Jun15
2017

The Girl With the Antidepressant Past

By Liz Petrone

This post originally appeared here.

One of the things people most remember about my mother was her laugh. It started in her belly and seemed to bubble up and overflow out of her mouth, a loud and sometimes alarming guffaw that she could still pass off as lady-like because she was so gorgeous. Her laugh was the thing of legends, incredible and contagious and mentioned over and over in the first weeks after she took her life. “That laugh though,” people would say to me, and I would smile, nod. Yup. I know.

You would think it would feel weird to remember someone who died of depression for their laugh, but I’m finding grief isn’t as black and white as all that. There’s room for both sides here, and the other side is big too. Because while it’s true that my mother had a great laugh, it’s also true that she was bitterly unhappy almost all of the time: diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety disorder, coping with addiction and, eventually, suicidal. Not many people knew, even at the end, but the closest of us to it have a hard time recalling when she seemed genuinely happy.

And that scares the crap out of me, since I have inherited more than just her belly laugh. I also share the propensity to melancholy (at my best) and depression (at my worst). By the time I was 15, I had already dabbled in more than my fair share of therapy and joined the one in six Americans armed with a script for a psychiatric drug. I’m better at coping now, but crowds still make me anxious and solitude makes me lonely and insomnia has as of yet been my most faithful bed partner. I know the pull of the darkness, and I’ve spent my share of time broken and praying on the bathroom floor: Please don’t let her story become my story.

So you’d understand why I’ve tried to become an expert in my own happiness. And it’s not hard. I know what brings me joy like I know the back of my (mother’s) hands.

There’s the big things: my babies and my husband and my tribe and my career and my writing. There’s the sun shining through the freshly cleaned, smudge-free window, the sound of a new bag of potato chips being ripped open, the moment of cracking the binding for the first time on an unread novel. There are new sweatpants and old sweatpants and all the sweatpants in between. There is dark chocolate with mint and realizing I can still do a cartwheel. There is stepping into an almost-too-hot bath and payday and the smell of garlic and onions sautéing in butter. There are the days my pants look hot on my ass and the moments I pause to catch my breath after a long run and my sweat runs right down my nose and I catch it with my tongue.

I could go on. I’d say this is good sign, that I―the girl on antidepressants―could go on, but I won’t. Because the reality is these are simply moments: beautiful but fleeting, and I know that too deep in my soul to be able to comfortably rest in it. And anyway, if these moments are supposed to keep us happy all of the time, it can’t help but beg the question that I’m not sure I want to ask: Why weren’t our moments enough for my mother?

So I’m not buying it. I mean, sure, these moments string together into a necklace that glitters so prettily in the sun that it’s easy sometimes to forget the other side, but not for long. I don’t think I can build a suit of armor against sadness and depression and genetics with beads of happiness strung on a string. I know that life isn’t black and white like that. And if depression is the black and utter joy is the white, then maybe it’s in the in-between where the colors are, where I can find sorrow and joy often coexisting right in the same moment.

Where I live most of my life.

And I think if you cracked our chests open and all our pieces―the broken and the whole, the good and the bad and even the ones we tried to hide―spilled out of us the way my mother’s laugh spilled out of her mouth, it would make the most incredibly beautiful rainbow.

So what’s at the end of my rainbow? I don’t know yet. Life is going to be hard sometimes. I might still break. I might, again, need medication, and there’s not a single ounce of shame in that. I can’t fathom a future where I won’t need more therapy, and I need family and my tribe and my community too to lift me up when I fall. Because I will. I know this, even as the edges of the grief start to dull and happiness glitters when the light hits it just right.

The truth is my story―and it is mine, not my mother’s―isn’t over yet. Let’s just say I’m cautiously optimistic, at least today.

Tomorrow remains to be seen, but I know the colors will be beautiful.

Liz is a writer, blogger, teller of stories, believer in truth, and mama to four. She shares her stories on lizpetrone.com and all over the internet and recently finished a sloppy first draft of her first book. She can also be found on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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Comments (5)

  1. Kate

    This was beautiful and meaningful to read. Your story is so powerful. My mom died last May of an accidental overdose (mixing pills and alcohol) and I’ve lived my whole life in fear of ‘becoming her’. We shared many traits. My mom also had a loud and ringing laugh and although she couldn’t beat her demons ultimately, there were times she lived in joy. This story of yours is a reminder that I don’t have to accept or succumb to the same fate. That I can fight by grabbing those joyful/painful moments and realizing that they are exactly where I need to be- that they are life and I am alive. That is a gift, even when it hurts.

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  2. Amy Stine

    This is so beautiful. I wish I had the right words to say. Thank you for your story.

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  3. Christine

    “but crowds still make me anxious and solitude makes me lonely” this is me. I have been diagnosed with clinical depression and tend to go on and off meds as my health coverage exists or not. I also have GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) which makes doing anything scheduled difficult – appointments cause me to have panic attacks, and getting up every morning to be to work on time cause intense anxiety – for which I am not currently on any meds or able to afford help. My Mother too had the same issues, COPD/lung cancer took her from us about 5 1/2 years ago, but I find myself recognizing my Mother’s issues bubbling up more-and-more and worse than hers ever seemed to be (though, who knows, she, like me, internalized everything possible thing probably making it all much worse). I like that you can list what brings you joy, I think a few years ago I might have been able to create my own list but right now is one of my super-low times so seeing joy in anything at the moment is nigh-on impossible. I hope to one day be able to name some things that bring me joy again, I look forward to the day when I can look back on this time and see how bad it was but that I was able to get through it all and come to another, better, place.

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    1. Becky Ebert

      Christine,

      We are inspired by your ability to be so honest, to find happiness within yourself for others, and to have hope for your future. You are beyond worthy of hope and help. Please know that you can seek out the aid you are in need of. A good place to start is by checking our Find Help page for some local resources nearest you: https://twloha.com/find-help/local-resources/ We also encourage you to utilize the Crisis Text Line. Just by texting TWLOHA to 741741, you will be put in contact with a trained counselor over text message. They are available to you. They are there to help in any way that they can. In addition, you can email us at info@twloha.com whenever you are in need of having someone listen. We read every email and reply as soon as we can. You are not alone. You are so incredibly brave.

      With Hope,
      TWLOHA

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  4. Tara

    This is so beautifully written. This speaks volumes. I cried. I don’t think I’ve ever cried reading anything except perhaps hurtful texts from my exes and a poem at my grandmothers funeral.
    Thank you for your courage and your beautiful mind.

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