I sit in this lobby – across from them. Mother and daughter – separated by twenty-odd years. And, I surreptitiously watch.
I recognize myself in both of them.
The girl – about fifteen – struggling. Over what? She doesn’t know. I never did. Every day is a struggle. It’s a struggle to just be. Most days the act of breathing in and out is a victory.
For me, it started young.
Me: Mommy, do you ever feel sad just because?
Mom: No, Sweetie, there must be a reason. Do you want to talk about it?
Some children have imaginary friends. Children with depression have imaginary sadness. How does a five-year-old articulate that?
We feel better when we get injured or sick. We are happy when the kids at school are mean and hurt our feelings. Feeling scared is a relief of sorts. It’s in those times our sadness is no longer imaginary. We have an answer to the question – What’s wrong?
The rest of the time we just silently struggle. And I watch her struggle now and I see myself at fifteen.
The mom – in her forties – struggling. Over what? She does know. Her daughter is hurting – her spirit is being damped from within. And there’s not a damn thing she can do. She can’t turn on the lights and make the monsters disappear. They are ever-present and they are in control. They have taken away her motherly super powers.
I didn’t understand my mother’s struggle until I became one myself. As a mother, your sole job is to keep them safe. To love all the badness away. To kiss it better. But, depression doesn’t play fair. It’s a mother’s kryptonite. It leaves you powerless.
It also leaves me terrified. I watch every movement. Evaluate every action. Dissect every sentence. I constantly search for signs. Signs that my son is struggling. I worry I have passed this ugliness onto him. How could I not? He was submersed in it for nine of my darkest months. He must be contaminated.
When he tells me he is hurting, I pray he has an answer to the question – Do you know why? I hold my breath while I wait for his response. Please, please let it be something other than – I don’t know. It just does.
This mother across from me has heard – I don’t know. It just does – too many times. She has watched the struggle behind her daughter’s eyes. She has come here for help – desperate for someone to help battle the imaginary sadness because she knows they are outmatched. It’s impossible to kill a demon you can’t see. She is hoping for a miracle. She wants to look in her daughter’s eyes and see something besides fear and emptiness.
They catch me watching them and see the tears trailing down my cheeks. They think I’m crying for me. After all, that’s why one comes to these places. I give a small smile and a sniff. Turn my head away.
Then, out of the corner of my eye, I see the girl smile and almost – not quite – laugh. Something on her phone has captured her attention. She turns the screen toward her mother – leans in to share. Then they read it together and both laugh – a real one. The mother reaches over and tucks a hair behind her daughter’s ear – a patented mother move – and leans in to kiss her forehead – another mom move. And her daughter lets her. And for a brief second neither one of them is struggling. There is no imaginary sadness. There is nothing bigger than them.
They are experiencing real love and real happiness. And, in that moment, they are winning.
And, once again, I recognize myself in both of them – winning.
For almost forty years, I have had to battle this monster. I fight every single day. Some days he wins, but most days I do. I’ve learned how to outsmart and outrun him. Occasionally, I even overpower him. But, he never leaves. So, I must continually recognize these small triumphs. Find strength in unexpected places and unfamiliar faces. Seek and accept protection in the arms of those who love me best. I’ll never win the war, but I can survive on little victories like these.