It’s no exaggeration to say that I have lived with depression almost my whole life. My first memory of feeling deeply depressed was back when I was less than five years old.
I know that because my father was still living with us. He left when I was five.
We were on our way to visit his parents at their pig farm.
I loved that pig farm. It was a small farmhouse that must have seemed crammed to the rafters with children when my dad was growing up, seeing as there were seven of them.
It nestled at the side of a dirt road and a small river down a little incline from the house streamed over the land and under a tiny cement bridge.
On one visit my grandfather took me by the hand to introduce me to the pigs. My favourite was one he’d named Arnold, after the intelligent pig on the old tv show Green Acres. Grandpa’s Arnold was smart too. He’d come when he was called and was very sweet.
Then there was “the old sow” kept in a pen in the barn. Standing before the pen door it seemed to tower over me. I never saw the sow but she rammed that door as I was standing in front of it and scared the daylights out of little me.
I remember whenever we went to the farm me and my brothers ran to the bathroom to check on the bathtub because that’s where grandma and grandpa kept their minnows for fishing in the little river. There were always live little fish in there. It took me a while to realize my grandparents must have showered with the fishes.
There was fun around every corner of that farm and every time we went there was a party because all the family that still lived nearby would come around. The beer would come out as would a fiddle or two, a guitar, a banjo and my Aunt Ruby would play the piano.
But during the car ride to the farm one time, I started to think about Grandma. About how old she was, and that she was fat. Actually she wasn’t that big of a woman and not overly heavy. She had the extra weight of added years on her but it was probably more muscle than fat.
Anyway, for some reason, ruminating on her like this started to make me feel deeply sad. I decided that I didn’t want to see her. I didn’t want to go into the house. I didn’t want to be on this trip at all.
When we got to our destination my three brothers and my sister piled out of the car with our parents but I didn’t move. Back in those days we had a station wagon and there were no seat belt laws like there are today, so I was sitting in the back of the wagon.
When my parents tried to get me out of the car I didn’t say anything. I just shook my head no. So they left me. I’m sure they figured I’d follow them in soon enough. Then my grandmother came out, arms outstretched wanting me to go to her and get a hug and go inside. But again, I just shook my head no, all the time feeling this sadness all through myself.
I don’t know what could have triggered that episode. I don’t know how long I stayed in the back of the car. Probably not overly long, it was summer time and hot and it had been a three and a half hour trip after all.
From that point on depressive episodes became a regular part of my life.
So this condition, this illness, can strike at you at a very young age. Knowing what I know I have kept a close eye on my daughter for any signs of depression.
When I was in psychotherapy years ago in Toronto my therapist told me that too many teenagers were going without medications that could help them deal with the crushing depression that often accompanies the teen years. In her words, there’s no reason for teenagers to suffer the way they do.
I took those words to heart, knowing what I went through as a child and a teen and, like I said, I keep a close eye on my daughter for signs she may need to go on medication. So far all I’ve ever seen is a pretty normal level of angst associated with growth and changing hormones.
If you have a child who seems to be showing signs of depression please don’t blow them off. It’s very real and it was just as deep and cutting then as it can get now. I’m not saying I should have been put on medication way back then but it was definitely an indication of what was on the way for my future.