Depression helped me truly understand my mom for the first time
Happy Mother’s Day! In honor of all the amazing moms, grandmothers, step-mothers, older sisters, aunts, godmothers, and female role models out there, we’re celebrating with stories of our relationships with our mother figures.
Mother and daughter relationships are a funny thing. Sometimes they are friendly and wonderful. Sometimes they are nurturing and symbiotic. Sometimes they are contentious and volatile.
My relationship with my mom has always been the latter. I never felt particularly close to my mom growing up. It seemed that we fought more times than not and the mother/daughter connection just never seemed to be there. I was a daddy’s girl all the way, and that was fine by me.
My mom is half Japanese. My grandmother met and married my American grandfather when he was stationed in Japan and they moved to United States when he got out of the Army. My grandmother was raised in a very traditional and strictly conservative household, and raised my mom and her siblings the same way. My mom, in turn, also embraced the values her mother had taught her, and passed them down to us. Education is king in Japanese culture, and so for us, focus and excellence is school was demanded. Respect for one’s elders is also expected. I was raised to listen and respect my parents unconditionally. Bad grades and bad behavior just were not allowed in my household.
This led me to grow up having mixed thoughts about my mom and my ultra-conservative upbringing. I was always grateful that she was always around when I needed her, and I appreciated that she was reliable and loving. My mom truly is a great mother. However, that didn’t quite cancel out my anger and frustration at everything else. I resented being so sheltered. I hated not being able to have more freedom. I couldn’t dress like my friends could and I didn’t get to do all the things that they got to do. I got perfect grades and I never got in trouble at school, so for me, I couldn’t quite understand why it felt like I was always being punished and why my mom was always on my case. At times I literally felt as though my mom didn’t like me, which only added to the tension between us.
When it came time to leave for college, I was on cloud nine. I was so excited to finally be able to do whatever I wanted and go wherever I pleased that I couldn’t wait for college to start. My boxes were fully packed weeks before the semester even began and my head was full of ideas about how great being on my own was going to be. The weekend that I moved into my dorm I told my parents that they didn’t need to stay the entire weekend with me. “I’ll be fine!” I assured them, in a rush to get started on my new, free life.
It took me all of two weeks to start missing my mom. Don’t get me wrong, I missed my dad and my brother, too, and I was truly enjoying my college experience, but I felt an ache for my mother that I couldn’t explain. SI wanted to talk to her and to tell her about everything that was going on in my life and I wanted to tell her how much I missed and loved her. But because of the current status of our relationship, I didn’t think I could. So I didn’t call, and things remained the same between us.
Then, one evening that March, things changed. I’ve always struggled with depression. It’s a sneaky foe, depression is. It hits me out of nowhere and knocks my life off balance for days sometimes weeks. Growing up I had gotten used to coping with it, without even fully realizing what it was. All I knew at that point was that sometimes I would fall into the deepest despair, and nothing I did made it better. So, I would cope as best I could, and I would wait for it to go away.
But on that evening in March, it finally got the best of me. Feeling overwhelmed and utterly helpless, sad and alone, I got into my car and took off. I didn’t know where I was heading to, or what I was going to do. I just wanted to stop feeling what I was feeling. I had reached my breaking point. My boyfriend at the time knew a bit of what I struggled with, but he didn’t understand it any more than I did. However, when I took off that night, he must have known that this time was something more.
Worried and unsure of what to do, he called my mom. I was on the outskirts of town when she called me. I had pulled over onto the side of the road, and my thoughts were darker than they had ever been. I was terrified of what was racing through my head. I was confused with the unstableness of my own behavior, and I felt more hopeless than I had ever felt in my life. I just kept staring at the guardrails alongside of the highway, and thinking to myself how fragile they looked. They wouldn’t be able to stop a car from going over the edge if someone was so inclined.
I ignored her calls three times before I finally picked up. My mom’s voice sounded foreign to me. She verified that I was OK, and then, we talked. Just talked. We didn’t talk about anything in particular. I remember mentioning a movie I had seen the other day and she told me how my brother was doing, but we didn’t really discuss the situation all that much. She surprised me that night. I had expected judgment and reproach, but got none. Instead, she got me through that night, and a few weeks later she helped me get the help I had been needing.
I have always appreciated what she did for me that night, but this year, my mom finally told me why she was able to be as strong as she was for me in that moment when I had hit my lowest low. In a tearful admission, she told me about her own struggle with depression. As we sat together, she opened up about her struggles growing up. Her own struggles with her relationship with her mother. How she had been battling depression since she was a teenager, too. That conversation was an emotional one for both of us. For the first time in my life, I saw my mom as more than just a mom. I saw her as a person. A person who was remarkably like me. And for the first time in my life, those similarities didn’t make me cringe. They made me proud.
What started then has transformed into a relationship that is more than I could have ever imagined. My mom and I are more than just mother and daughter now. We are truly friends. When I look at her I see a person who is stronger than anyone I know, and I feel comforted in that if my mom can make it through, so can I. The road to this point has been long and not easy, and even now there are times when old resentments flare up and I still struggle with the past. But I’ve moved past all of that now.
What I’ve learned through all of this is that no matter how much we want to see our parents as superhuman beings who are incapable of making mistakes, they are just people. They are struggling with the same demons and imperfections as the rest of us are. It’s important to remember that our mothers are more than just moms. They are human. They have hopes, dreams, and fears. Just like their daughters do.
Carly Sletten is twenty-something living in Minneapolis, MN. A graduate of the University of Minnesota, she freelance writes and edits. She loves the freezing cold Minnesota winters and spends her spare time trying to write her first novel.
(Image via Shutterstock)