The Genetics of Depression


I sit down to write this with a heavy heart.  My beautiful almost 22 year old son is suffering with a major depressive disorder and has spent the last month in a psychiatric ward.  Watching him, I can only hold his hand, but knowing what he is feeling is tearing me apart from the inside out.  I know this isn’t about me, this is about him, but it doesn’t stop me feeling the most unbearable guilt that maybe it is my fault.  My own battles with depression have been passed on to my child.  My own demons are now his demons, because depression IS familial.  The triggers may be different, but the result; the not being able to see any reason to go on, is now his fight.  And he is fighting every day to stay here in this world.  I am so proud of the fact he was strong enough to realise he needed help and came to me, instead of the other alternative; that I may be sitting here writing about his death.  That is almost too much to bear, or think about.

I wrote a piece a year or so ago about the genetics of bipolar disorder and how I wouldn’t have changed anything at all.  But if I could I would take this from him in a heartbeat.  I am a survivor and have survived over two decades with this illness.  He is only starting out in his life and already is facing into it cobbled, with one hand tied behind his back because of the genetics of depression.  I could not imagine my life without him and his brother and sister in it, they are the joy, the sunshine in my life, but I didn’t realise at the time of writing the last piece that I would be sitting here in a years time feeling so utterly bereft.  Life is a crapshoot – he could have ended up with any number of genetic illnesses that I didn’t know as a mother I could have passed on.  The fact that my son ended up with depression makes me feel like it is my fault.  Again, I know it is not “my fault”, but it doesn’t mean I’m not blaming myself for it.  I was diagnosed with post natal depression after he was born.  It never left, instead it triggered my familial bipolar disorder.  My own maternal family is rife with it.  I didn’t know about the extent of it when I became a mother.  And now, I have passed it on.

Depression is an insidious illness.  It crosses all barriers.  It renders all those who struggle with it almost immobile with sadness, despair.  I didn’t realise until recently what it must have been like for my family, my own parents and my husband to simply hold my hand and watch me go through it time and time again when the depressive phase of bipolar hit me.  I have a new found appreciation of their loyalty and support and their pain.  Because that is what I am feeling now.  Pain; pain at watching him, pain at listening to his words, pain at the helplessness he and I feel for different reasons, at the utter lack of control I have to help him.  And the guilt.  I wear that like a cloak.  It is smothering out everything else.  I haven’t shared that with anyone.  Except here, where I know it will be understood.

I am trying to stay strong.  I am trying to push back the corners of my own sadness because going there when he needs me the most is not an option.  I tell everyone who asks I am fine, I am coping.  Inside I feel like I am falling apart.  But I don’t have that option.  Not right now. I put one foot in front of the other every day and when I visit him I paint a smile on my face and chatter about the most banal normal everyday things, I actually want to slap myself.  I am ‘hugger’.  I hug people.  When it is time to leave I cling on to him as if it will be the last time.  Leaving him there every day over and over is the one of the hardest things I have had to do.  But there he is safe.  And I walk through three locked doors and don’t look behind.

And I pray.  Which is kind of funny because I’m not a believer in a higher being of any faith.  But I have prayed to have this lifted from him.  I pray and feel guilty and drag myself through every day as I have done for the past month, and I will continue to do that till he is out.  But then what?  I don’t think I’ll ever sleep soundly again.  I know this is about him.  I know he is the one suffering here.  So why is it that I feel so damn guilty all the time.

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