Trigger warning: substance abuse, depression, suicide
24 years ago today my mom made the brave choice to stop drinking. At 10 years old, I did not understand the impact that this would make, or what it would mean for our family’s future. I had no idea that my mom had a drinking problem. I have a few memories from my childhood of my mom drinking, but she was really good at hiding her addiction from me. She was really good at hiding her depression from me. My mom was what some people would refer to as a “high functioning alcoholic”. She had “high functioning depression”.
I have high functioning depression.
In the last years of her life, my mom was very focused on being an advocate for people in recovery, especially women in recovery. She was an advocate for many things throughout her life. She shared her story with others who needed to hear it. Although she was active on Facebook, she didn’t use social media as a big platform. The people who knew her story were people who lived similar ones, who could nod and agree when she talked about things that she did or things that happened before she stopped drinking.
I am also an advocate, especially for mental health, but I sometimes feel like a fraud. Over and over again I have said that it’s okay to not be okay. That taking medication is part of treatment and it is nothing to be ashamed of. Going to therapy is nothing to be ashamed of. And while I am not ashamed that there have been times where I am not okay, that I take medication, and that I go to therapy, I don’t feel like I deserve it. I don’t feel like I’m sad enough. I am really good at hiding my depression, at being a high functioning depressed person. So when I talk about it, I think that people won’t believe me, or that they will think I am just seeking attention.
A year ago today I called my mom. It was one of the last long talks we had. I don’t remember everything we talked about, but there are two things that stand out to me about that conversation. One was that I called her purposely to congratulate her on her sober anniversary. She was so happy that I acknowledged it, and I told her how proud of her I was, and how glad I was that she had made that choice 23 years prior.
The other was that I didn’t tell her that I had just started on depression medication, and that for the last few weeks I had been wishing that I could figure out a way to just stop existing.
I still struggle to talk about my own mental health. To almost everyone, I appear to have all of my ducks in a row and to be a very happy go lucky type of person. I wear a smile most of the time, I laugh, make jokes. I talk to friends and coworkers, I am social, I think people would say that I am fun to be around. For years, though, I was struggling inside. My depression came in waves, and because of that it also came with anxiety. And because it came in waves, most of the time I was pretty much just fine. Or at least it appeared that way. I honestly didn’t even realize that I really was depressed until I started taking medication.
Anti-depressants, therapy and the support of my friends and family saved my life, just like the decision my mom made 24 years ago to get sober saved hers. She may not have gotten any drunk driving tickets, ended up in jail, hurt herself or anyone else, but her life and the lives of the people around her was absolutely affected by her drinking. I might be living a very different story myself if my mom hadn’t gotten help and gotten clean.
Thanks mom. I’m still so proud of you. Today I celebrate your sobriety, but also a year of choosing to face my own depression head on, and 500 days alcohol free.