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Dear Mom

Dear Mom:

I’m writing this letter to you, but you will never see it. I am not going to send it to you; I am posting it on my depression blog. That is because to a large degree, I suffer from depression because of you. That may sound harsh, but I believe it is true. I believe I inherited depression from you, in three ways.

First, I probably inherited a genotype for susceptibility to depression from you. Looking back, I think it’s safe to say that you were dysthymic (experiencing long-lasting, mild to moderate depression) most of the time I was growing up, and you probably remained so for many years after I left home. If you were ever treated for depression back then, I never knew about it. I do know you have been medicated for major depression just in the past few years. Dysthymia is the form of depression I have had the most experience with.

Second, I learned a lot of depressive behaviour from you. I learned an “I can’t” attitude. I learned that being sick could get me out of my responsibilities. I learned that being sick could get me attention. I learned to live my life through what I read about the world instead of going out and experiencing it. I learned to be irritable a lot of the time. I learned how to make people tiptoe around me for fear of upsetting me.

Third, you didn’t let me be close to you. As a result, I still have trouble being close to people, especially women, and I think this emotional detachment contributes to my depression. When we kids were little, you were able to console us when we scraped our knees and needed a band-aid. When we got bigger, though, and needed emotional support, you weren’t so good at that. Perhaps I sensed that you were barely emotionally strong enough to keep yourself going, let alone have something left over to support me, so I rarely went to you for support. More likely, I sensed that you wanted to be left alone, and remembered the times when you could not hide your irritation with me. Do you remember sitting on the edge of the couch with your face in your hands, saying (in front of your children) that you wished you could crawl into a hole and die?

You were not emotionally available or approachable. Your and Dad’s black-and-white religious views and high level of certainty about many things did not make either of you people I wanted to share my own developing views with. I wouldn’t have dreamed of going to you with any of my problems. I withdrew from you and Dad, because of your rigidity and my fear of bothering you.

I learned to be independent. That doesn’t mean I didn’t need you. It means I didn’t get what I needed from you and I learned to do without. I needed the experience of loving and being loved by someone. I needed your attention, your encouragement, your approval and appreciation of who I was. I knew you loved me, but that didn’t seem to do me much good. I still have a hard time loving someone in a healthy way and letting someone love me. I have an especially hard time asking for what I want in a relationship.

Do you remember the game we played when I was small? I would come to you and say, “Mommy, I don’t like you…”. You would pretend to be sad and cry. After a couple of seconds of keeping you hanging there, I would finish, “… I love you!” You would instantly become happy and give me a hug and kiss.

Do you remember how many years I didn’t say “I love you” to you once I was bigger and after I had left home? Do you remember all those phone calls where you would say “I love you” and I would say “Okay. Bye.” Did you notice it when I said “I love you” for the first time in years? It was probably about twelve years ago, twenty years after I left home. Lately (including today when I called you), when you say “I love you” and I say “I love you too,” you reply “Good”. Do you doubt my love for you? I wouldn’t blame you, after all these years of my sending birthday and Mothers’ day cards late, or not at all, and phoning only every few months.

There were also many positive things you taught me and the girls. You made sure we all knew how to cook, clean, do laundry and mend clothes. We hated it at the time, but as I have remained single and have lived alone most of my adult life, I appreciate having these skills now. At the time, you said you did this because you thought you might someday have to stay in hospital for an extended period. Were you afraid you would be hospitalized for depression? I was aware of your being medicated for anxiety, but I’m not sure if you were ever diagnosed with depression or treated for it back then. Perhaps both our lives would have been different if you had.

I don’t blame you entirely for my depression. All of the recent talk about hockey players’ concussions contributing to their later depressions makes me think the concussion I got at the end of high school didn’t help. A child’s experiences with his parents determine only so much, and the rest is up to the child himself. A lot of my personality is just me and did not come from you. Responsibility for what I have done in response to my early experiences is mine.

It has taken me a long time to be able to let go of the past and feel compassion for you and Dad. I’m still working on it. I was pretty angry when I was a young adult, but much of that anger has now dissipated. When Dad died almost three years ago, more than anything else, I felt sorry for him. I felt sorry that he had worked so hard and never had the life he wanted. Sorry that he had never acted on his dreams. As for you, Mom, I think you have had an unhappy life.

Did you and Dad do the best you could? I doubt it. I think people rarely do the best they can. I think I rarely do. We do what we do. You and Dad did what you did, whether it was the best you could or not. I don’t see any point in saying these things to you; I think that would only hurt you. My job is to move forward. At least now I can tell you that I love you. I hope that makes you happy.
Love,

J

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