I’m 52 years old [ugh, there, I said it] and I just had an epiphany about a scene I had with my father when I was in high school. I was struggling with depression, but nobody knew what that word really meant back then. Nobody thought of it as a disease, it was just a character defect or a sign of moral weakness. It was the 1970s, and Prozac wasn’t even a gleam in its inventor’s eyes yet, and even if it had been invented, no one would have let their kid take it because admitting that your child had a mental illness meant admitting that you had utterly failed as a parent.
Anyway, my father thought I was being ridiculous, and I cried and yelled at him that I was sick, that I needed someone to help me, please take me to a psychiatrist or something, just get someone to help me. He said no, that if I was mentally ill or emotionally disturbed that I wouldn’t be able to cope with school. I was a straight A student, therefore nothing was wrong. He was the one in the family who made those kinds of decisions, so that was that.
I’ve always thought of that outburst of mine as a symptom of my undiagnosed depression, and I’ve kind of forgiven my father because there was just no way he was equipped to deal with that. And I have certainly always thought of that as one of my darkest moments, my judgment clouded by brutal sadness. But it just occurred to me today, this morning, that it wasn’t, it was actually a moment of extreme clarity—in fact, under the circumstances, it was a moment of almost impossible clarity—because I saw depression for what it was, a deep hole I could be helped out of, not a grave.
The moral of this story: When I say never give up on yourself, I mean your whole self, even your past self. Don’t forget yesterday’s struggles, even though those memories are painful. You may realize some day how strong you were back then—and that memory is precious because you may have been the only person who knew just how strong you were.