Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Situational Depression

In response to my post yesterday about rapid cycling, Marja suggested that perhaps I should have started back a bit more slowly. And it was a good recommendation. But what I realized last night was that my relapse was situational. At lunch, my son (who's starting the University of California at Berkeley next week; having been accepted for the spring semester), asked me how I decided upon my major and made subsequent career decisions.

As I was trying to explain what happened, I felt overwhelmed by sorrow (although I tried not to show it). As some of you know, I experienced my first depressive episode four weeks after I started Cal (the same school he's attending). And because I was a mid-semester graduate from high school (they did that in those days--at least in California), I began college in April (two quarters after the June graduation class had started). In those days, there was no freshman orientation for mid-semester students. With two quarters under their belts, it seemed like everyone else had made friends, shared common bonds, and learned to cope with common difficulties before my small class arrived.

While I begged my son (when he was accepted for January rather than September) to consider whether this was what he truly wanted (three other universities had accepted him in the fall), Cal was his first choice. In anticipation of a delayed start, we have set up some safeguards, visited the campus a few times, and he's got some people to talk with should he need help. They also have a welcome week.

But, still I am a nervous wreck (although I'm trying hard to mask it). As I send him forth, the horror of my first undiagnosed depression (which occurred 40 years ago) looms in the background. Although I thought I had made peace with it, it's clearly there--hidden beneath the surface and causing enormous emotional turmoil (which I'm working overtime to overcome) so that I can share his excitement and provide motherly support.


JayPeeFreely said...

I can relate to reliving a moment years prior via another person. It does things to you that may not seem "normal" but I believe it is just a mental response well learned by our lower, instinctual brain. We are protecting ourselves even though it is something someone else is going through!!!

With other difficult situations feeding into those feelings, it is probably more than a certainty for you to have that cycling.

I think in early 2001, I was rapid cycling (more than once) during a period of 3 months. And I had no one that listen to me at all. I felt so much worse than I could bare at times...and it only got worse - as you know.

Staying engaged with others is the struggle for you, I think. (IMHO.)

Syd said...


Do you think what you're experiencing now is flashbacks to your experience as a freshman and the major depression that resulted, or do you think its transference of a fear that he may face a similar experience when he gets there? Or are you already missing him so much that it hurts?

Perhaps it's not relevant which it is, because I know that what you're feeling is very real, regardless of the root cause. But I ask because it seems to me if you're more concerned about what may (or may not) happen to your son when he gets to school so late in the school year, it might help to try to focus on the plans/resources that you mention that you have in place to help him should he need help when he gets there.

You are a wonderful mom and I know that you've given your son the skills that he'll need to do well on this exciting new adventure. As wonderful as your parents were, they surely could not have known the potential challenges you'd face starting school so far into the year. But you and your husband do, and I know that you've done everything you possibly can to prepare your son for what to expect. And, I know he knows that if he has issues or concerns, that he can come to you knowing that you'll understand because you've been there.

It's hard letting our babies go, even under the best of circumstances, and no matter how old they are. It's even tougher when there's only one baby there in the nest for so long that's finally leaving. But I believe that our most important job as parents is to prepare our children to go out into the world, and I KNOW that you've done that for your son. He'll be OK and you will too!

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Once again, JayPeeFreely and Syd, you are both so thoughtful and caring--and each in your own way--have given me food for thought!

JayPee, I can't imagine how terrible it was for you to rapid cycle and have no one listen. It truly is unbearable.

I remember the first time I shared my feelings about my college experience with a therapist--who actually asked me a follow-up question. Over a span of 20 years, four therapists and a psychiatrist had ignored the story as if it were unimportant.

This therapist listened, and said nothing. I was devastated.

I finally wrote her a note and said, "I felt as if I were drowning and you sat and watched me die rather than offering me a life jacket."

Syd--I realize that my parents were totally unaware of what I was feeling. I have tried hard to teach my son how important it is to express his emotions--even the frightening and disturbing ones.

Hopefully, just the knowledge that it's as important to be able to share sadness, disappointment, and distress as it is to share success, happiness, and joy--will be his saving grace.

I'm also hopeful that should he need advice, the people with whom we've developed relationships, will provide guidance and support.

I'm willing to let him go--and I agree that our job as parents is to prepare our children for independence.

I'm only sorry that I have been sick for so much of my son's life. When it comes down to it, I believe the example we set (or don't set) is more important than the concepts we try to teach.

Unfortunately, my illness and its impact on our lives saddens me so deeply that the pain is palpable.