This post is part of a serial blog. Please see previous post: Prologue
Whenever you work on your genealogy, you always start with yourself and work your way backwards. I don’t want to dwell a lot on me, other than to say that my life thus far has been comparatively trauma-free.
My parents were married for over 50 years until the death of my father parted them. They were not addicted to drugs or alcohol. They did not have screaming fights. My father held down a steady job; my mother stayed home with the children while making a name for herself as a children’s author.
I am white, so I was not subjected to discrimination.
I am female, and fortunate not to have been a victim of sexual harassment or assault. Also, I am attracted to the opposite sex, so did not have to face coming out, homophobia, or marriage discrimination.
I am able-minded and able-bodied, so getting around in everyday life (in that way) was not a challenge.
I grew up in a small, safe city in America where no bombs rained down on our neighborhood. I always had enough to eat, a roof over my head, my own room, a family and friends who cared about me.
In fact, I am so privileged that there are a host of other things that aren’t even in my scope of consciousness for which I could be grateful.
And yet…I suffer from depression. It started around puberty. At times the sadness is so profound that it feels like my soul is being squeezed and wrung out so hard that there will be nothing left but a dry, lifeless husk. It hurts; it feels like I swallowed a giant jagged boulder. I feel heavy; moving around from room to room is too much. Everything is such an effort, even breathing. The only relief is crying, and once I start I cannot stop. If I am alone in the house I sob and wail until my eyes, nose, and mouth are swollen; until my sinuses feel packed with concrete and my head throbs. It is not pretty. When I get into this state I cannot go to work or attend to anything around the house.
Other times the depression just feels like I’m dead inside. I don’t feel like crying, but nothing interests me. I don’t care what’s on TV. I can’t read a book. I don’t care to carry on a conversation. I certainly don’t want to participate in any social activity. I drag myself through each hour and each day and wonder what the point of it is. I wonder if I will ever care about anything again.
But, then I’ll hit a stretch of days when I feel good. I’m interested in things. I can talk to people. I can read a novel, watch a movie, enjoy a night out with friends, clean my house, go for a walk, make plans for the future. I get really excited that this will last, that I’ll be able to sustain this way of living. Inevitably, it doesn’t last long and the no-energy, apathetic attitude returns. Or the sadness and crying.
And the guilt! I have no right to feel this way! Nothing bad has ever happened to me! There are other people who have things so much worse than I do! I should be ashamed of myself for carrying on like this. Pull yourself up by the bootstraps and just push through!
I understand that clinical depression is a disease, different from situational depression. I understand that it is not always, if ever, brought on by situational events. I understand that it is caused by a faulty recipe in the chemical soup in my brain. And to further complicate matters, the hormonal chefs and the weather chefs and the moon phase chefs and the situational chefs and the thought chefs are constantly throwing in a pinch of this and a handful of that. Sometimes I can be stuck with the same unpalatable dish for days or weeks on end. And that scares me.
Of course, there are many medications to treat these symptoms. For many years I was completely against any and all of them; I witnessed my mom and sister use and abuse them, and you will see how that turned out. I believed that my inner voice and fortitude could control my attitude. Just smile and you’ll get happy.
After about fifteen years of this not working, I don’t know why I was so shocked when I broke down in a doctor’s office and, after he abruptly left the room mid-sob, returned with Prozac samples.
“What?!??” I remember wailing. “You think I’m that bad?!”
“You are obviously depressed,” he said to me, and explained how he felt the medication could benefit me.
At the time, Prozac was a new drug, and one my sister and my mother had not been on. So maybe it was OK to try it. I was desperate.
I was also stupid – – stupid that I hung onto the attitude that depression or mental illness medication was evil, and that depression was a mental battle that could be won by sheer determination and willpower, and that by receiving a depression diagnosis I was being handed the same sentence as my mom and sister. And grandmother. But I’ll get to her later.
Back to the idea of generational trauma.
What if the depression I am experiencing in this lifetime is not really mine? What if it is a result of the trauma experienced by the seven generations who came before me? What if researching, honoring, exploring, and healing the trauma would unlock the secret recipe to our brain’s perfect chemical soup? In other words, what if the chemical imbalances in the brain that cause mental illness are caused by ancestral trauma?
This is the exploratory expedition I am embarking on.