The Splinters Within: When Depression Divides A Family

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Depression is the creeping ivy of the mind. It scales walls and winds around windows. Its grip is clinging and clutching and its dark leaves cast shadows on even the brightest of days. It does not wither and die in the winter; rather, it claims its evergreen status by boasting to the seasons that it can defy each one of them and continue to thrive.

I can’t remember when I last saw my sister. I know it has been years rather than months. I know the sun has set and risen thousands of times over.

I noticed her isolation a long time before I realized the presence of anything else. Slowly, but very surely, she’d stepped back from social events and family gatherings. Excuses were given, often plausible ones, and the gap began to widen. The young woman who had a zest for life was now seeking refuge in the shade.

Hindsight is a belated, taunting gift that affords us 20/20 vision when we look back and see with piercing clarity that which was fuzzy and blurred at first sight. I recognize now that her withdrawal from external activity was the beginning of a journey within that was more wretched than enlightening. As it was, her disengagement happened over a period of time so there was no sudden shocking revelation, rather a slow descent into a lethargy that became a new norm.

There is an age difference of six years between us, she being older than I. When we were younger we argued frequently. I was the annoying little sister that wanted to play, she was the more serious sibling entering adolescence with all its changing landscapes. There was a subtle but definite shift when I turned 16. We started to spend time together, and not just because we were inhabiting the same space. A deep bond developed between us. We shared secrets and stories. We stayed up too late and slept in even later. We loved music and would travel to record fairs together, excitedly finding the vinyl treasures we couldn’t wait to get home and play.

She was my confidante and my mentor. She was my best friend.

There was nobody else in my world that I was closer to during those years and I couldn’t have believed it possible that the sister I knew and loved would one day be unknown to me. Conversational words that were said in the blissfulness of ignorance now seem weighted with a reflective knowledge that perhaps there may be no more words. No more secrets. Just, no more.

I remember I wrote her a poem once. Poured love onto a page. I left it on her bed knowing that she’d see it when she came home from work. She came into my bedroom afterwards, smiling but seemingly surprised. “You didn’t write this” she said to me. “I did”, I assured her “I promise I did”. At the time I thought her disbelief was because she hadn’t believed that the words were mine, that she thought I’d stolen them from the pages of another mind. I think now that perhaps she’d actually had difficulty believing that the words were about her. That she could mean that much to another.

Childhood memories have now taken on a bittersweet recollection. I see past moments flicker before me like images on a silver screen. So exquisitely beautiful yet loaded with a pain I never would have chosen to taste. The part of my brain that is switched on to nostalgia tells me it is wistful for those childhood days. I am aware, even as I put them on, that my viewing glasses of the past are quite probably rose tinted but I want to wear them anyway, to believe that life was once that beautiful hue.

Anger also exists. There have been so many moments of frustration, trying to use rationale to understand emotion, seemingly a futile exercise. When faced with the unknown we can often stay rooted in fear. Unsure of how to process what we don’t yet understand, we have a tendency to cling to what we think we know.

Stubbornness is a family trait that I try now to loosen my grip on.

Her depression, like most, is one that has taken her to a solitary place of confinement. Shutters have slowly been lowered until the light allowed in is minimal, perhaps entirely absent. Calls, cards and visits are not welcome. Attempts at intervention have been thwarted or failed.

I know something of the shadows she sits in. Of a void that occupies my mind from time to time and dulls my senses. I know the surreality of going through the motions without feeling or fear. Only numbness. In tact, yet quite detached.

It’s a strange thing to find yourself in a million little pieces. Bewildering and oddly curious. Looking down at the smithereens of so many parts. Wondering, how? How did it happen and how will I piece myself back together? How might I even begin? It seems too mammoth a task, too arduous a journey.

Truly, I’m not quite certain what I would say if I saw my sister now. After the long depth of silence. What words could be uttered to break the fast of the lost years? What syllables could be said? My childhood friend is an adult stranger.

Perhaps I’d tell her that I’m sorry. For all the things I did or didn’t do. Maybe I’d say I feel splintered inside too sometimes, ruptured and raw. Maybe I’d hug her tightly and let the love seep from my heart into hers, putting the sentences aside, letting everything else slip softly away.

I think of her often. A song, a scent, a sense of déjà vu. Something to send me hurtling back. And then I wonder where she is that particular day. Where has her train of thought taken her to? A new pasture, or an old setting?

I wonder if the rays of light ever filter through into her world, if the darkness is at its blackest on the bright days. I wonder if she remembers the taste of laughter or the embrace of home. Or is it all numb? Nothingness. Spread out like a never ending sea. Not even broken by the majestic crashing of waves. Just flatness with no promise of movement to end the monotony of a sadness with an immeasurable depth.

In my minds eye she remains as I knew her so many years ago. A carefully preserved memory of a time when there was still colour and flair, before the iridescence drained away leaving only an imprint of the vibrancy that she once embodied.

I hope she finds some solace. Somehow. Somewhere. I hope that the ache to peek outside the shutters may one day be a more insistent urge than the crushing despair that keeps them closed.

I hope she makes it. I hope we all do.

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