Woman talks about family life with depression
By Jackie Harrison-Martin, Heritage Newspapers
Laura has become accustomed to wiping tears from her mother’s eyes.
She sometimes looks at her and asks: "Are you happy now? Can I see your smiling face?"
At 4 years old, Laura doesn’t understand where the tears are coming from, and sometimes neither does her mother, Danielle.
Laura doesn’t understand that her mother, 33, suffers from chronic depression and there is very little that can penetrate the layers of pain she often feels.
Laura is confused, and in this household, she is not alone. Laura’s father, Ken, can’t help but wonder what happened to the smart, energetic and loving wife he married 10 years ago.
The mystery appears to be within her family lineage. Two of Danielle’s siblings, diagnosed with a form of depression, committed suicide. She also has a sister, a brother and a nephew diagnosed with various forms of depression.
Her first bout with the illness came in her early teens. She spent her 16th birthday in a hospital getting treatment. By that time, she already had attempted suicide.
Ironically, on Friday — the day Downriver industrialist Heinz Prechter, who was suffering from depression, took his life — Danielle was considering the same resolution to escape her demons.
She wrote two letters to her daughter, attempting to explain her decision and somehow ease the devastation she would leave in her wake, but Danielle couldn’t find the right words. No such words exist.
She decided to continue the fight.
News of Prechter’s death was an emotional blow for Danielle. She knew him, but not well enough to know of his battle with depression.
"I told my therapist if someone like Heinz, who could afford the best treatment there is, gave up on his battle with depression, what hope is there for the rest of the world?" she said. "I don’t want to look at another 30 years battling this."
Not only has depression crippled Danielle’s life, but it also has somewhat dismantled her marriage. She said her husband has given up a lot while dealing with her depression.
When she struggles with bouts of depression, he struggles to understand.
"He doesn’t believe in therapy," she said. "He thinks you should take your medication and everything should be better. It doesn’t work like that."
Danielle takes 12 pills a day in an attempt to stabilize her depression. The medication continues to increase as the years go by.
The couple had plans for a larger family, but it is not possible with Danielle on this kind of medication.
She sees a therapist two times a week, sometimes three, at $100 an hour.
With depression so deeply rooted in her family, Danielle and several of her relatives were asked by researchers at Stanford University to be part of a genetic study on depression.
She had to give blood samples and be a part of lengthy interviews — all in an attempt to find a genetic link to depression. Her family is just one of many taking part in the study. Results are not expected to be released for about five years.
Danielle said she believes her depression began over an abusive situation she endured for several years as a child. Even without that experience, she said she believes she still would suffer some form of depression, given her family history.
What scares Danielle the most is that her daughter has a strong possibility of having to deal with depression, too.
On the surface it appears that Danielle has everything a person could ask for in life. She has a loving family, a beautiful home in an affluent area and a professional career. And yet she often cries, has sleepless nights or doesn’t want to do anything but sleep, is irritable and does just enough work to get by.
"I can totally understand how someone who has everything could feel hopeless," she said. "If a person could die from their emotions, I’d be dead right now. If a person could bleed from emotional pain, I would have bled to death."
Danielle’s husband is taking on a new business venture, something else the family is looking forward to. However, she said she hasn’t been there to support him. He often is away on business and Danielle is home shouldering the responsibility of caring for their daughter.
Despite Danielle’s mental struggles, she and her husband have never feared for their daughter’s safety.
"She is what has kept me alive," Danielle said. "I owe my life to her and I treat her that way. She is the only thing worth going through all of this for. I don’t mean to downplay my husband, but it’s different when you have a child.
"I’ve never, ever, thought of physically harming her, but every day, I fear of emotionally scarring her."
Danielle, whose depression is worse than anyone’s in the family, said she is receiving good treatment. Her nephew, who is in his early 20s, is not, she said. She is concerned about him because he is financially less fortunate and can’t afford to get the kind of help she is getting.
Danielle’s therapist has hope for her future — she told her so the day Prechter died. With Danielle is in the midst of a bout of depression, however, she said the therapist’s words were hollow, but that they would take on a more important meaning in the days to come.
Until that time, her husband will have to continue to try to come to terms with the fact that he can’t be a solution to his wife’s suffering.
Laura, little child that she is, will have to continue to be the light at the end of her mommy’s dark tunnel that makes one day worth living through to the next.
Editor’s note: The names of the people in this story have been changed to protect their privacy.