Sixth grade. I’m watching a sad movie in the living room with my mom on a weekend night, after not having done much the entire day besides laying around and watching movies and reading.
I’m feeling a way I’ve never felt before: hollow, emotionless, tired, unmotivated. Am I sick? Is there something wrong with me? Do I need to go to the doctor? I can tell something is off, probably wrong with me, but I don’t know how to describe it.
“Mom, do you ever feel like you don’t even exist?” I ask from the armchair across the dark living room, “like you’re there, but you aren’t really there?”
You can probably imagine the response I got. The “what is that supposed to mean” and “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you, you’re probably just tired,” kind of response. I knew it was more than that, even if I was tired, but I gave up trying to explain myself because I didn’t think I could.
Fast forward a year and I’m in the 7th and 8th grade musical. We have practice almost every day after school, and I’m one of the background actresses. I come home around 4 or 5 one day, I don’t even want to eat dinner, which is not remotely normal for me. I head straight to the basement to take a nap on the couch – something I’ve never done before. I never end up falling asleep, however, but we start talking about the possible things that could be affecting me enough to make me act unusually.
Am I being bullied? No. (TBH, I am the bully, but I don’t actually realize that until I’m far past middle school. Sorry I was always such a bitch to you, Katelin.)
Am I super stressed? No. I love going to musical practice.
Did I have a fight with one of my friends? Nope.
Do I have a fever? Negative.
So what could be wrong with me? The only thing that comes to mind resulting from symptoms like fatigue, loss of appetite, and feeling like I don’t exist, of course, is anemia.
I’m eventually taken to the doctor and they do some blood tests and get the results that I am not anemic. Hmph. Then what could it be?
Luckily, my spacey feelings come and go infrequently, so we let it go until about the 11th grade when I got my first boyfriend, who was a total asshole, which ended up being much more dramatic and stress-inducing than the Disney Channel screen romances had me thinking it would be. My self-esteem plummets, my anxiety skyrockets, and my anemia really acts up. I’m irritable and mean, and begin having panic attacks.
After having a few panic attacks over the course of a few months, which leave me curled up in a fetal position needing someone to hold me, I finally go to the doctor and I’m diagnosed with depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I’m put on medication, and things get a bit better. After about three years, we change around my medications and I feel much better.
So, why am I telling you about all of this?
If you’re not familiar with the beginning signs of depression or anxiety, it’s going to be confusing when your kid tries to explain what’s going on in their brain. I mean, just take a look at how I tried to explain myself. I had no idea what it meant to be depressed. I thought depression was being really sad after something bad happens – and I come from a family in which depression and anxiety flow like boxed wine on girl’s night – I didn’t even find out that I had an uncle (that I had met in my childhood and since forgotten about) that committed suicide due to mental health issues.
If you are familiar with the symptoms, maybe you or your spouse live with depression or anxiety (in one of their many forms), talk to them about your experiences and get your foot in the door for the future if they would ever start feeling wonky. High school physical education teachers that are forced into talking about the body’s developments and sex with teenagers avoid confronting mental health like I’m avoiding using the cliche “like the plague” right now.
Once all is said and done, if it turns out that your kid has been kissed by the Depression Fairy (who I imagine only wears dirty, oversized pajamas and has a face that resembles a female sleep-deprived Steve Buscemi), make sure they have access to the resources they might need by working with them. Talk about the possibility of medications (even if you don’t think it’s the best answer or it didn’t help you personally), and make sure they know how to access their school’s guidance counselor.
Depression isn’t easy and it sure as hell doesn’t come with a manual. I’m speaking from my experiences, because I still look back at the moment I realized that I was depressed a few years after trying to explain myself that night, and think about how much time we would’ve saved (and consequently a handful of anxiety attacks, mood swings, and full-on freakouts that could’ve been avoided if tackled early on).
So when your kid comes and tells you that they feel like they’ve been absorbed into the sky and are watching themselves live out their lives from 25 feet above, know that they might not be on drugs – they might just be depressed.
Kara Richards is a twenty-something overly-confident introvert that gets off on canceling plans with friends and making her own versions of Cards Against Humanity. She’s the kind of person that still uses the email address she made in the 7th grade and thoroughly enjoys talking shit on others in her second language. You can find her extremely-posed selfies and travel pictures on Instagram. You can find her most recent writings on Mom Trusted Choice.