By Rachel Kelly, Bestselling, award-winning author, mother of 5
There can be no greater example of the fact that we still need our parents once we have become parents ourselves than my experiences of mental illness.
It all began 17 years ago with my first major depressive episode. It wasn’t that my darling husband didn’t want to help: he did his very best. But he was trying to hold down a job in financial services where he worked long hours and often travelled. It was my mother who lived nearby and who could spend the days with me.
During the acute phase of the illness I was bed-ridden, unable even to get to the bathroom without her help. I had a sense that I was falling, the bed was falling, as if I was hurtling downwards on a crashing plane which never landed. I would grip her hand or arm, literally hanging on for dear life. All I could say was “I’m going to crash!”.
In response my mother would recite a phrase from the Bible: “My grace is sufficient for thee; my strength is made perfect in weakness”. This was a different, more positive mantra. Very gradually, I began to repeat the line with her. There was some point to the illness. My strength would indeed become perfect in weakness.
As I began to get better, she would read aloud longer passages and poems to me as she had done when I was a child. She had always kept a commonplace book of snippets of poetry, prayer and anecdotes that had particularly struck her, entitled ‘Consolations’. I devoured the collection as if it were ice-cold water offered to a parched traveller.
Caring for someone with clinical depression is no different to caring for someone with any other serious illness. There are doctors’ visits to arrange; beds to be made; sheets to be changed. All this my mother did.
And then there is a household to run and children to care for. All the while, unbeknownst to me, it was my mother who had been unloading the dishwasher, filling the supermarket trolley and putting our children to bed. Such was the ferocity of the illness that I had been utterly absorbed in my own battle to survive and had been unaware of the household continuing around me, directed by her.
My father, too, was an unwavering support. Although a stroke had left him unable to provide much practical assistance, his unfailing visits were a source of great comfort. I later heard that he had lamented how useless he felt. At the time, our calm conversations and his gentle squeeze of my hand were lifelines.
Even now that the acute phase of the illness has passed, and I have learnt to manage my Black Dog, my parents remain a crucial source of support. My mother can spot an edge to my voice and a familiar frightened look in my eye. She is the one to tell me to slow down and look after myself: feeling overwhelmed is a sure sign my depression is not far behind.
Rachel Kelly’s memoir, Black Rainbow: how words healed me – my journey through depression, is published by Hodder & Stoughton and is available for purchase on Amazon. The Black Rainbow app can be downloaded for free on the Apple App store and on the Google App store for £1.49. All author proceeds to SANE and United Response.
Follow Rachel @rache_Kelly or visit www.blackrainbow.org.uk