Thief of Memory

Most people know about the usual symptoms of depression. The malaise, the inability to enjoy things, the trouble sleeping, so on and so forth. Those who don’t suffer from it might not know about one of its more insidious traits, though. It steals your happy memories. When you’re depressed, you can’t remember ever being happy, even if those happy moments happened while you were depressed (and happy moments do happen during depression, paradoxically: they just have to be really, really intense).

Depression has stolen perhaps the most precious of my memories: those of the first few years of my child’s life. I suffered from severe post-partum depression, and have suffered from clinical depression since then (as I have for most of my life, yay). Consequently, even though I know that there must have been happy moments during those first three years of my daughter’s life, I can’t remember them. I can’t remember most of her moments of discovery and delight. All I can remember is being tired and sad and angry.

I should be able to celebrate those years. Instead, I’m grieving them. And it makes me feel like dying, in part because I know that being so depressed and angry made me less of a mother than I should have been. Not only do I get to grieve the loss of memories that I should be able to cherish, I have the added burden of guilt at not being the best I could have been.

I’m not saying those years were a rose garden. Raising our daughter was very hard. She was a very needy baby and toddler who required a lot of care and attention that stretched both mine and my husband’s personal resources to their very limits. I had a right to be stressed out. But those memories were mine, and I want them. I hate wishing I could go back because I missed so much, because now it’s too late. Regret must be one of the most horrible of human conditions, because it’s pure torture.

I wish I could come to a place of peace regarding these things. I spent most of my life as an undiagnosed bipolar. My moods were often beyond my control and a source of great confusion and stress to me. It’s not my fault I was that way. I still have to live with the aftermath, though. Such is the story of my life. “Sorry kid, this isn’t your fault, but you get to clean up the mess.” Thanks. I’m not sure how many more unwanted messes I can clean up. Every one gets a little harder to deal with, gets a little harder not to just sit down in front of and say, “I finally give up.”

My one source of comfort is that I don’t appear to have damaged my child, which either means I wasn’t as bad as I think I was, and/or she’s more resilient than I think she is. I had to look through the photos from those first few years, just to jog what few memories I do have. She was a happy baby, and is a happy kid, despite my deep flaws. She knows exactly what I think of myself as a parent (which may be a mistake), and says she thinks I’m great and doesn’t care what I think. I try to accept her praise without invalidating it with my abysmal self-image.

Still, those photos fill me with a deep and profound sadness for what I’ve lost and will probably never get back, not unless I can someday defeat this thief of memory and perhaps get back what was stolen from me. I will also have to learn to forgive myself for my shortcomings, whether they were my fault or not. I talk big about compassion when it comes to everyone else, but I seem to have nothing but criticism for myself. I fear the thief will never leave until I have forgiveness for myself, and I just don’t know how to do that. I feel like I failed at the most important job in the world. All I can see are my mistakes, and every new one just reinforces that old, deep-seated feeling that I’m failing this precious creature.

Depression isn’t just a thief of memory: it’s a thief of hope. Hope that I can overcome the past; my own, and my family’s. Hope that I will ever be able to stop beating myself up for every tiny little perceived transgression. Hope that I will ever really be happy.

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