I’m an Everygirl, and… this is what I learned from my mother’s depression.

When I was seven years old, my mom and I were on a roadtrip to my oldest brother’s college football game. I was studying my mom’s face, acknowledging that she never smiled. It made me mad, so I asked her why. She just looked at me and shrugged. That’s my first clear memory of resenting what I later learned was my mother’s depression.

My mom’s depression manifested in a variety of ways. She would wake up to get us off to school, but when we got home in the afternoon she’d be asleep in the dark basement bedroom. She’d then get up to feed us dinner and head straight back to bed.

The first playdate I went on made my realize just how different my mom was than other moms I knew. I vividly remember my friend’s mother asking us how our day was, what we learned that day, and what we wanted to do that afternoon. I recall the tears that stung my eyes in that moment because my own mother never asked me these questions. I felt sad and ashamed of how different she was.

The more time I spent with friends’ moms, the more hurt I felt by my own mother’s apathy in comparison.

The more time I spent with friends’ moms, the more hurt I felt by my own mother’s apathy in comparison. I grew painfully aware of the birthday parties she never threw and the meaningful conversations that never occurred.

As children, my brothers and I fought for the little attention that my mother offered. We ached to be near her. When she was awake, we wrestled each other to sit on her lap or hold her hand. When she was asleep, one of us slept by her, just to feel closer. After a while, I gave up — it hurt too much to keep fighting for her attention.

I began coping with my mother’s emotional neglect by imagining my future. When she hurt me, I envisioned how different I’d be as an adult. I viewed my mother as someone who gave up — on herself, and on us. Instead of fighting for joy or meaning, she dwelled in darkness. But I’d be different. Witnessing her complete and utter despair instilled in me a deep devotion to light and life that’s so resolute, it’s life or death. Her imprisonment made me that much more committed to choosing life and freedom, and to be the mother I ached for my entire life.

I’d live with passion and enthusiasm. I would care about the details. My children would never doubt my love for them nor the importance of their every interest to me. I would be successful outside of my children; I wouldn’t rely on them for my identity. I would make an impact on this world. I’d create my own path and design my life exactly the way I wanted it to be. I had no idea how I’d go about this, but I held no greater conviction than to live a life opposite of my mother’s.

I was failing classes, sleeping 18 hours a day, and isolating from anyone that cared about me.

By the time I entered college, I had very high expectations for myself. But as my first semester persisted, I realized the cycle of depression didn’t stop at my mother — it creeped into my own psyche as well. I began fighting my own battle and, at times, it crippled me. I was failing classes, sleeping 18 hours a day, and isolating from anyone that cared about me.

I was so terrified that my genetic predisposition had already decided my fate that I pursued help like my life depended on it because, in my mind, it did.

I made an appointment with the university’s wellness center and spent months figuring out the right medication and dosage. I surrounded myself with positive, supportive friends, narrowing my circle to only those people who inspired me. I gave a voice to my childhood experience, and worked on releasing the shame that I carried from my dysfunctional upbringing.

With the help of professionals and supportive friends and family, I’ve realized how critical it is to my mental health to do fulfilling work and have hobbies. I make sure to set firm goals for myself and to always keep my mind engaged. Fitness also plays a massive role. Running marathons, competing in bodybuilding competitions, and becoming certified in Pilates all serve to make me feel strong and capable.

I still feel shitty sometimes, but no matter how shitty I feel, I find strength in the life I’ve always dreamed of for myself. This vision gives me resolve. It makes challenging decisions for me prior to meeting them. I fear mediocrity in a way that many face fear of risk. Surrendering is not an option — I’ve seen that surrender and I’ve watched a life stolen by the capture of depression.

My mother’s depression taught me that we are on this earth to live fully and with joy. Of course, life can be beyond hard at times. But no matter the circumstances we’re given, we have the power to make our life what we want it to be with the right vision, dedication, and commitment. That’s why I’ve never stopped envisioning my future self. It has always been, and continues to be, my guiding light.

My own hardships made me realize that my mother’s mental illness was not so simple.

I’ve been married now for 10 years and we have adopted three children. Having gone through my own mental hardships to get to where I am today made me realize that my mother’s mental illness was not so simple. She didn’t have the resources I have. She didn’t have a support system — my father was hard on her, diminishing her self-confidence. She had my oldest brother at a very young age, and she didn’t have the opportunity to go to college and create an identity for herself. She suffered in silence, without options, and it breaks my heart to think that she carried that burden alone.

Today I know that my mom loved my brothers and I very much. She kept us safe. She worried about our future and wanted us to be happy. My childhood experience is mine to claim, but I have tremendous compassion for the pain she endured and the subsequent strength her pain provided me. It’s a compassion that I hope my children will carry on for us both.

  • Sydney

    Thank you for sharing this, your compassion for yourself and your mother is beautiful and hard-won. My mom struggled with depression and anxiety until I was in my early 20s. I’ve learned to more deeply appreciate life after living through both her struggles and my own depression.

    • Brooke

      I’m so grateful that you could see the love I still have for my mom. I’ve been nervous that I just come off as disrespectful. It is tough to want to share your story but not hurt your parents. Thank you so much for your support.❤️

      • Nurit

        You illustrated so so well how much you grew in your understanding of your mother. It’s easy to feel compassion as a reader because of the way you tell your story and hers.

  • Rebecca L

    The way you took something very negative from your childhood and used it to propel yourself forward is very inspiring! It can be so difficult to prevent your family’s unhappiness from infiltrating your life – you have to fight for it and it seems like that’s exactly what you’ve done. Thank you for sharing story!

  • Archana

    Thank you for sharing your inspiring story.

    • Brooke

      ❤️❤️

  • Capri Price

    “I fear mediocrity in a way that many face fear of risk.” Holy moly I’ve never read something that resonated with me more. Such a good article- thank you.

  • allison

    While we all have very different childhoods, upbringings, and perspectives, I feel like the author jumped into my heart and brain and wrote this. Thank you. My mother also suffers from depression, and has for most her adult life, and I stopped reading and tried not to cry as I read “I would be successful outside of my children; I wouldn’t rely on them for my identity”. The day I got my drivers license, my mother told me years later, was the worst day of her life (um, thanks mom) because it meant I wouldn’t need her anymore. At 17 I, obviously, could care for myself, could cook, had a part time job, and now a license, and didn’t rely on her for everything and she started retreating and decided then, she didn’t need to be a mother anymore.

    • Brooke

      Your experience is interesting to me bc my mom’s depression has worsened significantly as my brothers and I became more independent. Its beyond disappointing when a parent gives up. I don’t know if you have kids, but my relationship soured with my mom when she decided to not fight her depression and be a part of her grandkids lives. My brother told me the other day, “you just had to lower your expectations of mom, she’s never going to care. you can keep talking to her, just know what it is and be at peace with it.” I was so upset walking away from that convo, it’s my mom! If she really doesn’t care, then why would I keep hurting myself? Do you know what I mean? I’m 31 with 3 kids, just waiting for this to get easier, and sometimes I think it’s going to be a raw wound forever…I hope you have more resolve with your mom. Thank you for your support.❤️❤️

      • mmschock

        I have a very similar story. My mother is now not really part of our lives at all, even after significantly lowering expectations. Sometimes you have to know when to call it and distance yourself, especially when you have your own children.

  • Lianna

    “My mother’s depression taught me that we are on this earth to live fully and with joy. Of course, life can be beyond hard at times. But no matter the circumstances we’re given, we have the power to make our life what we want it to be with the right vision, dedication, and commitment. That’s why I’ve never stopped envisioning my future self. It has always been, and continues to be, my guiding light.”

    Preach, sister!

    Thank you for being brave and writing this. I relate to this so much and it is powerful to read. It has been difficult to feel frustrated at not having more love, attention, and encouragement that I perceive other people to have, which builds their self-esteem and propels them forward. It can feel like a unfair disadvantage at creating a wonderful life.

    I also balance this with compassion like you talked about. My mother did suffer because of patriarchal social norms, she didn’t have the right resources to prioritize her wellness and actualization. Somehow she learned that her purpose on this earth was to take care of everyone else, and that depleted her.

    I too find strength in that we learn the skills of joy and empowerment from scratch, by ourselves, from the ground up. We own that knowledge and journey in a way that some people will never understand. I have learned that you can only give as much as you have. I’m fiercely committed to my own wellness and expression first and foremost, and then I can give that to others.

    Let’s keep envisioning and building hope for the next generation of women!

  • Nurit

    What an incredible article, thank you. I was dealt a blow of depression in college and post partum. I love your idea of a guiding light. Having expectations for yourself, but compassionate ones. Your compassion for your mother is incredible. Thank you for this piece!

  • Nurit

    Also, I’m so happy the I’m an Everygirl series is back!!

  • Brooke, your compassion for your Mom and yourself is beautiful. I also came from a background where my Mom suffered from a severe form of bipolar disorder. As I grew older, my personal struggles, Depression and anxiety, and life in general helped me also gain more of an understanding and bigger picture perspective. My Mom and I have a wonderful relationship now and she has over the years been able to really stabilize her condition with improved care. I agree with you, things were different 20-30 years ago and the care and support wasn’t there as much as it is today. Thanks for sharing your story, you’re amazing and have a beautiful family.

  • Lauren

    Thank you for sharing your story. This really hit home and gave comfort knowing that my family wasn’t the only one who shared this expirence. Some of the stories you mentioned were ones I remember from my childhood about my mom’s depression. Again, thank you for sharing!