Growing Up With a Depressed Parent

Written by Arianna Belluardo

TW: mental health struggles, depression, anxiety, parental neglect, paranoia.

I know that reading this might benefit some and possibly hurt others, if this is not meant for you, please do not go on, protect yourself from potential triggers.

It took me a while to be able to tell this story. A while ago, I remember thinking that the day I would be able to do it, I would be officially ready to face the outside world. Well, as it appears, that day has come; or at least the day I will try. After six years of therapy recently came to an end, this is my first step towards full recovery. 

As almost every kid neglected by their parents, the repercussions of said negligence keep echoing in my everyday life, especially when those memories that I tend to forget start revealing themselves. When I laugh and say that I do not remember much of my life before age 14, I am not trying to brag or get compassion, I sincerely have few memories. When I started connecting the dots of those few memories that I had, I just, honestly, remember an angry kid, who did not find pleasure in doing anything, had no interests, and just wanted to watch TV all day. Derealization and depersonalization are not only frequent in children who have undergone serious trauma, but also in kids who grew up with a depressed parent. Of course at the time I had no idea what derealization was.

I do make a lot of jokes about that time that I ate a whole bag of raw spinach because there was no food at home, or that time my mother had a paranoia attack and wanted to give away my cats, eventually decided to renovate the whole house instead, which ended up with me sleeping on the couch and studying in the kitchen for six months.

On a serious note, during my childhood (this I remember), I felt incredibly alone. Firstly, because when my mother told me that she was depressed (I was 11 or so, rather old to just discover something so important) she also asked me to not talk about it with anyone, because she was convinced that my dad would request exclusive custody. Which, by the way, maybe he should have requested.

Secondly, I did not think there was anyone around me who was able to understand how I felt. My mother’s depression was treated as something as bad as leprosy; something that should not be named, talked about, sometimes my friends would not even believe me when I told them I had a depressed mother.

As a child, my mother was to me the best woman in the world. She was a single mom with a kick ass job, I would see her leave the room to work so beautifully dressed, and I would just wait for her to say goodbye to me after she put her makeup on, I loved her makeup.

My mother had been my role model, and I said to myself that all of the crying that I went through because she was never by my side was worth it, because she was a career woman, and one day, I would be just like her.

As my father often said “the world has two kinds of people, the ones that live to work and the ones who work to live”, my mom, she lived to work.

Known on my dad’s side of the family for being a stacanovist, with little regard for husband or child, my mother hated cooking, earned more than my father, and often did choose her job over me.

As a child, I never blamed her for that. As a teenager, I did. As an adult, I still do.

Even though my dad tried to be there, and he certainly was a good parent, he made his own mistakes. As I started middle school, my grades started getting lower, I was facing bullyingboth from my classmates and from my family. I stopped studying, started telling the most convoluted lies and became what could be identified as “a troubled kid”. My dad, who realized the gravity of the situation, started being the bad cop and wasted the quality time he could have spent with me to make remarks, yell at me, and say awful things that I have no heart to write on paper.

However, at least he tried. My mum, on the other side, completely ignored me. She clearly did not understand the situation.

To my mother’s side of the family, I was the rebel kid who never obeyed her mother, who had control over her, who was undisciplined, and failed to live up to her potential. This was all I heard during my whole childhood, even my appearance was never good enough. My hair was never the right shape or the right color (the reason why I started dyeing my hair at 13 and never stopped ever since). The body hair on my arms was too much for such a young kid, and my body was described as too chubby, not fit enough, and my belly too big for a girl of my age.

On all of those occasions, one would think that my mother was somewhere else, probably minding her own business, but no, she was there, and never said a word in my defense.

On one hand, I was a rebel kid who no one could tame, but on the other hand I was the most disciplined human alive, what my father wanted, I did.

In the end, on both sides there was no space for me to be sad, cry, or be angry without being yelled at or gaslit, no wonder why I have issues connecting with my feelings.

A lot changed when I was about to get to highschool, as, on a holiday with my mother in Milan, she had a huge crisis. One thinks about depression as just laying in bed in the dark for days, maybe weeks. That is part of it, but it can also sometimes be extreme activity, huge fear, and paranoia. My mother had only a few severe attacks of paranoia, but they were so intense that I still struggle to talk about it. The first one was, as aforementioned, in Milan. She got mad at her own family for pointing out how negligent she was towards me (that was the only time my mother ever stood up for me), later on she stopped working for months and gave an ultimatum, if I did not start to take care of the house she would give my cats away. So, like that, I started highschool. I slept on the sofa for two months, had my mother around me all the time checking whether I was studying or not (and then I started to want my lonely days without her presence back), with an ultimatum standing over me. In the meantime, I actually enjoyed being in highschool, started studying and got closer to my dad. As I stopped lying, he became much softer with me and we started having at least a few things in common (to this day, I do believe that we are almost the same person).

My relationship with my mother, on the other hand, slowly deteriorated as she started forgetting things (probably due to medication), having more and more severe depressive episodes, which left me wondering if she even wanted me around at all. I was very lonely, and very angry.

At age 17, I had dreadlocks (yes, I know), which I had to cut after three months because my mother had a second paranoia attack, much stronger than the first one, in which she was convinced that I had lycees and forced me to cut my hair, otherwise I was not allowed to go back to school. In what I remember as the worst period of my life she threw away most of our bedding, used liquor to disinfect her hair to kill the lycees (which of course, none of us actually ever had), and used a disinfected needle to pinch her skin because she was sure that she must have had lycees under her skin.

After that episode, I moved in with my father, and almost stopped having any relationship with my mother.

To this day, after three years, I have forgiven my mother. It took me having a diagnosis of depression myself to understand her. I know she was not perfect, she made many mistakes, and she was not a good parent most of the time. The mistake we (because I made it for most of my life) often make when dealing with someone who has depression, is to analyze them rationally, and sometimes even blame them for not behaving like we would do. Depression however, is something actively happening in your brain (I will not explain it because I am no doctor), and as we would be a bit more patient towards a parent with a physical illness, we should learn to grant the same patience to the ones dealing with mental health diseases. They do not act in a certain way because they do not love us, they act a certain way because that is what they can do. 

My mother has never stopped loving me, and never stopped showing up when I was desperate, even if I had called her names the whole day before, or if I had disappeared and not answered her calls in months. My mother tried, she did her best, and that was unfortunately not enough. In the end, I still deeply care about her health, and in my own complicated way, I still see that curly haired woman with her cheeks red from makeup who would walk out of the room and be my absolute hero.

Edited by Margaux Marzuoli, artwork by Chira Tudoran