April 28, 2020:
"...many depressed mothers simply fail to respond to their children: they are unaffectionate and withdrawn."
— Andrew Solomon, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas Of Depression (p. 180). Scribner. Kindle Edition.
My mother's depression was one of many outcomes of the severe abuse she suffered as a child. For much of her childhood she was locked in a closet by a violent step-grandmother who appears to have been schizophrenic. As humans do, she learned to love her prison, withdrawing into her imagination to create fantasy worlds and romantic scenarios. She became so habituated to imaginative withdrawal that her entire life down to her final breath was simply a larger version of her closet. She was uncommunicative, inward, undemonstrative, antisocial. She wanted to smoke, read fantasy novels, watch sci-fi on TV, and not be interrupted.
I have not a single memory of her helping with my homework. "Look it up in the encyclopedia," she'd say, crossly and emphatically, meaning, Don't pull me out of my head. She bought the encyclopedia for that purpose. It was a boundary marker delimiting her circle of self-isolation, a signpost reading, DO NOT DISTURB.
The most success I ever achieved in encouraging her to engage with my life centered on food. I returned from university in love with restaurants. Let's get Chinese! Let's get Mexican! Let's try Indian! Let's get the fuck out of the house and be part of the world. The latter motive disinterested her entirely. But she became enthusiastic about cuisines. Dinners the three summers I was home were the most time we ever spent in each other's company, ever.
She denied being depressed. Late in her life I recited the list of typical symptoms: sleep disruption; eating disruption with significant weight gain or loss; disinterest in keeping environment or person clean; social isolation. She answered: "I'm the most socially isolated I've ever been and I'm not sad at all." Entirely missing the point, granted she was never going to accept that or any other point which came from me.
Her death was suicide by passivity. She knew the cigarettes would kill her. She was fine with that. She lasted 21 years after her first heart attack, an astonishing run considering the average is about four. She died in her bed, and, I suspect but can't know that it was deliberate. It's easy to picture. She feels the heart attack, knows from experience what it is, instead of calling 911 she gets into bed, pulls up the covers, lets herself die. Even if she died in her sleep unawares, it was her depression that killed her.