Depression descends by icy degrees. It tiptoes in.

When Mum first got sick it wasn't as if she was pitched head first into gloom overnight. So that one day she was there and the next she wasn't. (Depression steals the very essence of a person so that the one you knew - that familiar smiling, dependable, rock-solid soul - morphs into somebody you've never met before).

No. It's not like that. It's a slow slide down hill as Depression slinks in.

Once its got a toe-hold through the door, it leans hard, its full weight bearing down so that, inch by inch, almost imperceptibly to begin with (at first you can dismiss the tears and the irritation as Mum's Just Having a Bad Day) it begins to make its presence felt. Until eventually it bursts right in and the toe-hold we began with is a long cold, dark shadow cast right across the room.

Depression sits down then and makes itself at home. It leaves half empty cups of cold tea on every surface (were it not in residence, they'd be half full of course) and litters the floor with newspaper sheets. It doesn't seem to notice the laundry basket suppurating across the bathroom floor or the dishes piled high in the sink.

That's why, with its sly and slow unpicking of a person, Depression is so hard to recognize at first. Until you know what it looks like, of course. That's why its inaugural invasion of Mum took so long to decipher. To begin with her lassitude and apparently all-embracing malaise bore the guise of something more exotic, less taxing: tick bite fever, perhaps, thought my grandfather, a doctor. Bilharzia? Or even brucellosis. Our African geography could have obliged with any one of a myriad tropically endemic illnesses which would have been so easily coped with. A course of antibiotics. A week in bed. Tea and sympathy.

But the blood tests proved consistently negative. To all intents and purposes Mum was quite well. Except that, plainly, she was not.

And when the diagnosis was delivered it wasn't a course of antibiotics. It was weeks and weeks and months and now years of drugs to help control her brain chemicals and thought processes. It wasn't a week in bed. It was weeks of wishing she never had to get out of it. And whilst it should have been tea and sympathy, it wasn't that either. It was tittle-tattling and suspicion.

Honestly! What's the matter with the bloody woman? What on earth has she got to be so miserable about: a lovely husband, three healthy children, a nice home ...?

Depression doesn't care who you're married to, or whether your kids are sick or well and it certainly doesn't have any compunction about taking up residence in the most beautiful of homes. Really! It is most indiscriminate in its selection of victims.

I suppose that by the time the diagnosis came, after the weeks of worrying what affliction was plaguing Mum, there must have been some small relief in its delivery.

For Mum certainly, ‘I'm not mad then', she remembers thinking (and some may smile wryly at the irony), ‘I really am sick'.

For me it meant I had something to write in my diary. Something concrete. A paradox. Depression is not concrete. It is slippery and difficult to get to grips with, which is why it forces so many to lose their own. Grip. But writing it down, my Mum has Depression, meant I could anticipate recovery. If you were sick, you got better. Didn't you?

I hope she gets better soon and never gets Depression again.

But that's the problem.

Depression is an illness which lacks the physical element of so many much-easier-to-administer-to illnesses. It's fickle and misunderstood and difficult and manifests itself in different people in different ways for different reasons. And different people respond differently to the different treatments.

There's no hard and fast rule with Depression. No neat prescription for a ten day course of antibiotics, a week in bed and endless tea and sympathy.

Which is sad.

We could definitely do with the tea and sympathy for a start.

About the Author

Anthean Rowan

Anthea Rowan is a British journalist based in Tanzania.

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