I think the silence is the worst.

My mother has been ill for almost seven months.

Every now and again, just occasionally, a small bright shard of hope pierces the gloom and illuminates her day and lifts her conversation just a little so that she says ‘oh, I'm not too bad', when I ask, ‘how are you ma?'

Usually though she says, ‘I'm not too good'.

I can't see her face; I'm at the end of the phone, linked tenuously half a world away by some invisible, thin line.

When she is really bad, like now, like this week, for reasons I cannot fathom (what causes the slump from bad to worse? Blue to black?) she loses her voice entirely and I am thwarted in all my attempts to communicate with her.

She will not answer my text messages.

She will not respond to my emails.

She is frustrated by Skype so quickly that all I hear is a hiccupped ‘oh bloody hell', a wet sniff and the sound evaporates. I know she's given up and gone back to her dark lair.

It's much harder to hear a person cry when you cannot see them.

And it is this, this resistance to my pleas for some conversation, some reassurance, the briefest SMS to let me know she's still alive, goddammit, that is the thing that confounds me the most about Depression: that it severs mother/child bonds almost completely unless you persist, harangue, hope that you have the strength to face a conversation where you will do all the talking, a conversation which will be punctuated by her long sighs and - often - tears. And even then you mightn't be rewarded with more than an exhausted, dismissive, ‘I haven't got much to say today. Sorry'.

My children tether me. I cannot imagine avoiding them, evading the opportunity to talk to them (especially when my nearly-19 year old son articulates the desire to communicate more than a few grunts - I am an advocate of communication with teens; I think it helps to tether them too, through stormy, stormy years). My heart leaps a little every time I see my eldest daughter's opener appear on my screen, an orange bordered bubble, ‘hey mom, you there?'. I am. I always am. To talk late into the night about everything and nothing at all. And I thank god for that. That I have the energy, the interest, to engage.

Ordinarily, and I have to remind myself that ordinary is when my mom is well even though her particular madness is a part of my normality (I know: it's complicated), my mother would welcome every opportunity to talk. To laugh. To listen to the random nothingness of my day, to list the random nothingness of her own with humour and wit and insight. To discuss a book, a television show, a walk she has had. But for now there are no books, nothing on the television, and she doesn't get out much. Walks are reduced to obligatory marches conducted by a well meaning neighbor around the fields just to get her moving. The exercise will do you good, they trill.

And for me it is this, this inability (which sometimes - for it hurts to be ignored by your mother - translates as refusal) to connect with her children, that highlights, more than anything, the awfulness of her illness. It is this that exacerbates the isolation of The Thing for us all.

For me, it is the silence wrought of Derpession's cruel and chilly descent that is the worst.

About the Author

Anthean Rowan

Anthea Rowan is a British journalist based in Tanzania.

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