On Becoming More Than Not My Mother

I think that, for many of us, parenthood is just as much about our childhoods as it is about our children. It’s the great do-over, the chance to right all the wrongs of our mothers and fathers.

To be honest, I think adulthood – whether you choose to raise a child or not – can easily become a grand experiment in Not Being Our Parents.

For me, that always meant Not Being My Mother.

I was not going to get married or need a man in the way that I always perceived her to be needing one. I was not going to change my mind a dozen times about who was family or where I would live or what I would do for a living. I was not going to leave the house without makeup, take naps during the day, or have conversations with strangers in line at the store.

And I was not, no matter what, going to have Depression.

Growing up, my mother was the only person I knew who had Depression, the kind that requires doctors and medication instead of time outside and an afternoon with friends. It was, I assumed, what made our lives less than normal.

It was proof that she was broken, and therefore she was to blame for everything that was not right in my childhood.

Except she was also my mother and I loved her more than I could even imagine loving anyone else in the world. Blaming her, being angry at her, even hating her depression would be a crime against that instinctive love.

So I wasn’t angry at her.  I just resolved not to be like her. It was a compromise that I could live with because it seemed in my mind to have less to do with judgment and more to do with my goals for my own life.

And then I had my darkest day, when the desire to just not live was strongest and I came as close as I have ever to suicide.

I can still remember driving home that day and watching the guard rails along the highway. They looked like an escape to me, a chance to finally be free of the hopelessness that had consumed me. I remember gripping the steering wheel, willing myself to get home without jerking into that metal barricade. I remember thinking of my two kids and being both terrified of hurting them by dying and terrified of damaging them by leaving them with a mother as broken as me.

For twenty minutes, just long enough to make it safely past those beckoning guard rails, I chose leaving them with a broken mother over leaving them alone.

By the end of that day, it was clear that I had to choose between Depression or Death.

I had to choose between letting go of what I did not want to be and accepting what I was, and what I hoped to be in the future.

I was, despite my best efforts, depressed.

It would take almost three years for me to really wrap my arms around my version of normal – my identity as someone who lives with depression.

And then I could start to move on.

What I’ve noticed in the last year or so is that I have stopped defining myself as much by what I will not be and more but what I want to be. It feels like I’ve stopped living a reactionary life and started setting my own course.

I know that sounds trite and cliché. “Setting a course” is what you do with boats, not lives. And yet focusing on what I want to create instead of what I refuse to become has made it possible for me to do so much more with my life. It’s as if I have more hours in my day than I did before and more days in my weeks. My life moves forward now instead of just not moving backward.

I’ve been set free.

Ironically, I’ve become more like my mother than ever.

I take naps during the day sometimes. I not only leave the house without makeup, but I post pictures of myself in that state on the Internet. And while I’m not technically moving into a tepee – my mother’s greatest dream – I’m moving into a 24 x 8 foot portable house in less than four months.

But my point is not that we should all grow up to be like our mothers or our fathers.

My point is simply that we should let go of the things we are afraid of becoming.

Let us create the lives we want rather than react to the ones we do not.

Let us accept who are so that we can move towards what we want to do.

Let us let go.

This post was inspired in part by the book Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide, by Linda Gray Sexton. It’s the story of a woman whose mother struggled with depression and eventually committed suicide, and her own often failed attempts to Not Be Like Her Mom. The book is available on Amazon.

Thank you to award-winning author Linda Gray Sexton for sponsoring this series, which is inspired by her memoir Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide. I was selected for this sponsorship by Clever Girls Collective which endorses Blog With Integrity. To learn more about Linda Gray Sexton and her writing, please visit her website.

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