DEPRESSION SCIENTISTS SAY IT'S GENETIC - AND MY FAMILY IS THE PROOF; When SALLY BRAMPTON'S Daughter Plunged into a Despair So Terrible She Begged for Death, Her Agony Was Horrifyingly Familiar
Byline: by Sally Brampton
FOR FOUR long unendurable months, she lay in a darkened room, her face as white as the sheet on the bed from which she could not (rather than would not) move.
'Mum, I want to die.' That's what my lively, funny and much loved 17-year-old daughter said to me, day after day, week after week.
I was terrified of leaving the house, for fear of what I would find on my return. She lost a stone, which she could ill afford on her 5ft 10in, size 8 frame, although I tried to make her eat three meals a day. She did her best, even if it was only a bowl of cereal, but said the pain of hunger was a welcome distraction from the pain in her head.
The teenager who read voraciously -- at least four books a week -- could not read a simple sentence. The girl who, according to her school, was destined for Oxford University and a brilliant academic career, missed four months of school in her A-level year.
She thought she was a failure -- a word that she used repeatedly. She felt, in some strange way, that it was her fault.
It was unbearable. 'It's just adolescent mood swings,' people said. I knew it wasn't. I took her to a psychiatrist. Diagnosis: major depressive disorder with a high risk of suicide.
I had heard those words myself, a tearstained pillow clenched over my face in a bed in a psychiatric unit where I was admitted with severe depression. So, long before the news this month that scientists had found a genetic link to depression, I knew that there must be a connection.
Over the years, I had watched my mother standing in the kitchen, crying helplessly.
'I want to die,' she, too, had said. The first time I became conscious of her suffering, I must have been about eight years old.
She would relapse into apathy, was constantly tired and did not want to leave the house. Either that or she would suddenly become snappy and irritable. I didn't understand it back then, either my mother's sudden acute misery, or my own. I knew nothing about depression. As a family we weren't given to hanging out with psychiatrists and therapists. These days, I understand it only too well. In retrospect, I realise I have been suffering from depression since I was a teenager, just like my mother, and just like my daughter, whose episodes of the illness started when she was 13, the same age as me. There was a reason for my misery; being sent to boarding school when I was ten, a place where I was terribly unhappy. On top of that, my parents lived overseas, 5,000 miles away, so there was nobody I could talk to.
Even if I had, they wouldn't have understood and put it down to teenage blues.
The first time I saw a doctor was when I was 20.
I told him I was feeling depressed. He gave me medication but it was such a strong sedative that it only made me feel worse and, after a month, I threw it away and battled on.
Even when I was editor of a successful magazine, Elle, and I should have been on top of the world, there were weeks I could not stop crying.
I pretended to the staff that I had flu and couldn't come into the office. I thought I was just tired or stressed.
So the science that proves the first solid evidence of a rogue chromosome linked to depression, which gives some people a hereditary disposition, came as something of a relief.
Not because I wanted to find an 'excuse' for depression or thumb my nose at those who urge you just to 'pull yourself together', but because I wanted (needed) to understand why three generations of bright, lively women sometimes fade into the dark.
It happens for no reason, but happen it does -- to all of us; time after time after time.
More than anything, the research proves something I have long believed; that depression is an illness, not a self-indulgence or weakness.
It is a complicated disorder, despite the blanket term given to the condition. …