Hello, it’s Alex from Pushing Back the Shadows here. I’m sitting with Cayde, who is the son of one of my friends, and he’s going to talk to us a little bit about what it’s like to be the child of someone who has depression, who deals with that on a daily basis. Now, just to start off with, I do need to make you aware that Cayde is a pseudonym as he is under the age of 18, so this interview is being done anonymously.
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself to start with?
I’m currently a student in England, around 15 years of age. I’m a fan of my rock music, mostly Def Leppard and a bit of Black Sabbath. I like my video games and I’m alright at computing but those are my main interests really.
So it’s your mum who’s got depression, what’s your earliest memory of your mum suffering with depression?
It’s not so much a memory that I can vividly remember, it’s more of an experience that I can remember. When I was much younger, around 4 or 5 or so, we used to have something I called snuggle days, which was when we’d hide under a blanket on the sofa and watch Disney films for the entire day. To me, that was just “I’m having some nice time with my mum”, a bit of enjoyment. But I suppose that was a bit of a coping mechanism, ’cause I didn’t realise she was having a bad day or she felt particularly under the weather about it. That was all I can remember very early but that was the only thing I can remember distinctively, it’s as I’ve got older that I remember more about it.
OK, and did you know what was going on?
It’s definitely been a thing as I was getting older. I think it was maybe year 6 or 7, I started learning about mental illness and how it affects people in my subject lessons. Then I sort of put two and two together, hang on…this went with this, this and this, she did this, this and this, it could mean this, this and this. It was sort of as I got older that I recognised and went “hang on…something’s up here”.
You said about seeing “this, this and this”, what sort of things were you recognising?
It was that she’d go quiet a lot of the time. She’d be really happy, really excited in the morning, per say, and she’d be all happy, full of energy. Then we’d go out somewhere or something would happen, she’d lose her card or something or misplace her keys or something of that extent, and she’d just go very quiet. She wouldn’t talk to people, she’d just want to sit down, she’d want a drink of pop or water or something and she’d want to be left alone, left to her own devices. That was the main indicator I ever saw but then there were the other factors of…she would just not want to do anything. She wouldn’t be lazy but she’d rather be lethargic about things. So instead of getting up to go to the kitchen to grab a packet of crisps or have a drink or anything, she’d ask me or occasionally my dad. But it was more that she didn’t want to do anything, she wanted to hide to some extent. She wouldn’t physically hide like under a blanket or something but she just wanted to stay in her own little area.
So now that you’re older, what are your feelings about having a parent with a mental health condition? It’s quite heavily stigmatised in today’s world, people try and shun away from it. What’s your take on it?
I would definitely say mental illness is nothing to really be ashamed of. You shouldn’t be shunned because you’re suffering in one way or another. I can break my leg happily doing some stupid accident or whatever and people will say “oh poor you, you broke your leg”. I could be suffering from depression, anxiety, eating disorder and someone will just like “get over it” and that’s not going to fix my state of mind immediately. It’s very much stigmatised in the media, as I’ve looked at a lot of social media, and seen how it’s portrayed and it’s a popular thing, like bulimia is definitely a big one that people portray as “You have to have this skinny figure, you can eat loads of food and just throw it back up again” like anorexia. And because of that stigma of mental illness, it sounds like it’s curable to that extent. I understand that it is curable, ish, that it can be helped but it’s a part of the thing. Especially with my mother, she’s suffered with it for a very very long time and I might not have noticed that she’s suffered with it, or never been really informed that she’s suffered with it, but she has and it’s grown with her to some extent. She’s said on various occasions that she’s suffered in some form or another but she’s got over it and she’s moved away from it but it recurs regularly. At one point she’d gone three years without having any mental difficulty or mental issue but then it resurfaced at some point, so that’s definitely a big part of it.
And is it something that you’re bothered by, having a parent who’s got that label, if you like?
I’m not so much bothered by it, I’m not affected – I’m not directly affected [by it]. If my mum was having a bad day, I wouldn’t just completely burst into tears and shut down. I could be upset by it – as a loved one, you don’t want to see anyone suffer – but the main effect it has on me is upset. I can look at my mum and she can be having a bad day and I can be thinking I’ve tried, so much, to try and help her – so I give her hugs, tea, whatever helps her – and I can try and do all that but it might not have any effect. And I can feel as if I’ve failed here, I’m her son and I should try and help in all the ways I can but it’s not always that you can help, and that is a big effect of it but it’s really the only main effect because I’m not directly affected by it. Just feeling upset about it.
I’ve kinda preempted by next question there by asking what effect it has on you. How do you cope, whether it’s the effect that it has on you or seeing the effect that it has on her, how do you cope with it?
I would like to say that I talk about it but I really don’t. As a person, I’m quite isolating, I like my own solitude. Not a healthy way to do it but my only main coping mechanisms are either eating food or playing video games. Not a healthy way to do it but it’s a method of which to do it. I can sit down and write in a notebook about all my feelings and that’s a way of doing it but then, as a stigma for me, I’m going soft a bit, sitting with a book writing down all my feelings like it’s a diary. So playing video games – and some video games, I understand, can be quite violent – that’s a way of sort of expressing it, rather than being all upset and, some extent, pent up aggression. Rather than scribbling madly on a page, I can go and play some video games and beat some lifeless creature to oblivion. But that is the main way I do it and that is, to some extent, why I have such a passion for video games, because they can be such a help. In terms of the food eating thing, it is an issue with myself. I’m not particularly proud of it – I don’t like being upset and having to dive for a packet of crisps or a chocolate bar, but it’s endorphins, it makes me feel happy. But it’s almost a comfort as well, because I can see my mum upset and be feeling rather sad. I can think “Oh mum’s sad, let’s grab some food, grab a packet of crisps or a chocolate bar or a tub of popcorn…we can sort of recreate that snuggly day back when I was much younger.” And that’s the sort of idea that I’ve got into my mind. Let’s associate this with this and it might make us both feel happy. Because that’s the ultimate goal that I try to drive with the whole food: sugary food and fattening food is comforting to both her and myself, to some extent. So, through the push of both – I know it’s not healthy for either of us – it comforts us both.
Depression is one of those things that a lot of people who haven’t gone through it don’t necessarily understand and one thing that we’ve found, certainly while I’ve been doing Pushing Back the Shadows, is that a lot of times when people don’t quite understand it, they tend to be afraid of it and that’s where the stigma comes in. What are some of your worries and fears when it comes to depression, if we start with your mum first off?
The ultimate thing that I immediately think of as a fear or I worry about it is that it going to be driven to such an extent that it will culminate in something. Suicide, self-harm, anything up to and including that. And that’s a constant worry for me because I know, in self-harm respects, it can have some positive effects, mental effects, but also negative effects. And that’s always a constant worry in my mind where my mother could get to that extent, hurt herself in the wrong fashion and possibly bleed to death and that’s always a thing. I mean, in terms of culminating to suicide, that’s never what you want to hear or think about or, in my case, dream about. That’s always a big thing as I’ve, on more than one occasion, dreamt about a world without my mother and why that is, what the repercussions of said thing would be. It’s quite upsetting to think about it or even just contemplate what would happen if my mother went because of mental illness or depression. What would happen to me, what would happen to my family, what would be the effect of that?
And what about for you, yourself? Are you worried – as they do say, for example, mental illnesses can run in families. One of the first things when I went to get diagnosed that I was asked was “have you got a family history of mental illness”, have you got any kind of worries in that area or are they more worries for her rather than yourself?
They are primarily worries for her. In terms of myself, I’m not so much worried about becoming depressed. I don’t try to make myself happy but I try to take a relatively positive attitude towards life. I try to do that as much as I can but there are some days where I don’t want to do anything, I want to crawl up in a hole with a pillow and a blanket and just sleep. And that is the big thing for me, I’m not scared of it but I’m worried about it to some extent. I don’t want to be like “Oh I must constantly be happy, I must smile all the time” because I am aware it’s OK to have a bad day, because we all have bad days.
We do. So, it’s been a bit of a learning curve – because we were talking before the interview, some of the things going on at the moment which we shall leave unmentioned – but there have been a few things you’ve learnt over those weeks, things that you’ve expressed…what have you learnt, whether that’s in the last couple of weeks or months or however long, that you would like to share with others about mental health?
The main thing about mental health that I’ve particularly learnt it comes in some many forms and so many levels of severity. In my mum’s case, it has culminated to rather a severe case but then there’s littler cases and little under cases that haven’t been as bad and haven’t led to such detrimental effects but are still quite bad. For example, one of my personal friends suffered from a period of alcoholism and it was a serious problem for him because he turned up to school practically off his face. And it was a serious issue for him. Quite thankfully he has sobered up to some extent now. And the way that has not so much affected me, but it’s quite saddening to see one of my close friends being harmed in that way, just consistently drinking, making himself feel unwell, not coming to school. And because it was so little – he never said anything about it, it was to the point where me and my friends could smell the alcohol on him and we just essentially sat him down and said “Are you OK, what’s wrong, you stink of booze.” And he refused to talk about it. To this day I don’t understand why he did. Eventually his parents picked up on it and he was helped to some extent and he’s much better now, he doesn’t drink at all, as far as I’m aware.
So to wrap it up a little bit, is there anything that you’d like to share, maybe to encourage people going through mental health struggles, encourage them to do or anything along those lines at all?
I think the really big message is that there is hope. If you’re suffering with depression or anxiety…the world is not a dark, scary place. You’re not gonna go outside and someone’s gonna scare you to living death.
I did have one question I would like to ask. In terms of, especially not just in terms of my mother, but in terms of all mental illness, is there any particular way to help people? I don’t mean like give them therapy, give them counselling but is there little things I can do instead of just bringing them food?
Yeah, there are quite a lot of different things that you can do and there’s a lot of stuff on our website that’ll tell you about that. For the most part it’s being there. Being there is quite a big one. It might not seem like something massively helpful or massively important but having somebody there is one of the most important things you can do. The other thing you can do is be understanding. When someone first found out about my self-harm, they sort of flew off the handle and that’s one of the worst reactions you can give. Whereas, if you say “OK, it happened, let’s see what we can do”, that little bit of understanding goes a long way. So even things like bringing her food when she’s not wanting to come out of her corner, those are things that can be really really important.
OK, thank you.