I was 13 years old when my mom first attempted to take her own life, back in December of 2005. I don’t know exactly where I was that weekend, but I remember having to stay with my grandmother for the next couple of weeks while my mom spent New Year’s Eve in the University of Chicago’s psych ward. It wasn’t until I got a few years older than I found out she’d intentionally taken dozens of pills — in an attempt to end a pain that I couldn’t quite understand.
Like most kids, I didn’t really know depression was “a thing” growing up. But I did notice that pretty much all my mom ever did was go to work and sleep for 12 hours a day. My innocence led me to think that everyone’s parents did this and she just needed the rest from working so hard to take care of me.
As I got older, I started to notice that whenever my mom was actually awake she wasn’t happy. So, starting at an early age, I took it upon myself to make her smile whenever I could. At first, this just entailed telling her “I love you” every time I saw her. Eventually, it morphed into me acting as sort of a motivational life coach/ stand up comic. I did Desi Arnaz impressions to make her laugh then sat down and unpacked what was bothering her step-by-step, until she realized it wasn’t as devastating as she’d thought.
On the especially hard days — when I noticed she hadn’t left the bed at all — I’d walk across the hall, stand in her doorway and give her positive reinforcement for as long as it took for her to push back the covers and stand up.