I was grappling with divorce when I learned that 1300 miles away my mother was losing her mind. Alzheimer's disease had been stealthily stealing it from her.
As a daughter, my decision was as swift as it was inevitable. As a parent, my task was heart-wrenching. My son was in middle school. His father resided in another state. I would ask my boy in the midst of unprecedented emotional turmoil to relinquish what fragile stability remained for him: I wanted to move across the country to live closer to my parents. So much to expect of a 14-year-old, and yet, he didn't complain to me. We left Nebraska and relocated to North Carolina. Thus, began a decline in my already tenuous mental health that I had refused to acknowledge for decades.
As her disease progressed, I helped my father care for my mother until the two of us could no longer manage without assistance. Her final years and subsequent death triggered a life-altering and profound depressive episode that nearly killed me.
As I struggled to survive, I experienced a genuine epiphany.
My son was nearly finished with college. My father’s health was good. I realized I had a unique window of opportunity to break convention without adverse consequence to anyone else. With nothing more than the longing to escape the tyranny of depression, certainly without a practical plan, I seized that opportunity.
I abandoned a secure job. I sold, shredded, and shipped off twenty years' worth of stuff that I no longer wanted, and may have never needed. Essentially, I upended nearly every semblance of stability to live in a tiny, 320-square-foot home to pursue a life of travel. Travel for the love of it, yet in pursuit of peace and better mental health. And I hoped to live even smaller. Eventually. As small as a 21-foot Class B RV.
I should feel burdened by the urgency of having to devise new ways to generate income*. I don't. Having nothing left to lose is curiously liberating. So I trudge onward. Slowly and unsurely. Emotionally and financially challenged, the new terrain is treacherous and I frequently stumble. Sometimes, it takes many long, dark days before I recover. But I do. Because the prospect of successfully building a brand new me and a life I could love remains terribly enticing. The possibility has sparked a nearly forgotten sense of hope. Depression and anxiety do their best to extinguish that spark; the effort to protect the dream is often discouragingly exhausting.
That hope, though. Even when it's elusive, there is yet a flicker. On the worst days, imprisoned by a crippling sense of worthlessness, crushing hopelessness, and surrender, in my mind's eye, I'm out there. On the road.
Perhaps by sharing my experience readers also suffering from depression will feel less alone and less strange. Perhaps more of us will admit to being depressed. Perhaps all the voices will be so loud that mental illness will no longer be dismissed and stigmatized simply because others can’t see what’s broken.