Is my depression hereditary? The short answer: Yes.
The thing is, while my depression is hereditary. So is my strength.
This past weekend I went to see a cardiologist. I just wanted a consultation. I’ve been having chest pains and palpitations that my primary care physician brushed off as anxiety. But after reading so many stories of doctors not taking pain seriously, I decided to get a second opinion. With that I’m currently in the process of tests and monitoring for the month of April, basically.
The cardiologist, I found via ZocDoc, had good reviews and Saturday appointments. So I went on a Saturday, with the earliest appointment I could find. After about a 20 minute wait, paperwork, and height and weight check in, I was already in to see the doctor.
She did all the preliminary questions of personal and family health history:
Do you have a history of high blood pressure?
Not that I know of.
I’m pretty sure my paternal grandmother had type 2.
Do you have a history of cancer?
My father died of a ear, nose & throat cancer at 38. I was 12. He worked in construction and was a smoker.
My maternal grandmother was a 30 year breast cancer survivor and died of lung cancer about 3 years ago.
Social *wink, wink*
Do you suffer from depression?
I have. I’ve been to therapists.
Is this hereditary?
-PAUSE- *tears forming, voice quaky* Ummmm I don’t know. But more than likely.
Never in my life has a doctor, therapist, counselor or anyone asked me if my depression was hereditary. It took me so long to even associate my feelings with depression. Let alone associate those feelings with a passed down condition.
I’m black. It took decades for black people to even recognize mental health as a real thing.
With all the news out there, I’m pretty sure most people realize that historic trauma is passed down through generations. And all the things black women are dealing with today with this administration. Whether your ancestors were products of the slave trade or the holocaust. There is scientific research that shows descendants still suffer from those events. And as a black woman in America, I still feel those traumatic effects.
Not even lying, I walked off a job one time because I felt like I had a flashback to a plantation because I had to plate and serve an executive his lunch. No special occasion. Just his lunch on a Tuesday. It was my first and last time doing that.
Unfortunately, I haven’t done ancestry.com yet, so I don’t know my full genealogy, so I’ll just focus on my maternal grandmother, my Nana, and my mother that, yes, I’ve come to realize my depression is hereditary.
There are several things I don’t know about my grandmother’s life and the timeline of events. What I do know is that she was an artist. She was a songwriter and wanted to be a singer. She studied French and wanted to live in Paris. I guess something like a Josephine Baker.
She ended up being a nurse, a mother of 9 (11, with her step children), living and dying in Cleveland, Ohio. My Nana survived my grandfather by about 12 years. All of her children and grandchildren were grown. She didn’t have summers with the kids anymore. She had infrequent visits and phone calls, when we remembered. I can’t speak for all, but I tried to be vigilant in my calls to her and seeing her when I came home. She always called me a good listener. I didn’t feel like I was doing her a service. I felt like I owed it to her.
But she was lonely. Even after all of those kids and grandkids, she didn’t have her partner. And at that point she was very open about her feelings since my grandfather died, and she identified it as depression. But I didn’t think much of it, I guess, because at that point “depression” wasn’t real to me. Even though I had experienced it, I didn’t think anyone understood what I felt.
I’m sure she had more historical context of depression, but she didn’t share that with me, and I’m not going to make up stories for dramatic effect. She was a black woman born in 1932 who grew up in the Jim Crow South. Make your own conclusions.
I don’t know if she ever saw a therapist. I doubt it.
Now this brings me to my mother.
I don’t know if ya’ll know, but mothers and daughters have intense relationships.
My mother was one who wanted to have a better future, and had to make it for herself and future children but it all came crashing down when her husband fell victim to the drug epidemic of the 80s & 90s…that’s a lot. She divorced my father when I was 8 years old. But when he was battling cancer (that was discovered after the divorce), she was his main caregiver and next of kin.
She’s never remarried. And even since my sister and I have been “grown,” she hasn’t dated or shown interest in anyone else. At this point, we’re talking almost 19 years. Talk about ride or die.
Honestly, I’m not sure what my mother’s dreams were. Did she want to live in another country? Did she want to be an artist? Maybe she wanted to be a finance mogul. She had a career in banks in Ohio before moving to administrative work in school districts. After this, I’ll definitely ask her.
Maybe she would’ve been more open with her grandchildren, like my grandmother was with me.
Unfortunately, she doesn’t have any yet. And both of her daughters have moved out of town. So who’s there for her? More recently than ever she’s opened up about possible feelings for depression. But she’s not one for a therapist.
Like a true millennial, I’ll circle all of this back to myself. lol.
I suffered brief depression in college. *cliche alert* After a breakup.
But as an adult my depression wasn’t based around a relationship with a man. It was my relationship with my career. I’ve wanted to be a journalist since I wrote for the Winkleblott at St. John Lutheran in elementary school. I wrote for my high school paper. I applied, was accepted, and graduated from E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. So when I reached adversity in my career in 2008 (when the recession hit and there were no jobs), I felt like such a loser. My depression stemmed from the loss and/or rejection with relation to my career. Which I feel is related my grandmother’s and mother’s loss of partners and their own dreams.
I was fortunate enough to have both of those ladies in my corner. A few years ago when I wanted to give up on my dreams and go home, my mom basically told me she didn’t have enough room in her 1 bedroom apartment. This was clearly an excuse.
So I called my Nana to tell her to get her daughter together and make room. I thought my little, depressed Nana would be so happy to hear that I wanted to come home and spend what would be her last years in Cleveland. She wasn’t. She basically told me to make it work. I was in the place I needed to be. She told me that there were people in our family who tried to make in New York and always came home. She knew that I was built for this.
Was she gaslighting (before I knew what that even was) me? Of course she was. But I wanted to believe her. So I did. And I stayed.
The thing is, while my depression is hereditary. So is my strength. My mother and grandmother recognized that I was fulfilling my dreams that I couldn’t if I were in Cleveland, even when I was off course. Even when I changed careers (twice), they knew and reminded me what I had in and for myself.
As I’m getting back on track with my goals, I owe it to my Nana, my mother, and myself to not get caught up in the fear and hype, and just follow through.