When Mark and I married and began our family together, we didn’t know we were likely to produce autistic offspring. We did, however, know—between my history of depression and Mark’s bipolar disorder—we were likely to see ourselves in our children, in the form of depression at least, and probably mania, too. (It wasn’t until after we were married that we realized I brought anxiety into the mix as well.)
As our boys grew, there were signs that were indicative of what was to come. Alex would get wound so tight—between anxiety and hints of mania—that his emotions burst out for lack of effective opportunities of expression. Willy’s emotions would swing—from elated to morose and back again—with such rapidity it would be hard to predict from moment to moment whether he’d be crying or telling me I was the best mother in the world and his day was great.
Up until recently these feelings—these uncontrollable emotional swings—had a juvenile innocence to them that took off the edge. Yes, anxiety, depression, and mania in children can be severe and painful, but in our boys it was relatively mild—enough to be present, but not enough to be too worrisome.
Then came puberty with all its changes, imbalances, and turmoil. For both Mark and I, puberty was a major trigger, though the signs were apparent a bit earlier with Mark. It seems this is true for Willy, too—and probably Alex, though he’s not quite there yet.
Knowing it was likely, even knowing it was coming, helps I’m sure, but not by much. Having an intimate familiarity with depression helps us to be more understanding, but at the same time it seems to make the ache of watching it blossom in our son all the worse—at least for me.
I want to wrap Willy in my arms and make the hurt go away, but I know I can’t. I do what I can, knowing it won’t be enough, knowing that for all I can do I cannot fight this battle for him. I watch and I ache for my son and I ache all the more knowing that when it passes this time around, it’ll come back again and again and again.
The shadow of depression stretches over us. The shades brought about by our genetic heritage dance in the overarching gloom. I wait. I love. I help. I ease. But I cannot dispel the shades that tear away my son’s happy smiles, leaving a tired flatness in their place. But I trust that the spring will return to his steps and the smiles will wreath his face in delight once more—for a time.