In the last month, two young television actors – Cory Monteith (Glee) and Lee Thompson Young (Rizzoli and Isles) – took their own lives. I found myself scanning the web off and on in the days that followed, hoping for more details – not the gory “how” so much as the why. I carried an uncomfortable sense of loss with me, following each man’s death, initially thinking it was because they played characters I liked on shows I enjoy. But it was more than that.
Regular readers of this blog know that both my husband and I deal with depression – managing it with a cocktail of medications, occasional talk therapy, and frequent over-sharing with anyone who stops by our personal websites and wants to walk alongside us for a blog post or two. We’re well aware that children of a depressed parent have a greater chance of developing the condition than individuals without a family history. So we do our best to keep our demons at bay, at the same time modeling our belief that there is no shame in being depressed. We talk about our emotions and encourage our boys to talk about theirs. We read the books, order all the pamphlets, and watch the after school specials.
Our older son’s place on the autism spectrum makes depression more difficult for us to spot and (if needed) for him to articulate. As for our younger son, although he’s only 8, there is no doubt in my mind he is highly susceptible to depression. His intellect is sharp and his thoughts are deep. His emotions are always near the surface and he’s often moved by music, especially if the melody is particularly sad (and don’t even think of singing songs about unrequited love). Needless to say, we watch both of our boys closely, knowing we can’t prevent what nature has wired them to be, but want to be prepared to adjust course when the wind speed increases and the waves threaten their fragile little vessels.
All of that and more is what sat on my heart the day Lee Thompson Young took his life. I’d spent days wrestling with how to counter our younger son’s latest mood swings. My pep talks were wearing thin and I worried they were making our son cling even more tightly to his sadness, as if I were denying it existed. I took a cue from Oprah’s gratitude journal and decided we would create a “wall of joy” where he will post pictures or words or anything that represents something or someone that brings him joy. My hope is this wall will remind him that whatever he’s feeling isn’t permanent and the moments of joy will come again.
For me, our boys are walking walls of joy. They are what get me out of bed when every muscle is begging me to go back to sleep. They are what force me to find something positive in even the crappiest of circumstances. They are my inspiration for being less selfish and for leaving this world better than I found it. They are the gift I never knew I always wanted.