How My Mother Became My Best Friend When I Had Depression
A love letter to the woman who's seen me at my worst.
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I used to see my mother as a nagging enemy who kept me from having fun. It wasn’t unusual to catch us arguing. She always reminded me about the dangers of the world, and I opposed her news-influenced logic with an emotional defense of freedom: Filipino kids need space to make their own mistakes, I would say, debate hat on for most of high school and college.

For years I kept wishing that Mom would dote on me less. I wanted her to let me go, the way American parents let go of their children when they turn 18. My secret desire was to be loved a little less by the person who obviously loved me most.

Eventually I was old enough to declare my independence. I earned my own money, moved out of the family house, and went out at night whenever I felt like it. I made my own mistakes. Mom learned to stay away because I made her believe that I no longer needed her.

We may lose boyfriends, husbands, jobs, friends, but we will never lose the love of a good mom.

I was foolish to think that all these mistakes afforded me the freedom to be my best self. Case in point: I was two years into a relationship that was pulling me under. The blues, I called them, fancying myself an Etta James figure crooning about a Sunday kind of love I didn’t have. And then the blues got deeper.

I spent inordinate amounts of time feeling worthless and alone. Sometimes when I cried, my partner would lose patience and leave me to my own devices. I felt abandoned, but I also felt that I brought all of this upon myself. I was too complicated, I felt too much, I read too much sad literature. Why couldn’t I just snap out of it?

Guilt goaded me into feeling shame and shame kept me from getting the best kind of help. I was unraveling beyond my concept of passing sadness. Some of my well-meaning friends, people for whom joie de vivre came easy, told me to smile because everything would be all right.

But nothing seemed right. I recognized this on my trip back to the family house. Things must really bad if I had to come running home to mommy.

She asked and asked because she wanted to understand me more than I could understand myself.

I’d been crying almost every night for the past six months, I told Mom. And for the first time in a long time, someone cried with me.

If anyone on this earth can grasp our desperation beyond words and appearances, it will be the same mother we once swore did not understand what we were feeling.


Mothers will scold us for grave mistakes and then welcome us back into our old bedroom lined with posters from our childhood. They will bring warm soup served on a tray because they already know that’s all we can take for now. The next day they will give us hope—and by hope, they mean that our next days will not be spent alone.

We may lose boyfriends, husbands, jobs, friends, but we will never lose the love of a good mom.

A good mom will not belittle depression as a weakness of character. She will believe in your strength, but she will get you the best help.

That weekend she went with me to see a therapist, someone whose name had come up in her research.

Years later, I saw this research in action again. I was experiencing a depressive relapse, with the terrible addition of anxiety. Mom spent hours looking for doctors online. A second opinion, better medication, anything that could get me out from under. She used her mobile phone for discreet conversations with friends who might know of good therapists. A few inches away was the landline phone for inquiries to hospitals and support centers. She asked questions and more questions because she wanted to understand me more than I understood myself.

She held the receiver between her ear and raised shoulder, one hand scribbling phone numbers in a notebook, the other stroking my hair, already wet with tears.

I was a child again. But this time, it was all right. I welcomed her love because I was ready to express mine without fear of being less independent.

I love you, Mom. I could have never made it without you on the other line.

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Olga Marin-Ordaz
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