Childhood: The Dark Days

By Nancy Sortini

For a lot of people, it is hard to imagine that a young child could suffer from depression, but sadly they can and do. I was a child who did. It hurts me to think back to those dark mornings when I would wake and start sobbing uncontrollably. No one quite knew what to do for me. My mother did the only thing she knew how; she put me in her bed off the kitchen and ran down to the chook yard to kill a chicken to make soup.  My sister would peer round the door and ask me what was wrong, but I could not answer her, I did not know myself. The soup, when it finally came, was delicious but unfortunately did not solve my problem.

What I so desperately needed was a warm and tender arm around me. I wanted to be held, to be told I was special, important, loved. I craved it so badly, but our house was bereft of any warmth or tenderness. Our mother was a hard and cold woman who was unable to show us any emotion whatsoever. Over the years I heard her say repetitively, particularly when one of us did something wrong, that she wished she had drowned us at birth. It must be remembered, just because a woman has a baby, it does not make her a mother. Our mother in later years, when the feminist movement was at its height, expressed the view she had been born in the wrong era, and if she could have her time again, would never marry, and certainly never have children.  Sad to say I never loved my mother, even though she looked after my physical needs, a person is made up of more than just a body.

Throughout my early childhood I was frequently unwell.  To their credit, my parents did take me to doctors, but no of them was able to ascertain what was wrong with me.

At the age of ten, I had a complete breakdown and was off school for three months.  I was tortured with severe lethargy and feeling the world was full of darkness and pain, not forgetting the endless sobbing which frightened everyone, including me.  I was taken to the children’s hospital. I saw doctor after doctor, all looking for a physical cause but of course there was none. I was poked and prodded and tested for every sort of condition. Even though I presented with classic signs of depression, according to their medical books, a child my age could not suffer from such a thing. Eventually a lumbar puncture was ordered and carried out. I was terrified at the idea of someone sticking a needle into my spine, but as a child I had no voice. My eldest sister took me for this procedure. My mother was nowhere to be seen. After months of X-rays, blood tests and consultations it was concluded that maybe I had epilepsy.  I was prescribed phenol–barbital which had the effect of reducing my anxiety, and consequently I felt better. The stigma remained though. I had an illness and I felt so terribly isolated and lonely. No one understood.

Since then, my life has been a constant battle with depression. Most of the time I hide it for fear of ridicule or misunderstanding as most people comment that I should just ‘pull myself out of it’. I wish it was that easy.  If people truly understood depression, then they would know, if I had the ability to ‘pull myself out of it’, don’t you think I would? Do people honesty think I choose this hell?

In later years, as more information about mental health has come to light, I have become more open.  Now, if I am not well, I tell people. I am lucky, I have finally found an understanding and compassionate psychiatrist. He offers me hope and sympathy, but I will need medication for the rest of my life.  That is fine. I have reconciled with the fact, my brain works differently. I look around and see lots of people taking medication for various illnesses, so I am no different. The only difference is theirs is physical and mine is mental; but both equally important to treat.

It has been a long, painful journey from childhood to old age.  I would not wish my struggle on anyone; I just plead for more understanding and more importantly, love.






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