Since I was old enough to understand the possible reasons behind family members’ strange behavior, I have realized that I may possess the genes for some type of mental illness, be it depression, bipolar disorder, or addiction. This has caused me a lot of worry over the years.
I’m pretty sure I don’t have bipolar disorder. In fact, I could use some of the energy from a manic phase or two. But depression is another story. I have lived my life with a sort of low level sadness. Whether this is due to the fact that my mother died when I was 13 months old or the biochemistry in my brain, I don’t know. But a friend once told me, “You’re not a very happy person, Mary.” I had to admit it was true.
I also come from a long line of pessimists. We are “glass half empty” sorts who expect the other shoe to drop at any time. (We are also corny and full of cliches, apparently.) This may derive from our Irish potato farmer ancestry. (Actually, I have no idea what my Irish ancestors did for a living – possibly tatted lace.) I realize this is a broad stereotype. Once my husband mentioned to a colleague that I was Irish and German. His response was, “Oh, a depressed perfectionist, eh?”
Yet I think there is a little grain of truth to stereotypes. Along with my gloomy outlook, I also love to laugh, love stories, and enjoy sentimental songs such as “Danny Boy” that make me weep into my beer. (I don’t actually drink beer, but wine didn’t sound right.)
The other reason I wonder whether I truly suffer from depression is that I have never had any devastatingly low points during which I couldn’t get out of bed or lost my will to live. Someone once described herself as a functioning depressed person, and if there is such a thing, that diagnosis fits me pretty well.
My husband likes to tease me about my morose temperament, but there have been times when my tendency toward gloom and self-pity has exasperated him. I also have to struggle not to lay my downbeat attitude on my children.
There are some benefits to my somewhat negative personality, however. When the inevitable bumps pop up in the road of our lives, I am prepared for the worst. And when things go well, I am happily surprised.
Being a functioning depressed person is not the worst thing in the world. How’s that for “glass half full” thinking?