IN THE GENERATION before mine — that of my mother and father — nobody was crazy. They were “delicate” or “high-strung,” or occasionally had a “nervous breakdown.” Diseases of the body were reported on in limitless detail at family picnics, but misalignments of the mind were taboo. A few years back, my father and I were discussing a cousin who’d been diagnosed with depression. I ventured that perhaps two of Dad’s brothers who’d been estranged from the family might have been depressed as well. “Those two?” Dad snorted. “They were just drunks!” It was, I realized, a message I’d been imbibing all my life: better drunk than crazy. Which may explain why there are so many drinkers in my extended clan.
The veil of silence has lifted, though. These days, I’m as likely to hear about Paxil at a party as about high blood pressure pills. It seems as if not just my kinfolk, but all my friends (and plenty of their kids) are on SSRIs. Antidepressants have become the most prescribed drugs in America.
I didn’t want Marcy medicated when she was depressed. I told myself I wanted her to deal with life head-on — to relish the highs, process the lows, experience all the gradations in between. What I really was, though, was afraid. Once you start with the meds, admit to mental illness, you allow the possibility of the great unmentionable: suicide. It’s the monster under the basement stairs, the bugaboo hiding in the attic. I pretend it isn’t there even though I know it is.