Sometime in the mid-1990s my mother uncovered some photos of me as a child that I'd never seen before. I flipped through them and found one that fascinated me. It showed me at about nine months or so, crawling on the grass in Golden Gate Park. My tongue was sticking out of a corner of my mouth, and my chubby little face was beaming. I looked like I was having a great time.
I finally figured out, after a few days, what was so compelling about the picture. I had never seen a picture of myself as a child in which I had anything stronger than a half-smile on my face. In most photos I had a pensive expression on my face. School photos were the exception. In those I, always the good girl, obliged with a wide, if false, smile. So seeing a childhood photo in which I was genuinely beaming was new to me.
I'm not sure how young I was when my clinical depression developed. If you go by the photos, it happened some time after my mother and father split up, when I was about two. Certainly my expression in the black and white photo above was fairly typical. I was watching some fire engines, in a parade, I believe, with my grandfather. I was mildly interested but certainly not excited. And as was typical in most photos of me, there is no smile on my face.
That pretty much sums up how I went through childhood; sad much of the time, and interested in very little except reading. I was shy and awkward, and had trouble making friends. Although there were some bright spots, overall life was mostly just plain painful.
My depression's profound affect on my childhood in turn affected my adulthood. While other kids were involved in activities and clubs, I had no interests. My college application listed my part-time job instead of clubs or sports.
I drifted through college itself the same way, just getting by and socializing mainly through parties. I drifted also into my major, English Literature, without thinking things through. When I got out of college, there wasn't much I could do with my degree, and consequently got a job as a receptionist.
My depression was finally diagnosed at age 27. I'm profoundly grateful that more of my life wasn't lost to depression, but I do regret losing my childhood. I often wonder what kind of person I would have been, and how successful, if I had had the motivation to explore interests and get better grades in high school and college. Given the person I am today with my depression treated, I am fairly sure that I would have gone down a much different, and probably more fulfilling path to a career choice.
Depression in childhood can affect more than just day to day living. It can stunt a child's growth and development in ways that will affect the rest of their life. As I said, I'm grateful that my depression was finally diagnosed, but I don't think I'll ever completely let go of my bitterness over my lost childhood.