The first time I told my mom about my depression was also the first time she saw me smoke a cigarette.
It was December 2011, and I was in what I later came to realize was an incredibly unhealthy relationship. The girl in that relationship and I had just had a major fight (which wasn't uncommon), but we had both been staying at my parents' house over Christmas break (which was uncommon.) The fight had been over the phone while I was gone at a rehearsal, and she had sent me a text message saying not to expect her there when I got back. After the rehearsal ended, I rushed back home to discover she had hidden her bags in the closet (to make me think she had really left for good) and that she was gone, although no one really knew where.
Needless to say, I was an emotional wreck. To escalate matters, I was leaving in a few days for a semester-long internship that was 9 hours away and during which I likely wouldn't see either the girl or my parents in person.
I needed to smoke, and I didn't care that my mom was there to see it (being the mom that she is, she was worried and trying to help/understand what had happened). That one cigarette ended up being the point from which everything I had been hiding in my life would come spilling out of my mouth.
I've been depressed for years, I told her.
I've wanted to die more times than I can count, and I've tried on several occasions.
I've been drinking heavily and combining it with whatever substances I can get my hands on, saying I was having fun but really trying to numb the pain I felt constantly.
As you would expect, she was in tears the whole time. I had known that would happen, but the first words she spoke when I was done combined to form quite possibly the most heartbreaking sentence I'd ever heard:
"What did your dad and I do wrong?"
Now, it took the perfect storm of terrible things happening for me to have spilled my guts anyway. But if I had known she was going to take it all on herself and feel the weight of it in the form of guilt, I can 100% guarantee I wouldn't have said anything, no matter the circumstances.
It was one of the most painful conversations I can ever remember having. I didn't know how to articulate that it wasn't their fault, and watching her feel that much guilt made me feel even worse, like I had put this burden on her and would've been better off not saying anything at all.
But: feelings are at best temporary, and at worst misleading.
Several months later, my mom and dad came down to visit me when the internship was. During that visit, we sat in a pub and had a beer and they asked me questions that were more personal than we'd ever been before. They wanted to know what I'd been going through. They wanted to understand more. They wanted to know how they could help, regardless of if it was anyone's 'fault' or not. The next day we took a day trip to Disney World, and standing in line for the Twilight Tower of Terror, my dad asked me about my experiences in going to counseling. Did I find it helpful? Did I think it was worth it?
Years later, I write about my depression and suicidal thoughts publicly. I try to encourage people to be open about their pain, to talk to the people surrounding them, to let people love them. And while I believe strongly in what I'm doing, I have no doubt that every time I post something about my pain, it's hard for my mom to read. Who wants to read about their kid's darkest times?
But I know for a fact that our relationship is better for it. I can say with no hesitation that as hard as those first conversations were, they were worth it for the conversations we get to have now. When I'm hurting, when I need people to speak truth to me, I know they're there and they're willing to listen.
They know me better. They can help me more. They can love me deeper.
And that's worth a million hard conversations.