people > places > things

Me, My Mom, & Our Shared Depression

Jessie Ma1 Comment

The only person who feels sorry for my mom is herself. 

My mom, AKA MamaMa, is one of the most hilarious, creative, intelligent, and compassionate people alive. Ask anyone, and they’ll tell you the same.

At almost 60 years old, she still plays the piano, practices calligraphy, is all of her friends’ favorite chef, and makes those freaking beautiful egg figurine thingies. Like wut.

Beyond that, her brain runs well – and fast. A Linguistics graduate from UCI, she loves showing off her fluency in multiple languages. She’s witty and sassy and regularly tells me stories of the last time she made her coworkers keel over in laughter.

My friends adore her. I adore her. I admire her and cherish her more than anything in the world.

And it continually breaks my heart to see her so unhappy.


Even with all these amazing qualities, she is still a deeply flawed human being (as all of us are) – yet refuses to grow or even try to grow. Whether it’s due to childhood conditioning, fear, or just plain fixed-minded stubbornness, there’s this huge wall between her flaws and her better self. 

She’s convinced that everyone else is the problem. She treats me as her property and loses all composure if I step out of her control. She throws these tantrums to my dad, and blames him for the stalemate, failing to see a different way to approach a conversation... Even after decades of marriage. She pushes people away and isolates herself. She tells herself that she’s not talented, she’s not smart, she’s not worthy – all these lies that I want to physically swat away. But of course I can’t – they live in her head. 

There is nothing “wrong” with her. She can be very, veryyy happy if she chose to be. So I urge her, every day, to choose to believe in herself. More than I want her to be happy, I want her to want to be happy. But ––

“This is just how I am, Jessie.”
“If no one Loves me, if I am alone for the rest of my life, then so be it.”
“People don’t change."

Oh hell no.

I care about her so much, but I admit that my advocacy for her growth is partially a projection. I recognize SO MANY tendencies that we share – self-victimizing, being possessive and controlling, liking the familiarity of our depression… 

But a difference (which I pray won’t be a difference for too long) is that

I WANT To live a better life. 

And I BELIEVE that I can.

Because this isn’t the future I see for myself. Or for her, for that matter.


Depression is a sort of comfortable hell. It feels safe, because you can’t possibly get any lower than that (or so you think). It’s not random or easy for someone with zero desire at all, to attain the desire to get better.

It takes an army. There was a combination of a lot of events, in a strangely well-timed succession... The echoes of a voice that’s been screaming at me to be better, the 6 days straight I spent with my mom trying to lift her out of self-pity, books I found that feel like they were written by a wiser self, a helluva lot to lose with the momentum I’ve built on my career and aspirations, a personal vow to never again hurt people the way I have, and the un-ignorable reminders (thanks, birthday & Thanksgiving) that I’m surrounded by so much Love, so many people who want me to be happy, so many pockets of “family” that support me, so much of ME that lives on, even when I feel like nothing.

For them. For me. I want a better life. So I make the choice to live better. I’m discovering more and more, every single day, what constitutes “happiness,” or even “peace” for me. Though my mom disapproves of my lifestyle (uh what, working 10 hours a day and dancing for a non-profit org??? oh jessie u hooligan), she still sees me fighting for my right to be happy. She sees me read and pray and study and journal and Love, Love, Love, anyway. She sees me refusing. I refuse. I refuse to let my strengths, my Love, my happiness to be suffocated by insecurity, stubbornness, and laziness. I refuse to let my creativity and ideas to never take form because of fear. I refuse to let my bitterness reject and judge others. I refuse to be around anyone for any other reason than to Love them. I refuse to be 60 and stay thinking that wallowing is as good as it gets. 

I can’t help her if she doesn’t want to be helped, I can’t lift her if she insists on staying anchored in her lows. So the best and only thing I can do right now is maintain focus on improving myself. Because, unlike her, I have the advantage of awareness: I have witnessed her go through her life in this state, letting slip away so many opportunities for happiness that would’ve multiplied onto itself and made living so much sweeter. And I don’t want that. To lose more than I have lost already. I also have the advantage of being more “Western”-minded: open to therapy, medication, self-help books, even talking to my friends about my struggle. I also have another advantage of having been both the victim and the villain in our depression, and this is enough to make me wanna be neither, to do everything in my power to choose a better path. I take these as omens to endorse my growth, and truck along. 


I know it’s possible. It’s happening, everywhere, in every way.

Through work, I meet dancers who have never been able to clap on beat train until they’re doing pieces of choreography. Through Faith, I meet people who had no purpose find ultimate meaning in God. Through literature, I read testimonies of people who overcame their alcoholism or eating disorder or other personal poisons. Through my own sheer will to accomplish my goals, I fight my ADHD, ignore my laziness, stomp on my insecurities, and create. I quit smoking. I started exercising. By constantly making the choice to improve and seeing improvement, I’m forced to believe in our brain’s abilities to connect new synapses, forge new pathways, habits, ways of thought, lifestyles. More than that, I believe in the power of the human spirit. How incredibly, miraculously we are able to rebuild ourselves once we find the reason and the way. Or just, realize that we can. 

I believe, with all my heart, that as long as I choose to be better, I will be. 

And I trust that God / the Universe has my back – that however this is meant to unfold, it will. 

Knowing these two things, there is no conceivable reason for me to worry. 


When I left my mom’s house after Thanksgiving break, during which we had several frustrating, unproductive(?) discussions about her mental health...

She hugged me goodbye, and said “I Love you baby. I’m trying, too.”