Childhood Amnesia

I don’t actually think my childhood made me depressed because others who have had a more difficult childhood do not suffer from similar mental health issues. This includes my husband whose mother left him when he was 5 years old. Yes, he feels a sense of loss but it doesn’t bring him into a major depressive episode.  Whereas, my childhood experiences cause a strong sense of loss and sadness for what happened and what could have been. My husband tells me I don’t let memories go like other people do. He’s right — I can’t leave behind this feeling of having been cheated, misunderstood and abused.

Let me tell you a bit about my upbringing. I grew up with 3 brothers and it is quite odd that my brothers do not have the same perspective of our childhood. They feel fortunate to be in the exact same family that I perceive as incompatible. I mostly remember an isolated loneliness and my brothers remember fun times with a bonded family. I see myself on the outside looking in, sometimes a part of the fun but only fleetingly. Is this dichotomy a result of having suffered from major depression in childhood or is it a result of my childhood?

I grew up in an affluent suburb in Greenwich, CT (USA).  It was not the backwoods mansion area but those people’s taxes went into the same money pool to provide even the middle class, such as my family, with exceptional schools, libraries, parks, camps and most auspiciously, its own private town beach. My parents and grandparents went to college and all are well-educated with backgrounds in education or academia, in general. This type of family dynamics works well for intellectually fact-based kids but I experienced everything through my feelings. I was an average student who was super sensitive on the inside. My parents didn’t know how to connect with me.

Physical affection was lacking in my youth and I felt neglected. My brothers got a lot of attention from their competitiveness — playing soccer, baseball, Frisbee and football in the backyard. I played, too, but more for the attention that I craved because god knows, I wasn’t competitive and had no desire to beat anyone at anything. If I won in a game I would feel bad for the loser. But, these backyard games with my dad after dinner would give me a closeness I yearned for. My sense is that my dad didn’t hold and kiss me like other dad’s. There’s a photo of him with my cousin on his lap and I feel sad that I don’t recall him ever holding me like that. My dad liked to play board games, read books and play chess. I learned to also enjoy such activities because there is an intimacy in those behaviors, albeit intellectual. My mom was always in the background handling the everyday, mundane household chores. I avoided all-things-mom and I’m not sure why. Perhaps she was depressed herself and didn’t let me in. Did she hide inside the home, in the kitchen or with housework? Most times, she let all hell break loose between my brothers while my dad was at work and most certainly after my parents divorced. I really don’t remember her connecting with me in any manner. 

Here’s the clincher with all I just shared about my childhood. I don’t remember specific details. I have what is referrred to as “selective amnesia,” most likely brought on by childhood sexual abuse. I can’t recall bestfriends (except my first one), not many teacher’s names, and no specific times or events (except the feelings from events around sexual abuse.)  My brothers remember it all and had a great time growing up in the same family that I can’t remember anything until about age 13 when I started rebelling with drugs and alcohol.  I regret this major break in my memory because I lost all of the positive stuff.  For one, intellectually I know my mom took good care of me and my basic needs were met.  I am reassured that I was cherished as her only daughter but I don’t have a sense of that.

It is very bizarre that my childhood is this whole visceral sensation of disconnectedness from others. Was this early depression? Or was this a symptom of childhood sexual abuse? I’m willing to guess that it’s most probably the latter that caused the former. Early sexual abuse caused depression or, I wonder, was my depression caused from being so different from the rest of my family? I’d have to guess, all of the above plus the fact that no one recognized or celebrated my differences.

All of this left me with an inferiority complex. My entire family seemed contented except for me. So, I played along and acted through my entire early and middle childhoods that we were all as happy as it seemed. I was a square peg in a round hole for most of my early life experiences.

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