When I was 21, my uncle died in a car accident. He was one of my mother's younger brothers, and she told me later that he was an alcoholic. In hindsight, I don't know if this was actually true or just something she told me. He might have become an alcoholic later in life, or it's also possible she was referring to the fact that he wasn't a teetotaler. If he was an alcoholic before I left for college, he hid it well.
He'd been out for drinks with his son and drove home drunk. My cousin was driving behind him to make sure he got home safe, so he was there when my uncle crashed his car and died. My mother was understandably distraught. She immediately got herself a prescription for antidepressants.
I tried to tell her that I didn't think the antidepressants were a good idea in this instance. She was grieving, not depressed, and I was afraid they would make her anxiety attacks skyrocket to new heights. She'd already dropped out of college due to her anxiety at this point, and she reported that she woke up in a heart-thumping panic most nights for no apparent reason. My mother took the antidepressants anyway. I don't know what else she was taking at the time.
If I were to make a timeline of my life, there would be a mark at age 21 that says "Mother Goes Off the Deep End." She'd exhibited mood swings and money problems and spending sprees and binges and reckless driving for as long as I'd known her, but they were normal day-to-day occurrences for her, intermingled with quiet time. Now they lasted for weeks without a break. She seemed to function in fast-forward. She seemed high to the point of being almost psychotic. She didn't hear me when I talked, and it seemed like she was intent upon hurting everyone she knew. This was around the time I started feeling upset and afraid every time I heard from her.
Occasionally she seemed deeply depressed for the first time since I'd known her. Her voice was much deeper and quieter on the phone. She didn't cry or scream. It was like she had no emotions at all. She still didn't seem to hear me when I spoke, but she didn't threaten me either, so that was good. Most of the time, I could guess she was depressed by the fact that she wasn't calling me at odd hours or leaving me shrieking voice mails demanding money and calling me a bitch. We could go months without talking when she was depressed. No warning calls from my dad to say that she was gunning for me, or for him either. Depression was good. Depression was safe. I felt bad she had to endure it, but if it had to be one or the other, depression was better for the rest of us. There was no "normal" anymore.