Eileen Finan
December 08, 2016 05:45 PM

For more than a year, Naomi Judd kept her depression hidden from daughter Wynonna, only admitting the depths of her troubles after she spent a week and a half in a psychiatric ward.

“Wynonna and I make each other so emotional it’s not healthy,” Judd tells PEOPLE of their complicated mother-daughter relationship, which has, in large part, played out in the spotlight as country duo The Judds. Naomi says she kept Wynonna at arm’s length because she was worried how learning of her illness might affect her daughter.

“We are so empathic, we can look at each other and absolutely fall in each other’s arms crying without saying a word. We scare each other because we can go so deep.”

In her new memoir, River of Time: My Descent into Depression and How I Emerged with Hope, which chronicles her battle against depression, she writes that she leaned on younger daughter, actress Ashley Judd, during her treatment but she says that for many months, neither of her daughters or her husband, Larry Strickland, were able to help her out of her darkness.

“Writing about Wy and Ashley was the most difficult thing for me — how badly they wanted to help me,” says Judd, choking up as she speaks. “And they couldn’t.”

Judd says her depression was triggered after she and Wynonna wrapped their Last Encore tour in 2011. “My whole life had meaning and purpose and I lost my purpose,” Judd says. It took three years of medication, therapy and other treatment to get her back on a path to health, “I’m still recovering,” she says. And, she notes, she’s still vulnerable. “I know I can backslide.”

For more on Judd’s battle with mental illness — and for an exclusive excerpt of her book, River of Time, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

In the fall of 2015, she faced a test when she and Wynonna reunited for a nine-date residency in Las Vegas and the duo had to make room for a third: Wy’s new husband Cactus Moser, who led the backing band.

“It’s hard to understand but when you’ve been a duet since the day she was born and then someone else comes along that you don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye with in a lot of ways, and one of the ways is music… everything about it was just a little off,” Judd says of the Vegas shows. Cactus and Wynonna, who earlier this year released a new solo album, Wynonna & The Big Noise, produced by her husband, “had their own music that was very different from Judd music. They played a mandolin on Judd music, which I didn’t go for! There was a constant crackle of tension.”

Toward the end of the Vegas run, Naomi developed bronchitis and ended up hospitalized. With another curtain falling on her career, more family discord and her ailment, Naomi knew her mental health could be in jeopardy again as well, “but I had a leg up because I had already seen where I had been,” she says. “And Wy and Ashley were around me and they knew what to watch out for and they knew how to fuss at me if something was going on.”

Brien Foy

Today, she says, she doesn’t see Wynonna as often as she’d like, even though she and Ashley both live within walking distance of their mother on adjoining farms in Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee “She’s been out on the road so much with her husband. They just started building a studio. They’re writing, producing, making their own music.”

But Wy and her son Elijah did drop by recently for one of Naomi’s weekly Thursday night dinners: “Everybody knows that on Thursday nights at 6 o’clock if you’re in town, come over and there’s going to be tons of food and we do bent-over double belly laughs and we play games.” And, Judd says, she’s hoping both daughters show for her Christmas party. “Everybody will be here — and I expect everybody to be on their best behavior!”

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