This very moment, I'm blinking rapidly just to stay awake, but every night when I lay to sleep my mind does not, and cannot, stop racing. The obvious bags beneath my eyes may tell you part of my story, but not the important parts and definitely not the reasons why sleep evades me even when I'm so obviously exhausted. From my children. From finances. From work. From the stresses of just being alive. This, along with a laundry list of other "minor" symptoms, are some of the struggles only moms with major depression can understand.
My war on depression began decades ago, when I was younger than both my children are now (5 and 10). As far back as the days my younger brother arrived, shaking up my world without a care, I knew something was off inside me. The chemical imbalance stems from a strong family history of mental illness, more prominent in the females. Regardless of my external triggers — a lifelong identity crisis, a turbulent home life, issues with being overweight for which I was bullied, and lack of self esteem — I seem to have been born with the deep weight of void.
I say this just as I found my 10 year old daughter curled up in a ball on the floor. She's been having issues with friends treating her unkindly at school — cliques and cattiness that's eaten away at her — among the gradual transition into puberty (i.e. hormonal triggers), so things haven't necessarily been "smooth sailing." However, this time something was different. Earlier that day, she mentioned in passing how difficult school and learning had become. Her inability to concentrate and listen had gotten her in trouble. Being this sort of spitfire, free-spirited creative, I didn't think much of it because she's generally a thoughtful, compassionate, intelligent girl who has managed good grades and appears to be well-adjusted. Then again, this could be the exact phrasing outsiders might use to describe me, unknowing of all I struggle with every single day. The anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are all part of me before I step out of bed. It's a lot to carry, and more than a lot to hide from the world.
So, in that moment and before my daughter muttered a word about what plagued her, I knew. In her eyes, I saw the younger version of myself. The one who'd cry herself to sleep. The one who sleeps with tissues under her pillow even now, because old habits die incredibly hard. My bright-eyed baby confessed she'd been feeling so gloomy, it'd begun to cause her pain in physical form. In an instant, I had flashbacks of a culmination of recent days she complained of neck and shoulder pain, being tired from little sleep, stomach aches, headaches, and all things I've experienced as a depressed child and adult. It was, is, an unsettling, guilt-ridden feeling to know that I've passed this disease onto her, or to think of all I've been through to feel a little happier only to fear that she may experience the same, frustrating journey.
Once that conversation ended, I tried my very best to leave my daughter with a hope that she can, and will, feel better. Though, to be honest, my encouragement feels like a betrayal. In the last six months, I've had medication adjusted four times and am right back to square one with another. Every woman in my family still struggles with the ongoing battle with depression, and the stigmas attached, so to know my child is about to embark on a similar path? Well, let's just say I feel absolutely responsible. I'm angry with myself for not providing her with the best chemical makeup, the best words of encouragement, and the best example of a mother. Because at the end of the day, I'm still fighting the war, too. Here are some of the struggles I continue to fight my way through, knowing my kids are watching with hopeful eyes that it can and will get better. I have to hope, for the sake of my daughter's mental health.
Dreading The Start Of Every Morning
While I've never been a morning person, both of my kids have always been early to bed, early to rise. While it works for us, it still took some time to get used to their natural body clocks. I've adjusted the best I'm able, but it doesn't mean I love it. My husband is a night owl and tends to sleep longer than I prefer so when it comes to setting the tone of the day, it's on me. When I'm in the thick of a depression, it takes every bit of mental strength to get out of bed.
But I don't do it for me. It's for them. They need breakfast before school and with such a short window, it doesn't matter what I feel like. They need me, so I'm there.
Avoiding After School Activities
I love that my kids want to try different things. My daughter has done everything from dance to karate and still hasn't found her "thing." Those days I'm having a hard time just being a human, it's difficult to force myself out of the house to the events she needs me to be at. I go, because that's what parents do, but there isn't a second I'm comfortable in my skin as I do it. I so envy mothers who are able to go and enjoy whatever it is their child is passionate about.
Not Feeling Present
Every evening, when the chaos of the day settles, I give myself the best pep talk possible. I promise to sit on the floor and play with kids. To be completely focused on them while I'm playing. To not let my mind wander.
It's a lot harder than it sounds and something I had to practice when in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This particular type of therapy uses a series of techniques to ground you into the present and, to be honest, my achilles heel. My mind fights it and tries to think of the news headlines, all I have on my to-do list, past transgressions; everything but time with my kids. I still have a hard time being present for them like I want to be but because my husband (their father) works second shift and I'm the primary caregiver, I never stop trying, no matter how depressed I feel. I don't want their only memories of me to be of my lingering sadness.
Hoping Our Children Have Friends But Also Not Wanting The Responsibility
I love that we live in a neighborhood filled with children my kids can play with. It's one of the best parts of our small town and something I didn't have growing up. However, there are some days there's a knock on the door for my daughter and I just can't deal. For whatever reason, when I'm really depressed, it stresses me out when she goes outside with friends or if they ask to come inside. There's nothing wrong with any part of it, to be sure, but I have to fight myself on letting my kids be kids. Maybe it's because I was forced to grow up fast and don't remember being much of a "typical" child, so I'm unable to empathize with the sentiment. Or maybe the depression just fogs up my thoughts so there's nothing logical left.
Wanting To Be Excited About Victories But Can't
Those days all I want to do is hide in bed, going for a run, taking a shower, and getting dressed in something other than sweats, are all victories. Unless you've been through it, it probably seems simple enough. To just go through the motions most people go through without thought. The depression tricks my mind into thinking I can't do anything and that I'm useless, so why even try? I've found that in forcing myself out of those repetitive thoughts with something small (being present during play time for five minutes), for the sake of being a better mother to my kids, helps. I might not be cured but at least feel like that victory put me one step closer.
Wanting Help But Not Asking For It
I'm the kind of person who'd sooner drown than scream out for a life jacket. Sure, I'll struggle to stay afloat but on my own will I believe I'll survive. I'm this way because, growing up, I had to learn to depend solely on myself. It's easy to forget I'm not that kid anymore. I have a partner willing to do what's needed and family (like my mom) who'd drive over an hour to take my kids to a movie so I can have a couple hours alone. Asking for help isn't a weakness, I know, but when you're a mom in a depression it sure as hell feels like it.
I want to be my kids' hero, but often end up being an extra in my own life.
Slogging Through The Daily Routines
Because of my OCD, I have rigid schedules for most things. Depending on how depressed or stressed I am, the tics can lighten or worsen or change altogether. One of the hardest parts about being a mom with these disorders is that, as much as I want to control them, they often control me. If there's a schedule, I'll stick to it even if I'd rather not. This includes the most basic things like picking my son up from preschool, making dinner, even work where I usually find solace. The fact is, some days and when I'm depressed, all of it is too much.
Self-Care Falls To The Bottom Of The List
It's rare I won't bathe or get a run in because I know these things make me feel better. However, there have been times they escape me. It's mostly when I'm caught up in the needs of everyone else and I've found myself at the very bottom. This is the prelude to a bout of depression and a warning sign to be more proactive.
Feeling All Alone Even When Your Kids Are Right There
Many nights, especially when my husband is working, I find myself cuddling my children before bed and still feeling like there's no one there at all. Investing in others is taxing, even when it's your own kids. It doesn't mean I don't love them because, and on the contrary,I love them so much that it hurts me inside to know I'm not nearly what they deserve. A lot of mothers feel alone in this parenting thing, maybe because we have collectively decided to take on so much it's a hard fall when we realize we aren't Superwoman.
Hiding To Cry
On the tough days, I admit I hide in the bathroom until I'm finished crying. Depression is overwhelming and all-consuming. As much as I wish there was an off switch so I could just be with my kids, there isn't.
Wishing We Could Just Feel Better
Listen, I'm no expert on every mother's mental health but I certainly am on mine. Having been in therapy since the age of 7 and on nearly every medication invented since I was 9, I know what it feels like to wake up depressed for absolutely no good reason. I have so much to be thankful for and yet, the heaviness reigns. Between meditation, exercise, prayer, medication, therapy, and techniques, I shouldn't have to face another day in the tornado of depression. But the truth is, I will. Perhaps what scares me the most about being a mother, hearing for the first time my daughter is dealing with depression, too, isn't that I won't ever feel better. It's that she won't.
If there's one thing my kids can say about me, it's that I persevere. Quitting isn't in me, no matter how badly I want to. So, if my daughter is at the start of this war, you bet I'm going to lead her charge. And who knows? It just might be the very thing she needs to heal.
The very thing we both need.