Last post I was telling you about my discussion with my daughter. There’ve been a few other discussions since that big one, but mostly she’s just accepted that depression is just part of who I am like asthma is part of who she is.
It was a little scary to be so honest with her. She’s still a baby in many ways. She depends on me to be the adult, to always have everything under control. And if you suffer with this disease, you know that that isn’t always possible. Some days it takes every ounce of energy just to paint on a fake smile and zombie-walk through the day. And I didn’t want my baby reading through that war paint to see the pain.
I struggle with the fear that she’s going to feel responsible for making me “happy” every day. The truth is, she and her brother do make me happy every day. Seeing the people that they are becoming is incredibly rewarding. It isn’t always as simple, however, as seeing happy things when you get into a depressive state. And I really didn’t want my girl to see the way depression eats at me and feel like it’s somehow her fault.
It’s easy to say that depression isn’t caused by outside influences and that it is no one’s fault, but that is a really hard concert for a child. Especially one as sensitive as my daughter. She hasn’t come right out and asked me yet if she is what makes me sad, but I do my best to tell her as often as I can how truly happy I am to be her mom.
I think it’s so important for those of us suffering with mental illness to make sure the people in our lives know they aren’t responsible. And it’s hard, because sometimes our actions say otherwise. Sometimes, when we just can’t handle being around others, or when our depression saps our patience, we lash out without cause. Those actions can wound a child or loved one for a very long time. While they might understand that it isn’t really us, it doesn’t stop the hurt.
The secondary hurt that depression can cause is one of the things I struggle with most. They call it a family disease, because everyone suffers with you: family, close friends, even your pets. But I hate that. I hate that there are days I don’t want to get out of bed and my kids see that and think that I don’t want to spend time with them. I hate that that thought is ever in their heads. No amount of open discussion will change that, either. It is there and it is a real side effect of suffering with this disease.
But being honest with her during that discussion was actually really empowering. When I am having a bad day and end up being short with her, later I can go back and apologize and explain what happened. It’s no excuse, and I make sure to tell her that. But it helps her understand, and hopefully will give her a vocabulary to voice her own emotions should she ever be in the same situation.
Of course, part of the worry that accompanies depression is that one or more of my kids will end up suffering with it as well. Clinical Depression, or Major Depressive Disorder, has been linked to a recently isolated gene, known as the Depression gene. It means that if you have a parent diagnosed with Clinical Depression, you are five times more likely to suffer from it than someone else. And that scares the shit out of me.
No one wants their kids to suffer. Ever. And knowing that there’s a possibility one or both of them could suffer from this illness makes me lose my mind. There is nothing worse than suffering from invisible demons that tell you all day long how much you suck. I’m wrong. There is something worse: knowing your kid is suffering from that as well.
I can’t stop it from happening, and as a mom that infuriates me. Yes, I let my kids do karate and climb rocks and do all manner of things that might cause injury. But standing by while they get their hearts broken day in and day out? Nope. Not a happy momma bear. The best I can do, however, is give them a vocabulary to ask for help. To know that they are not weak or damaged if their brains one day betray them with a lack of serotonin and cause nasty, depressive thoughts. I can show them the ways to get help: with therapy, the support of family and friends, and medicine if that’s what it takes. And I can be brave when they ask me for honesty.
It’s the best I can do, and I just hope it is enough.
If you think that your child may be suffering from depression, here is a link to some resources that outline symptoms to look for, case studies on some of the medications that are out there, and where to find help. Don’t ignore your instincts; if you think your child needs help, seek it out. It could be the best thing you ever do for them.