Parenting While Depressed: Navigating a Battlefield (Part 2)

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.

drowning

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.

children

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.

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Parenting While Depressed: Navigating a Battlefield (Part 1)

“Mom, whatcha doing?”

We were standing in the bathroom first thing in the morning. I was barely awake, but my then 8-year-old was wide awake. And curious. Normally, I answer her questions without any hesitation, but that one was a little different. See, I was taking my anti-depressants and I knew this question wouldn’t be cut and dry. And I knew the way I handled it could affect her perspective on mental health for the rest of her life.

I could pass it off as vitamins, which wouldn’t have been totally false. One of my pills is Vitamin D, so yeah… I could rationalize the shit out of that. But in the back of my head, it would still be lying to my kid and I am never cool with that.

I could tell her that it’s medicine and not explain anything further. She had severe asthma when she was little, so daily medication isn’t a big deal in her world. It’s kind of par for the course. But she wouldn’t let me get away with that kind of over-generalization and I knew it was a cowardly approach anyway.

I could flat out lie and tell her it was for allergies or some other such nonsense. But again, with the lying to my kid. It’s just not in me, and really … what kind of message does that send?

I’ll tell you what message it sends: that depression is something we have to hide and that medicating for it is something bad or dirty. That is the last thing I want her thinking. Depression already has enough of a stigma in society; my little girl doesn’t need her own mother silently pushing that stigma onto it as well.

“I’m taking some medication that helps me feel better,” I said. “Sometimes, I have a hard time being happy, even when I should. This medicine helps me feel more normal and enjoy every day more.”

She looked at me for a few seconds before nodding and saying OK. She asked if I was happy right that moment, and I smiled, hugged her and said yes. It wasn’t a lie.

girl

The hardest part of being a depressed parent is the fact that this illness can steal away the joy of watching your kids grow up. My littles are still really young: 9 and 5 right now. They are going through some huge milestones right now: losing teeth, riding bikes for the first time, going off to kindergarten, sleepovers, and on and on and on. They are constantly filled with joy and wonder. And they are exhausting little buggers when you are trying your best to just hold your life together as it threatens to fall apart at the seams. This discussion definitely counted as one of the more exhausting aspects of parenting.

It didn’t end with the med talk, of course. She’s not a rapid fire interrogator. She likes to let things marinate. So we revisited the topic several times that week. It went a little like this, spaced out over several days.

Q: Why aren’t you happy when you should be happy?

A: Well, that’s kind of complicated, honey. I have something called depression and it sometimes makes it hard for me to be happy.

Q: Hold up. What’s depression?

A: (We googled that shit. She wanted a technical definition and I needed help.)

Q: But if you’re supposed to be happy, why aren’t you? I don’t get it.

A: Yeah. Me either. And it kind of sucks. *This was met with giggles and a little disbelief. But I assured her I was not pulling her leg. I really didn’t fully understand what was wrong with my brain. Which led to this next gem.

Q: Is your brain sick?

A: No. And yes. That’s complicated, too. I’m not sick like you are when you have an asthma attack. But yeah. There are chemicals in my brain that aren’t in the right balance and that is why I take medication to help equalize that.

Q: Does it hurt?

A: (This was hard for me. If you have depression, you know it fucking hurts. But she’s my baby and I don’t want her worrying, which she would. But lying again… So here is what I came up with.) It hurts that I see other people happy and I know I should be but I’m not. It hurts to fake it sometimes when I can’t actually be happy. And sometimes, I get a little overwhelmed. But it isn’t exactly physical. (Yeah, that’s a little bit of a lie. But I’m ok with it, because that’s protecting her… And no, that’s not a rationalization. She doesn’t need to worry that I’m aching inside.)

mom and daughter

Q: When’s it going to get better?

A: Just like you’re always going to have asthma, I’m always going to have depression. But some days are better than others. Some days are really stinking awesome. And some days just stink. But I’m doing the best I can to not let it affect me being your mom.

The end of all of this was that my daughter and I had a really open and honest discussion about mental health. I want to talk more about how the decision to be upfront with her affected my depression and anxiety, but this post is already hella long. And so, Part 2 will post in a day or two. Stay tuned!