I’m currently 43. My children are now 26, 18, 16, and 10. I didn’t receive my diagnosis of major depressive disorder until I was 41; therefore, I also received no treatment until that point. I had no idea that I had been suffering from a medical condition for years. I thought I was just pretty crappy at this mom thing sometimes. As it turns out, I needed help and thankfully I received it.
I made many parenting mistakes prior to my diagnosis. My depression caused me to believe the negative and irrational thoughts in my head. These thoughts affected me and then they spilled out onto my family, too. I said things that were detrimental to myself and my children. I would hear myself and know that I was acting illogically and irrationally, but I just couldn’t stop. It was as if this unstoppable and uncontrollable force was propelling me forward with brutal strength and power.
After these incidences, I felt the weight of crushing guilt. I believed I was the worst mom in the world and that my children deserved someone better, calmer, more able to control her emotions. I would cry and apologize profusely. Then, when I was alone, I would contemplate suicide because I felt it would be best for my family since I was so “messed up.”
Of course, we had many wonderful days together as a family. In fact, most of our times were good times. We have always been close and enjoyed one another’s company. My middle two children have always been (and still are) home-schooled. I wouldn’t change that; it’s brought us a great deal of pleasure, and we’ve all learned and are still learning so much. It’s just that sometimes closeness can add more stress. You truly get to see the best – and the worst – of someone when you spend that much time together. Adding depression to the mix can certainly fuel the fire, as can other stressors.
With all of this already going on, we added to our family through adoption. We brought a baby girl home from China in 2009. We didn’t realize it at the time, but her special needs turned out to be a great deal more severe than was initially disclosed to us. As the years went by, we discovered that she is significantly mentally impaired as well as visually impaired. She also self-harms, which is incredibly difficult for me as a mom. She is non-communicative, so I have to decipher what it is that might have upset her or triggered her meltdown. This is hard for anyone, but for someone with depression, let me tell you that this often feels unbearable.
Forward to January 2017. I’d been in a major depressive episode for months at this point, but I still didn’t know it. I had stopped going out with friends, was eating very little and had lost weight because of it, was not sleeping at night, couldn’t focus or concentrate, had lost interest in nearly everything, and just wanted to sleep or at least stay in bed all day. Then, on January 11, I just felt the most confused and out of touch with reality I’d ever felt. I just wanted to rest and wanted a break from everything. All I knew to do was take my life. That was what I tried to do, but my husband ended up coming home from work early and stopping me. I then spent a week at the hospital in inpatient psychiatric care and finally received a diagnosis and got treatment.
Now that my older three children have reached more mature ages, they talk to me about how my depression and attempted suicide affects them. They are open and honest about how much better it is for them now that I’ve been diagnosed and am being treated than it was prior to that. Sometimes it’s painful for me to listen to how they felt when they were younger and I’d say some of the things I said, but I’m strong enough now and know from therapy that it’s healthy for them to express their feelings and that it’s not an attack on me personally. Also, each of my three older children has some form of mental illness. I am thankful that they were diagnosed and treated early.
I will admit that having depression makes it hard to be a mom sometimes. When I’m having a hard day with my depression and struggle to take care of myself, it’s especially difficult to take care of children. I make sure to ask for help sometimes. My teens help with their special needs sibling. I have friends who help, too. When I’m faced with a typical day where I’ve got to manage things, I use the coping skills I learned in therapy. Self-care is a priority. I am committed to healthy eating, at least three days a week of exercise, and doing something I enjoy every day – even if it’s only for 10 minutes. I’ve found staying committed to these three things energizes me; as a mom with depression, I must be energized.
Guilt can be a factor when you’re a mom with depression. I fight guilt with facts: depression is a medical condition, not a choice. I’m a warrior. I take my antidepressants and go to my therapy sessions and work hard every day to be the best mom I can be. I am thankful for my children. As we’ve been on this journey together, I’ve seen them grow into compassionate, kind, helpful, and loving people. I try to look at the positive side of this depression journey for us all.