Depression has not always made me the best friend, the best sister, the best daughter, or the best wife. In fact, it has often made me a shitty one. I pull away from those I am closest to. I retreat to a corner of my house – usually the bathroom (why is it always bathroom?) – and hide behind locked doors. I curl up on the cold tile floor, sit in darkness, and lie beneath my unwashed towel.
I withdraw from everyone and everything, but by the time I do, the damage has already been done: volatile words have been spewed and tears have been shed. But there is one thing I can thank my depression for, one thing, and one thing alone I think my depression has improved: my parenting.
Make no mistake: parenting through a depressive episode is hard. Hell, it is almost impossible. Smiles are forced and trying to keep a level head is absurd. I find myself prone to screaming and teetering on the edge of a blind and chilling rage when my daughter throws a tantrum or refuses to wear her diaper.
Lately, my daughter has taken to throwing her food, and slapping my hand – or cheek, if I am close enough – when I tell her the behavior is unacceptable. Lately, it has taken every ounce of strength to turn that anger off, and into tears instead.
Even when we are calm(ish), when we are quiet, and when we are enjoying “happy times,” walking to the park or sitting on the couch watching Elmo, I struggle. I struggle because the quiet causes my mind to race and my thoughts to become erratic, and reminds me the “little things” are grandiose, life-changing, all-or-nothing decisions. I struggle because I am numb. I struggle because I am not happy. I struggle because I am so close to my daughter – she is quite literally sitting on my lap, her head resting against my breasts and her feet propped up on mine – yet I feel worlds away.
But depressive episodes aren’t the norm. On a normal day I am loving. On a normal day I can see clearly; I enjoy taking my daughter to the playground, blowing bubbles, and lying on my stomach coloring. (I color dinosaurs purple and the sky green because I fucking can.) On a normal day I am my selfless, generous, klutzy, and unintentionally funny self. On a normal day I am the woman I want to be and not the mom (and wife) I sometimes am.
How, then, does depression make me a better mom?
Thanks to my depression, and my mistakes (i.e. my short fuse and strange emotional outbursts), my daughter is learning the power of an apology. She is learning accountability; she is learning forgiveness. She is learning it is OK to ask for help, and it is OK to cry.
My daughter is learning empathy.
You see, my depression allows her to see behaviors I am not proud of. My depression allows her to see ugly, terrible things – things I would never wish on anyone – but instead of turning the torch on myself, as I have done so many times on the past, I am allowing it to illuminate me, and her. Instead of absorbing guilt, which only further fuels my depression, I am letting it go. I am learning to apologize. I am learning to explain to her that mommy isn’t always OK. It isn’t her fault, but sometimes mommy’s illness makes her sad, or mean.
I am learning to share instead of shut down.
I am learning to let her, and others, in – to keep the bathroom door open, and maybe even turn the lights on.
I am learning that apologizing for my behaviors isn’t the same as apologizing for my disease.
I am learning that living with depression isn’t how I imagined it, but I am living nonetheless.
So fuck you, my dearest depression. While you are still a sack of shit, and you undoubtedly make my life (and motherhood) more difficult, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Because you are making me a better mom and, more importantly, you are making my daughter a better human being.