How Will My Kids Remember Me?

by Stephanie Portell
A depressed mom lying on a couch while covering her face with her hands, worried about what will her...
KatarzynaBialasiewicz / Getty

Have you ever thought about how your kids will look back and remember you when they are grown? When the days that seemed to last so long breaking up fights and saying no to another snack are long gone? When the short hours of alone time between their bedtime and yours are no longer short because there isn’t a reason to savor them anymore?

I have.

I picture my two boys grown up and reliving their shared childhood memories through different lenses using different words to describe them much like my sisters and I do.

I imagine two grown men still bringing up senseless fights from a decade past. Except that now they can laugh when there still isn’t a “winner,” and not stomp to their room they never wanted to share because I’m a single mother who can’t afford three bedrooms — one for each of us like they are accustomed to. But sometimes after a particularly bad day or week, or sometimes for me even an entire month, I wonder – -are they going to remember me as being a sad mom?

I’ve struggled with depression throughout my life. The moment I saw the two pink lines eight years ago my depression amplified, blowing up like a balloon no pin could pop, no pill bitter enough could bust through it to let the air out.

Or back in.

I remember times when it felt like I couldn’t breathe and knowing that experiencing it again is enough to to make my heart beat fast and my mind restless because I’m so terrified to be knocked down again.

I’m so terrified the next time might be the time I ask myself why even get back up?

Some weeks were better than others and, of course, I was conscious to cherish those moments then just as I am now.

Through my experience of reaching out to family and friends, which is what we are encouraged to do and what I didn’t do then but try to now, I have at times found myself frustrated with the lack of perspective they fail to have. Or even try to have.

After six full days of texts from my mom asking me if I was okay and six full days of me saying, “Yes, I promise I’m just a little down,” I finally broke down and said, “No, I’m not okay; I am sitting in my car ugly crying because it’s been three weeks and I can’t remember the last time it lasted this long. I’m not ok because it’s been three weeks since I haven’t felt dread as soon as I wake up with the only glimmer of relief being when I’m finally all alone, and I know I can go back to sleep. For 12 hours.”

My mom means well, but she doesn’t understand depression because she’s never been through clinical depression. She asked me if I wanted her to come over. She asked me what she could do. She told me this will pass, not knowing that it won’t just pass the way a bad day does and not knowing that when it passes the effects are still tied to me and double-knotted where it won’t come undone no matter what mindset I try to have, no matter what the amount of positivity I try to muster, and that I’m terrorized knowing I could come unraveled again without warning.

She told me I have to be healthy for my kids and that I can do it and things could be worse, but that’s not how it works.

How it works is once the darkness finally starts to lift and a glimmer of light peeks through, the hope within that light is tainted by everything you fucked up while you were down and you find yourself with the overwhelming burden of getting back up again.

You know that what you have just beaten will only come back to push you and shove you down again. And next time it might win.

But it’s still nice to know someone cared even if they don’t fully understand it. Once I explain to her I would appreciate some perspective that you can’t just pull yourself out with a will and a wish to be “OK” again, even though I have never felt “OK,” she understood.

So even when you would rather do anything other than tell someone how you feel, please do. Don’t be the person that doesn’t. Don’t be me.

I was the woman who refused to admit the extent of my struggle, but instead chose to present it with humor. Making jokes about how they drive me “crazy,” and mommy needs some wine and a live-in nanny. What mommy really needed was the courage to tell someone, anyone, how I was feeling and more importantly the extent to which I was feeling it.

I worry that my depression has made a negative impression on them over the years. I worry it altered the way they will remember me, but then again, did I ever have control over that anyway? Does any parent? Probably not. I worry that my 8-year-old will connect memories as he matures and realize all the naps I took were because I would rather be asleep than awake. Not because I worked all the time. I worry he will remember the scary feeling I read all over his face when I went through a particularly rough couple of weeks moving apartments alone when I reached my breaking point and my depression reached its peak and the depression presented itself with anger.

What can we do as mothers when we feel like we are not broken enough to reach out for help, but are so close to shattering we are scared to live the way we should?

Scared to be the kind of mom our kids need us to be? The kind who plays and laughs and makes voices for the characters in their books and the kind who is their rock.

Don’t wait until you are at the point of sleeping not to be awake, and awake wishing you were asleep.

Talk to someone about how you are feeling. They will likely tell you to take care of yourself. Which is near impossible at times. At least for some of us. For those of us like me that were already failing to take care of ourselves before we even had kids. But give them a chance to listen and give yourself a chance to talk and a chance to feel better.

Even though I know I couldn’t help it at the time, if I could go back, I would reel in my negative outlook and my will to appear strong when someone checked up on me and I would instead dish out how tired, pissed, isolated, and lost I was feeling.

If you still have the chance, then take them. Take it to talk to someone, or go to the doctor, or join a community, or pursue a passion, or anything you can think of that might bring you closer to your old self so that you can work on you new identity as a mom.

For all the times I experienced depression these past eight years, I hope I hid it well from my kids, and I know they will remember the good memories we made, and the traditions we started on our own. I also know that they are going to be aware of what depression is not by definition but by experience because I talked about it. It showed its ugly self, but I hope my courage to deal with the ugly made me beautiful in their eyes when they grow up. Because they were my motivation and my reason.

I hope they see me for more than those couple of horrible years I was depressed.

I hope they see me. Not a sad mom but a happy mom.