“All Mommy does is sleep.”
The words cut me deeply because I try so hard, but she’s right. My 9-year-old is observant, bright and full of life … and she nailed it: “All Mommy does is sleep.” She was talking to my 7-year-old, but I imagine she has probably said similar sentiments to teachers, friends, and her grandparents.
So listen, being a mom is hard. For a million reasons. But honestly, it’s way, extra, super hard when mom has depression. Ask me how I know.
I was first diagnosed with depression in college, but looking back, I was suffering from it in high school too. And then throughout college, both graduate degrees, and adulthood, it’s been short periods without medicine followed by much longer periods of depression medicine and stints with therapy. All of that is to say – I’ve been depressed, and depression is like an old enemy. I think I might have it beat for a little bit, but then there she is, back and raging in all her glory.
I get very apathetic when depressed. It’s not like I’m suicidal, or crying non-stop. Instead I basically just lay around and feel nothing. I’m able to hold down a pretty powerful job, but then that wipes me out and I come home and do nothing aggressively. Then comes the guilt I feel from doing nothing for a few hours. Let’s not forget the crushing guilt that is always present.
I have two kids, now they’re 7 and 9, and had two miscarriages also. Oddly enough, I didn’t have terrible postpartum depression. I actually had this peace and feeling of pure contentment. It was a lovely break from my normal feeling of depression, but that euphoria was short lived.
A time I’m often aware of my depression is during events at the kids’ school. So many other parents are there and seem to know so much more about everything. Like, I know teachers’ names but these other moms know the teachers, the assistants, the lunch ladies, the school nurse – they know everyone. And they just seem happy. It’s at these moments when I’m comparing myself to other moms that I feel so utterly aware of my depression. And I know, I know, comparison is the thief of joy and all that stuff. But the truth remains that I do compare myself to others. I don’t think I’m alone in that either.
I’m aware of my depression at mealtime when I make my kids frozen waffles for dinner. I see photos of the gourmet meals my peers have prepared for their kids and hope that one day my kids learn to eat vegetables.
I’m aware of my depression when I hear things like “Hayleigh and Karleigh take dance classes …” For the longest time, I couldn’t commit to dance classes for my kids because I just can’t promise I’ll have the ability to take them. I have reached a spot where my kids are in baseball and dance, and that’s due in large part to my supportive boyfriend.
My depression was at its worst when my divorce from my cheating ex-husband was underway. Shocking, I know. It was then I found it hard to get out of bed, to do anything more than what was required of me. I made deals with the devil – like I let my kids eat processed, frozen food every night and I told myself: “You can learn to like vegetables as an adult, they’ll be fine.” I let my kids play on their tablets for way too long every day but I reminded them daily, “Don’t tell anyone your real name or where you live or anything about your life.” See what I’m saying? I tried to mother the most I could, but sometimes it was minimal.
Even in these dark days, when I felt I could barely take care of myself, let alone two other humans, I still felt overwhelming, earth-shattering love for my kids. That never once wavered, and I made sure to tell them every day “I love you.” If they weren’t getting the most active mother, at least they should know they are loved beyond measure.
I’ve come to a place where I have fully accepted that I will be on anti-depressants for the rest of my life. I only hope that the pills I take don’t ever wear off, and they continue to do their job so I can function. I think people use getting off depression meds as a goal, a finish line or accomplishment. Not me; I’m better with them. After stopping and starting them about five times, my psychiatrist finally said, “You need them. Plan on staying on them.” And when she said that it became like doctor’s orders: “I needed them.” After all, no one busts on diabetic people who take insulin every day. It’s just a needed, required chemical.
These are the tales of a mother with depression. I know that other moms have similar stories, and that’s why it’s important to share mine. We moms that are battling mental illness must form an alliance. Such a support system can help conquer the guilt we feel.
We see Instagram-worthy mothers all day long. But motherhood also looks like an unwashed mom laying in bed. I know this firsthand. And moms with mental illnesses don’t love their kids any less. I know this firsthand, too.