Dear Daughter: I Need You To Know My Depression Is Not Your Fault

by Kimberly Zapata
Juanmonino / iStock

Hey little one, how are you? Wait, nevermind. You’re good. I know you’re good. I mean, you’re currently snacking on a bowl of Goldfish, a fistful of Runts, and watching LEGO Star Wars. So yeah, life is good.

Life is peachy freakin’ keen.

But I want to talk to you for a second because life isn’t always sugar, sunshine, and rainbows — because my life is rarely sugar, sunshine, and rainbows — and I want you to know why.

You deserve an explanation.

You see, I suffer from an illness — a mental illness — and this illness affects me every day.

Each and every day.

Of course, I know this doesn’t make sense. I mean, I’m not laid out or keeled over. I’m not spitting up or throwing up, and I don’t have a fever. I look normal. I sound normal, and I seem normal.

I appear to be A-OK, but not all illnesses can be seen, little one. Not all conditions come with a cough or congestion, and “sick” doesn’t mean what you think it means (my disorder cannot be fixed with snuggles and chicken soup).

But I am sick, my love. Sick with a mental illness, with depression.

“De-pres-sion?” you ask. “What is depression? Are you okay, Mommy? Do you need medicine? Are you going to be OK? Are you too sick to play?”

Well, yes and no. No and yes.

You see, these are good questions, sweet one. Good questions which deserve an answer. Unfortunately, depression is muddy — very, very muddy — and the answers you seek aren’t always cut and dry.

They aren’t always black and white.

But I will tell you what I can when I can. And right now, I can tell you this: Depression is an illness which affects your body and your mind. You can’t catch it, like pinkeye or a cold. You can’t pass it through a kiss or by sharing sippy cups and straws, and depression can be treated.

Thanks to medicine, most days are asymptomatic. (That means mommy feels fine. Most days, Mommy is good. She is OK.)

However, sometimes my depression acts up, and when it does, I am achy and sleepy. Weepy, short-tempered, angry, and sad, and I don’t want move. I don’t want to eat. I don’t want to stroll through the park or even to the playground across the street because I don’t want to do anything.

I don’t want to hide in bed or lie on the couch.

And it is these days which hurt you most — it is these days which affect you most — because you are 3, and you don’t only need my attention, you want my attention. You yearn for my attention. You beg for my attention, and yet I don’t give it. Not fully. Not completely.

I am with you, but not present. I am beside you, but my mind is missing. I am not truly there.

And for that I am sorry. I am so, so sorry.

Make no mistake: I’m not sorry for my depression. I cannot be. It is an illness like any other, and it is beyond my control. But I am sorry for how it hurts you. I am sorry for how I have hurt you, and I am sorry for how it has affected you.

I am sorry if my apathy has ever made you feel neglected, unwelcome, or unloved.

I am also sorry for the “little things.” For the canceled playdates and the “not tonight” dinner dates. For the “mommy’s napping through breakfast” breakfasts and the cold cereal suppers. I am sorry for the games I haven’t played, for the puzzles I haven’t done, for the pictures I haven’t colored, and for songs I haven’t sung. And I’m sorry for the tea parties I haven’t attended, for the trees I haven’t climbed, and for the picnics we haven’t had.

I’m sorry for the dances we’ve never danced.

Because if I’m being honest with you, there have been days in which I’ve been too sick to play. Where I’ve been so lost in my mind and consumed by sadness, fear, anger, and self-loathing that I cannot function, but I can only imagine how that makes you feel.

I can only imagine how sad, disappointed, and rejected you feel. And I can’t help but wonder, as you scuttle away with your eyes turned down and your head hung low, if you think this is somehow your fault.

If you think the anger, the apathy, the tears, or my “no, not now, dear” answers are your fault. And that crushes me.

It guts me to the core because it isn’t true. It couldn’t be further from the truth.

So listen, little one: While I know this depression thing is confusing — while I know it is hard to explain, and even harder to understand — I want you to know that I’ll keep trying to be better and to get better. I’ll keep talking (and working) to explain it to you better, and I’ll do whatever I can to be a good mom. A healthy mom. To be the loving, present mom you deserve.

But there will be bad days and sick days and days when my depression will win. And on those days, please remember that I love you. I will always love you, and no matter what happens — no matter how many tears I may shed or naps I may take — my moods are not your fault. My feelings are not your fault. My erratic thoughts are not your fault, and my illness is not your fault.

My depression is not (and never will be) your fault.