What I Want My Son To Understand About My Depression

by Susana Kuehne
A mom with anxiety and depression in a blue dress holding her little boy in her arms.
Elizabethsalleebauer / Getty

My mom suffered from depression for years after my parents’ divorce and I blamed myself for the majority of her struggle and anxiety, thinking there was more I could have done as a child to help her or prevent it. I don’t want my son to go through that, and the older he gets the more I wonder how long I’ll be able to hide my condition from him. With his third birthday just around the corner, I thought it might help to write a letter for him to read in a few years.

To my adorable little boy:

I know one day you’ll be older and start to notice how I cringe when people say something to you that’s not nice. You’ll wonder why I won’t let you ride your bike five miles to a friend’s house or why I constantly ask you questions about your day and your feelings. It may seem odd to you when I clean the house multiple times a week or yell at Dad for forgetting something that seemed unimportant like picking up laundry detergent or taking the dogs to the vet. At times you’ll ask me why I’m crying as I watch you open birthday presents, if it happens every year.

It may embarrass you when I confront a teacher or parent for wronging you when you never even noticed what they did, and occasionally you’ll ask Dad why I like to wake up early on Saturday mornings before everyone else just to watch TV. Or why I never get your name right on the first try after rattling off the dogs’ names and sometimes even your dad’s name before coming to yours — like my mind was going through all the choices before making a decision, when really it’s just that my mind is racing in a million directions at any given moment. There may be times when I’m so silently staring off into the distance that you’ll be tempted to wave your hand in front of my face and ask if I’m okay.

Some day you’ll see how much I worried about saving money for you. Not particularly for college or a wedding, but in case you got an illness that wasn’t covered by insurance or in case me or dad lost our jobs and needed to pay bills and feed you while we got back on our feet. Not being prepared and not knowing causes me anxiety that’s on another level. Perhaps it may be subtle, but you’ll also start to notice that I quickly change moods and change my mind at any given time. And eventually you’ll put together that the days when I don’t take my little blue pill will seem to coincide with the worst of it all.

If you ever wake up in the middle of the night and see that I’m watching or praying over you, don’t be alarmed, I just like to treasure the moments when, as a mother, I feel like I can best protect you because I know where you are and what you’re doing.

There are so many news stories and movies of children that get kidnapped, killed, or raped and I never want to be the mother who has to identify her child’s body or sit in a police station demanding that they find you. The odds may be against us for a lot of these horrible things, but they’re still possible and it makes me cry just thinking about it. Though, it’s not normal to be afraid of all of this and think about it constantly, and even if I don’t trust other people, I have to trust God.

I thank God every night for how lucky I am to have you and ask Him to help me be the most wonderful version of myself for you. Because even though I love you endlessly and in a way that sometimes hurts me or annoys you, there are so many other pieces in the puzzle for being a great mom. And I admit–I’m afraid that my bipolar depression might sometimes get in the way and push me to lose my temper or snap at Dad in front of you for something insignificant like talking to a waitress at the restaurant or not answering my calls right away. Paranoia haunts me. I worry that I’ll be so uptight about keeping the house clean just so I can feel at peace in my home that I’ll miss the things you’re trying to tell me or the moments when you need me to help you with your homework or attend a tennis game.

But whenever you lock yourself up in your own world, confused, and start to think you’ve done something to upset me and that’s why I’m acting strange, just rest assured that it’s not true. Nothing you could do would ever make me love you less or treat you with resentment or indifference. Moms just think differently and are often overtaken by this fierce connection that forms between them and their baby before that baby is even born. This special attachment might lead us to overreact at times. But some mommies have it harder and need to try extra hard to balance their feelings with good judgment. And when my behavior causes you to feel shame or sadness, know that it’s not you, it’s me.

You’re perfect in every way. It’s me that will sometimes be overcome by paranoia, fear, mood swings, depression, self-loathing, obsessive compulsive disorders, anxiety, manic behavior, jealousy and other ugly habits. My only hope is that I can practice enough self-control each day to be the happiest, most comforting, loving and reasonable mother to you that God will allow me to be.

But I’m sorry in advance for the days when I fail and beg you to remember that it’s not you, it’s me.