I suffered from depression for years, before I got help.
It started when I was around 13. By the time I was 20, it felt like depression was who I am.
A couple of years passed, and during that time I became the mother of a beautiful blue-eyed baby boy.
I relapsed terribly around the time he was 5.
It's embarrassing to say, I was a very short tempered parent at the worst of times.
Luckily there were also moments when I had heaps of energy and was able to goof around with him and have fun.
As I'm a single parent, for me there's no greater comfort than knowing I can call a friend or family member to take my son Ty out on a play date when I need to rest.
I'm as open as I can be with him, as much as is “age appropriate”, in telling him why some days mommy doesn’t have the energy to do very much.
I try my best to explain to him what I need, and how we can find common ground with what he needs.
Usually he wants me to play games outside or do something that requires way too much effort on my part. So I try to suggest things that entertain him and keep my input to a level I can manage. We end up playing cards, drawing pictures, building with Lego's or a doing a puzzle.
I was hard on myself for a long time, because I felt like I wasn’t being a “good” parent. Brutal is actually a better description for the way I berated myself.
It chipped away at my self-esteem to see other moms doing so well.
I wish I could tell you in great detail actually HOW it all happened or even when… but I gradually forgave myself for many things, and simply let go of my short comings.
It's something I have to keep reminding myself of regularly, “I'm here. I'm doing my best and loving this little boy unconditionally. That makes me a great mommy”.
I didn’t say perfect, I said GREAT! That’s right. Dammit!
I AM a great mommy!
For any other parents out there going through depression, here are 8 things that helped me through. I hope these reminders will be as useful for you as it was for me…
1. Sometimes “good enough” is completely fine
“Don't let perfect, be the enemy of good” – Voltaire
When you suffer from depression, even if you're on medication, some days are harder than others.
In my case it's 3 or 4 tough days in a row.
Try not to be so hard on yourself. Do the best you can, and when you are through the slump get back into your routine.
No one is capable of functioning at a 100% all the time. Take it easy on yourself and be aware of your thoughts. If you pay attention to you thoughts, you can catch yourself before you start spiralling.
Also – it's possible to let your child know you need them to help mommy out for a bit, because she isn’t feeling well.
Whatever you decide to tell them, don’t be ashamed of what you're going through. Taking a “mental health day” is as important as staying in bed when you have the flu!
Children know when something is up, and the way you handle it teaches them how to manage their own “down times”.
So be open with your child. Communicate. It helps your child develop tools with which to process their own emotions.
2. Lighten up and turn up the volume
When trying to hide out in bed or under a blanket on the couch, I've noticed that what I really want is for someone to “see” me. This doesn’t always happen the way I imagine it should.
I would love for someone to show up dressed in a super hero costume. Burst through my door and say, “I ordered all my favorite take-outs, bought bags of candy and got 5 tubs of ice-cream.”
Ugh, maybe my support group needs a few pointers!
What usually ends up happening is my son jumps on me and pulls open the covers to ask, “Mommy, are you awake? Can I ask you something?”
Did I mention that I have a short temper and I’m trying to hideout?
“What do you want? Can’t you see I'm trying to sleep?”
I know it’s the depression talking. And I instantly feel awful. Instead of shame spiraling and berating myself, I get it together and hear the little guy out.
He is checking up on me. I wanted someone to see me and to care, so actually what could be better than the one who loves you most, unconditionally in fact, being there with you at that difficult moment.
3. You are not your condition
Often depression feels very isolating, like you're the only one going through it. It doesn't feel like something you're experiencing as much as it feels like it's who you are. But remember…
Depression is not who you are.
While I can't give you advice on opening up to people around you about the fact you are depressed, because I still haven't mastered that one myself, there's one thing I am sure of. Once you do open up, it will probably surprise you how many smiling faces you know are also actually stuck in that same dark place. You realize you're actually not alone in the experience.
4. Take Small Steps, Each One is a Success
Do what you can do, to help yourself, no matter how small.
I get out of the house and go for a walk. It doesn’t have to be one that goes on for miles and miles, just walk down the street and back. Every little bit helps.
Sometimes I just take a little walk around the outside of the house. Even if I'm still in my pajamas, that is success to me because at least I got out of bed!
Aside from taking a walk, sometimes it helps to listen to music, read books you enjoy, watch a movie, or play with other interests. These things, no matter how seemingly insignificant, can help to support yourself – keeping you moving in a useful direction instead of having too much time on your hands and letting your mind work overtime where it starts spiraling into unhelpful thoughts.
5. Conquer your anxiety and fear
“…fear in not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present exist and may not ever exist. That is near insanity… Do not misunderstand me, danger is very real, but fear is a choice. We are telling ourselves a story…” – After Earth movie 2013
Anxiety has made me super self-aware, and not in a good way!
I mean the kind of self-awareness where I'm worried about what people are thinking when they look at me.
Am I making a fool of myself? Do I come across as stupid? Are they laughing at me? Can they see what a mess I am on the inside?
You know, all those crazy thoughts that make you want to avoid contact with the outside world.
At home I'm a very silly and playful person. I like making jokes, pulling faces to get my son laughing. All-around goof ball, but in public I would not dare show that much personality. I like coming across as poised and well spoken.
But… it’s hard to get a toddler to understand that mommy is funny at home, but in public she is a stuck-up-bore. So when we're out and about, I end up having to tell him more often than I'd like to… “no, don’t do that” or “sit still”.
But in doing that, I was only going to turn him into me!
I hated that thought so much, that it was just the leverage I needed to conquer my anxiety and fear.
Now that I have for the most part, I can say this… the only person whose opinion of me matters is his. The way I enjoy life is the way he learns to enjoy his life. I would hate for him to live a life filled with anxiety, fear and self-doubt because he learned that from me.
I want him to be free, to feel comfortable in his own skin and live “in-spite of” his emotions not “because of”. No matter how overwhelming they may be. And I need to show him how to do that by role modelling it myself. This gives me purpose, and purpose helps to get me through.
6. Forgiveness is essential
On bad days, or in the trenches of an anxiety attack, your judgement isn’t “as sharp as a knife”.
Recognize that your reactions are more often than not out of proportion. Be it anger, sadness or even taking a comment a little too personally.
Forgiveness is just what we need to soothe ourselves through these times.
My son is 6, so most of the time he is dramatic with his wording, to try and get the most out of me. I remember to take what he says with a pinch of salt!
I lay off the intense guilt trips after he has gone off on me, but I make it clear to him that the things he said hurt my feelings. I explain other ways for him to express himself.
It doesn’t always go smoothly of course! But I do my best to make the effort to apologize for my wrongs, and accept his apologies without condition.
On a few occasions my son has left me speechless and awestruck. He forgives like it isn’t a big deal.
Like when I lose my temper, in one of “those moments”. Scenario being;
- Driving in fast paced traffic
- Trying to switch lanes
- Checking the rear view mirror
- Seeing a cyclist
- Radio is blasting a song
- My son is singing along loudly and asks me why I won’t sing along with him
- I retort with a “I’m driving, could you give me a minute to concentrate!”
- I realize I've said it louder and sterner than intended and it was not at all necessary.
- My heart is racing and blood rushing through my veins… it's the makings of a panic attack.
Here's how I deal with it…
I turn down the volume, gather my thoughts and say to him, “Ty, I am so sorry for shouting at you so rudely. Mommy was feeling so overwhelmed and worried something would go wrong. You wanted me to sing along with you. I would love to do that, but sometimes when mommy’s driving there are a lot of things going on. Those things require me to concentrate. It’s important that mommy concentrate because mistakes while driving are dangerous.”
His response, “It's ok mommy, I understand you didn’t mean to shout. I forgive you and next time I will try to give you time to drive first.”
The fact that this little human being wipes my slate clean, just like that, leaves me in awe. Mental note to return the favor! I forgive myself and promise to do better next time.
He has taught me how to forgive myself and others without thinking twice.
7. Ask for help
Whether you're a single parent or have a partner, we all need support.
I’m not going to tell you what that has to look like, it's different for everyone.
So long as you can pick up the phone and talk to someone when you need to.
I still find it hard to open up, even with the people I have opened up to before! But what matters is that I call someone when I need help.
We are often very good at hiding our feelings, so when you do ask for help don’t be surprised when people respond, “I had no idea you felt that way”.
And, if the first person you call isn't available or doesn't give you support, phone another person and another, and another, until you get the help you need! Do not give up.
It's also good to make sure that your child has someone they can trust too, beyond you. Someone you know and can ask to step in when they need an outsider’s help, a safe space.
As a mother it can be hard to accept that you can’t help your child with everything. That doesn’t mean you're doing anything wrong.
Remember the old saying – it takes a whole village to raise a child.
8. Find your tribe
Friends can get us through the darkest days.
So focus on those friends that you can trust, and keep in touch.
Ideally these will be friend who are also parents, that will understand the situation you're in. But at the very least, friends you have things in common with and genuinely feel connected to.
It’s important to have friends that share your values or ideals, that way when you get off track they can steer you straight because they walk a similar path to you.
The main thing is this – as long as you feel like you belong, then that's your tribe.
My tribe has someone older than me by 17 years. Someone younger than me by 4 years (she's my besty and also a single parent). Others in my tribe are married couples, single people, a workout buddy and someone I only talk to over the phone. I even have someone in my tribe who is younger than me by 13 years – she keeps me young and shares my love of gangster music!
My point is, your tribe is your tribe, no matter who they are. If you feel a bond then I suggest you do your best to keep in touch. Reach out to them and allow people to be there for you. Allow people to help when they offer. Learn to say yes to support.
With that said, it also helps to let go of toxic people. The sooner the better! The world is full of beautiful souls and there is no need to be stuck with anyone that makes you feel lousy.