The 5 Ways I'll Explain My Depression to My Daughter

At 13 months old, my daughter is too young to understand my battle with depression. But she still picks up on a lot. She knows when I don’t feel well; when I lay on the couch most of the day she will bring me toys and books to prompt me to play with her. When I cry, she climbs into my lap and stares at my face, confused. She notices my habits, actions and tone of voice when I’m depressed, even thought I try to hide them from her. When she is old enough, I will sit her down and explain my struggles to her. When that time comes, I will be nervous, afraid she will love me less, but I will do it anyway. She deserves an explanation, especially when my depression directly affects her. I’ve given it some thought, and came up with five things to say to her when the time is right.

1. Mommy is sick.

No, Mommy doesn’t have a rash or a fever. My sickness is inside, and you can’t see it. It can’t be fixed with a kiss and a Band Aid, or with ice cream and a movie. But Mommy can and will feel better.

2. The doctor is helping.

Doctors are good. They help us when we’re sick and give us medicine to feel better. Mommy’s doctor is helping. Don’t worry when I go once a week. I go so often because my doctor helps so much and because I want to feel better.

3. It’s not your fault.

Nothing you could do or say could make Mommy sad the way depression does. Mommy isn’t sad for any particular reason, and I don’t want you to blame yourself. Being sick isn’t my fault — or yours. My brain just forgets how to be happy sometimes.

4. Crying is OK.

I know you see me cry, even when I try to hide it from you. I won’t hide it anymore because I need you to know crying is OK. It helps me feel better and let go of all my sad feelings. It’s OK for you to cry, too. When you scratch your knee, when someone hurts your feelings or when you don’t feel well, it’s always OK to cry.

5. I love you no matter what. 

Even though I’m sad, even though I stayed in bed a little longer this morning and even though I didn’t smile at you today, I love you no matter what. Being sad doesn’t change that, and I promise I will be better at showing you.

I expect our conversation to be confusing, awkward and full of questions. I will answer all of them because I want my daughter to understand depression and why I act the way I do when I’m down. She deserves to be educated so she can also learn to identify depression in herself, if she were to experience it. I don’t dread this conversation with my daughter, I welcome it. I look forward to the day when she doesn’t look at me puzzled but instead can snuggle me in a warm hug and tell me everything is OK. She needs to understand my fight against depression because after all, she is the reason why I fight and the reason I want to feel better.

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