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9 Things Not to Say to a Mother Fighting Depression

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1. “Go outside for a walk.”

It’s true, sometimes sunshine and fresh air help me when I am depressed. But I get tired of people suggesting this like I never thought of it or tried it. Now, I do have a friend who shared with me how exercise and healthy eating made a difference in her husband’s depression. I appreciated the careful, loving way she attempted to help me from experience.

2. “You’re lazy.”

This is a tough one for me. My mom and I recently figured out that I struggled with depression as a kid, but I was always just thought to be “lazy.” I have friends and family members who equate my depression with “laziness.” But please understand, I’m not choosing not to do things. When I am depressed, I simply can’t.

3. “Oh, my friend had that. She did XYZ to get rid of it.”

When I am not in the midst of a major depressive episode, I appreciate hearing stories about others who have found helpful ways to alleviate their pain in depression. But if I am really struggling, please don’t blow me off with a pat answer to my struggle. It’s real. It’s painful. I need understanding and validation.

4. “Your kids shouldn’t have to go through this.” (i.e. “You’re a bad mom.”)

This is the hardest part of depression for me. Children absolutely should not have to go through this. Nor should their mothers for that matter. Trust me, guilt is a big part of the cycle of depression for me, especially when it comes to kids. Find ways to encourage the mom, and point out concrete examples of her ability to mother well. Our kids are also one of our biggest motivators to tackle depression.

5. “Snap out of it.”

A lot of people can’t “snap out of” depression. It is an illness, one no one prefers to have. Therapy, medication, exercise, eating right and other things can help, and when they do, I thank God. But it is not as simple as a person snapping out of it. To say that from a lack of education is hurtful.

6. “I’d be depressed, but I don’t have time.”

Ah, the active, busy person who just can’t understand how a mom has the time to be depressed. Comments like this sting. Moms who fight depression, again, do not choose the illness. Please know we really want to be able to do more, and there are times when we might be jealous of you and all you can accomplish. Depressed moms don’t make time to be sad. They carve out time to be well.

7. “Just take an antidepressant.”

Antidepressants help many people who have depression, but not all. I am thankful they make a difference in my battle, but I still deal with side effects and finding the best fit. Also, our methods of treatment are not any of your business, especially medically.

8. “If you tried harder, you’d feel better.”

People who have depression want to feel better. They are brave. They go into battle every day.

9. “How can you be depressed when you have so many good things in your life?”

Depression is not a decision a person makes. “I think I’ll be depressed today.” Um, no. Please don’t say something condescending like this. But also, please, again gently, tactfully, point out the good things in our lives. Chances are, we might need to hear about them.

And these are some other things you can say that can be helpful:

1. “You are brave.”

2. “I’m dropping a meal off at your front door at 5 p.m. Not coming in, just leaving it for you.”

3. “I don’t understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you. I’m not going anywhere.”

The book cover for Still Life

Gillian Marchenko recently published a new book entitled Still Life, A Memoir of Living Fully with Depression . She lives near St. Louis with her husband and children. Connect with her at gillianmarchenko.com. A Still Life closed book study will be starting soon on Facebook. Find details on her author page: Gillian Marchenko Page. She’d love to invite you.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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'Black Women Don't Get Depressed'

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“Black women don’t get depressed” was a mantra I’d grown up hearing all my life. In my family, we are allowed to give ourselves a few days to have a “pity party,” but then you are expected to get up and carry on…business as usual.

Well, in May of 2014, I gave birth to a 31-week premature daughter, Violet-Hazel, due to preeclampsia. A few days after her birth, she was diagnosed with necrotizing entercolitis (NEC) and given a 40-percent chance to live. I suddenly found myself having to balance my own recovery with spending nearly 12 hours a day in the NICU with my 8-year-old daughter in tow and caring for a sick preemie. I ultimately developed generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and postpartum depression (PPD). Through medication, prayer and counseling, I learned to work through my anxiety and depression.

baby after the nicu
Hazy on homecoming day from the NICU

There are days when I feel like my heart is still in NICU even though my daughter has been home nearly two years. There are days when a sound or a scent will remind me of our NICU neighbor, Tyler, who passed away while we were there. There are days when Hazy sleeps too long and I wonder if she’s stopped breathing again. I can’t control those reminders, but I can try to control my responses to them.

Black women are expected to be strong, no matter the circumstance. In our community, we are expected to carry stress, balance our families and careers, and not bat an eye. We are told to pray and to trust God.

I found that in pretending I was OK, I was actually denying myself much needed help. A part of trusting God was understanding I needed to take care of myself physically, mentally and emotionally. I thank God every day that my OB recognized my cries for help. There are still days those things linger and I have to rely on mindfulness activities and breathing activities to center me.

If you find you are in a similar situation, don’t hesitate to get help. The true test of strength is how you handle yourself in times of sorrow. There is no shame in admitting you’ve reached your limit.

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I Was a 4th-Grader With Mental Health Problems

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As a fourth grader, I struggled with hair and wardrobe choices. I had struggles with friends, and math made me want to pull out my permed hair.

author's fourth grade school photo I also began my lifelong struggle with mental illness.

All weekend I hadn’t been feeling well. I had an upset stomach and by Sunday a persistent pain in my side. That afternoon my mom decided it was time to go to the ER. I was anxious and scared. On the ride there I asked her for reassurance that the only reason we were going to the ER was because it was Sunday and the doctor’s office was closed. I wanted to believe I really was OK, but understood at a subconscious level something was very wrong.

We walked in and right away the nurses noted I had the “appendicitis walk.” After some tests it was determined my appendix had burst and I was rushed into emergency surgery. Due to complications I didn’t go home until Friday afternoon.

It took some time, but my body did heal. Unfortunately my mind took more time. Soon after getting home from the hospital I began having trouble sleeping. I could not fall asleep in my own bed.  The more I tried to sleep, the more anxious I got. Nightly, I would go out to the couch and cry until I had exhausted myself enough to sleep.

My parents were helpful and supportive, always willing to listen and pray with me, but soon this was the new norm.

And it wasn’t just the sleeping. I also began to feel extreme and irrational guilt about everything. Things I did years before, things I might have done or thought, things I thought about doing, things I might have thought about doing… I was one big bundle of guilt, and this was expressed by uncontrollable crying. I would tearfully “confess” to my mom, and sometimes that would help. Other times my brain would get stuck, and I would continue to feel guilty and remorseful until the next thing for me to dwell on came along.

That wasn’t the worst of it. I began having intrusive thoughts. Awful images would pop into my head, and I could not control them. They persisted no matter what I did. It’s like telling someone not to think about a purple elephant and that’s exactly what they immediately think about. The more I tried not to think about these images, the more they intensified. Of course I felt guilty,
which lead to more tears. Plus I was terrified because I couldn’t control my thoughts.

Thankfully, despite my embarrassment and shame, I opened up to my parents. They took me to see a psychiatrist. I began counseling and was put on an antidepressant. Looking back I do think I probably had a mild form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from the surgery and hospital stay as well.

Slowly I began to improve. I began to stay in my own bed and actually sleep. The guilt receded. The intrusive images were more difficult to treat. They did disappear for a while only to reappear in sixth grade and again in college, when I was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety.

Sometimes I think back to that time in my life, and my heart aches for that little girl. So much guilt. So many tears. I wonder why I had to go through something like that and why mental illness has persisted into my adulthood. Then I look at my life and realize those hard times helped shape me into the person I am today. I currently work as a therapist for children and adolescents with mental and behavioral health needs. My experiences as a child directly influenced my profession. And I find I have a greater empathy both for my clients and their parents. I have a passion for getting help for children and their parents, not just because it’s my job, but because I have been on the receiving end of that help and know how important it is, how it changed my life.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

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Dear Farrah Gray, You Cannot Just 'Shake Off' Depression

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A photo of a tweet has been surfacing around the internet since January. It was posted by Farrah Gray, an entrepreneur and book author. He says many motivational things to people on his social media pages. So this article is not to bash him but to hopefully bring his attention to something he said that can be harmful to others.

His tweet reads: Somebody is in the hospital right now begging God for the opportunity you have. Don’t you dare go to bed depressed. Shake it off!

OK. I understand he wrote this to encourage others, but depression is not something you can “shake off.”

I think Mr. Gray may be unaware of the 350 million people around the world who have depression.

Depression is not just a sadness; it’s a mental illness. (Key word being “illness.”) Depression can become a serious health issue. Maybe he doesn’t know that in some, major depression is linked to heart disease. Maybe he doesn’t know many people who have depression have severe concentration problems that keep them from performing normal day-to-day activities. Many people who have depression can’t sleep at night.

Maybe he doesn’t know about all the depressed people who attempt suicide and that suicide the 10th leading cause of death in the United states. I’m sure he also may not know that by the year 2030, depression may be the second highest medical disability. By the way, those are just some of depression’s risks. So it’s pretty detrimental to tell someone who is depressed to simply “shake it off.”

You can’t shake off an illness. Many people still need to wake up and realize mental illnesses are illnesses too. Depression is nothing to be taken lightly.

I don’t mean to call Mr. Gray insensitive. I just want him to understand depression is real and those who have it lay in hospital beds too. I should know because depression has put me in hospital bed. We must stop the stigma.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

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My Depression Has Been Exposed as the Liar It Is

I still get goosebumps when I recall the moment it hit me: I’m being had. It was like I just woke up from a nightmare and for some reason I was able to see things about myself I had never seen before. I suddenly saw a cause-effect relationship at work resulting in a life filled with anxiety, depression, disappointment, discouragement and fear. I realized I had never had a gatekeeper to stem the flow of this process.

My thoughts and what I perceived to be life’s truths had become one in the same. I hadn’t questioned this metamorphosis because I had no reason not to trust my instinct or intuition. I knew I was depressed and my brain chemistry was messed up. So I just took this process at face value.

“Of course I feel this way. Of course my life is this way. I have depression.”

However, after this realization, the years of believing the horrific thoughts, bouncing around in my head, began to crumble. As if I had suddenly learned a new language, I was able to decipher the way my subconscious gave these thoughts credence without first filtering, questioning, examining and putting them on trial to test their validity.

I’d been had, suckered, fooled. I had been believing things about myself and my life, without even questioning them first. And just like when George Bailey suddenly realizes he’s alive again, it all came into focus. What if my thoughts aren’t true? What if I am depressed because I am being lied to? What if my depression is a lie? What if my depression is a liar?

I’m not suggesting my depression is some entity or being that has the ability to lie. I know my depression is something I created as a defense mechanism, a coping mechanism or an escape mechanism, something my doctor calls major depressive disorder (MDD). What I am suggesting is, as a result of my depression, I had been thinking wrong things about my life and had never even stopped to question these thoughts. I had let these patterns of negative thinking about my own life and circumstances control my life and circumstances. I had not lived a life examined and so I was living a life I didn’t want to live.

I never questioned if I really believed what I was thinking about myself, about my life and about my circumstances. I just let these thoughts control me like a puppet, like an if/then statement, like an “on” switch. I never even considered there was an option. But, now I know my depression is the great liar.

What it tells me to believe about myself is simply not true. What it tells me to believe about my life is simply not true. What it tells me to believe about my circumstances is simply not true. They are lies, deceptions, brain farts, scratches on my brain’s record that keep skipping and won’t move on, immature reactions to mature situations, childish pouting expressed in a 50-year-old mind, selfish pity where no other source could be found, earned helplessness, surrender, forfeit, fear, rejection and doubt. Lies.

Being a Christian, I know my soul has an enemy. The Bible calls him the “father of lies,” “the accuser of the brethren” and “a lion on the prowl seeking to destroy.” I know his goal is to make me live a miserable life, to make me depressed, to prevent me from questioning the lies my depression whispers to me, to live my life and never wonder why I do what I do, think what I think, live like I live. It wants me to put it out of my mind and write it all off as part of my depression. That’s the way things are, born like this.

Outside of my Christian perspective, I know my depression is the result of years of keeping truths from myself, trying to deny the real me, which means accepting who I am, what I think, what I feel, what I want, what I need and who I was created to be. Years and years of knowing these things, but always having an answer that starts with, “Yes, but…” And years build up plaque over these truths so they become hard to see. A truth that is hard to see is a truth that is malleable and one that can very easily be turned into a doubt. Doubts become questions that, over time, are just more easily answered with lies than they are with truths, especially when the truth is painful, scary or looks daunting.

I’m not saying my depression is over and I’m not saying it will not be a battle I continually fight. I know better. What I do know is I now have a weapon I can use against my depression. I can now enter the fight, instead of suffering like I have an emotional gut shot. I can now intercept my thoughts and test them before they materialize in my life. If they are found to be true, then they will be my mechanism for living. However, if they are found false, I will call them by their name: Lies!

I will no longer allow my depression to lie to me, to dupe me, to destroy me. It has been exposed for what it is and I will never believe it again.

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When You're Slumping Though the 'Getting-by' Kind of Depression

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I’ve been in a bit of a slump the past couple of weeks.

I wouldn’t call it a rut, not a downward spiral, but definitely a downturn in my mood and energy: a slump. I’m not talking about the kind of desperate, gnawing sadness I have sometimes, not a string of really terrible, hopeless days, but more of just a low-level, doing-the-bare-minimum, getting-by kind of depression. The low moments are not as painfully low as they are on a truly awful day, but the high moments don’t feel as happy and carefree as they should (and do) when I’m completely well. I’m a little more able to get out of the house and put a smile on my face, it’s just still hard to feel like I’m glad that I’ve done so.

It’s impossible for me to tell when a slump is coming. It just happens, as I slowly realize I have been stringing together days and days of “blah.” My body might ache a bit more; I’m more prone to headaches and stomachaches; and I sleep a lot. (For example: last night was the first night in two weeks that I was not in bed before dark.) Over the weekend I slept and slept and slept. I got up for a few hours and then went back to bed after dinner, finding it difficult to think of a reason to stay up. If I couldn’t sleep, I escaped into a crime novel and read until my eyes closed. And then I slept some more.

Sometimes I sleep like this because I’m genuinely fatigued. I took a day off from work, using sick time to try to sleep off the misery and exhaustion I was feeling. It didn’t help, but back to work I went the following day. I fought my way through the rest of the week, doing my work, taking moments here and there to check in with my husband about how I was feeling. I tried to just let the depression sit with me through my days; I was functioning but feeling a constant, dim kind of melancholy. Sitting with even just that faint sadness all the time is really, really tiring. So I sleep.

Other times, I sleep like this because I just don’t feel like there’s anything more important or more interesting to do. I let the pile of clean laundry sit unfolded. I let the dust gather around the jewelry and toiletries overcrowding my dresser. I notice the shower curtain liner is starting to mildew. I just let it all go. None of it feels more important than being horizontal, in my bed, away from the nagging world. So I sleep.

Slumps like this can last for days, weeks, even months, for me. I function, get through work, cook some occasional meals, but mostly I just use my energy to get by. Socializing is hard, even with my closest friends and family. I want my husband home but when he’s nearby I get irritated with him for no reason. As soon as I push him away I want him back in the room with me (I’m sure this is maddening, but he takes it all in stride, thank God). I cancel plans so I can rest, or sleep, or hide, and then I feel guilty about canceling plans, so I spend energy using positive self-talk to remind myself I’m not well and I need to take care of myself. That’s exhausting too, so then I go to bed. Again.

If you see me during a slump, you might not even know I’m having one. Upon starting my blog, several people close to me said that they would have had “no idea” I suffer from depression if they weren’t told. I guarantee they have all seen me during a time like this, probably not on a horrible day, but during a bit of a hard time. I have learned to smile and, if not engage, at least quietly observe what’s going on around me and try look interested (rather than grimacing at the negative thoughts in my head, or muttering under my breath for the depression monster to pipe down). The good thing about slumps is, while they take a lot of energy to get through and they are damned persistent, at least they don’t suck all the happiness out of a moment. I can still get in a genuine smile here and there. I’m learning that it’s better than nothing.

So, slump or no, I try my best to be present for the important moments in life. I can name birthday dinners, reunion trips with college friends, weddings, even parties I have hosted myself that have all occurred during a rough patch. I show up. I look the part. It’s OK. I can acknowledge happy occasions and wonderful people. The deep, sustaining joy in knowing that God is good and life is beautiful is not gone from my mind and my heart; I just am less equipped during these moments to fully experience and express happiness in all its shapes and sizes. I have still made the memories, still witnessed the events, still been present in the moment. At the time, I might feel like all I’m doing is mucking my way through the swampy waters of depression, the exultant world around me hazy and out of focus; but I try to remember what I’m doing is being here. I’m living. Maybe the happiness won’t be as big, as uproarious, as full in my heart as I want it to be; but I’m here, where the happiness is, and that’s more than worth slumping through. ​

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