5 Reminders for Mamas Struggling with Depression
Sitting here in the dark, I can overhear my young children playing. My older son is pretending to be Batman and my younger son is pretending to be Leonardo (the Ninja Turtle). Their imagination and creativity is something I admire. My sons are intelligent, compassionate and the most friendly little humans I’ve ever met.
But the one characteristic of theirs I admire — almost envy — more than anything else, is their resilience. They have this innate ability to take a negative moment and completely expel it from their minds as if it never happened.
I recall a time when I accidentally stepped on my older son’s foot (he had snuck up behind me like a tiny ninja), and it hurt him quite a bit. I apologized and he looked at me with a slight smile and said, “That’s OK, Mommy.” Then he proceeded to run off and play with his brother.
At that moment, I began to tear up. I found myself wondering when exactly was the moment I had lost my ability to handle negative things in life the way most children do.
Have you ever been having a bad day and then you realize your patience is gone, your playfulness is gone, your laughter is gone — even your smile is gone? You’re interacting with your child(ren) and then you completely overreact to something that could have been easily resolved.
I spend at least three (probably more like five or six) days a week feeling guilty about being snappy with my sons or not taking them to the park when I said I would or some other thing that would ordinarily seem minor but becomes insurmountable due to my depression.
Writing this piece, I brought myself to tears because I started to think of how my children must feel when I act so impatient with them. Perhaps I was overthinking the situation (after all, preschool aged children aren’t that intuitive). Then I began to think of how I can’t possibly be the only mother on this emotional roller coaster.
I sat and thought of all the things I wanted to hear from the people who’ve known me my entire life, but have yet to (and probably won’t ever) hear, and I decided I would say the things I needed to hear to the many moms across the world who often cry tears they hope their child(ren) will never see.
1. You are good enough.
More often than not, depression (or any other mental illness) will plague you with a false view of who you are as a woman. Your mind is often clouded with feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness and believing you don’t deserve anything good out of fear you’ll mess it up — including being a mom. In those moments, remember depression is a perfectionist when it comes to lying. In those moments, practicing a breathing exercise will help avert an anxiety attack or a spiral of negative thoughts. Spend at least one to two minutes inhaling and exhaling, focusing solely on your breath. If you need to spend five or ten minutes doing that, allow yourself that time. I promise it will calm your heartrate and silence your mind.
2. You are more.
I think the most important thing to remember when you’re parenting with a mental illness is that you are more than whatever illness you’re living with. You’re more than your diagnosis or your symptoms or people’s false opinions of you. You absolutely did not make a mistake in deciding to have your child(ren). You were specifically chosen to raise your child(ren) and no one will ever be able to replace you in their heart(s). Just remember: in order to be your best for them, you have to be your best for you first. You can’t pour from an empty cup.
3. Your children adore you.
When depression has swept us up in another episode, its favorite lie to tell is that our child(ren) would be much better off without us — that our illness is ruining their lives and they would be better suited with a mother who has no mental health issues. That couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, your child(ren) love you probably more than you love yourself. I’ve also learned there are people, some of whom we aren’t even aware of, who truly admire your relationship with your children, whether they know about your mental illness or not. You nurtured your child(ren) in your body and their love for you will never cease.
4. Give yourself some credit.
Life with a mental illness is tough enough on its own — if you’re pushing through motherhood, you’re pretty damn awesome. I know you didn’t feel like showering today. I know you didn’t get to finish the laundry. I see the undone project sitting next to your laptop. Yes, the pantry needs to be restocked. But guess what, you’re a mom — you’re not a superhero. There will be plenty of times when plenty of things don’t get done. As long as your child(ren) are clean, fed, happy and healthy, you’re doing your job, mama.
5. You are not alone.
Depression is common in young, new and veteran moms alike. I had my older son shortly after I turned 23. It was an extremely emotional time for me because I had also lost my father just seven days after my son was born. The doctor diagnosed me with postpartum depression a few months into my son’s life. I’ve been where you are and so have thousands of other moms. There are moms all over the world, at different stages in motherhood, who are battling a mental illness. We must understand that we are never alone on this beautiful (sometimes twisted) journey. Seeking out a support group with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) or DBSA (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance) could be very beneficial.
If you find yourself overwhelmed right now, please call your medical provider and schedule an appointment. If you are having extremely negative or suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or Text “HELP” to 741-741. It’s free. It’s anonymous. It’s available 24/7. If you’re outside the U.S., you can visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a list international resources.
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Unsplash photo via London Scout.