How It Felt to Have My Motherhood Questioned Because of My Mental Health
I had to ask her to repeat the question. It couldn’t be — I must have heard her wrong.
“Are you overwhelmed by being a mom?” She paused for a moment and then continued. “Are you using your depression to avoid your responsibilities at home?”
There was a long silence in which so much was said. I couldn’t look her in the eye. My anxiety started acting up and I could feel my emotions washing over me.
You have no idea how hard it is for me to enjoy something. I actually cannot remember the last time I felt joy. Sure, I laugh and play around with my kids because I don’t want them to see and feel my depression. I don’t want my depression to steal their childhood. I’ll keep on my Super Woman cape until they are in bed, and then I will collapse in a heap of dry bones. It takes everything out of me to do simple things — play snakes and ladders, pack lunch boxes, help with homework. But I do it, because my kids deserve a great childhood.
I couldn’t answer her. So many thoughts ran through my head. I wanted her to imagine running up a few flights of stairs with full firefighter gear, and then imagine doing it nonstop for seven hours. Mentally I do it every day – and for my kids’ sake I will keep on doing it with a smile.
My borderline personality disorder (BPD) makes me feel completely inadequate, so I overcompensate for all the weaknesses I see in myself. And depression highlights each and every little flaw. I am relentless on myself. I believe if I fail my kids on any level, they will reject me — so I become anxious, because rejection is one of my biggest fears. The carousel never stops — I’m not enough, I overcompensate, I feel drained, criticized, feel like a failure, struggle with anxiety and depression… And then I’m again not enough, I overcompensate, feel drained, criticized… day after day, for years on end.
And there are days I just cannot be the best mom to my kids. Not the mom I want to be. My anxiety and depression make me irritable. But I can identify those moods and I know it is a sign of burn out. So I give myself a little grace. I’m kind to myself and shove the inner critic a little deeper into the closet. “Not now. Not today. Today I will just live.” On days like these, I don’t even try to be the best mom — I am just mom, and for me that is still pretty awesome!
The past weekend I had to put myself in timeout. I’ve had a lot of stress and I was unnerved. I explained to the kids that I was just going to take it easy and if they wanted to come build some puzzles or do some crafts while I watch a movie, they can do that. Later in the day when I walked into my room, I saw stick-it notes all over my walls. The kids wrote little notes for me, without me knowing. “You are the definition of fun.” “We love spending time with you.” “You are my favorite person.” And many others.
I remembered those notes as I sat there, still unable to answer the woman’s question. No, my kids don’t overwhelm me — they energize me. I have learned to act the opposite in order to get out of a rut. By putting on a happy face — however draining it might be in the beginning — keeps me out of the dark places. And soon it’s not an act anymore — if I can stay in the moment, I can share a bit of my kids’ childhood.
And my mental health is not an excuse for anything. It is something I live with, something I have to manage every day. My mental health motivates me to be better than who I was yesterday — because I don’t want to go back there. I don’t want to get stuck. I know I will get through this.
Oh, how I wish I had told her all that. But I didn’t. I kept a downward gaze and realized if she could ask a question like that, she would not be able to understand the answer. So I kept quiet.
She left shortly after that, but the pain of her question stayed behind.
Unsplash photo via Dawid Sobolewski