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A Day in the Life of a Mom's Battle With Depression

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It is dawn and I can hear the children stirring in their beds. My son will be the first to come into my room and say, “Good morning, Mom,” while laying his head on my chest. His hair is soft, as his messy bedhead tickles my chin and I can still smell the scent of his shampoo from being bathed the night before. I should be feeling something, right? I should feel this engulfing feeling of love and sweetness at this moment. But instead, it is a feeling of being hollow. I hug him back tightly and say, “Good morning.” I ask him how he slept and he replies, but I’ve already forgotten what he said, so I nod and tell him I’ll be in the kitchen to start breakfast in a few minutes and ask him to go pick out his clothes for school. I don’t want to get out of bed, but for the sake of saving face and keeping routine for my children, I do.

As I walk to the kitchen, I catch a glimpse of this woman in the mirror. I stop and stare. She looks tired and worn, but that is not all I notice. As I stare at her, I realize there is a strange feeling of disconnect; a sense it’s not me I am looking at. I start to drift, not feeling like my body even belongs to me anymore. I stand there, not quite sure for how long when I feel a slight tug on my hand that jerks me back into my body. I look down quickly to see my daughter holding my hand looking up at me, smiling. “Mommy, the sun’s awake!” she says. I look at her and respond, “Yes it is,” with a smile, while inside I’m wishing the sun would go away.

They sit down while I go through the motions. I start the coffee first, hoping it will give me energy and feelings of motivation to get through the day. The kids start fighting over a seat and while on a good morning I would break it up and have them talk it out, this morning, I let the episode of “Gladiator” play out in my kitchen while my back is turned and my eyes shut tight. After a few minutes, I snap at them and take the chair they are fighting over away. Then I start their breakfast. There is plenty of time for me to cook. I could make things like eggs with bacon and maybe some biscuits, I know the kids would love it, but instead, I choose cereal and milk because this morning, the shadow is with me.

I call it the shadow because it is like a darkness that takes over. It follows me everywhere, and just like a shadow, it’s always with me and it chooses when it will come out to make itself known.

The shadow is my depression. It leaves me feeling nothing and fills me with negative thoughts and anxiety. It leaves me questioning every decision I make throughout the day no matter how big or small it is. Sometimes, it leaves me feeling frozen; like if I put my feet on the cool wood floors in the morning to start my day, the whole world might crumble. It has me leaving a full grocery cart in the middle of the store because the thoughts get so loud I’ve lost track of what I’m buying and I can no longer remember what’s on the list. It leaves me snapping at my children and my husband, wanting nothing other than to be alone in bed with the covers pulled over my head. It has me ignoring friends’ and family’s phone calls because the thought of talking and saying the wrong thing or pretending to be OK is too much to handle, let alone the energy it takes to do that just becomes daunting.

The kids finish up their breakfast and brush their teeth while I get lunch together and manage to feed and let the dogs out. I check the clock and it’s time to take them to school. I grab my keys. Still in my pajamas with uncombed hair, I head toward the door telling the kids it’s time to go. They rush to the door fighting over who will go out first. I close my eyes tight again and try to count and breathe, but I snap at them, “It doesn’t matter!” They both look at me surprised, but I can see a fear underneath that builds regret and hatred toward myself for not being more patient.

We finally get in the car and I put on a playlist of their favorite songs. My way of silently making it up to them, instead of saying the words, “I’m sorry I handled that badly because the shadow has my voice and the energy to use it.” We drive and they smile and sing together. I can hear them, but it’s very faint. I’ve drifted off again. We get to my son’s school and as he hops out, I tell him I love him and to have a great day. He yells back, “Love you too!” as he walks off. Next, I drive my daughter to her preschool across the street. This is a task I am not looking forward to. So I park and sit for a while as I try to muster the strength to walk her inside where I will have to sign her in and interact with parents and teachers. This is daunting. I am not made up like the other moms or peppy with a conversation. I just want to drop her off quickly and go invisibly.

I gather myself and put my unkempt hair into a ponytail quickly while I hold back tears from fear and frustration, saying to myself, “Just wait, hold it together a little bit longer. I can’t let her see me cry. I’m her example to follow. Hold it together until you drop her off and get back in the car.”

So that is what I do.

I hold her hand tightly as I swipe the key across the door and we walk in. The woman at the front desk is staring. She says, “Good morning, not feeling well?” I respond with a quick “morning” as I sign my daughter in while thinking to myself, “If this lady only knew.” I walk her to her class, careful not to make any eye contact with anyone walking past. We make it and I bend down and hug her tightly and tell her I love her and I’ll see her at noon. She runs off to greet her friends and I walk back to my car as fast as I can, but not too fast because I don’t want any attention drawn to myself. I get in the car and sit. I just sit there with my keys in my hand. The sun almost feels too bright this morning, and just like that, the tears start to fall.

I am crying mostly out of frustration with myself and regret over not doing a better job this morning with my children. I am crying because the anxiety has me thinking this one morning and others I’ve had like it is what my kids will remember and how they’ll think of me. This impatient mother who raises her voice. I cry because the anxiety is telling me I am setting them up to hate me with my behavior and mood swings I cannot control. Lastly, I cry because I don’t understand it and I don’t know why this happens. Why the few weeks before were happy and I was full of life, starting conversations, keeping a routine, playing games with my children and doing things I love like experimenting in the kitchen, painting or taking the dogs for a walk.

I’m still crying, but at some point, while all these thoughts were flooding in and out, I put the keys in the ignition and I am almost home. I pull into the driveway and sit again for a minute before taking a deep breath and getting out of the car. As I walk inside, I see my coffee cup, still full, and now cold sitting on the kitchen counter. I haven’t had breakfast yet, but at this moment in time, I don’t care because I don’t even feel like making anything for myself. That includes the easily managed bowl of cereal. I am still in my pajamas. I know I should change, but instead, I lie down on the couch. The dogs are wagging their tails, confused as to why we’re not going on a walk like we’ve done the last few weeks after I’ve dropped the kids off. Tears stream again from the guilt of not functioning like other adults. The dogs lie down, it’s like they sense today isn’t a good day and I am not the same person I was yesterday. I’ll continue the rest of the day trying to go through the motions.

However, the laundry will not get done, the house will not get cleaned and while I will pick up the children and help them with their homework, bathe them, make sure they have dinner, help them brush their teeth and read them a bedtime story, there will be no jokes or playful banter from me. I’ll be able to give them light smiles when they say or do something funny, and nod or give short answers to their questions. But the honesty of the situation is while they are making each other laugh and I’m flashing a quick grin or answering their question quickly, I am not present for it. At times, they will have to repeat themselves as I stare at them blankly, wishing I could be the way I am when the shadow is gone all the time.
Once they’re in bed, I stay up. Just thinking. Going over the day in my head on a loop. Wondering what they will look back on and remember from today. Thoughts racing through my head of how I could have done better. How I should have forced and pushed myself more. So in those moments of silence and despair, I write. I write about the day and all the things I hated and I save all the things I loved for last to end it on a positive note. Whether I feel it or not, it is there on paper. It is proof the day was not a complete loss, though I may still feel like it is. The proof is still on the paper.

I decided to write this because I know I am not alone. I also know, as a mother, it is hard to say these feelings and come to terms with them out loud. The worry and fear of judgment from others is so real it becomes debilitating and easily keeps mothers struggling in silence, afraid to say, “I am not OK and I am struggling.” Afraid if you tell your story or voice how you are feeling, someone will tell you that you are not capable of being a great mother. The truth is, there will be people who think that, who judge because they are not educated and don’t understand what it’s like to be dealing with depression or anxiety because they’ve never experienced it themselves. To them I say, “You’re very lucky, we all have our battles and ignorance is bliss.”

Let me just start by saying if you are reading this, you are a great mother. You are not alone. If there is one thing my shadow has taught me, it is we are imperfect and that — that is important to remember. Especially on the bad days. We forget with the wonders of social media our life is not just a feed and we are not just the happy pictures of what we decide to post and share. We are real human beings with feelings that sometimes are so large it feels like our chest could burst. And that is OK.

I still struggle with bouts of depression when my shadow comes out. I still dislike that I get sad for no reason at all, but I understand now that depression is not something you can make sense of and I no longer fight it. I let the storm roll through, acknowledge it, even sit with it despite how uncomfortable it is. Something about doing that makes it feel less powerful, less scary and allows me to have a little more control. Through journaling, I’ve found there are certain triggers for it. It’s helped me navigate it a bit more and stay as prepared as I can for when it shows itself. I find it likes to make an appearance after the holidays, after trips seeing family and when too many things in my life have piled up at once that I cannot control or fix.

Despite it being a disruption to my life at times, I won’t give up trying to evolve and manage it. I will cherish the good weeks and learn from the bad days, doing my best to do what I can when I am feeling my worst. It gives me peace saying to myself daily that your best is always good enough and your best will look different from one day to the next. It will always look different than someone else’s, and when you see that difference, you’ll find there’s a unique beauty to it.

My children are young. Too young to understand the depths of mental health and the grip it can have. There is a fear there I sit with at times, scared maybe I’ve passed this onto them and one day they might wake up with their own shadow, but today they are happy and full of life. Excited for the sun to make itself known in the morning and even more excited when both the sun and the moon are out together at the same time. In the grand scheme of things, those small moments are important reminders for mothers who struggle. Simple moments we need when we are afraid all they’ll remember are quick outbursts of anger or that it took Mommy a little bit longer to get out of bed that morning. Because what they’ll really remember from those rough days are the books you managed to read. The “I love you’s” you still managed to say and the hugs you still managed to give.

Getty image by monkeybusinessimages

Originally published: February 13, 2020
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