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What I Need as a Mother Struggling With Depression

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I’m a mom of a child with a disability struggling with depression, and now I have pre-cancer cells.

The mom of a child with a disability label is no secret. If you know our family but don’t know that Hannah has Down syndrome, I’ll assume you’ve been blinded by her awesomeness for the last two and a half years. She’s hands down the most perfect person ever created, which makes me feel like brat when I use her additional needs as a reason to be tired and stressed. Hannah’s delays and medical issues have been minimal so far. On the other hand, parenting is hard enough. Add in the multiple follow ups with specialists, the therapy appointments, the new addition of arguing with my health insurance company, the impending transition to the public school system and sometimes it’s too much for my mind, body and heart to handle.

That stress is exacerbated by depression. Although I wasn’t officially diagnosed until college, I’ve likely been battling depression for half my life. I’m fortunate that the magnitude ebbs and flows. Sometimes I’m at the edge, toes barely feeling the chill of guilt, fear, worry, self-hatred and loneliness. Lately however, I spend days or weeks deep in the rip tide. It’s hard to catch your breath when your mind is dragging you down. Even with therapy and medication I’m too tired to fight; now I seem to enable it. I use the physical and mental exhaustion as excuses to avoid exercise or prepare nutritious meals. I buy self-help books that I have no real desire to read but hope to be cured through literary diffusion. I preach self-care to others but certainly don’t practice it. I try to fake it until I make it but the façade crumbles too quickly.

Yet again, I feel guilty for complaining. It’s only depression. I’m ashamed that I can’t be unwaveringly happy when I have a great life — a good job with good insurance, a lovely home, friends and family that support me and would help me with anything (if I could just drop the Super Mom act and ask for help). Even when I’m happy and having fun, I don’t feel like an active participant. It’s more like I’m experiencing those moments, rather than living them. Like I’m in a parallel world and not fully included in what’s going on around me. It’s the fog of depression that keeps these worlds separate… except with Hannah. She is the one person who pulls me back to reality. She’s the light that helps me fight the darkness.

And now, I’ve been diagnosed with high grade pre-cancerous cervical cells. It’s not cancer though — it’s only pre-cancer. We caught it early and it’s treatable. So what’s my problem? The only thing I ever wanted to be, and the only thing I can honestly say I’m good at, is being a mother. This “not cancer” is attacking the physical embodiment of my life’s purpose. For the last year I’ve been taming my baby fever reminding myself of the financial constraints of two children in daycare. Hannah’s done in less than six months and this diagnosis is knocking me off my path. While I’m sure the procedure to remove the “not cancer” will go smoothly, there’s still that pesky 1 percent. The small opportunity for something to go wrong always seems to be working against me.

At this point you may be planning to steer clear of me for your own safety, or wondering how you can help. I never know how to respond when friends and family say “let me know what I can do” or “let me know how I can help.” It’s a loaded question for someone who often feels helpless and hopeless and definitely not worthy of other people’s time and energy. Please, don’t tell me I’m strong, that I’m in a rut, or that “God gives us only what we can handle.” I don’t need pity, or suggestions or advice. I need patience and understanding. If I tell you “everything’s fine” I’m likely lying because I don’t feel like talking. Give me time, but don’t let me be too distant. Distract me with an invitation to do something that won’t take too much strength (physical, mental or emotional). Hold space for me in your thoughts, your heart or social calendar. I promise one day I will accept your offer.

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Getty image by Antonuk

Originally published: January 20, 2018
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