I have battled depression as long as I can remember. I didn’t label it as such when I was a teenager, I just remember mornings where I couldn’t get out of bed, and then the same thing happening for days in a row. I just wouldn’t go to school those mornings. I still am unsure to this day of how I ever pulled it together to graduate high school. I do remember having many lunch detentions to make up for the missed time, and scrambling at the end of senior year to get enough assignments in to pass certain classes.
After high school I went through jobs like candy, starting a new one, and enjoying it, but eventually a mood would hit, and I would spend days in bed again. Through the first bouts I would find enough excuses to get away with it, but eventually just giving up and finding a way to quit. I would make up some story about a lump, or possible brain cancer, and exit the job with a promise to update them on my condition until I knew more, but really I just wanted to sleep for days.
Fast forward life to having kids, and being a stay at home mom. Now, there was always someone that needed me, which we all know can bring it’s own hardship. I loved being a Mom, and I was good at it. I woke up with purpose everyday, and I assumed that the euphoric feelings would never go away after the birth of my first child. I was wrong. That joy did last for a time, but eventually the depression came back and I had to learn to live with it. On days when I couldn’t do life in their early years, I learned to cope by laying on the floor and watching them play, doing just enough to keep them alive. I don’t even think they noticed it, they were so young, and I succeeded in making it seem as if mamma was “playing” nap-time.
For about 10 years of my life, I would come out of the depressive episodes and completely reinvent myself. Start a new hobby with vigor, change my style, get obsessed with a new color, cut my hair, practice talking with a different lilt to my voice, get a job, or quit a job. I was convinced if I just changed who I was or my circumstances, it would all go away. Sadly, no matter how happy I thought I was, or how much I loved my life and my kids, the icky stuff always came back.
After a divorce, and a break up with a friend, I hit the peak of my depression and ended up hospitalized for attempted suicide. I won’t share the messy details, but the good part of it (while for me, this was a turning point in my life, there is no actual goodness in attempting suicide. If you are experiencing any suicidal thoughts please reach out and get help! Call the national suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255, call someone you know, or check in to your local hospital) was it made me face my depression head on for the first time. I couldn’t pretend it wasn’t happening anymore, couldn’t pretend it was something that would just go away. I had to deal with it. I went to a therapist, I went on meds, I talked openly about it with my family.
My kids, thankfully were still oblivious to all of it at the time. Although they were a bit older, they were shielded from what was happening with Mom and assumed it was just Daddy’s week.
Through this terrible time, I found out a few things. First of all, meds were not for me, they did not help, and made me feel like a zombie (I am not against medication, it just didn’t work for me). Second of all, I learned how to recognize when the feelings were starting and label them for what they were. Learning the signs of the impending depression helped me take steps to prevent the fall out.
In my life now I can’t lose days laying in bed and avoiding living, so I have to take active steps to keep that from happening. Although winter typically is the hardest time, my depression does not choose a specific season, some of the worst times for me have been when it is warm and sunny, and the best sometimes comes during the bitter cold.
When I feel those warning vibes coming the first thing I do is reach out and make plans with my best friend. Having someone expecting to see me, someone I don’t like to let down, forces me to get up and go. The next thing I do is spruce up my surroundings. Rearranging a room, putting out a new throw pillow, buying fresh flowers, or even shampooing the carpet can help begin to bring my mind out of a dark place. After that, no matter the season, I take time to be outside – a cold walk with hot cocoa, or a nice run in warmer days always lifts my day (and trust me, it isn’t always easy to actually implement this, but I force myself to do it).
Other coping strategies I use:
– Setting my alarm a half hour earlier, and waking up to make tea and do some yoga stretches
– Taking time to make lists of future things, to feel my life has purpose (places I want to visit, new restaurants I want to try, foods I’d like to cook, things I want to learn to do, etc.)
– Buying a gift for a friend, and surprising them with it at work
– Buying tickets to a concert in the future
– Having a dance party with my girls
– Having a movie night in bed with my girls
– Scheduling a morning meeting in person, so I have to get out of bed
– In the winter, turning on the happy lamp while making breakfast
– Reading a new book by a favorite author
– Ordering myself little gifts on Amazon every morning for a few days, so I have surprises showing up on my doorstep
– Inviting people over on every kid-less night so I don’t have empty times to sink into myself
Now that my children are old enough to notice, I talk to them about what I’m going through. It’s not an easy conversation, and I am always careful to let them know that they are the bright stars in my life, and that my sadness inside is never something they cause.
But also, it’s so important that they know the signs for themselves, and know that if they are ever experiencing this it’s absolutely okay. I don’t ever want them to be afraid to say when something isn’t right inside, I don’t ever want them to think it makes them less or that it’s something to be ashamed of. I don’t ever want them to feel like they have to hide what they are going through. Every child needs to know it’s not their fault, that there is help, and experiencing depression does not make you weird, or less worthy of an amazing life.
My signs that I am headed towards a depressive episode:
-I wake up and begin to think of ways I could get away with not getting out of bed
-I stop being able to do my work properly and find myself reading the same email, or article over and over again, but couldn’t tell you what it says
-I make a cup of coffee or tea, and it gets cold without me having moved or taken a sip
– My children will tell me a story, and then ask a question about it and I can’t tell them the answer, because I didn’t hear the story
– I dwell on worst case scenarios in normal every day situations while they are happening, which makes it impossible to be present
– I have trouble falling asleep
– I wake up feeling panicky for no reason
– I feel bored and uneasy even when there is plenty to do
– I rush through things to finish them, or hurry through meetings or conversations, even though I have nowhere to go, and nothing else to do
-I start craving a drink in the middle of the day, multiple days in a row
-I start cancelling plans and instead stay home and do nothing (and I mean nothing, not watch TV, or play video games, or read a book, literally nothing)
For other people these may be things that just happen sometimes, but for me they are cues that my mind could get stuck in this space, and I have to make changes to prevent it.
I don’t always win, sometimes I still lose days, sometimes I just push it off long enough that the kids are with their Dad. But it happens very rarely now and it comes for shorter stays. I know that I have to be on top of this for the rest of my life, I know that wishing it away won’t make it disappear.
I’ve seen this saying “Happiness comes from within.” If that’s true, then for me happiness is a choice I have to make everyday, and most days I can, but some days I can’t. Every time I am able to put in the work, and push back the cloud is a win. It makes me relish the seasons of being present with my family even more, and I am so grateful for every moment that I am well, so grateful for every evening that ends with me feeling like I created a day where I truly lived.
Do you or your kids battle depression? What are your tools to help? Do you talk about the signs of depression in your family?