“Being depressed and having to parent is ridiculously difficult,” says writer Danielle Braff.
About a year ago, I took a nap.
Maybe for other people, this wouldn’t be such a big deal, but for me, it’s an unheard of activity. I’m never without my to-do list, and naps aren’t on there.
But last year, I had the incredible urge to erase a little time from my life. That was exactly how I thought of it: I wanted to fast-forward.
My depression started gradually, first when I noticed that I was a bit bored with just about everything, and then it grew, like a snowball rolling down a hill, picking up steam until everything in my life took on a dull sheen.
When you look at that “Are you depressed” list of questions, one of the first that always pops up is: Are you uninterested in previous activities?
It wasn’t that I was uninterested in them—it was more that I couldn’t believe I was ever interested in them in the first place. In fact, my entire life seemed so dull.
I remember talking to a group of moms outside my daughter’s school about how hard it is to deal with house renovation issues. They were talking about the leaks they needed fixed, the big never-ending construction projects they had going on. I used to love these topics. But as they droned on about their contractors not showing up, I felt like if I didn’t leave the conversation, I might end up screaming, “Why, why do you care about this so much?” So I turned and walked away, in the middle of the conversation without a word of explanation.
And then I took my first nap. I needed to disappear.
Being depressed and having to parent is ridiculously difficult.
After my first nap, I was hooked. I wanted to sleep all.the.time. It didn’t even feel like a choice: I was always tired. While my kids, 6 and 9, appreciated all the electronic time they were getting while I napped, they didn’t like the fact that I was ignoring their needs.
My appetite dwindled, and it became ridiculously tedious to cook or even to prepare food for the kids. Eggs became a daily staple whenever my husband wasn’t around to cook, and I dropped 15 pounds quickly. Since I was 125 to start with, 15 pounds made me look gaunt. People started commenting.
“I’m just not that hungry,” I told friends, who admired my restraint.
It wasn’t fun feeling nauseous, sad and tired all the time. I felt like the only thing I had the energy to do was to sink into the couch and take a nap.
My husband, always supportive, was getting a little tired of being a solo parent.
One time, when we all had a free Saturday, he told me that we could do anything I wanted to do; he just wanted me to be happy. I wanted to sleep all day. There was absolutely nothing else I could fathom doing.
Finally, he convinced me to go ice skating. I agreed only because I could pop on headphones and listen to music while I skated. My husband drove us to the ice rink, he helped the kids get on their skates, he helped them ice skate. I ignored everyone and did my own thing, in my own world.
To the outsider, I’d look like the worst mother ever. Or at least the most selfish one. But I was struggling just to get out the door. Being a mother was just too hard. Being a person was too hard. I was sinking into a hole, and reality seemed so far away from me.
When I called my mother to wish her a Happy Mother’s Day, I began crying.
“I’m just not having a good time,” was all I could say.
She got it.
Being a mother and working and being a wife and just being is so hard, she told me, urging me to get some help. She also suggested that I start taking mini vacations by myself.
“You should never go more than a month without sleeping in a bed that’s not yours,” my unconventional mother told me. What she was trying to tell me was that my life was swirling around doctor’s appointments, school runs, work and just the everyday-ness of taking care of two smallish children. Somewhere along the way, I had forgotten about my own needs. I had gotten lost and I was having trouble finding myself again.
The first step was finding a therapist and a psychiatrist. Prozac helped immediately, making me see the beauty in my normal life again, while my therapist reminded me of tools I can pull out when I’m feeling depressed (my favorite is reading, which is simple, silent and can instantly take me away from my world).
It’s been a little over a year since I became depressed, and while I’m not 100 percent back to the way I was, I feel like I can manage my symptoms and parent at the same time.
I still have days when I want to sleep, and my kids are starting to realize that I have feelings, too.
But most of the time, it’s all about the kids.
I truly feel like parents are always in survival mode. We need to do whatever it takes to get by and be happy, whether that’s popping an anti-depressive, taking a few days off from being a parent or escaping to a silent room daily for some personal maintenance.
Parenting with depression: tips from an expert
According to a study by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council, about 20 percent of Americans will suffer from depression—and if parents are depressed, it can lead to negative consequences for kids.
Theresa Herring, a psychologist in Evanston with Centered Connections, has some tips for parents suffering from depression.
Take care of yourself first
Pushing your own emotional needs to the side isn’t going to help your family in the long run. Getting help will. Seeing a therapist is an investment not only for your mental health, but for your family’s well-being.
Ask for help
Parents expect themselves to be super humans and to do it all themselves. That’s a challenging expectation in the best of times, and completely unrealistic when you’re feeling depressed. So assemble your tribe and let your partner, family and friends know that you need a little more help. Be specific in your ask so that they can support you in the ways that you need support.
Cut yourself some slack
It’s OK that you’re not happy all the time. This is a great time to model self-care and healthy coping skills for your children. Kids learn from adults about how to manage feelings like sadness, anxiety and stress. You can say, ‘Mommy is feeling sad right now, so I’m going to practice some mindfulness.’
Focus less on showing your kids your happy face and more on being present. One great way to ground yourself in the moment is to really tap into your five senses. Notice the sights and sounds around you, what you’re physically feeling, smelling and even tasting. Depression is often reinforced by thoughts in our head. Getting out of your head and into your body can open you for moments of connection with your kids.
This article originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of Chicago Parent. Read the rest of the issue.