I stared at the computer screen nervously. I was on a chat forum dedicated to homeschooling, and I had a burning question to ask.
How do you home school while battling mental illness?
For a whole day, I waited for a response. The next day I had a few people pipe in. By few, I mean two. And they were both questions in response to mine.
Do your kids notice? Have you tried seeing a therapist?
I cupped my chin in my hands and felt the bleakness swell up in me like a wave. I had been searching online for articles or blog posts on how to homeschool your kids while dealing with mental illness, but nothing came up. Either homeschool moms just didn’t deal with it like I did, or no one talked about it. Either way, I felt alone and defeated. Negative thoughts were rampaging through my head daily.
Your family would be better off without you.
You are a disappointment and a burden to your husband. He deserves someone better.
You’re ruining your kids.
They’ll grow up to be sad like you because that’s all they ever see.
While I was officially diagnosed with clinical depression at age 18, my illness began manifesting itself when I was 12.
One day things were fine; the next day they were not. My world was turned upside-down. Like anything in life, my depression ebbed and flowed. While it remained an undercurrent of my daily life, there were long stretches of time in which I felt normal—as normal as you could be under the circumstances—and functioned fine.
This season of life, however, I was not fine. The cold, gray, Midwestern winter landscape that surrounded me mirrored what I felt inside. I was drowning in an abyss so deep that at times I felt a physical heaviness in my chest. I sometimes locked myself in my room and kept the lights off. I was distracted easily, and a constant feeling of impending doom hovered over me.
One afternoon, I was driving into town to meet my sister at a movie theater. On the way there, I stopped at a gas station and did something I hadn’t done in 14 years—I bought a pack of cigarettes. I sat in the parking lot with the window cracked, taking long drags and feeling the tightness in my chest dissipate. It had been so long since I smoked that I felt dizzy.
I was tired and at the end of my rope. I didn’t want to die, but I also didn’t want to live.
Something needed to change. I found a therapist who was willing to charge on a sliding scale and started going to sessions regularly. I also saw a psychiatrist, who helped me overcome my mulish reluctance to anti-depressants. One thing kept coming up in my therapy sessions: the stress and burden of homeschooling. While homeschooling was not the cause of my depression, it certainly exacerbated it. Over and over, my therapist would gently prod me on my motivations to school at home. Finally, during one session she asked, “What will it take for you to put your kids in school? If you know homeschooling is making it worse, what will it take?”
It was at this point that I went to the internet to search for answers on pushing through a manifestation of mental illness to keep some continuity of studying at home. I found no answers. All the articles I found related to homeschooling through a burn-out or a move or a change in finances—but no one talked about mental illness.
What will it take?
I had started homeschooling with noble intentions—I wanted to foster close relationships in our family, grant my children the freedom to be themselves, instill values, and give them a tailored education. For the most part, I enjoyed my time at home with the kids, but homeschooling is hard, even on the best of days. It’s an all-consuming lifestyle that few mothers get a respite from.
I came to the realization that it would be far, far better for me to put my kids in school while focusing on getting myself better than it would be to keep homeschooling and risk them not having any mother at all.
So I called the public school district, set up an appointment, met with the different principles, and signed paperwork. I drove home feeling like a failure. I tossed and turned at night, thinking about the horrible things that could go wrong with my decision.
I’ll give you a spoiler alert—things turned out fine. Better than fine, actually. My kids had supportive, wonderful teachers who kept me up to date on their progress. They made friends and got good grades. Today, I have two in high school, one in middle school, and one in elementary school. They’re all thriving. Except for my one son, who swears he will hate school in all forms forever and ever amen, the rest of my kids prefer public school. I’m better than I have been in years. I’m healthy mentally and physically. I enjoy life, and our family is happy.
I wish there wasn’t so much pressure on homeschool moms to stay the course no matter what.
I wish there wasn’t an emphasis on pushing through it because everyone goes through hard seasons when homeschooling. I wish more people had the courage to throw out a line and let women know that sometimes the question isn’t is homeschooling right for your kids but is homeschooling right for you.
I wish the issue of mental illness and mental health were addressed in the homeschool world more, and I wish public schools weren’t demonized so much by church leaders. Maybe there wouldn’t be so much reluctance to admit that something we think is good can actually do more harm in the long run.