Suicide. Depression. Anxiety. Anger. Sadness. Fatigue.
These were common themes of my childhood. My paternal grandma committed suicide three years before I was born. My mother wrestled with depression since even my earliest childhood memories. My siblings struggled with their mental health from around middle school onward. When I was expecting for the first time, my mom urgently coached me on what to say to my doctor if I did not feel emotionally well afterward.
Now, in adulthood with four children of my own, I’m surrounded by mothers in abundance who wonder in silence, “What’s wrong with me?” or, conversely, who wisely celebrate the availability of medication and therapy.
And I want those mothers to know the other common themes of my childhood:
Strength. Mental wellness. Mental support. Creativity. Courage. Compassion for others. Compassion for self. Faith
I’m grateful to live in a time when so many openly celebrate the blessings of mental health support.
I’m grateful to live in a time when there’s an encouragement to have compassion for those vulnerable to mental illness. That has not always been the case, but it should have been.
Because the fact is, your babies need you! No matter how dark a day is for you, your babies need you to stay, they need you to fight, they need you to be present in whatever ways you can. Even if you feel dark and heavy and tired and like you are not enough . . . You. Are. Enough. I want to say that again: You are enough!
The truth is, your kids may remember the dark days. They may remember months or years of darkness. They may go off to college and win awards for writing about mental illness plaguing the family as a heavy shadow. They may paint pictures, dance dances, or sing songs about it. They may someday be in therapy talking about how it affected their childhood.
But those things are all OK. It will be their story to tell also and that is nothing for you to be ashamed of.
Because at some point as they process the experiences they’ve lived through, they will realize you were not simply passively existing in your mental illness. They will realize that while it seemed those shadows were reaching their dark, spidery tentacles into their lives, their mama was a lioness in her mind keeping it at bay minute by minute as it ebbed and flowed in strength. While you may feel like a damsel in distress, your children will someday know that you were and at the same time, you were also your own knighted lady coming to your own rescue.
They will rightly see that you were an actor in your story, battling moment by moment the lies your brain told you. You were not sitting passively by even while to their eyes, you may have been sitting or lying down a good deal.
If you are like my mother (and it turns out so many of you are), your weapons are many.
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Your weapon may be an active faith that you are a beloved daughter of God and that your children are His children and He has entrusted you with a sacred stewardship over them.
Your weapon may be a creative impulse to code, to paint, to run, to teach, to build, to garden.
My mother was and is a sign language interpreter, an educator, an insatiable learner, an animal lover. These things fill her up, helped lend her purpose and drive, and distracted her from the demons within, and they were also a beautiful gift to me as your passions and interests will be a gift to your children.
Your weapon may be the relationships you cultivate. Hopefully, a spouse or partner lends you love and support. Perhaps it’s your own mother or sisters or sisters-in-law. Maybe it’s friends from church or your neighborhood or maybe coworkers who respond to you with sympathy and compassion. Maybe it’s strangers in support groups on the internet.
Your weapon may be medication and therapy. Maybe more than one medication. Maybe more than one therapist.
And your weapon may also be something else. But whatever your weapons are, I plead with you to use them. Arm yourself. Believe in your ability to stay the course.
Because I will tell you something, mama: someday your babies will thank you.
They may remember the darkness. They may remember that you never felt your house was adequately clean or you were adequately motherly, that you felt you could never measure up. They may remember that you went to the mother-daughter event in a cloud of darkness, that you absolutely didn’t want to be there. They may remember that you sat in the car beside them once and wondered aloud if their lives would be better off without you.
But someday they will experience depression or anxiety themselves on some level and suddenly recognize that you battled this every single day for years on end, and they will know, like an epiphany, that you were exhausted and also that you were brave.
They will know what a gift it was that you gave them the language and tools that if they become awash in these emotions, they know what to do. They will sit surrounded by their children and feel overwhelmed by the household and the constant neediness and loneliness and suddenly see clearly how hard it was for you.
And they will remember that you were there when they got the awards, when they attended the dances, when they expressed their faith for the first time, when they got the diploma, when they married their sweetheart, when they brought their own babies into the world.
And, oh, mama, no matter how dark it gets or how heavy it feels, I plead with you to stay, to press on and through, to survive, because someday with every fiber of their beings, your babies will thank you.