September and October were given mostly to anxiety. By November depression had set in, but I didn’t recognize it for what it was. Instead, I blamed the stress of my little girl’s first birthday party, or the chaos of those relentless months with so many celebrations to attend and gifts to buy, or the inevitable disappointment the holidays hold as I try to recapture some feeling of happiness I never quite got my fingers around as a child. I kept thinking if I could just get over the next hurdle, I’d start feeling better. Any day now. Any. Day.
By January, I was too tired to wrestle with it anymore. It followed me from room to room in my house. I went to sleep with it and woke up next to it. Finally, I called my psychiatrist and asked her for a change in my medication.
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I’m no stranger to recurrent, severe depression. I don’t use those words casually—I actually read them once on my medical chart. “Major depressive disorder, recurrent, severe + generalized anxiety disorder.” By then I had been on daily medication for the better part of 10 years, just as my mom before me and her mom before her. It’s part biological, part situational.
Even at my best places in life, I will likely never be able to give up antidepressants, and mostly, I’ve accepted that.
I understand I’ll never be an energetic, perky optimist. Most of the time I manage it pretty well, with the help of my doctor and years of counseling to learn triggers and coping mechanisms. But every now and then the symptoms creep back in despite doing all the right things.
It’s like driving in the fog, but instead of soupy white, it’s steel gray. It surrounds me in all directions, and I’m a bit disoriented. Am I still moving forward? Am I moving at all? I struggle to see through it, past it, and everything that is familiar I recognize only by shadow.
Everything feels heavy. Everything takes such effort, and nothing seems worth the energy it costs me. Why do the laundry? There will be more dirty clothes tomorrow. Why pick up the toys off the floor? They’ll be spread out again in five minutes. My only desire is to lay on the couch in silence or stare out the window. I’m physically and emotionally tired, I’m touchy like raw nerves, I’m annoyed and negative and just want to be left alone.
And oh, by the way, I’ve still got two little kids to take care of.
Motherhood is hard. Motherhood in the midst of depression is infinitely more difficult.
My children are young. They don’t understand that mama is having a little trouble dealing with the world today (this month, all of last year) and fighting every urge to go back to bed, to cry herself to sleep for no real reason, to lay under the covers until she feels better and daily responsibilities don’t seem so insurmountable.
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My two kids believe if I am awake, I should be able to attend to their every need, answer every sentence, play with every offered toy. As they should—being a parent means providing unconditional love and attention during every available minute. It’s cruel to make them suffer through my depression, to cut them on my own rough edges (to paraphrase Bunmi Laditan).
During these times—all last week and today and right this minute—I’m not the mother I want to be or the mother they need.
I let them watch far too much TV, I’m entirely too short-tempered with the baby, who is just so dang needy, and sometimes they see me cry in frustration and despair. Sometimes I feel resentful of my kids for taking so much out of me. And I feel guilty for making my husband carry more than his share of the responsibilities plus a full-time job. But I’m barely taking care of myself here, how can I take care of them as a stay-at-home mom too? I am failing at this. And I can’t seem to do anything else.
Until I make it to the other side of this particular episode of depression, I’ll keep going until I no longer have to remind myself to keep going. That’s all I can do. If my children remember what I was during these times (and I hope they won’t), perhaps someday they’ll understand. I pray they have the grace to forgive me.
Originally published on the author’s blog