I feel bad for my kids sometimes. I shouldn’t—they live a charmed life. We just moved to a new house with a swimming pool and playground, and so many toys cram the playroom that you can barely see the furniture. I’m not proud of that—my kids are (probably) spoiled, and it’s my fault.

I buy them almost everything they ask for, and I know I’m compensating for not being the mother I think I should be. I know kids don’t need material things to be happy, but I can’t help thinking they drew the short straw in the mom department.

I have severe depression and anxiety as well as an eating disorder. Two years ago I was hospitalized for six weeks, but thankfully my kids were too young (four and two) to remember. It would be OK if they did, but I don’t want them thinking I abandoned them or that it was easy leaving. Is it possible for moms not to feel guilty? I know better—everything I went through was for them to have a healthy, functional mom. Nothing wrong with that.

What nags at me are my limitations. I’ll never be cured of major depressive disorder or anxiety, but I work hard at coping.

But it feels like I need more breaks than other moms, that I yell way more, that I spend too much time in bed, that I’m careful not to push my limits. I spend hours a day considering my mental health, but a depressive episode can happen fast, with no warning, and last for months or years. Because of this, I rely on my husband (more guilt) to help me hold down the fort. If I didn’t, I would turn to my unhealthy coping skills: overeating and compulsively shopping. Or maybe worse.

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It’s better than where I was—abusing my anxiety medication, crying all the time, being suicidal. That’s what I need to remember, the vast improvement in my life and subsequently the kids’ lives.

I still have a short temper, need lots of sleep, and can’t always socialize, but we have fun. We do family movie nights, take road trips to see my parents, stay in our pajamas all day, have dance parties, and swim in the backyard until our toes and fingertips prune.

Guilt prevents me from living in the moment and enjoying this, but I hope the kids will remember those things, instead of me hollering all the time or being sick.

My husband says we’re not raising kids, we’re raising healthy adults. He’s right. If anything, my kids will learn empathy, compassion, and the importance of self-care because of my illnesses. I hope they’ll be able to have an open conversation about mental health and reach out if they start showing signs. In my opinion, you’re never too young to talk about mental illness.

We all need to be more open to talking about mental disorders because they affect more than 16 million American adults. They’re also the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for ages 15-44, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. It’s also noteworthy that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the country, affecting 40 million adults. And these numbers don’t reflect the mental health problems stemming from the pandemic.

I hope my kids and their peers will buck the stigma of mental illness and not be shamed by their disorders. But we, my generation, must lead by example. I won’t apologize for a disease I have little control over. And neither should you.

Depression is a tenacious thief, stealing your motivation, your joy, your ability to function.

It’s suffocating—the darkness and fatigue. It’s a terrible disease unmoved by pain and suffering. It’s understandable, or should be, that people enter psychiatric hospitals.

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Mom guilt aside, I think I’m doing a decent job. At worst, the kids will end up in therapy blaming me for everything. They’ll do that until they become parents, then they’ll understand.

I understand I don’t need to buy them toys or material things to love me. They need to feel safe, nurtured, and loved. And I can do that . . . from a sickbed or otherwise.

My love transcends depression.

Heather Loeb

Heather Loeb is the creator of a mental health blog called Unruly Neurons (www.UnrulyNeurons.com). You can also find her work in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, where she has a mental health column twice monthly. Heather lives in Corpus Christi, TX, with her husband and two kids.