The Mean Time– How Depression Looks As A Mom

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I’m clinically depressed.  20140118-082848.jpg

The thought comes and goes like a wave, reaching in to the shore of my consciousness, then receding.

Here’s the deal.  I’m a child and family therapist, so I know all the signs and symptoms.  Irritability and a very short fuse with those around me.  Anhedonia, or lack of interest in the things I normally love, like blogging, talking to friends, or spending time with my family.

Change in sleep.  I want to sleep all the time, but when I am in bed my rest is not restful.  Change in appetite.  I want to eat all the time, but everything that passes my lips tastes annoyingly like sandpaper.

Worries about everyday things like finances and the behavior of my children take on new, sinister shapes like monsters in a dark room.  My thoughts become obsessive, intrusive, and disturbing.

I withdraw from people then feel awful loneliness.  I lack energy to tend to the things that need tending to like the dishes or clogged tub.

I have no emotional fortitude.  A tissue gets into the laundry and the world fucking falls apart.

I feel agonizing hopelessness things will ever be any better.

And then the thoughts:  You suck.  You’ll never be any good at anything.  You are a horrible mom and you screwed up your children.  There is nothing that will make you feel good.  You ruined your life by becoming a social worker.  You ruined your life by becoming a mother.  It will never end.  They would all be better off without you.  

Of course I know that like every other feeling, depression is just that- a feeling.  And feelings by nature are temporary, changeable.  I won’t feel this way forever, but in the mean time (and it is very mean, cantankerous, angry time), it sucks pretty bad.

I know a lot about depression and anxiety, not just because of my profession, but also because I have struggled with it on and off for the better part of my life.  I had severe postpartum depression after my first child was born, received excellent treatment and have basically been in remission for the past five years.  One thing I can tell you–  mood and anxiety issues blow, but they blow even harder for me as a mom.

Studies show that one in three moms struggle with depression, and as many as two in three working moms struggle with mood issues.  OK, who am I fooling?  I totally made up those stats.  I’m way too depressed to do research for my blog, but it sounded good, and it sounds accurate based on anecdotal data I collected.

As a mom, and a working mom no less, the pace of my life is relentless.  I take care of anywhere between seven to nine clients during my work day and have a short commute home to take care of the little people who need me here.  I don’t get a break until they are in bed and I can collapse on the couch for an hour or two before passing out myself.

Before marriage and children, I could take to my bed on weekends to rest and restore for an entire day if I wanted.  I could go for a long ride by myself to the ocean, music blaring, to get a change of scenery and sense of perspective.  I could go out drinking and dancing to reconnect with my vitality.  Now, there is no break.  Sure, my husband and I take the slack for one another here and there, but in general it just never stops.

A friend and I recently chatted about this and she said, “without kids you don’t really notice it as much. . .  but we are stretched so thin as it is, and the mental health stuff doesn’t have as much room to just be and causes more issues. I was fine being depressed when I wasn’t a mom. I mean, not fine…but like I managed.”  And that for me encapsulates why being depressed and anxious as a mom feels 40 gazillion times worse than when I was just a self-indulgent single lass.

It isn’t just me anymore.  My mood and behavior have a direct impact on my children.

While I’m not actively suicidal or homicidal, I fantasize about being on a desert island because I just can’t handle it around the reality corral.

And that’s probably the scariest, worst thought- that I just can’t take care of everyone for whom I need to care, and I’m probably screwing them up by not being as available emotionally, or by having intrusive images of them being eaten by bears because my obsessive/compulsive anxiety is also off the charts.

Things light up my day like my son singing along to a song on the radio in the car, or my daughter wearing sunglasses and eating a yellow lollipop.  But the moments are fleeting.  Elusive.

It’s a very lonely place to be.  My husband doesn’t “get it”.  He thinks I’m being histrionic when I rage about the millions of legos left out all over the house because one of the acute symptoms of my depression is a nearly obsessive/compulsive need for order.  Maybe he’s right.  Or maybe he’s depressed too.  Either way, he doesn’t get it.  Other than him, I have no family I can reliably turn to (Jesus Christ they all have their own issues yes they do where do you think I got it from in the first place), and the feeling of my lips making words to describe this shit to my friends sickens me.

So, I fake it.

I smile and accomodate coworkers.  I treat my clients like they are the center of my universe for 50 minutes each.  I titter and giggle with friends.  I place plates of sliced up fruit and glasses of milk in front of my children.

I fake it until something insidious slips out.  I fucking hate everyone and everything.  Oops, did I really just say that?  Hahah.  Then I get anxious and clumsy.  Drop things.  Swear.  Watch my hands fly up into the sky in front of my face like frightened birds.  I give up!  I’m done!  

Not to put words in your mouth, but you’re probably shaking your head and thinking, damn girl, get a grip.  Yet another post about your feelings and depression?  Why don’t you get yourself some help?  Maybe get on some medication?  

You make good points.  So, I’m considering the medication, much as I hate to.  I know it would help because I’ve been there before.  I also know it will make me gain weight.  But the chemicals would tighten things up in my head, tone down the negativity so I can make lunch for my daughter without feeling the scary need to get down on all fours and start scrubbing the grout in the bathroom with a nail brush.

As far as counseling goes. . .  well, it would maybe be palliative and supportive, but my insurance has a really high deductible and copays for MH treatment are exorbitant, and I kind of need to spend the money I have on groceries and gas.  Plus, when would I ever go?  This money/scheduling dilemma is just another facet of the complexity of depression as a mom.  If I did have the time and money for counseling, I would probably take a yoga or dance class instead.

It is a crystal clear winter day with copious sun.  The skeletal trees are reaching up to tickle the bluest sky.  My daughter is napping and I’m sitting on the couch, writing this.

I’m clinically depressed.  

The thought and its accompanying label almost bring me a sense of peace, like maybe I could make friends with it.  Maybe I could get really close, really fast to it, and do everything with it, and write about it, and think about it and call it up a hundred times a day.

Until we are sick of one another.

42 responses »

    • Thank you. Yes. Writing does absolutely help. I do not think it a coincidence that I felt better today. On a lighter note, I just read a “fan-fiction” book called “Jane Eyre’s Husband”. Kind of interesting tale from cradle to grave about Mr. Rochester. I’ve never read fan fiction before, and while it isn’t the best writing, it certainly was entertaining. All these years, I was never aware there were so many Jane Eyre spin offs. Seriously, I could have made a career as a professor of just Jane and the derivatives… Have you read much fan fiction?

      • Hi so glad you are feeling better today! I’ve actually never read fan fiction and didn’t even know what it was until a year ago! I think it’s good to read a mix of things and not be too serious about it all. Where did you see the Jane Eyre’s Husband book?

      • I found it on Amazon and downloaded it to my kindle. Be warned, it is a bit of a “bodice ripper”, but not bad reading for a winter afternoon… It is also available in book form, but the kindle version was way cheaper…

  1. Really interesting perspective about depression pre and post motherhood. I am struggling right now myself, having moved to a new place and I am jobless and pregnant and isolated and scared. I have to admit, while I am thankful for your honesty, your description of depression as a mom scares me. I feel like I am handling myself pretty well right now, but how the hell am I going to do this with a baby I have no idea how to take care of?
    Sorry, didn’t mean to make this comment all about me, I just wanted to convey that your post has got me thinking…

    • Oh dear. I’m sorry. Sometimes I get really paranoid my writing is going to offend or really bum someone out. . . but then I humor the narcissist in me and post anyway. . . Here’s the thing. Depression is really treatable, especially the kind that comes with hormones and pregnancy and early post partum stuff. It will be okay. Really it will, and you will figure out instinctively how to care for your wonderful baby. Thank you for making your comment “all about you” because it is important for me to hear from other moms and know about their stories, fears, and struggles.

  2. Girl……I just want to put my arms around you and tell you it’s gonna be okay. I have SO been there. In fact as soon as I leave this comment I’m going to look back at my own blog and find the GOD-AWFUL low point where I wrote about how I knew I was depressed because i feel like I SUCK at everything. I don’t know the secret. I know that as a therapist you know this, but something clicked with me a while back where my depression seemed to not last as long once I could identify it and kind of sit with it — as in, I could tell myself — “this sucks but it’s temporary and I will get through it.” That said, it is SO ridiculously difficult when depression presents as this never-ending emotional exhaustion. The way you described erupting over legos all over the floor — oh my gosh, I do that. My need for order is insane and I know I’m being irrational but I simply can’t handle the chaos. It’s like my sensory system is entirely overloaded, and unfortunately chaos is a by-product of having small children. I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like to have to listen to other people’s problems all day — which is the very reason I turned down a much-needed job recently because that was a large part of what I’d be doing — so of course I beat myself up for money struggles. I only have a bachelor’s degree in psychology, but I used to work for a state agency counseling and driving mentally ill people to and from various appointments — shocking that this same place currently has several openings. Pre-kids I had planned to get my MSW, but I just can’t make myself commit to that now for the very reasons you describe. Writing about my struggles has really helped me, though I don’t like to be a downer on my blog, but I swear, it’s real life and sometimes I have to get it out. For the record, I don’t think you sound like a downer. I think you sound like a real human who eloquently describes something that MANY people, particularly moms, struggle with. My kids are now 5 and 6, and I have noticed an ENORMOUS difference in the last couple of years. Once my youngest turned four life became a lot easier. It’s like he FINALLY became a real person and one I recognized instead of a baby that had to be kept out of his own way all the time. I also understand the struggle of trying to find the right antidepressant. I’ve been on and off different ones and it always seems that my goal is finding one that works with limited side-effects. Though, in the short-term when I can’t get out of the weeds, the drugs really bring me back to a better place. I feel like I’m rambling, so I hope some of this made sense. Lots of love.

    • Thanks so much for your comment and for your support. It is so helpful to hear from other moms. xox. yeah, the world of an MSW is pretty harsh these days. I could probably make more money bagging groceries or parking cars or bartending. . .

    • OMG I love this post!! Thank you so much for sharing it with me. I thought I was following your blog, but it seems I wasn’t, so now I am. Thanks again. It is so precious to know I’m not alone. You rock! And ps, I love the name Vivienne. xox.

  3. depression FUCKING SUCKS. I hate how it gets inside me and changes me as a person. And I hate that I sometimes can’t tell if I’m depressed or if I’m just struggling with the hard road of being a mom (working mom) in a go-go-go age with shitty healthcare and work hours and not-enough-$$-ever-despite-having-a-fucking-master’s-degree, or if maybe I’m just an entitled bitchy spoiled middle-class kid who can’t hack it in the real world.

    GAH!

    So I feel ya so much. And I wish we were closer and could MAKE time to hang out, and talk for real instead of putting up our all too well known fakey fakes for the world (which is honestly fucking exhausting on top of depression, you know?). Ugh.

    I say don’t stop at 1 medication if weight gain is a side effect, because weight gain can cause depression, too, ya know? I would try different things. And you know my advice about yoga and all that other counseling ‘bullshitty’ type stuff we tell our clients 😉 I used 5HTP for awhile, too, and that helped a bit, though with the herbally stuff it’s prob best to not mix we Rx stuff.

    Counseling really helped me, and I only did it for 11 weeks because scheduling is a nightmare, but it was nice to process and take the time for myself. Because otherwise I might have pulled a Virginia Woolf…

    • Are you a Will Ferrel fan at all? I feel like if we hung out we could drink some stuff and watch Anchorman or Blades of Glory and the depression would just melt away.

      Counseling has been helpful for me in my life, but after being in it for so freaking long, I just feel I hit a wall with it. Dance or yoga would probably be helpful. someday. . . someday. . . As always, thanks for your support, humor, comiseration, and beauty. Your the tits.

  4. Oh Charlotte. I’m sorry you’re feeling this way. I know the feeling all too well myself. Lately, I thought I had a pretty good grip on things, but then things slowly build until they burst open and I freak out like a crazy person and realize I’m not OK. It does affect our kids, and that is the part that KILLS me. That is the part that keeps me up at night, and makes me cry about how I’m ruining my children. I have been battling the feelings that I need to start medicating again too. I did some therapy for a while, and it helped, but then I quit. It gets so exhausting talking about your problems all the time. Sigh. I can relate. Wish we lived closer so we could talk about it. But, I guess that’s what we are doing right here. 🙂 Hug my blog friend!

    • Thanks Meredith. I wish we lived closer too… I agree that it does get exhausting talking about ‘stuff’ all the time to a therapist, especially after ‘doing therapy’ all day with my clients. The last thing I feel like doing is sitting in that chair. So, we will see. I’m kind of sitting with it and seeing what happens. Thanks a lot for your support.

  5. I’m hearing you and can’t thank you enough for AGAIN voicing my own thoughts and struggle. The last 2 days I have been to some work training in mental health and yesterday it struck me like a thunderbolt – I’ve known all the signs and symptoms but it took this training to make realise that I’m currently feeling anxiety in such a way that it is seriously affecting me. Seriously. Can’t sleep, tired all the time, edgy, irritable, can’t do anything right, catastrophic thoughts… The whole lot.

    Sending you a big hug through cyberspace and letting you know that I’m listening, and thanking you for what you write because it’s just so damn true. And because to keep on faking it is so damn hard.

    But sometimes we just have to get right down there into the messy and muddy trenches in order to make those big changes that can reunite us again with our equilibrium. Julie xx

    • Thanks for the hug and thoughts. It is really kind for you to stop by and relate a bit with me. One reason blogging helps is because it lets me know I am not alone (or crazy) with my feelings and frustrations. So, if I’m not alone, then you are not alone either! From the trenches, xox, me.

      • Hey, glad things are looking different for you today. I talked to a work colleague today about work, life balance, team leader difficulties. So with reading your blog and talking to him there is a shift in the load. Starting to pull myself out of those trenches!

  6. Oh, my heavens. I didn’t really realize it (though I had my suspicions) but I think it’s safe to say that I, too, am depressed.

    My heart aches for you (and for myself if I’m gonna be honest). I hope you can find a way out of it, soon. My thoughts and heart are with you.

  7. I am so so sorry. Really. Thank you so much for sharing your feelings so beautifully, even though I know it doesn’t feel anything like beautiful. Here is the hardest part, you KNOW you are depressed and you KNOW you need help, but you can’t do it. When I was depressed after my first was born, I knew it. I had a psychiatrist I could call and have help. But I had a million excuses lined up as to why I couldn’t do that. I don’t want to sound lecturing. It is not you saying that it’s too expensive or medication has side effects, it is the depression. I know from experience. Therapists will work with you on co-pays. There are plenty of medications to try. Side effects change. I know it’s not what you want to hear, but I feel an obligation to say it. I know it seems impossible, like a million things are putting up a wall between you and help. I know that the depression says to you, “Live in me. You want me. You need me.” You don’t. It’s wonderful that you’ve written this and gotten it out into the open. I hope you find the help that will make you feel like you again.

  8. It just occurred to me that there should be people who provide counseling over skype or some other virtual face-to-face platform, especially for people with incredibly busy schedules who are only available after 8 pm, or during nap time on Wednesdays. AND it should be sliding scale. Mental health coverage is so behind in this country- still expensive, not covered by insurance (or barely), and often difficult to access.

    For my two cents, I’d say see if you can find one yoga class a week- maybe a therapeutic or gentle one. That is more affordable than therapy and can have similar effects. I know it’s hard to make the time to do it, to fit in with everything else, but when you are ready, it will be there for you.

    Thank you for sharing. Based on all the above comments, this is something that many of us experience, but often feel isolated or alone in, and get consumed by the “I suck” thoughts, only pulling us farther down into the black hole. Let it suck, cause it does, and know that you will come out the other side. Be patient with it. But do what you need to do (and can do) to take care of yourself. Namaste.

    • Thank you so much, Hannah. I am kind of trying to sit with it and see what happens. Today was a better day, and I think blogging it out yesterday helped. Your support and kindness means so much. xox.

  9. “A tissue gets into the laundry and the world fucking falls apart.” Can you hear me laughing as I read this!? Oh My God! I’m not laughing at you. I’m laughing in a totally empathetic, thank God she gets it, too, are you in my head type of way. Amen, sista. If either one of us gets the answers, we’ll have to be sure to share them. In the meantime, there is always laughter. It at least makes grinning and bearing it a little more enjoyable. Namaste, momaste.

  10. It’s horrible to feel like this, but your writing captures it all so beautifully despite the desperate pain. It’s so hard when the children are young….it gets easier as you feel less responsible for their every moment! Finding time for yourself to rest and recharge would probably be the best therapy ever…but how to find this time….and then before you know it they grow up and don’t need you and you have too much time on your hands 🙂
    I feel your pain….

    • Thank you. I know it will get easier, but then I kind of panic that I am going to miss out on something special about my kids being so little and innocent and sweet, you know? Anyway. . . thanks for stopping by. And thanks for your photography; it always transports me and is highly therapeutic! xox.

  11. wow. thank you so much for sharing this. i have struggled with anxiety my whole life and assumed mild postpartum anxiety was what I was dealing with now, but this post resonates with me so much. so many of the feelings you describe are so familiar that I’m now wondering if I have some ppd stuff going on.

  12. Thank you so much for sharing this! I can totally relate, even if my husband is the one that freaks out when a tissue (mine most of the time) get lost in the laundry 😉 I read in some French blogs theories about the “maternal burn-out” or “maternal exhaustion”: it says that not only we’re doing most of the job at home, but also that we’re always thinking of things to organize (for exemple, we’re going on excursion on Friday: if I do not prepare the diaper bag, the change of clothes, the baby food and so on, we’re sure not to leave the house before 11 am because my husband just do not think of it). If we’re asking for help, we have to check so many times that it is done that our mind is just never at rest. Our brains are wired differently and we are far most likely to go on overdrive…
    Lots of love to you, let’s fight the depression on both sides of the Atlantic
    xoxoxo

  13. Pingback: Reminders | Psychobabble

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