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.