This is as true in everyday life as it is in battle: we are given one life and the decision is ours whether to wait for circumstances to make up our mind, or whether to act, and in acting, to live. ~ Omar N. Bradley
Depression is an issue that has been getting a great deal of press lately, particularly in the parenting community. The Parenting Magazine article Xanax Makes Me A Better Mom shows just how pervasive and controversial this issue is: according to the article, parents are more than twice as likely as non-parents to experience depression, and the comments section illustrates just exactly how harsh and judgmental people can be about it — whether you’re taking pills or not, whether you’re in therapy or not, as soon as you use the word ‘depression’ someone stands ready to condemn you for something.
I’ve been depressed for my entire life. When I was 24, I first heard the word dysthymia: chronic, mild depression that lasts for years. It was a diagnosis which has made me view my entire dry, pessimistic personality as suspect. I’ve suffered repeated bouts of double depression as well — dysthymia paired with an episode of major depression. It makes for a thick psychiatric folder and a lifelong struggle to feel even the most basic joys.
I took medications (many, many medications) for five years. I’ve been in therapy with psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers, and counselors for eleven. I’ve used all the conventional methods to treat depression, from SSRIs to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I know what works for me and what doesn’t.
Last summer, I went once more into a deep depression. Years of therapy had given me tools that helped me to deal with my dysthymia, and I had been functioning quite well without drugs for years. The scary thing about this depression, beyond the fact that my own mind was once more threatening my life and happiness, is that this time I’m a mom.
I have a son. I have to raise this child. I have to get up early every morning, put his needs before my own, and provide him with a safe, healthy environment. More than that, I have to teach him how to live in the world. How can I do that, if I’m mired in pain? How can I teach him to love life if I’m thinking of taking my own?
My son, just by existing, has raised the stakes on my healing process. I MUST GET BETTER. For his sake, for my sake, for the sakes of all the people with whom I come into contact. I cannot refuse to do the things that I have to do to get better, not out of fear or shame or any other emotion that may weigh me down.
A recent article by The Bearded Iris was titled “We Are Only As Sick As Our Secrets”. It’s a saying which is common theme in therapy. Being open about our pain, about the reasons behind our pain, alleviates that pain. It allows us to live more fully in our skins and to have more honest relationships with people. Though it may be hard and frightening, talking about our inner fears, hurts, and suppressed angers is a necessary part of healing.
Though it’s hard, I’ve been working to come to grips with my past — to expose my pain to fresh air and sunlight. Therapy has taught me a great deal about myself, about the things that made me the way I am, and about what I need to do to become the kind of person that I want to be.
When it becomes too hard, when it hurts too much and I face too much judgment and condemnation from my loved ones (who would be very happy to see me medicate the pain away, in spite of the fact that I know that drugs are only a superficial panacea for me), I think of my little son.
I think of him at seventy, or eighty, or ninety. I think of him telling his grandchildren about his life, and that of his parents. I think of him telling them about me.
If I give up, if I choose not to do the hard work of grappling with my pain, his story will be one of his own pain. It will be a story of feeling disconnected from his mother, of watching her shrivel into herself until she was completely unable to function. It may be a story of losing her altogether, and the terrible toll that had on the rest of his young life. I can’t bear to think of that.
If I don’t give up, if I do what needs to be done to face my demons and stand up for my own mental health, I can hope that his story will be one of pride and admiration. It will be a story of a strong, courageous woman who did not let life, stigma, condemnation, or her own mind keep her down. A woman who fought for what she loved and who raised him with the courage to do the same.
That’s the story I want to leave my son with. That’s the woman, the mother, that I want to be.
So the fight continues.
If you find yourself relating to me a little too closely, or you know someone who would, there’s lots of help available. Please don’t suffer in silence. Seek help. A basic Google search for “depression help” turns up an unbelievable 240,000,000 results. You owe it to yourself, and even more importantly to your children, to get treatment.
Let’s make sure that all our children have truly inspiring stories to tell of us.