I have always worked with children. I started babysitting at twelve years old, so having children of my own was always on my radar. When I fell in love, I knew I wanted children with him, I’d always said two or four children and we had four. I was a good parent until I wasn’t, or so depression convinced me. I felt like a failure every time I snapped, I failed to smile at a funny story, didn’t respond or overreacted and just thought about being a parent.
I believed they were better off without me.
Managing or trying to cope with life with depression is tough enough – trying to pretend you’re ok, trying to get through the day with as little damage to anyone and everyone possible, trying to hold the overwhelming emotions in check, trying to control your behaviour all the while trying to do everything expected of you as a wife, mother, daughter, auntie, coach and friend. The constant thought I struggle with is I was never doing a good enough job for anyone, but I never considered myself in this equation.
Being a mother, or more to the point being a bad mother, was always on my mind. I never seemed to get it right, I would try and listen to their stories of the day but I couldn’t focus. I found myself feeling claustrophobic when my two youngest children wanted to sit on my lap, I had to move them to the side so I could breathe. I couldn’t communicate my love to them verbally and from my point of view I wasn’t doing a good job with my actions either. I didn’t want to be in their company because it made me feel worse and I was always letting them down.
I remember one summer we had wet weather and the summer holidays saw us spending time indoors. I got ‘cabin fever’, I needed to get out. I told them to put their snow stuff on and we went puddle jumping. As I watched them having fun running through the rain, jumping in puddles and laughing with each other, I was glad they had each other because I was there in body alone.
Another time, I remember taking my three youngest children to the park. I had always been the involved parent, following them around, pushing them on swings, but that day I sat on the picnic table, on my phone, cut off from the fun going on around me. The guilt growing in size was consuming me but I couldn’t do anything to motivate myself to get involved, I just wanted a break. With hindsight I really wanted a break from the depression more so than my children, but they got caught up in it.
I was so sad all the time. I could occasionally laugh and joke but I felt nothing inside. I could sometimes be the ‘old’ me but it didn’t last, one little thing would tip me over the edge.
When my emotional vessel was full, my body and mind used to help me get some room by having ‘volcano’ moments or ‘sniper’ moments where I had a reprieve from the overwhelm no matter how short. The ‘volcano’ moments tended to be over the smallest of things, I would lose my temper over a drop of milk on the table and these sniper moments would last for twenty minutes. Twenty minutes of complaining about shoes, noise, where they sat, why the door was closed, why they did what they did. It was hard to listen to it myself. The thing is people will say, just stop, but you can’t.
When you get on a certain track, you keep going no matter how close to breaking you get – depression takes control.
I tried to do my best, not realising that I didn’t have anything left in my tank so I was doing my best at the time. I was so overwhelmed with emotions and thoughts that the kids asking for a glass of lemonade used to push me over the edge. I was just about getting through my days – The very little control I felt I had was threatened by extra requests, expectations and needs. Every time I grumble through making the lemonade, the guilt and the self punishing thoughts took a hold and made me feel worse.
Depression made me short tempered, a hard parent to relate to, a broken parent who didn’t have a lot to give – or so I thought. Discussions with my children since says they didn’t feel or see the same, the depression had been lying to me. This is the point – I spent hours every day listening to the inner voice that told me I was a terrible parent, a failure and letting them down. These thoughts were relentless. They played on a loop for the 21 hours I was awake every day.
Self knowledge was, and still is, my superpower.
Understanding what was going on for me was integral to conquering my mental health, but also getting to the point of being able to explain to my children about what I went through. When you are depressed, your thoughts are lying to you. They are not set to success yet, you are not failing, you just have some things you need to learn before you can change your life.
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