The Pain of Parenting with Depression by author Jane Roper
My twin daughters were right in front of me. But it was as if I was looking at them from behind a dirty, doubled-paned window.
They toddled around the guest bedroom of my aunt’s beachside home in nothing but diapers, wreaking mild havoc—pulling books off the shelves and clothing out of my suitcase. I sat slumped on the floor, my back against the bedframe, wondering how I was going to get through this day. And the one after that, and the one after that.
My husband, returning from the shower, found me in my near-catatonic state, and took over getting the girls dressed. While they headed for the beach, I stayed behind in bed, sobbing and curled in pain.
I was in the midst of my second incident of major depression in six months. The first had hit me from out of nowhere when my girls were thirteen months old, but had resolved itself within a few weeks, with help from an increase in my Prozac dose. I’d had mild depression for years, but had been mostly able to keep it at bay. Now, it seemed, things had changed. These episodes were much more intense than any I’d experienced before. The lethargy, lack of motivation and inability to feel pleasure were similar, but the pain was much worse—almost indescribable. It was as though liquid dread ran through my veins.
But the worst part by far was the way the depression interfered with my ability to be the mother I wanted to be: Patient. Engaged. Affectionate.
Mothering twin toddlers was no easy task even when I was at my best. But to do it—and do it well—while completely sapped of all energy, drive or joy was next to impossible. Meanwhile, the guilt I felt about being only “half there” for my family added a whole other layer of misery.
Yet at the same time—strange though it may sound— the fact that I had to keep on parenting through my depression was, in a way, my salvation. With a pair of spirited toddlers to take care of, I didn’t have the option of staying in bed or spending the day parked on the couch channel surfing. Faced with wrestling my daughters into their clothes or into the bath, making yet another meal or reading them yet another board book, I had to rally. And when I did, the depression didn’t hurt quite as much. I could even manage to smile.
My other salvation was my husband, who knew from his own experience with depression that it wasn’t something I could just snap out of. “You need to treat yourself like you would if you had a cold or flu,” he’d remind me. “Go easy on yourself.” At the same time, he would gently urge me to go to the gym, take the girls to the park, or stay up and watch a DVD with him instead of going straight to bed.
It took several more episodes of serious depression, a change in my diagnosis—from garden variety depression to bipolar II—and months of trying to arrive at the right combination of medications before I truly felt like myself again. But I got there.
I’ve had a few setbacks, but nothing as severe as those first few episodes. I’ve learned to be vigilant about my moods, and to cut my perfectionist self a little extra slack when life is particularly stressful. Meanwhile, I do everything within my power to keep depression at bay—get enough exercise and sleep, limit alcohol, and check in frequently with my psychiatrist in case any adjustments to my medication are needed. In other words, I’m taking very good care of myself. So I can take the best possible care of my kids.
Unfortunately, many parents with serious depression never get the help they need. Sadly, I think it’s the stigma of depression that is largely responsible. People who are depressed feel ashamed to seek help, or don’t have supportive family and friends. And it’s for them that I write this—in hopes that they’ll read and know that they’re not alone; that what they’re grappling with is real, and that seeking help doesn’t mean they’re weak.
If you’re depressed, you owe it to yourself to do whatever it takes to get better. You owe it to your children.