I’m prone to depression and anxiety. I’m pretty sure it runs in my family (although everyone else denies it) so I feel that I come by it fairly honestly. That being said, no one really talks about it much, so the first few times I had bouts of depression, I didn’t really grasp what was happening to me until weeks or months later when I was finally able to come up for air.
As I’ve gotten older, my depressive episodes have helped me learn a lot about myself. For instance, I now know when my mood is low, I need to slow things down, schedule extra downtime, and ask for help. These concepts do not come naturally to me, and it has taken a long time to not only recognize this need but prioritize self-compassion.
To make this work, when I’m sensing the early signs of depression I make the effort of allowing myself a self-care day. A day where I can just sit in my PJs alone and do nothing, with no expectations. I allow this to myself without fear or judgment because I’ve learned taking the time to feel all the bad feels helps me be less hopeless in the long run.
This means I have to be on the lookout for all the “red flags” of my depression in order to anticipate when I need downtime.
Warning signs like when I’m suddenly exhausted every night by 8pm, but still don’t feel rested after a full night’s sleep. Or when I have the urge to binge on junk all day despite having zero appetite. Or withdrawing from my friends, not returning phone calls, texts, or invites. Getting really snappy and irritable at my husband. Feeling extra sensitive and perceiving everything as criticism. Crying in the car for no reason, huge heaping sobs. Feeling really really guilty about things I do every day. Or feeling beyond overwhelmed and hopeless, when things that seemed easily manageable yesterday turn into huge, insurmountable obstacles that I don’t have the energy or motivation for. Thinking, very briefly, about driving my car off the road.
Luckily these periods of time don’t last long, and sitting with the feelings for a day or two does usually help me keep moving. If I start feeling really despondent or having those “I can’t go on” thoughts, I force myself to call a friend or family member to distract me out of that moment. If those despondent thoughts persist, then I call my therapist.
One new plot twist these past few years is realizing that managing depression as a mom is a whole new ball game.
Because you really don’t have a lot of time to be alone to cope with your feelings in peaceful solitude. You still have to get up and get the kids dressed, fed and to school on time. You have other people relying on you for meals, carpools and emotional support, things that can feel outright exhausting when you’re depressed.
What I’m learning to do during these low periods is be kind and gracious to myself. I cut myself some major slack. If my to-do list is overwhelming, I put it down. I decrease the family obligations for the month or ask for help getting the kids where they need to be. I have intentionally cultivated a pretty long list of babysitters that are readily available. I sneak in a good cry in the shower (if I’m ever actually alone in the bathroom) and eat a delectable chocolate-y snack if I really need it.
And probably most importantly, I let my husband know I’m struggling and give him proactive things he can do to make things easier for me.
This was probably the hardest change for me to make. I always felt ashamed when depressed, wanting to hide until it passed and often too tired to talk about it or answer questions.
But now that we have kids, I can’t just shut down for a week or two. I HAVE to be pro-active and things still need to get done. So I’ve had to take a deep breath and let my husband know what’s going on. It helps a lot if I tell him very directly what I need from him; it avoids too many questions and empowers him to feel more helpful, too.
It’s not easy, and it takes a lot of work, personal insight and motivation. And believe me, I haven’t gotten here alone. I’ve had several amazing therapists along the way who have helped me get to this place, a place where I can recognize my depression early and use finely honed tools of self-compassion and asking for help to get me by.
And when that’s not enough, I know to seek out my own professional help. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from depression, it’s not something I want to deal with on my own. I want and need help, and I finally feel empowered to ask for it.