What high-functioning depression looks like when you're a mom of two
September is National Suicide Prevention Month. If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Counselors are available 24/7.
Depression has many faces. It’s your next-door neighbor. Your favorite rock singer. The grocery store clerk. Your boss. The mom who’d sooner smile through the pain than tell anyone she’s sinking.
While various mental health disorders run amuck genetically on my maternal side, my personal lifelong battle with depression began in early elementary school. In first grade, my teacher refused to let me go to the bathroom, and I peed all over the floor. Humiliated, I became every bully’s target for years. One pinched me daily, leaving a mark on my stomach that I carry to this day — a painful reminder. Another threatened to remind everyone about the incident for the rest of my life if I didn’t give up my lunch money, or do whatever tasks he demanded from me.
I was seven years old, already facing turbulence and traumas at home, wondering how to live the rest of my life through this magnitude of incomprehensible despair.
My parents divorced around the same time, and my perspective took a violent shift. My mother entered abusive relationships while I simultaneously discovered that my biological father was not the person I’d always assumed. I felt misplaced in my own skin, unsettled and unsure of my identity. My thoughts were frantic, paranoid, and often too heavy to understand. I took refuge in my one true confidante, my grandmother, who took me to my first therapist and aided in my quest for the right medications.
Without her then, I would not be here now. But she’s since passed, and I’m on my own as a mother of my own children who need guidance.
By the time I turned nine, my depression — something I internalized for fear of no one understanding — overwhelmed me to the point of suicidal thoughts and self-harm.
I underwent various medical treatments with awful side effects, through years of trial and error. I sat with therapists, hoping to heal the holes inside, but never fully felt like I’d been put back together.
Fast forward to my adult years, and a horrific battle with postpartum depression (PPD) nearly did end my life in suicide. Then, in 2014, I began seeing the first therapist who made me feel like healing was possible. I received a triple diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). All of this contributed to my chronic depression, like a pinwheel of pain, infinitely spinning inside of me.
Now, as I sit here with my 11-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son, I struggle to verbalize what it means to carry the weight of these illnesses every day.
It takes work, hard work. Often, I’m tired at the thought of another day, another fight. But I do it for them — for my daughter, who shows signs of depression and anxiety already. I’m scared for her. I’m hoping that she won’t have the lifelong struggle I’ve had, my mother had, my grandmother had. I’m hoping that she’ll just be able to live without so much work.
Being a high-functioning depressive is deceiving and confusing.
On the outside, I wake up, get my kids to school, hold a steady job, and have a strong relationship with my husband.
On the outside, we are doing well — I am doing well. We are happy and thriving.
But that’s not the true story.
The truth is, I reluctantly drag myself out of bed after a long discussion with the voices in my head. And though I wish I didn’t feel this way, I’m angry and hopeless. My depression is all-consuming and exhausting — especially when I’m trying so hard not to let it be.
Major depression disorders are more obvious. I’ve been there. Lying in bed, refusing to eat, see, or speak with anyone. It’s a desolate headspace where my thoughts convince me that I’ll never feel better, that everyone else would be much better off without me. This is where I go when I feel like I can no longer do this thing called living.
I hate it, and I fight it.
I’ve been in individual therapy. Group therapy. CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). I’ve had worry stones. I’ve practiced visualization techniques. I’ve mediated and written positive affirmations. I got a therapy cat. When it comes to managing my depression, I’ve done it all. Every medication has a plethora of side effects, from wetting the bed, to night terrors, to the increase of suicidal thoughts. Mental illness is complex, and the ability to treat it, even more so.
I’m capable of a lot of things. I run marathons. I write books. I can pull out an extroverted version of myself for public events; I’ll smile through pain. I can cross off an entire list of errands and tasks without a single wince — and yet, through it all, I wear a heavy cloak. I’m weighted in my steps and thoughts, accepting that maybe I always will be. I’ve learned to breathe under water as the anchor digs deeper into the sand.
Having kids gave me a reason to accept myself, despite the depression. My kids remind me to not give up, no matter how I feel each morning.
Every day is a new decision to fight. My kids need me — the strong, resilient version of me. The one who can do and be anything. I do my very best each day to give them that. But I also want them to understand the depression, knowing it doesn’t fully define me. I’m still their mom, and I love them more than life itself. I can be all the wonderful things they believe me to be, even if it takes work; I really can.
And some day, I hope that, maybe, I’ll believe I’m those things, too.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Counselors are available 24/7.