Parenting is hard. Like, really hard. Most of the time you are handed a wee fragile bundle of crying, pooping, screaming squish and sent out into the world to teach this new human how to human. Like any of us know what the fuck we are doing ourselves, let alone have the slightest idea how to inspire an entirely new generation to do great and wonderful things. Add mental illness into the mix and parenting can be an entirely different endeavor altogether.
I am pretty open about my depression and anxiety. A little over a year ago I was so lost in darkness that it didn’t even occur to me that others might be struggling as well. It took starting medication, therapy and some serious work for me to be able to see outside of my deep, black, isolating well of depression. If someone who is struggling like I was, or can relate to anything I have to say, then I feel like I am passing along a little bit of light, love and healing into the universe. Paying it forward, if you will. I want to share the knowledge I have gained from my experiences with the hope that it inspires someone else.
A year ago this week, I had just started therapy. It was my second session and I had to sit there and tell this stranger that I had to check my son into a hospital because his depression was so severe that he needed intervention.
I was on new medication and still pretty inundated in my own debilitating cocktail of depression and PPD/PPA. I had to drive my, then fifteen year old, a couple of hours away from home to stay in a place I didn’t even know existed. It was one of the hardest, darkest, most terrifying moments of my life. My partner stayed home with the baby, who had just turned one. Worried about driving him by myself in the emotional state I was in, I brought a friend to accompany me. This both made things easier, and harder. This particular woman is married to a man with a history of hospitalizations, so to her, a young woman with no children, this really wasn’t a big deal. Or, at least in my stir of emotions, that it what it felt like. That was me “mind-reading.”
I, however, was fucking devastated. It was the longest drive of my life. They carried on, laughing and joking, like we weren’t on our way to an emergency room because my teenager was a danger to himself. I was drowning in a black, sticky sea of fear, shame and guilt.
Guilt. My preferred, perfect poison. Always right there when I need it.
Of course this was my fault. If I had only pretended to be happier. If I had done everything differently. If I were a more capable adult. If I had a better childhood. If I had built up his self-esteem more. If I had built up my self-esteem more.
There I sat, silently, driving in what has now become a steady rain, berating myself for everything I had to have done wrong in my life to reach this point right here. The one where I am checking my kid into a hospital.
It’s my fault for divorcing his father. It’s my fault for having another child and forcing him to share my attention and time. It is my fault for failing in my career. It is my fault for being too depressed to notice he was struggling so much. It was my fault for not checking in with his therapist more.
This continued the entire drive there and the short wait in the waiting room. My son and my company were trying to make small talk but I couldn’t stop the tears from streaming down my face. I was trying so hard not to break down in front of my son.
He needed me to be strong right now. This was not helping. I was failing him all over again.
The tears came faster, dripping on to the paperwork I was struggling to fill out. I thought it quite appropriate that the ink on the intake paper for my child was smeared and damp from a mothers cries. It felt so tragic and surreal.
Leaving him there, at that strange place, made my chest hurt. My heart was broken. My face strained as I quieted my sobs until I got to the car and shut the door. I wept for minutes before I was able to see to drive home.
The drive home was quieter. My travel companion was trying to help by regaling me with tales of her experiences with her husband in hospitals and situations like this. I know she thought she was just normalizing it for me, but I felt like she was minimizing and dismissing my situation.
This was my child. Not a grown man. This was different, I kept telling myself, finding myself more and more angry and defensive as she went on. I knew I was mentally lashing out at whatever I could since I felt so out of control. I could feel myself getting numb. Falling into familiar habits and thought patterns. I just wanted to hide under a blanket and let the world handle this, because I was not equipped to deal with it.
My son spent my thirty-fifth birthday, which also happens to be our favorite family holiday, Halloween, in an emergency in-patient facility. It was a pretty grim week.
Thankfully, I was already in therapy, which was my saving grace. She helped me work my way through the guilt, and by changing my perspective, I was able to let go of some of the guilt, give myself a little bit of patience and focus on what I can do going forward.
This intensive mental health journey I have been on in the past year has been exhausting. It’s left me flayed open and exposed. It has had me wallowing in misery and repressed trauma for days. Trying to work through severe depression, and other mental illnesses, while parenting is a fucking roller coaster of suck sometimes.
I know my depression is creeping in when I am thankful for gloomy, rainy days. If it is raining then I don’t have to feel guilty about not taking my two year old out to play in the yard. It is so hard to force yourself up and going when you are depressed. It decimates your motivation until you’ve convinced yourself you just can’t do it, so why bother?
You can’t do that when you are a parent though. It isn’t my toddlers fault that I am depressed and anxious and I cannot bear the thought of stepping out of that goddamn door into the slew of dangers my brain has convinced me are waiting out there somewhere. So, I force myself up and I take him outside. It almost always makes us both feel better, and as my partner so often says “success breeds success”.
It has been a difficult balance to find and maintain. Patience with myself and responsibility for my children and family. I am learning to show myself some kindness when I genuinely don’t feel like I can face the outside world, instead of beating myself up for it.
I am a different person than I was a year ago. I am stronger and more capable of handling a crisis. I am more secure. I am self-aware and forging ahead. I am learning how to communicate and sort through unnecessary bullshit.
I don’t know if I would have such a desire to get healthier if I wasn’t a mother. Love is a powerful fucking motivator, isn’t it?