Bell Let’s Talk Day – Momming with Mental Illness

So I’ve been away for a while.  First, I took some time off for Christmas.  Then, I realized I was online too much, so I wanted to sort out my priorities… and then, my depression acted up.  I like to think of depression as something like arthritis: it’s always there, but sometimes it “acts up.”  In many ways, to me, that’s the most accurate description of depression.  I can still get out of bed.  I can still interact with people, and laugh, and chase my kids.  But it’s harder – almost impossible – on the mornings where my depression is acting up.  It can be affected by the weather: I have a much harder time dealing with depression on cold, dark days than on sunny ones (though this is not always the case).  In addition to the physical similarities, I also see a commonality in the way that people treat depression and arthritis.  If you have arthritis (or any chronic pain condition, like fibromyalgia), you know what I mean when I say this: people don’t want to hear you talk about it.  The first time you are with someone and you are having a flare-up, you tell them about your condition and they are sympathetic.  But if every time you’re with them, you move slower, or you complain (or even mention it), they eventually get tired of hearing about it… or at least it sure feels that way to you.  So you start to pretend that it DOESN’T bother you.  You smile through the winces; you get up and participate, even if all you want to do is sit and cry.

That.  That is depression.  Or at least what it is to me.

I have what is called, in some schools, “high functioning depression” because I can live a “normal” life, even when in the throes of mental illness.  I can camouflage.  I smile, instead of crying.  I play with my kids, and talk to friends, instead of staring at a wall.  I work, instead of sleeping.  I have learned what I look like when I’m “normal” and I emulate those behaviours as closely as possible.  I usually feel like people just don’t want to hear about it (even if that’s simply not true, it’s how I FEEL when I’m there), and that I can’t use it as an excuse for withdrawing from the world, because my friends/coworkers/family deserve better than that, even if it’s what I need for my own well-being.

And this is especially true as a mom.

How do you explain to a 2 year old that you literally can’t talk to her because it is taking every ounce of your energy just to be in clothing?  Or that you can’t walk to the playground today because the struggle to put together more than one-word sentences is simply too overwhelming a task?  My desperate desire for her not to see me having Rochester’s-first-wife-in-the-attic moments is so strong that I power through.  My intense need not to somehow pass this on to her, like some kind of mental flu.  It’s like jr high track and field: you HAVE to participate, even if you’d rather cut your own legs off than race the 800 meter today.  I get in my lane and run the damn race; it’s just that I’m running the race in knee-deep mud, so every stride takes 10 times the effort that it should.  And even when I know it’s not true, it feels like my lane is the only one with this mud in it – like somehow all the other moms got clean lanes.  So I’ll show up.  I’ll race.  I’ll put on my runners, I’ll get in my lane, and I’ll run this damn race like my lane isn’t full of mud.

And the cycle, as vicious as it is, requires that I then recharge from the herculean effort of doing something totally innocuous with copious amounts of sleep.  If you’re a mom, you already know the punchline: sleep is not something easy to come by as a parent.

That’s it.  I don’t have advice.  I don’t think of myself as somehow “better” than other people with depression, just because I can force myself out of bed.  Trust me, there are days when I can’t.  I understand the crushing weight of it.

So, moms out there with depression – I feel you.  A wild, sad, emphatic salute to you in your struggle.  For days when you show up, and days when you can’t.  Days where you smile and laugh and chase and tickle and days when you stare at a blank wall while your baby naps.  For the times you swallow what you want to say and say “I’m fine” and days when you can’t, and you cry when you’re asked if you’re alright.  Stay strong.

This is my annual post for Bell Let’s Talk Day.  I started trying to be more open about my mental illnesses several years ago, starting with a post on Bell Let’s Talk Day on facebook that marked the first time I ever openly anounced my struggles, and I want to end this one the same way I’ve ended them all: if you are struggling, reach out to someone (if you can) and know that you are NOT alone.  If you aren’t struggling, reach out to someone who might be.

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