When I thought of people with depression, I wondered how someone could turn so inward to not be able to see the beautiful things in their life, and the Herculean effort into life they have put in…I have friends and family with chronic depression, and I could never understand how they saw something completely different than I did.
Now I know.
A year and a half ago, I realized I was a shell of a person, often having seemingly out of body experiences of looking down at the unfeeling rock I had become. Postpartum depression is no joke, and although it runs in my family’s womenfolk and I expected it, I never expected what it was. I wasn’t sad, or angry, or empty. I simply didn’t feel anything, a robot on autopilot. I existed purely because a little person needed me for everything, and through her night cries I just powered through because I had to, they didn’t bother me, I barely heard them. I didn’t resent my daughter or husband, I wasn’t angry or frustrated with them. I just didn’t feel anything about them.
I was a working mom then. Between the shock of breastfeeding failure, guilt of having others watch my tiny baby, not having a clue, not living up to the standards I had pictured of a mother, the guilt of recognizing so many other mamas have it a million times harder than I do yet I’m still feeling this way, it’s no wonder I felt…numb. When she was a couple months old, I quit my job and became a stay at home mother, as I found it pointless to work just to afford childcare. We sold our first home and moved an hour away from anyone we knew so my husband could have his dream job in youth ministry. Despite the changes, about a month later I finally looked at my daughter and realized she existed and her first smiles warmed my empty soul.
It was a good month. I was beginning to be okay with being a mother, when I had always found identity in working and accomplishing. I enjoyed her milestones that month or so, her rolling over and her adorable constant hiccups. Then came the fun part. My marriage found a long testing season, the financial burden of having just one income (in case you wondered, choosing ministry isn’t about the paycheck size), and six months later the church downsized, and we had nothing last autumn. Pediatricians and the WIC office “gently” let me know the Little was behind the general learning and mobility curves, and we bought a home that needed (still needs) a lot of work. Talk about finding the depths.
My home long ago fell apart, we were still living out of most of our boxes nine months after moving in, my daughter played by herself while I laid on the couch fighting exhaustion and the urge to care, I lost my passion to cook and bake for family and friends, and I resented her dad – for not putting his laundry away, never eating food I did get the motivation to make with enough passion, and for having the ability to leave the house to go to work and have an intelligent conversation. I know, life changing stuff to pick up on, right?
Studies are showing that especially stay-at-home mothers, particularly of young ones, are experiencing depression. Here is one such study summary out of many. They are most at risk because women are social creatures and now more than ever find their worth on recognized accomplishment in the throes of feminism movements. Considering the isolating, often boring and thankless characteristics of her day, it’s no wonder why most I have spoken to feel some amount of functioning depression. Stay-at-home parents are on 2/7/365, without fifteen minute coffee breaks and often someone talking in broken sentences to her even while she pees. Her sense of care-taking duty makes her give everything she’s got and then some to her family, always on and always on call. However, whether a mom or dad, stay-at-home, work-outside-home, or work-at-home…I know we’ve all seen some amount of depression even when we find our children completely fulfilling, and know there are many things we can do to provide a safeguard, to enable us to keep giving to our children and spouses, often without even taking up too much of our time while making a huge difference.
I need to offer a disclaimer. Although I’m doing these things, I am nowhere near perfect and there are times when I still skip when I can’t muster the ability to pull myself out of the chasm. I just wanted to offer what has given me immeasurable improvement to be able to actually live a life I don’t loathe and resent. I feel again…not every single amazing day, but most days I have the capacity to find joy, and it’s worth fighting for before my Little recognizes something is up and she lands in therapy to make her understand it’s not her fault mommy is empty and uncaring, and instead find it easy to fill her little love-tank consistently.
Hopefully, you can steal a method or two, and avoid being a statistic survey rat.
- I recognized there was an issue, twice (postpartum and a year later). The second time, I spoke up. I let my husband know I’m struggling, and I let a friend know. That friend annoyingly checks in almost every day, asking for the thing that made me smile or smirk that day. It’s annoying, and it works to have a voice.
- I take a B3 and B6 vitamin, as well as a cod liver oil supplement. Complex B vitamins convert tryptophan into serotonin, our brain’s mood enhancer. Medications like Prozac work by making serotonin stick around in your brain longer, while especially B6 seems to make it for you. Cod liver oil is rich in Omega-3, which improves your mind, memory, and all things brain.
- I’ve been moving. Instead of telling my husband to go walk our dog, I put the Little in her stroller or wrap and do it myself. Bonus points if it’s sunny, because Vitamin D absorbed through our skin helps neurotransmission. I pick up a dance or kickboxing workout video at the library once a week, and periodically do a few minutes of it at a time – the Little loves the music.
- I force myself to eat. I’ve always been a once or twice a day at the table person, but I often found myself not caring about feeling hungry, knowing the feeling would pass soon, and I easily wouldn’t eat for a day or two at a time. Even if you’re the type who eats through their depression, drastic dips and spikes in blood sugar aren’t doing you any favors.
- I’m eating better, and trying to consistently up my water consumption. If I put junk in, I just get junk out. I don’t need additional exhaustion, crummy feeling, and brain fog in my life.
- I force myself to shower and actually get dressed in normal clothes…most days. I can tell a huge difference in the days I’m successful at this and the days I didn’t get that far.
- I write a list of things to get done for the day, cross off what I accomplished, and write in the extras I did. Even though it takes a little time, I’ve realized this is critical, as my head still goes to the place where I don’t think I did anything all day even though I was incredibly busy. This is especially rough because my life up to this point was defined by work accomplishments and recognition. When no one is there to give it to me, I must give it to myself, and in the mind-numbing monotony of being a mom on the daily, I need to see a snapshot of what I did that day to feel like there was a point to getting out of bed.
- I started working – kind of. I deliver newspapers overnight, and I pick up smaller online jobs periodically. It’s nothing to brag to everyone about, but one gets me out of the house and jamming to my own grown-up music, while the other lets me feel like I’m staying fresh on my expertise I left to be a mom full time.
- Periodically, I learn words in other languages, or just simply find something new to learn about to get my brain working on something other than figuring out what my almost two year old just said.
- I find a little Jesus. Definitely not perfect here, either, but as a Christian, I can really see a difference when I’m spiritually starved. Reminding myself of the grace He finds in me allows me to find grace in me. If that makes sense. Knowing a God that delights in me, longs for me, and formed me exactly as I should be is by itself a beautiful gift. Recently, I read a Psalm when I need a boost, because I feel like King David went through some things and probably knew what he was talking about when he wrote them. Even if you’re not a Christian, meditating to clear your mind or focusing on something bigger than yourself (even Mother Earth, for instance) can help pull you out of your inner dialog and self-loathing.
Areas I intend to still try – finding local mom friends, giving an honest go at meditation, and creating places in my home that I find peace and happiness in.
Hang in there, we’re in this together.