Clinical depression is the elephant in the room for a lot of moms.
Dealing with depression is very real for so many moms, wives, sisters, and friends, yet it is all too often still the “elephant in the room.” According to Mental Health America website, 1 out of every 8 women can expect to develop clinical depression at some point in their lives. Around 12 million women in the United States deal with depression each year. And last but surely not least, women ages 25-44 are most frequently diagnosed with depression.
I was 19, and in the middle of my sophomore year of college, when depression first made its “Grand Entrance” into my life.
I am now 39. Wow, has it really been 20 years?
You might be moved to feel sorry for me. But you know what? I am thankful for this cross that I still bear. Sounds crazy, right?
Well, I am. . . kinda. . .
Laughter, a healthy sense of humor, my faith and my God are why I have been able to successfully deal with depression.
I have learned so much because of my experience with depression (and let’s go ahead and tag on Generalized Anxiety disorder, because I was later diagnosed with that too.) My “mettle” has really been tested, but I have also tremendously grown in my spiritual life. I don’t think I would be where I am today without having battled with depression.
I can even see the purpose of why I was chosen to bear this cross. You see, I am unabashedly open and real. I do not hide what I feel or what I think. Granted, sometimes I should, but that story is for another day. . .
It probably wasn’t until I became a mother that I really started to come to terms with my depression and realize it was going to be part of my life for the long haul. Because of the love and support of my husband and family, I could see that I had self-worth. I could see that depression was a part of me but did not (and does not) define me.
Therefore, as I started to meet other mommy friends, I couldn’t help but jump at the chance to talk about my experience when I saw another mommy suffering. I wanted them to know that they are not alone in this fight and that there can be hope for joy and happiness again.
During my 20 years of experience suffering from Major Depressive Disorder, I have come to find and learn certain things that help me endure, cope, and sometimes even stave off a major episode of depression.
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Here are the 10 most vital things every mom needs when dealing with depression:
1. Extra, Uninterrupted Sleep
Don’t mistake this for laziness. Good, solid, uninterrupted sleep is a real part of the treatment plan. I actually had to give up breastfeeding with my children because of this. My psychiatrist told me I needed 5-6 hours, at least, of uninterrupted sleep in order to “function.” So, my husband and I worked out a plan to alternate getting up during the night to feed the baby. Over time, this actually evolved into us having 1 night “on”, waking up with baby, and one night “off.” This worked well for us and made it possible for us to have 4 amazing little souls brought into our lives!
2. Time Each Day for Yourself
Okay, I have to laugh at this one. My old psychiatrist that treated me when I just had my oldest child actually told me and my husband that I needed 2 HOURS every day just for myself. What?!!!! If you are a parent, then you know she might have well just said, “You need to go on a vacation to Hawaii at least once a month.” I encourage you that yes, time to yourself is important, but depending on your circumstances you may just have to take what you can get. Seasons of life change, and you may be able to carve out more time at different stages.
3. An Awesome Psychiatrist
I can’t emphasize this enough. I have had my share of not so great ones. I encourage you to try to find people that can personally refer a doctor. If not, then pray a lot about it and treat a new psychiatrist as a probational employee. Trust your gut feeling and when they start a new treatment plan for you, have them make a case for why they think it is the proper course of treatment. This brings me to my next point, which is . . .
4. An Advocate
Often times when you are seeking the right psychiatrist, you are in a time of crisis. Maybe not always, but the chances are pretty high that you will be. In that event, you won’t be able to think your clearest and most logically. It is important to have someone- husband, parent, sibling, friend- to “think” for you and assess the situation and help you choose how to go forward.
5. A Light Therapy Box
SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a real thing. You don’t have to be officially diagnosed in order to start using this type of therapy. If you notice that on dreary, rainy, cloudy days you feel a dip in your mood, then you will definitely benefit from having a “light box.” I have had mine for years and I find that it makes a HUGE difference for me. I don’t use it all the time because some winters go by without any problems. It also probably helps that I live in the Southeastern area of the U.S. We don’t really know what Winter is!
6. A Hobby
To be honest, I think I have too many hobbies! But I know this is integral for my well-being. Luckily, so does my husband. Having tried many different hobbies, I have found that I love to create. Whether it be jewelry, little girls clothes, baby bedding, or curtains, I am the proudest of the things I make. I love to sew and crochet as well. There are so many options, and not just crafts. It could be horseback riding, collecting stamps, starting a blog (Ha!), or learning a new skill.
A simple little joke is not what I am talking about. Rather, I am speaking of laughing so hard, and for so long, you pee your pants a little. Watching comedy specials, like with comedian Jim Gaffigan, is my favorite way to laugh. Having a girl’s night out where you shut the restaurant down because you are so busy talking and laughing. Also, playing games with family or friends like Apples to Apples, Twister, Bop It, or Charades. Figure out what tickles your funny bone and submerge yourself in it!
8. A Purpose
After I had my first child, I went through a really difficult time with my depression. Changing psychiatrists and changing medications, it took me a really long time to get the depression under control. My husband and I didn’t know if I would ever get back to the quality of life that I had before. So even though we had always dreamed about having several kids, we knew that just might not be possible for us.
Four years after my first child was born, we were blessed to be at a place in our lives where we felt like we could and should have a second child. We were apprehensive of course about how I would get through the pregnancy (pregnancy is really difficult for me) and about how I would be able to handle the addition of another child. Even though it was a very bumpy road during the pregnancy, we were surprised and excited to find that we easily fell into the groove of having another sweet baby in our family. In fact, we now have 4 beautiful children!
Don’t get me wrong, when depression is at its height it is sometimes very hard to not hide in your closet curled up in a ball wishing the whole world will go away. But having to focus and take care of someone else who depended on me for their very survival really helped me “get out of my head.” I didn’t have the time to just sit around and bemoan the cross I bear.
9. A Self-Care Routine
I know that may sound silly to some, but when you are in a really low spot, self-care is not at the top of your list of priorities. You may even sometimes feel like you don’t deserve self-care. In your darkest moments you can believe some of the most awful things. So I encourage you to find things you are excited about and really love to incorporate into your self-care routine when you are really suffering. It may be certain scents, a bubble bath, a hair wash at a salon, a pedicure/manicure, or a massage.
I know a lot of people advocate for getting dressed and fixing your hair and makeup each morning. Although I know this is a good thing, I think it is possible to take care of yourself well without wearing makeup, dressing to the 9’s, and fixing your hair every day. Sometimes I am the happiest when I am in comfy clothes wearing no makeup with my hair in a ponytail—just living and enjoying life to the fullest!
10. A Good Friend
Someone willing to listen when you need to talk, who won’t think to themselves, “Geez, here we go again!” Easier said than done, I know, but this is crucial! Ask God for guidance and to bring someone into your life if you don’t already have a good friend. This friend does not have to suffer from depression also. They simply need to see you as the treasure you are. This may be your spouse, you sibling, your sister-in-law, someone from your church, or even a co-worker. I promise you are a treasure and there is someone God has in mind for you!
Not everyone in your life will be able to grasp what you are going through. Some people have never experienced a chemical imbalance that is completely out of their control. Others may have just enough experience with depression/anxiety that they can be dangerous. A true chemical imbalance of the brain is vastly different from a situational bout of depression like losing a loved one or surviving a disaster. Although well-intentioned, these people can sometimes be hurtful.
Where do I find help and good information for dealing with depression?
On the website, The Mighty, I have found a wealth of support, encouragement, and information. The following two quotes express exactly what I want the people closest to me to “get.” I know it must be hard to understand something as seemingly “all in your head and not real” as depression, but if you love someone that suffers from it, you can really show your unconditional love by educating yourself and having an open mind.
“Don’t take my actions personally. Putting on a strong front and putting all my energy into making it through my day takes a lot out of me. When I cancel plans or say I just can’t today, it’s not because I don’t love you or want you in my life. I’m just exhausted.” — Tammie Nutt
“I won’t reach out when I’m struggling because I don’t want to upset you or be a burden. I don’t like people worrying about me, even if they should be.” — Chelsea Noelani Gober
My husband is something I am grateful to God for each and every day. He had no experience with dealing with depression and he did not understand it AT ALL when we first got married. But, even though the logic may elude him, he recognizes that depression is real and it truly is something I cannot control. He has learned to support and guide me through the tough times and is the first one to say, “It's ok if you don't get everything done because you are just trying to get through the day.”
He reminds me all of the time when I feel like I am failing at being a good homemaker and not getting all of the little chores and household duties done, that that is not the measure of my worth. That simply loving and being with our children is way more important than making sure their socks always match or that the house is always clean. He is happiest when I am happy and I think that is so amazing and selfless. I strive to be a little more like him every day.
How long have you dealt with depression? Are there certain things that are invaluable to you when you are at your lowest points? I would love to hear about your experience with depression. Please comment below!