Parenting with Depression
After reading a blog post by one of our Twitter followers, Lucy, where she talks about the ugliness of depression, it got me thinking about when you are a parent and battling with mental illness. In the post she talks about the realities of how awful it can be, the terrible effects it has on her and how it can fool her into thinking she’s failing as a wife and mother.
As a mum, I can relate, when my depression hits hard I am my own harshest critic; I withdraw myself and feel like I’m a failure at every aspect of family life, disappointing my children and letting everyone down. It’s awful because such feelings often only serve to drive me further into the darkness. So when you are fighting a battle with your mind like this, how do you hope to be an effective parent?
Ask for Help
Asking for help is something I personally struggle with, I find it difficult to believe that anyone would be willing to help me. (My own dark passenger does its very best to convince me that nobody would care, so why bother asking?) I’m sure you can relate! But it’s something that I am learning to do, because it’s not just a benefit to me, but to my children as well. Having a parent with depression can take its toll on kids and having someone to talk to or somewhere they can get a break is necessary.
So where can you get help? Most of these may seem logical, but it’s surprising how much we become blinkered when we’re in a depressive state.
- The other parent– whether you are together or not, both parents are responsible for their children and their well-being. It’s OK to admit you need assistance where necessary, so if that’s getting your other half to take on some extra chores or if you’re not together, then encouraging (where appropriate) them to take kids out for the day, handing over the reigns for a bit can be a huge help.
- The Wider Family- Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles, Sisters and Brothers, they’re your in built support network. I don’t know where I’d be without my parents and their enthusiasm for having the children over for a sleepover! Likewise, being able to talk to my sister is hugely important, even if it’s just to vent about my teenager and his dramas, it helps.
- Friends- OK, this one depends on the type of friendship you have. For you friends out there who are supporting someone with mental illness you may be afraid of getting lumped with someone else’s children. It really doesn’t have to be anything as big as that. Popping in for a coffee, or just running an errand for someone who is struggling is more helpful than you think.
- Your Local Family Centre- I cannot sing the praises of these wonderful institutions highly enough. They are an excellent way to access social service assistance, are brilliant for meeting other parents and carers, simply put they can be a life line! Many offer free courses which you can attend with your child, like children’s cookery or craft, or alternatively offer adult courses with a crèche for a small fee. It may seem silly, but doing something simple like making stuff from toilet roll tubes in a safe environment can be good for you and your child.
Now these are just some of the places I’ve found help, it’s not an exhaustive list but I hope it reminds you that the help is there.
Surviving the Dark Days
So there are going to be days when depression is crushing you, you can’t face going out and maybe your usual route of help isn’t there. What do you do? Take today, for example, for no apparent reason I have woken up with what feels like crushing weights on me. I don’t want to talk, or move. Everything just feels hopeless and futile. I just want to lie in bed and be away from the world.
But I can’t. I have phone calls to make, my 3 year old needs breakfast, there’s shopping to do, washing that is getting urgent, bathrooms in need of cleaning and hoovering to do. It sucks. The list of tasks is daunting and I feel like even more of a failure because so far all I’ve managed to do is to serve up a bowl of Weetabix that my daughter has refused to eat and mashed all over herself and the table.
My advice to me and to you, is give yourself a break.
You can’t will yourself to get out the door for the picnic you promised your child you’d go on today? Put the blanket on the living room floor and have your picnic inside. Cooking is too daunting a prospect? Order a pizza. Junk food occasionally won’t kill you or your children. Sod the cleaning for today.
My point is that you are battling an illness, you are not expected to be supermum or superdad. What’s more important to your family is that you are there, in their lives. Toys, gadgets and days out are never going to be as important as you being in your children’s life. My son and I often talk about how fond his memories are of what we called ‘duvet and Disney days’. We’d take over the sofa with blankets and cushions, stay in our pj’s and eat rubbish while ploughing through movie after movie. It’s only as he’s gotten older that he now recognises that those days were my way of coping in a depressive spiral with a small child. It didn’t hurt him, in fact it’s a treasured part of his childhood and it got me through.
I still have really bad days, there’s probably more to come after this one. But I’m surviving, with 2 wonderful, compassionate and well balanced children. And if I can do it, even if today is a day where I parent in pyjamas, you can too.
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