Depression is an isolating illness that people on the outside often struggle to understand. It is more than sadness. It is an all consuming illness that feeds off negativity and leaves you feeling empty.
I asked my Momma Bear to write about her experiences dealing with depression in the family. How she coped seeing her daughter on her darkest days. Here is what she had to say:
A Mums View
I’m glad that depression is getting exposed and that people talk about it more. Talking about anything, whether it is depression or some other difficult thing in life lightens a load.
Jem probably suffered through her depression alone for well over 10 years before I even knew she had it. Now I know it took over her life probably from when she started high school. She was bullied at school and I didn’t know. Behaviour, moodiness, quietness, tears, tantrums, highs and lows, all those kinds of things I put down as – ‘A phase’, welcome to the teenage years. I have a lot of regrets about that time. I wish I tried harder. I wish I knew her pain and could have done something about it.
We can’t live with regrets
However, we can’t live with regrets and we can’t change what has already happened. The thing is even if I recognised Jem’s pain, depression just doesn’t go away. It is a journey for her and for everyone who loves her. If she knew she did not have to go it alone … that might have helped some. Can I encourage you to try to talk to your kids about their feelings and what goes on for them in day to day life?
As I knew it, Jem was at her darkest time from mid to late 20’s. She was living 5 hours away from me and she may as well have been 2 days away. I couldn’t pop around to see her, to help her, take the kids off her hands a while. I couldn’t hold her while she had a cry, or while we both cried. She was on her own with the children and once again I couldn’t see how she wasn’t coping, emotionally and financially.
When Jem tried to take her own life the children were 6 and 4 years old. When we went up to the hospital she was in ICU and curled up in a ball on the bed with a blanket pulled over her face. I thought of the day she came home as a newborn baby asleep in a carrycot. I remember thinking … what do I do with you now baby girl? I thought the same seeing her in ICU – what do I do now baby girl?
What can I do?
The thing is I couldn’t do anything for my baby girl, except love her. I could pray for her. But I CAN NOT FIX IT. That is the hardest thing, when you can’t fix your broken children. When they are little you can fix some things with a plaster and a kiss better. It doesn’t work for depression. You just have to try to be the strongest you can be so you don’t break yourself!
Seeing the little 6-year-old boy making lunch for his 4-year-old sister, while mama was asleep on the couch broke my heart. ‘It’s ok Gran, I can do it.’ He said as I went to take over. A pile of marmite piled in the middle of a dry piece of bread and folded over and pressed down hard with his hand. I felt angry AT depression, not at Jem. I hated how it paralysed motivation. How she couldn’t get off the couch. I worried so much for the children. Good things come out of bad. That little boy has grown to be an incredibly caring, empathetic, kind soul. He is 11 now and is very protective of his little sister.
Learn to trust
WHAT do you do as a mum? What do you do when you don’t live close by? It tears at you when you have to go back to your home and responsibilities after you know there are things in place for your daughter. You have to TRUST the things in place. You have to trust her, that she will take those damn pills. (I hate pills. It was pills that almost killed her). At some point, you have to TRUST she will be okay.
Trust she will be okay? Oh my God, that was the hardest after this, after seeing her in ICU. I was frightened. The fear was an awful thing. Each morning I would wake up and wonder if she had woken up. I was scared the children would one day find her dead.
Grief + Hope
You are in grief. You have to work through the stages. Anger AT depression, Fear of what might be next. For me, I worked through it by putting my complete trust in my faith.
Jem can manage her depression now. She still has bad days, but she recognises them and has action plans for them. They don’t consume her. She writes, she talks, she wants to help others and that in itself is a healing thing for her and for me. Once again, good has come out of the bad. It has grown us both.
If anyone gets anything out of this, I would like to think it would be hope. Like I said, depression is a journey for the person who has it and for all the people around them.
Five years on, and Jem is a different person. She has as much energy as the kids. She immerses herself in their lives. Teaching, playing, chilling, laughing, and loving them. Five years ago it was difficult to see anything but pain and hopelessness.
What advice would I give.? (I feel weird about the word advice because advice is usually given by experts).
My advice is always to hope.
Love them through the journey.
My advice is to get help. For them and you. I am not ashamed to say I needed support.
Read and get to know about depression. (Although it takes different twists and turns for each sufferer).
Journal – I find writing helps uncloud myself. Your journal becomes a little like a best friend.
Be true to yourself. If you feel like the worst mum in the world like I did in the beginning when I didn’t recognise signs – well, that is a real feeling. It’s also a lie. Just don’t hang on to lies and negativity.
Pray even if you don’t believe.
Depression doesn’t just affect the person diagnosed
If you want to read more about my story you can check it out here
I was going to edit out some of Ma’s story as it is very raw for me to read. But this post isn’t about me. It is about her. How she felt, what she saw, what she learned and how she copes. Depression doesn’t just affect the person who lives with it. It affects everyone around them as well.
The family members and friends of those living with depression also have to find ways to live with the black dog who has turned up on their doorsteps. There is lots of information around for people living with depression, but not as much for those surrounding people. The people who pick up the pieces. The people whos shoulders are used to cry on. The people who have to watch their loved ones go through something unimagined to them.
Do you know anyone who lives with depression? What would you add to Ma’s advice?
If you would like to share your story, I would be honoured to share it. Contact me and I will get in touch with you as soon as I can. The more people share their stories, the more awareness we can raise together and put an end to the stigma associated with mental health.
If you or anyone you know lives with depression, there are tonnes of resources out there. Here are just a few
- The Low Down is a great resource filled with information about how to get through the lows. Resources include a self-help test, focusing on gratitude, exercising and talking to a trusted friend. They also have a free help-line if you are based in New Zealand. There is also a section if you have friends going through depression and how you can help them
- The Mental Health Organisation is a mine of information about all aspects of mental health. Their page dedicated to depression busts myths surrounding depression – such as people with depression can just ‘snap out of it’ or just choose to ‘pull their socks up’ which is obviously not true! Their page also has information about the different treatment options available and how to determine if you or someone you know has depression.
- Depression.org is my favourite site for depression. It has loads and loads of resources, including resources to help you get stable and most importantly, stay that way. There is a free 24/7 helpline for New Zealand residents and free resources if you are wanting to help someone going through depression.