Mothering Through It

Things must be really bad. I have an appointment with a new therapist today. I don’t make appointments with therapists. I don’t talk about my stuff, because I feel like it’s so overwhelmingly pedestrian that I would be wasting their time and my own.

Everyone struggles sometimes. Every other person in the world is on an antidepressant.

Sure, I’ve been struggling for twenty years, but not consistently. So maybe those times when I was so far down in the dark (times like right now), it just means that I’m weak. I just need to “pull myself up by my boot straps” and soldier on and muddle through it.

Lots of people have it much worse than me.

What do I even have to be depressed about? Pretty much everything I wished for has come true! I have a cute, little home in the town I love. I have the most supportive spouse and two fantastic children. Sure, my job isn’t that great, but who in the world really likes leaving home to go to work?

I promise to be honest with this therapist. I’m not going to try to be perfect. I’m not going to do so “well” at therapy that I get bumped down to once a month, and then once every three months, only to never make an appointment again even though I’m just as wrecked as when I made the first phone call.

It has to be different this time. I’m a mother now.


The way I dealt with my mental illness when I was alone was by not really dealing with it at all. I’d lock myself in bathrooms at parties and cry for no good reason. I didn’t want anyone to see me and no one ever did. I’d lock myself in my single dorm room and not venture out for days, sometimes weeks. I would skip class, call out sick to work, not answer the phone, and stop showering. Of course, all of this led to lost jobs, failed classes, distant friendships, and one horrifically worried mother.

“I’m fine, mom. Just busy. I’m sorry I haven’t been around to talk.” And then I would carry on as if I was okay, cracking jokes with silent tears on my cheeks, and praying she would have to get off the phone so that I could go back to bed.

I never let her know. 
I never let anyone know.

mothering through depression and mental illness

I can’t quite recall how I would pull myself together. I’m guessing it started with a shower. Sure, one day I would wait until every other person on my floor was at class and quietly hurry to the showers and wash the sick off me. I would have to shampoo my hair at least a few times, and I would stand under that stream of hard, hot water for thirty minutes or more, until I felt baptized and ready to live again.

Living, for me, looked like good grades and an active social life. No one knew I had been hiding. Everyone assumed I was busy. So busy.

I would go for long runs around campus with music pounding in my ears, high on fresh air and sweat. I called my mom every night to talk about her day. I slept great. But, most importantly, I got out of bed the next morning.

Living could go on for months at a time. So long, that I would almost forget.

And Now

Things are different now, you see. I’m a mother. Those days of hiding are over. I have to live, one way or another, every single day.

And it has been one hell of an adjustment.

Elizabeth Wurtzel called her depression, “The Black Wave” in her book, Prozac Nation.  I really can’t think of a better name for it. There is no better way to describe something that seems so far off in the distance while you’re walking along the shoreline and enjoying the cool breeze in your hair. You laugh with friends and feel the water lap at your heels. Then your ankles. You notice the water is cold and dark so you pick up the pace a little bit. Time to get home. But the tide keeps rising. And soon the waves are up to your knees and you’re stumbling. One more missed foothold in the sand and you’re taken down. The water crashes on you and carries you out to sea with your head barely above water.

mothering through depression and mental illness

I have no idea when the waves are coming. My wife says she can tell when the water is getting to my ankles.

“You stop showering,” she says, one day when I ask her.

“I’m a mom!” I exclaim. “Name one mom who gets to shower every day!”

“But you don’t skip showers because you’re busy with the kids. You skip showers because you no longer deem them necessary for quality of life. There’s a very big difference.”


I showered! But only because I have this appointment.

I let out a groan this morning when my youngest son started to stir in his bed. I shifted to auto-pilot and got out of bed. Changed his diaper. Made him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Got the oldest to the bathroom and dressed for school. Loaded them into the van and drove to school. I joke and laugh with the kids, but I’m not really there. It’s almost like I’m watching myself in a play.

I have this appointment today so I came home and took a shower. I didn’t have the energy to put make up on, but I don’t care. Let’s see if this therapist is a good fit. I promise to be honest. I promise to tell her about the thoughts I have about myself. Thoughts so completely awful that I cry when I say them out loud. Thoughts that run on a steady loop these days–usually when I’m trying to sleep.

Hiding was my coping mechanism. I would squirrel myself away and not let the world see this part of me. I would lock this pathetic girl up tight and make sure those who loved me never had to be burdened by her presence. I couldn’t let her exist for my mom or my best friend.

I guess today is when I bring her out into the light.

Because I have two babies who watch every single move I make. There’s no hiding from them. The oldest can turn the knob on the bathroom door now, so the days of private crying jags are over. That’s good, though, because I want them to see me be brave. I want them to witness me fighting.

I want them to watch me swim to shore.

Now I have no choice with my depression. I have to mother through it.

mothering through depression and mental illness



  1. I’m right there with you! I have lots of things that have happened in my life that lead to the depression and it’s hereditary in my family. I’m absolutely a pro at hiding. I rarely leave the house. I shut everyone out so they don’t see how bad it is. I had a great therapist in Colorado before we moved to Iowa. But we’ve been here over three years and I have yet to make the necessary moves to find a new one. I keep saying I need to find one… I just hate starting over. Reliving all the stuff that brings me to this point. But I have 4 kids still at home who need me to be a better mother. They are all working through their own stuff and I make sure to get them to their therapy appointments. Why can’t I do the same for myself?


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