Sometimes When My Depression Is Triggered, My Kids Eat Cereal For Dinner
By Leslie Kennedy
Photo © evgeniapetzer/Twenty20
Jan 20, 2020
I've had really bad weeks in my life.
Recently, I received some pretty terrible news and it hit me hard — it triggered me.
I used to think the term "trigger" referred to being reminded of something I forgot, like a memory trigger. Like I had forgotten some trauma and then boom: triggered. Then I started struggling with anxiety and depression and realized it was something very different. A trigger for me is something that spurs feelings I'd rather not feel. It spawns an episode.
Are you an anxious parent? Read about how one mother has processed parenting with her anxiety disorder here.
It knocks me down.
Something seemingly innocuous can send me down the rabbit hole of anxiety and depression. And a way out feels completely out of reach.
"I wanted to stop feeling and fast forward to feeling less miserable."
On a really bad week, it's hard to recover from.
My No Good, Very Bad Week
On a really bad day, I sent my 8- and 10-year-old off to school and immediately got back into bed. I woke up in time to welcome them home, but I was in no mood to parent. My temper was short and my patience was shorter.
I told them I needed some time to myself, and I let them veg with their technology while I curled into bed and prayed for sleep to take me for a little while. I wanted to stop feeling and fast forward to feeling less miserable.
When I woke up, I wasn't in a better mood. I went downstairs and recommended cereal for dinner, which they were excited about. It meant there was less for me to think about, so I was relieved.
I hoped the next day would be better, but it was more of the same. The kids came home to a mom with no energy or desire to do anything — before them was a woman who had little patience for kids being kids.
Surviving is Hard — But Not Impossible
That week was about survival mode. Eventually I clawed my way back to a sense of normalcy, but it was rough.
I’m better today. I’m still struggling, but I look back on that rabbit hole I hibernated in for a week and I feel an overwhelming sense of guilt. Because I didn’t parent. I didn’t really 'adult' at all. I slept and I nursed my internal wounds. I felt like that woman who looks like hell in cough syrup commercials before she takes her medicine.
I told my kids I was sad that week and I needed them to be kind to me. I needed them to go easy on me. I was concerned about how I’d manage additional stress, because I just knew that I’d break down crying if the kids, who are kids after all, weren’t as disciplined as I needed them to be that week. Please know that I was never a danger to my children, but there was always a chance they could see me broken, vulnerable.
"I think not talking about it at all, even in simple terms, makes it worse."
They’re kids and they did their best. And I did my best to extricate myself as much as possible so that they didn’t have to treat me with kid gloves. I let them know in the kindest way that I just needed to be alone so that I could recuperate.
It’s hard, truly, parenting through a down time. It’s a fine line — giving them insight into your very real struggles, and not wanting to burden them with them.
If I had cancer, I’d explain why I was bedridden. But when it comes to mental health, that just isn’t something that feels as easy to do.
I think not talking about it at all, even in simple terms, makes it worse. Because then it seems like mom is just sad and angry for no good reason.
My little ones deserve better than that and so do I.
What Gets Us Through It
What got me through that week was being honest with them and myself. Mommy wasn’t feeling well. Mommy needed to sleep it off. Mommy needed them to be as self-sufficient as they were able.
I didn’t neglect them. In fact, I made sure they were fed, clothed and loved. And I was getting things done. But I wasn't running on 100 — in fact, I wasn’t much more than a lazy babysitter that week. I knew I was triggered, and I knew their ability to trigger me more — through no fault of their own — was high. So I decided I needed to keep myself quarantined.
"I feel anxious that my anxiety is affecting other people."
And I did.
It’s hard enough navigating anxiety and depression. I don’t want to feel that way, I want to feel better. And you know what makes the scenario worse for me as an anxious person? I feel anxious that my anxiety is affecting other people. So, in the past I'd try harder to power through and end up exhausting myself more. It’s a terrible cycle that benefits no one.
It's those moments that taught me what I really need during an episode is a time out. So I ask for one.
I'm Allowed to Ask For Help
There is nothing wrong with asking for it. There is actually nothing wrong with demanding it. It is an illness and I don't have control over it. And like with any illness, ignoring it will make it worse. I need to give myself that recovery time to the best of my ability.
I hear how common anxiety and depression are. But I don’t often hear about how people deal with their families when they're suffering, especially their kids.
I can understand why. It’s hard to own up to because saying that you basically didn’t parent for a week sounds horrible. Who wants to admit that?
I will. I’ll say it.
Because how many of us suffer alone and feel depressed and anxious at how our depression and anxiety manifests in our household? Far too many of us, I'd guess.
But here's what I know: I can still provide the necessities and love my family while trying to get better. It requires some open conversations and reducing how much I do, but I can still be the provider my children deserve.
My Mental Health Needs the Same Attention as the Flu
If you had the flu, there's no way you could parent effectively — definitely not at 100 per cent. Because you just can’t. And you wouldn’t be expected to.
And no one would question why you would tell your old-enough children that you need to sleep while they watch television, or eat cereal for dinner.
Frankly, I think it’s time we saw depression and anxiety as no different that any other illness, because thinking this way gave me the permission to prioritize taking care of myself. And that has ultimately put me in a healthier place to take care of my family.
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