How I Talk To My Kids About My Depression

Growing up, I was just as intuitive as I am now; I could feel when something was up with my parents. But when I’d ask what was wrong, “Nothing,” was always the answer.

This was confusing. And it taught me: 1). Not to trust myself, and 2). That certain things were not okay to talk about.

I’m changing this with my kids.

Here’s how I talk to my kids about my episodes of depression.

1). I tell them the truth, using accurate language.

When I’m depressed — which is roughly three times a year — I tell them. I say something like, “I want to let you both know that I’m not feeling like my usual, weird self — I’m depressed. I’m tell you because I’m sure you can feel and see that my energy is different, and I want you to know that it’s not you, and that everything’s okay — I’m just depressed.”

2). I answer their questions.

“Does that mean you’re really sad and want to kill yourself?” was the question my daughter asked me during my most recent depression.

“Depression is a spectrum,” I said. “It can be really intense — where people want to kill themselves — and less intense, which is how I experience it. I don’t want to kill myself. And I don’t feel sad — I just kind of feel nothing.”

“Will it go away?”

“I think it will, yes. It always does. I’m working hard to just let the feelings happen until they change.”

3). I do what I can.

When I’m depressed, I have a hard time being as active and productive as I typically am. I don’t feel fun or goofy. Getting up and putting on a fresh outfit can feel both like a task and an accomplishment.

I’m not the mom they’re used to.

Instead of spiraling into The Land of Never Ending Mom Guilt, I do what I can. I pull them into bed with me to snuggle. We share a blanket on the couch and watch TV, even if I’m not laughing at the things I normally laugh at. I tell them again and again that I’m okay, that this will shift, and that they are the perfect babies for me.

I do what I can do, which is me doing my best to model how to be an honest, loving mother even when things feel hard.

4). I let them love me.

My depression tells me I don’t deserve the life I have. It tells me I’m ruining m children. But I have proof I’m not, and it recently showed up in the form of a text my daughter sent me in the midst of my most recent depression, “Goodnight, my sweet mama. I’m sorry you don’t feel like yourself today. I love you.”

That child is not ruined.

5). I remember that honesty is the way.

I truly, madly, deeply, fervently believe that honesty is the way through and toward every single good and important thing. And I believe we owe it to our kids not to burden them with self-mistrust. Telling them the truth is the way we do that.

Please Don't Tell Me I'm Not Broken

I was broken by a lack of healthy attachment and inherited relational trauma and an unhealthy blended family situation that forever-changed the make up of my heart.

I learned that love looks like a thing love doesn’t actually look like. I will never be who I could have been if things had been different.

That doesn’t make my life a waste or make me unworthy of good things.

It doesn’t mean I have to hate the people who broke me (though I used to, and if you hate someone right now that’s okay.)

But it also doesn’t mean I need to pretend my emotions weren’t dropped on the floor a thousand times and walked on and accidentally kicked around and into corners.

I was broken. Telling people like me — and maybe like you - that we’re not is denying a major part of who we are. It slows our healing because it adds a layer of needing to process the shame we feel for feeling broken when everyone tells us that, actually, we’re not.

I’m broken.

I’m still putting my pieces back together.

And that’s okay.

I Needed To Be The Good One -- Did You, Too?

I saw a quote the other day that read, “Some of y’all never had to be the “good child” in hopes of lessening your parent’s problems which ultimately lead to buried feelings, inability to express emotions, wanting to please everyone, inability to handle the tiniest bit of confrontation and criticism, and it really shows.”

I spent the first 20 or so years of my life trying to be the good child, the responsible one, the one she could be proud of.

I remember being scared that she would kill herself if I upset her.

I remember feeling ashamed for having feelings that were different than hers.

My whole orientation to life used to be making sure I wasn’t the one who made her kill herself.

Every day of my life is a battle to heal what I can and live with what I can’t.

If that’s your story, too, I’m with you and you’re magic.

 Quote via @witchdoctorpoet on Instagram

We Might Not Heal, But We Can Thrive

I was sitting in my graduate-level Psych class recently, and we were talking about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). The details of how that therapeutic model works are unimportant in this story, but the core beliefs it can help with, are.

Stick with me for a sec.

The core beliefs fall into the following three categories: helpless, unlovable, and worthless.

Helpless core beliefs include:

  • I’m incompetent, needy, weak, defective

  • I don’t measure up

  • I’m a failure

Unlovable core beliefs include:

  • I’m unlovable, different, bound to be abandoned/rejected

  • I’m defective and others will not love me

Worthless core beliefs include:

  • I’m worthless

  • I’m bad

These three core beliefs commonly underlie depression and anxiety.

OKAY. That’s it for psych-talk. Let’s move into the epiphany they drew out in me.

As we were going over these core beliefs, I started to spiral a little bit. Because I have all of these thoughts. While they aren’t as constant as they used to be, all of these core beliefs are things that pop up for me, things I struggle with, feelings that never seem to go away no matter how much healing work I do.

I sat there and started to wonder what the point of any of this is. If I can learn the theories and go to therapy and change the behaviors but still struggle with thoughts like this, what the fuck is the point? Isn’t all of this work and all this knowledge supposed to stop these feelings, to heal them to the point that they go away? Why bother going to therapy if no matter how many years in I am, I still feel unlovable and defective sometimes?

And then it hit me: I’m never going to be able to heal the relational and attachment trauma I experienced.

I need to let that sink in for a second.

Because it’s a huge departure. I’ve been talking about healing for YEARS. I’ve believed I can heal my trauma, and have been so mad at myself every time my wounds reappear — “I HEALED YOU! GTF OUT OF HERE!”

But what I failed to realize: I can’t mend failed relationships by myself.

I thought I could. I thought I could will myself to overcome what has become my hard-wiring.

I don’t think I can anymore.

I listened to a This American Life awhile back where they interviewed a preacher whose whole life changed when he stopped believing in Hell. He lost everything he had built. His congregation left him. He needed to start something new, something smaller — but something that felt real and honest to him.

This new awareness feels like that.

Maybe we can’t heal our relational trauma. Maybe we just need to learn healthy ways to live with it and not pass it on to our children. Maybe that’s the work: surrendering and accepting and loving the next generation enough to not do it to them — while being gracious enough with ourselves not to hate ourselves for being who we now are.

The world doesn’t need us perfectly healed, loves.

It just needs us being as honest as we can be.