Yesterday, I talked about how my husband and I discussed my sister’s death with my kids. But that’s only part of how we discuss mental health issues in our home. Aunt Ashley was not alone in her struggles. I struggle, too.
I was first diagnosed with depression and anxiety when I was 12. I was in and out of counseling groups, psychiatrists offices and guidance counselors offices throughout middle and high school and college. I was medicated, I was hypnotized, I was prayed over. I tried everything except electro-shock therapy. (Side note: I truly believe in the efficacy and safety of electro-shock therapy when done properly, and I encourage you to discuss it with your physician if you’re curious.) At the time, nobody was talking about whole foods, exercise, herbs or essential oils. I can talk more about my experience with that in a future post.
Fast forward to 2012, right after the birth of my son. My depression and anxiety were out of control. I struggled with wanting to run away, questioning if having a baby was the right choice, suicidal thoughts, and obsessive thoughts of my son experiencing harm under my care. I tried to go back to work, but I had a panic attack and quit. My struggle lasted nearly a year. And then I got pregnant again.
Our daughter was born in 2014. I spiraled out of control almost immediately. On my first follow-up visit, my doctor wanted to admit me for psychiatric evaluation. I managed to avoid that, but only because my sister and her partner were both mental health professionals, and they took shifts watching me. I was referred for an outpatient evaluation, and I was diagnosed with severe postpartum depression and severe postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder. A dark time.
After much work, I am in a good place mentally. But there are bad days. Some researchers believe that postpartum symptoms can spike when the child is 4 years old, so I’m not out of the woods. And my depression and anxiety are chronic conditions, coupled with my family history of mental illness. So how do I talk to my children on these rough days? Lovingly, and only when I am able. Here are some things I’ve told my children on my bad days.
“I am feeling sad today. It’s okay to be sad.”
“Sometimes I feel nervous, and I’m not sure why. Be patient with Mommy, please.”
“I am extra tired today. Can we snuggle with books?”
“I need some space. It’s okay to ask someone not to touch you. So can you not touch me, please?”
I try to be clear with my children that I am not a super hero, I have limits. I also try to be clear that they have valid feelings, whether positive or negative. They have the right to share those feelings in a helpful way, not by mistreating someone else. So I try to model that for them. They also have the right not to be comforted by touch, so I don’t let them touch me if I don’t want it. I want them to have autonomy over their own bodies.
As they grow older, I will tell them more and more about my mental health journey. I pray they won’t suffer like I have, or like my sister and father did, but there are no guarantees in this life.
If you need more support, please check out these resources:
The National Alliance on Mental Illness http://www.nami.org
Postpartum Support International http://www.postpartum.net
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255