Since you all have to come in anyway . . . she’d said.
In theory, yes.
In reality? Imagine keeping three ping-pong balls from smashing into each other or the four very close walls of the examination room and you are nearly there. Add a reflex hammer to the equation and you’ve just about got it.
Add a discussion with your brand-spanking new physician to get her up to speed on your state of mental health – and you’ve got a suddenly very attentive ten year-old.
When the doctor popped out of the room for a minute to get something, my daughter turned to me. “Mom, what’s depression?”
I think I stammered something to the effect of ‘I’ll tell you later.’
That night, I overheard her say to my husband, “Daddy, did you know Momma is depressed?”
I swooped into the room, not ready to delay the conversation any further. “Honey, Mommy’s all right. It just means I get sad sometimes, but it doesn’t mean that I’m not happy with you and your sisters and Daddy or that I don’t love you.”
She took my explanation at face-value, kind-of shrugged, and went about her business.
I looked at my husband with a sad, pleading look. Sad that I’d had to add such a word to my young daughter’s lexicon; Pleading for him to say I’d handled it okay. He said he thought I’d given an age-appropriate explanation and that we’d share other info with her as-needed or as she asked for it.
I feel like I would’ve been better off not answering the question at all with the weak answer I had given. It felt as if I’d minimized or belittled the crushing condition so many deal with on a daily basis. I felt as if my laissez-faire attitude toward it made it seem like something I could handle on my own; not something I needed help with or needed to talk about; not something she needed to worry about.
And I don’t want her to worry. I don’t want her to think her mother is beyond repair and won’t be able to care for her. But I also don’t want my daughter to think depression is ‘no big deal’. I don’t want her to think it’s something to talk about in whispers and hushed tones.
It’s a fine line to walk – especially when you’re navigating a road laid only ten years ago. A fresh mind, a fragile psyche. When the two roads of parent and advocate converge, it’s difficult to keep a head-on collision from occurring. How do I keep forward progress without falling into pot holes?
Answering to one’s self honestly can be hard; to one’s daughter? Depressingly difficult.
© Jennifer Butler Basile and A Canvas Of The Minds 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jennifer Butler Basile and A Canvas Of The Minds with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
This article has some ideas that might help with talking to one’s children about depression. I wish someone had told me these things. http://www.pbs.org/thisemotionallife/blogs/6-things-every-kid-should-know-about-parents-depression
Thank you so much, Ziya. That article looks like it has a lot of useful tips. Will definitely see what I can integrate into my arsenal! Figuring out how to navigate for myself is hard enough; so much more difficult to help it make sense for children!
I think you handled it very well, your daughter has plenty of time to learn the truth about depression as an illness I think it’s important to firstly reinforce the things you did say to her. But it doesn’t get easier.
my brother is 22, just before Christmas I finally told him about my depression and his response was “why?” suddenly he looked 15 years younger to me. I couldn’t tell him the truth so I tried to reassure him. “I’m just sad. But it’s ok. I’m not going to hurt myself. And it’s not yours, or mum or dads fault.” My head wanted my to be honest with him, after all he is an adult. My response should have been “I hate my life, I don’t know what I want, sometimes I do think about hurting myself but its not anyone’s fault.”
But all I could think about was protecting him. Maybe when he’s older I will talk to him about it more honestly.
You’re right. The emphasis should be on reassurance. Love when we have to shield others from what we feel so acutely – but with loved ones, especially younger ones, that’s what we do – and should. Thank you, also, for your hard-to-swallow, but oh-so-needed reminder that it will not get easier. This is just the beginning. As with anything in life, it will take constant assessment and adjustment.
my goodness, I do feel for you. I am not aiming at giving you advice but please allow me to tell you my story (not that you have any other choice, mind you, since I am about to tell it here). I thought telling my children I was depressed was a bad idea. It was back at a time when the stigma of it hanged heavy on me and I would have rather die than admit publicly I was depressed. Back in Colombia, back in the 90s. Fast forward 15 years and my son – now 17, told me he always thought I didn’t love him. My precious boy thought I didn’t love him. His young mind interpreted my withdrawal from the world (and him, them), my sadness, as lack of love. Naturally, he blamed himself. By the time he was 17 he had been able to figure it was really depression and that I really did love him but he had to live all those years thinking his own mother didn’t love him. Now, I wish I had talked to them about my struggles when they were little. Just like we talked about sex or many other things. Being children of two doctors, no topic was taboo. Except for mental illness. And that makes me really sad. I know we could and should have been able to talk freely about mental illness just as naturally as we talked about any of the other illnesses or about penises and vaginas and microscopes and viruses and EKGs and epidemics and safe sex.
If I could do it again, I’d talk to them about my depression as soon as I could, three, four years old. And then give them more information as they matured, as their brains were able to take it. So difficult but so necessary 😦
So very true, Claudia. I always think of omission as protection, but that lack of explanation could omit (or seem to omit) love. Hearing your son’s description, I can totally see how a child would come to that conclusion. I even worry about that sometimes with my husband. He and I always have open lines of communication, though. Seems I should rethink my censorship with the children.
Thank you for your insight.
It is so hard. Of course our first reaction is to try and protect them. But I think we should give our children more credit. They are quite smart and capable of processing stuff we often deem too hard for them.
Best of luck. But I am thinking your kids will surprise you on how well they take it. And I am sure that in the long run, they’ll appreciate your honesty too. That is part of the stigma we are fighting, right? 🙂
Yes, it is! 🙂