From Depression

Depression

If you love someone with depression, read this.

A Letter to My Daughter: On Depression and Growing Up

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I wrote this after my daughter faced a second bout of depression. It broke my heart when she was first diagnosed, yet gave me a sense of power to call it by name. She identified her foe at an earlier age than I had. Determined to help her not become depression, I wrote my thoughts down. She’s become an insightful, intuitive and compassionate young adult embracing all of who she is in ways I can only dream. With her permission and intent to support others, this is shared today.

If you love someone with depression, read this.


You cried the first time I left you. I knew what you didn’t — I’d return. I held your little body as you wretched the first time. Your tiny voice begged, “No, mommy, no.” I couldn’t stop the upheaval. My hands held you, my heart broke. It would pass, I knew. But only after you went through it.

The summer before kindergarten you begged, “Please, let’s homeschool. I don’t want to go all day.” I wrestled with the decision, yet told you it’d be fine. We chose an intimate school with shorter hours. The pre-K teacher said you were ready.

I saw a flash of something. An anxious, sensitive part wary of transitions, scared of new things, and afraid to be less than the best. I stood by you, stayed at school until you settled and surrounded you with trustworthy nurturing adults. You flourished.

When you wanted to dance, fears of something new and not-being-good overwhelmed you. I encouraged and maybe pushed a little the first class. I sat outside the studio door. Uncomfortable with first tries, who could blame you? That fear, that hesitancy, keeps some from ever trying. Soon, you no longer walked or ran. Twirls, leaps and jetes (accent over the second “e”) propelled your steps. At 7, you said, “No matter what, momma, I have to dance.”

In spite of hesitancies, you’re driven. First steps can stop you, or slow you down. You want to be sure. The thing is, we’re not always sure. Sometimes, the only way to know is to try.

Do you remember your first Nutcracker audition? You went back and forth. You wanted to do it, you didn’t want to do it. I strongly encouraged you to try. I’d a feeling you’d love the stage. (The audition environment was safe, nurturing and fun with adults you knew and loved. Puhlease, I’m the furtherst thing from a dance mom.)

Finally, I said, “If you get a part, you don’t have to take it.” Freedom and control, the back door and safety net now visible. You could say no. But, to have the choice of no, you stepped outside your comfrot zone and tried. You made it, chose to be a dancing mouse. More auditions followed and you loved every moment.

It’s hard being a mom. I constantly weigh encouragement vs. pushing. Sometimes, my heart knows you should try something and I give a bigger “encouragement”. I usually read your signals and give you room and respect to dig in your heels. I listen with my heart. I help find back doors so you can walk through the front ones.

Remember kindergarten – the place you didn’t want to go? You loved it so hard you didn’t want to transition to first grade. There were tears. There was clinging. Your kindergarten teacher saved the day and you went early to your old classroom. You helped set up and she walked you to first grade. It was magic. My confidant first grader found her way through a difficult time. She came in through the back door.

Transitions are challenging. They feel so abrupt. I swear, transitioning from wake to sleep takes a toll on your little body. I know. It does the same for me. I learned to give you the right amount of “heads-up.” Too much and anxiety ate away. Too litte and it’s becomes so big, jarring and overwhelming. Just enough and it’s smoother sailing.

A nurturing guide helped you assimilate well into Montessori elementary school. But, mid-elementary, your world fell apart. Your lifelong furry companion, Kadi, died. Your heart broke. A new best friend moved into town and moved out just as fast. It was all too much for your big heart.

The part of you that came alive when you danced, the part that gets lost in a book or movie, the part that sees beauty in the ordinary is the same part that shattered when Kadi died and a kindred sister friend moved. You lost the beauty, the silver linings, the sparkles and threw yourself into dance.

Your head in my lap, you cried. You wanted to be like everyone else. Happy. I found notes saying “I want to die.” I learned you didn’t want to die. You wanted everything to stop — a break from the heaviness of unhappiness. It drowned.

I looked for a way to make it better. There are no chapters in general parenting books about such notes from 8-year-olds. My strong hands held you as I shook within. They weren’t enough. You felt alone. The absolute worst. Feeling alone in a full family.

We searched for an answer, a way through the darkness. You went to where I’d found help before — a therapist, a gentle psychiatrist. We gave the unhappiness, the heaviness, a name. We boldly and unashamedly called it aloud. Depression. This, alone, brought immense relief. You weren’t crazy, a misfit, or broken. You were depressed.

Most people bounce back from the curve balls and sadness life throws their way. People with depression fall harder, deeper and longer. They often need help bouncing back. A life line, so to speak.

Depression isn’t evil. It’s not a curse. Not anyone’s fault. It just is. I’m sorry it is, but I can’t change that. I’m sorry there are tornadoes, cancer and scary ghost stories. My sorrow won’t make them disappear. (How I wish it would.) They don’t go away if we ignore them or hate them.

Naming took some of its power and gave you back some control. Some nights, you sleep through a thunderstorm. Some, you lay unafraid and listening, knowing storms won’t hurt you safe and warm inside. And, sometimes, you crawl into bed with another who makes you feel safe until it blows over. Maybe, you turn on the light. When the storm of depression hit so big, we found shelter in good therapists and helpers.

Your beautiful curly hair (even though it’s made you cry and you’ve spent hours straightening it) is your Grandfather’s; your brown eyes and fine features are your Grandma’s. Your overbite and the sparkle in your dancing eyes from another Grandma. Your stubbornness? Straight from your dad and his dad. (Okay, maybe a little from me, too.) You ability to tune into animals? It’s easily inherited from many in our family. Your flat chest? I’ll claim that one — sigh, sorry. A risk for heart disease? Cancer? High blood pressure? All come from family members. Unfortunately, depression came from me, maybe others, too. We can’t change these things. We can face them and accept them. We learn to deal with them and when to get help. Together.

When you don’t feel well, everything goes wrong and homework sucks; when it’s hard, overwhelming and you feel you’re under a pile of wet wool laundry with no way out; depression can strike. It’s your kryptonite. Your weakness. Like a horse with an old ache from an injured leg – overwork that horse and the stress first appears in a limp or stumble in that leg. You’ll always have to remember that leg and be aware. You’ll watch for red-flags before the limp is is too bad. You’ll learn what builds it up and what makes it wobble. You’ll take care of yourself. You’ll keep the kryptonite at bay. I’ll help. Others will, too.

Do you remember the magic glass story? It was only half-full. A thirsty little child refused to drink it. It wouldn’t completely quench the thirst, there wasn’t enough. Another child came along happy to drink what was there. The second child learned the glass was magic. As soon as the child drank the water, it magically refilled.

Sometimes we need help to see the glass is half-full. Maybe it’s a chemical thing in the brain changing your perspective on the glass. Medicine or talking with a professional may help. The first step is realizing your perspective — how you see the glass. Taking care of yourself — make sure you exercise, eat well, journal, etc. may help the perspective and change the focus on the glass. You’ll learn what works for you.

Your curly hair isn’t your fault (unless you pay big bucks for a bad perm). You didn’t choose your brown eyes. Depression isn’t your fault, either. You’ve a separate life from me, yet we share many characteristics. Those brown eyes and depression remain. Individually yours and mine.

We also share people who face it with us. They’re not afraid to call it by name. As you grow up, you’ll still need them. My heart isn’t getting smaller. There’s plenty of room to love you all the way through. I’m by your side. I’m not afraid of your curly hair or your depression. (Ok, sometimes on grouchy running-late mornings, your curly bed hair is more than slightly intimidating.)

Growing up has ups and downs, emotions and hormones on every turn. You’ll soon distinguish depression from life’s normal growing pains. It can be hard, I won’t lie. Sometimes you’ll need help. Keep talking, keep hugging. Keep showing up. You’ll get through it.

Throughout your day, plant little things to make you happy. A little time for you to work out, read, watch netflix, walk on the beach, play with a dog or be with a friend.

Never forget, I am here. I can listen, lend a strong supportive hand and encourage (even push a little). You’re doing well on a difficult path. It’s getting better. Depression isn’t a punishment or weakness. It’s not caused by you or anyone else. It just is – like a thunderstorm that hits the farm up the road but leaves another one high and dry a mile away. Some struggle with it. Others don’t.

I hope for you sunshine, rainbows, and gentle ponies. But, I know there will be rain, clouds, and bumps along the way. You’re surrounded by those who love you and will lift you up. You will make it through. Coming out the other side may not be exactly how you envisioned it, but you will come through –breath by breath and day by day.

If you learn anything from me, I hope you learn to be gentle with yourself. Seek others when needed. Turn away shame. Love yourself, my child. You’re sensitive, compassionate and loving. You’re the perfect you.

Vulnerability II and Friendship

Vulnerability (Part II) & Friendship

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Woman Hiding Face with Mask

As I’ve been reflecting on what it means to be vulnerable, I’m realizing -for me- it keeps coming back to friendship and allowing myself (for better or worse) to be connected to other people. Oh – and it’s really hard!

One of the areas where I’ve been focusing on being strong, being an island (therefore closing others out) is with my health. About a year ago I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (although I was being followed for “lesions consistent with a demyelinizing disease” for a year and a half before that), and, at least in my mind, I was amazing. Don’t get me wrong, I had my moments where I broke down in private, but I was able to talk about it, laugh in the face of the disease, be objective, not have an existential crisis about it, take life a day at a time, while recognizing that the future might hold challenges, etc. Considering that the year had brought me: a layoff from a job that I took pride in, a milestone birthday, and the loss of my engagement ring, I thought I was doing a pretty good job of holding it together.

Having struggled with depression for decades, I was particularly impressed that I didn’t succumb to an episode in the face of all of this. I knew what depression was – it was breaking down, non-stop crying, with the belief that things would never get better. Again, I had my moments, but I was impressed with my relative non-breakdown-ness.

It was about the time I started allowing myself to connect with friends again, that I realized how not okay I was. As Beth Woolsey has written about Depression coming in disguise, I didn’t realize that I thought I was okay because I had just turned everything off and given up (except for bouts of extreme pissyness). I floundered with trying to start a business – one that I really cared about. I didn’t reach out to friends. I didn’t “suffer” from my disease because I just preemptively decided that I just couldn’t do things and participate in things because if it. No big deal, I just “can’t do that” (go on walks, go out, do things that require endurance, do yoga classes, etc.)

Being vulnerable gets real
No problem, right?

Oddly enough, breaking out of this “I’m fine” shell has been painful, like the pins and needles you feel after a limb has fallen asleep. My husband is doing a biking fundraiser to help raise money for MS research (you can learn more here!), so I’ve been putting my story out there. Even though I’m trying to be more open, I still falter for asking for help when *I* need it (see, the fundraising is for *him*, not me, so it’s easier than just telling people my story for my own sake). For example, I’ve been going out to more social events where people stand around a lot. When it gets physically painful for me, I just suck it up, look for a chair (and feel so embarrassed when I’m the only one sitting), or leave because I don’t want to be “that person” who needs a special accommodation.

Recently, though, I made a huge stride in that area. My friend (the same one who started my whole thought process about vulnerability) put out an invitation to a concert at a nightclub. I expressed interest without thinking about the venue, then tried to pull out once I realized that it there was no seating, it was just standing. Instead of accepting my withdrawal, she did some research on the venue and found out how to ask for seating. Within 2 phone calls, they had a plan to reserve a table for us in the mezzanine. (You know those cool “Reserved for” tables that they have in nightclubs?)

Of course, I was feeling grateful for my friends’ push and great attitude about not being down on the floor close to the stage (for which I felt guilty), when she said, “I’m so glad we have this table!” I was too busy feeling guilty to realize that the accommodation that the club made might actually be a benefit! The concert was amazing, we walked around downtown Cambridge in perfect Spring weather, and a barrier was dismantled for me. Concerts at night clubs are now something that is within my range of possible. Only now, I realize that sharing my vulnerability is what led to this breakthrough.

I still have no answer for how to positively reframe the look of disappointment on my son’s face when I try to explain to him that I’m too tired to play with him or take him to the park or why the Mother’s Day trip to the Children’s Museum made me cry because I was so tired that I was nauseated but felt too guilty not to go, but I am working on beating myself up less about it.

And look at me go! I can say it. My Mother’s Day was not “fine.” It was physically exhausting and emotionally painful. I love my son and husband, and they showered me with love, cards, and homemade gifts, but I still struggled. But you know the thing that made the biggest difference? Being kind to myself. Don’t get me wrong, being kind to myself is right up there with going to the dentist for me, but even I have to acknowledge that I experience the most amazing change in attitude when I talk to myself and treat myself as I would a friend (aka nicely), rather than my usual mode of dealing with myself (not so much).

So, my work at vulnerability is definitely being made easier by friends who are near me and help; however, long distance friendships can require some different strategies/ skills. Luckily, I also have amazing friends who live in different parts of the country. We’ve developed some pretty cool habits that make it so much easier to share when things aren’t going well and feel more clued-in about day-to-day details of each other’s lives. (More about that next time). Have you had any experiences where you’ve experienced amazing support from your friends?

Woman in Mask Image courtesy of graur codrin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Childhood Mental Health Awareness

Parent & Teacher Resources for Childhood Mental Health

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Childhood Mental Health AwarenessSomewhere between 13 and 20% of kids in the US experience a mental health disorder each year (CDC). That’s 1 in 5 kids – each year.

If you are looking for help understanding common childhood mental health disorders, check out these resources that we’ve put together for you in honor of Childhood Mental Health Awareness Week.


What are Childhood Mental Health Disorders?

An Overview of Childhood Mental Health Disorders

What is ADHD? 

What is an Anxiety Disorder?

What is Depression? 

What are Eating Disorders?

Resources for Parents and Teachers - Childhood Mental IllnessResources for Parents

Treatment for Children with Mental Health Disorders

The 10 Big Questions for Parents

Signs of Mental Health Issues in Teens

Executive Function & ADHD

9 Things Every Parent with an Anxious Child Should Try

Antidepressant Medications for Children and Teens

Suicide Prevention

School Accommodations: IEPs v 504 Plans

Resources for Teachers

How Anxiety Leads to Disruptive Behavior

Tips for Teachers of Anxious Children

Classroom Management Strategies for Kids with Anxiety

School Tips – Helping Kids Who Struggle with Executive Function

Classroom Management Tips for Students with ADHD

Five Common Distractions for Kids with Focus Issues

Common Classroom Manifestations of ADHD

Depression. Helping Students in the Classroom

School and Classroom Strategies: Depression

Responding to a Student’s Depression

Statistics, Data & Policy

Stats from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

A Bill of Rights for Children with Mental Health Disorders and Their Families