“When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child.” –by Sophia Loren
Note: The following article was written by a wellness coach, writer, and friend of mine, Caitlyn Johnston, a single parent who has struggled with depression in the past. I asked her to write this article, since I do not have children but I know that being a parent while struggling with depression is one of the most difficult things a person can ever deal with. Caitlyn worked hard to do the things that would help her heal the depression, and is now doing quite well; she is both functional and happy. Her son is doing better all the time. For Caitlyn’s contact info, please see the end of the article.
While I was depressed, there were only two things I was truly motivated to do: Be as good a parent as possible to my son, and heal the depression permanently. With research, support from a wonderful holistic doctor, and taking daily baby steps, I was actually able to improve both simultaneously.
Being a single mom is deeply depressing, and all I felt was harried, overwhelmed, and anxious about everything. Doing the dishes and laundry, changing my little one’s diapers, and even grocery shopping seemed like major efforts. Trying to work full-time on top of it all was untenable, so I switched to part-time substitute teaching. Needless to say, we went on food stamps, which was even more depressing. In short, everything took me out of my comfort zone, and the sleep deprivation of my son’s early years drove me over the edge.
Depression rendered me barely capable of good parenting. It was a nightmare for me, and I can’t imagine how awful it must have been for him. One of my saddest memories is when he trotted in one day at the age of five and announced how he’d finally learned to ride his bike. He’d done it completely alone. What was even worse is that he’d asked me several times, and I kept telling him we’d do it later. The truth was it was yet another thing I just couldn’t deal with.
There were only three things that brought me comfort and nurturance: Holding him on my lap and reading to him, my spiritual practices of prayer and meditation, and eating as much and as often as I could. The more sugar I ate, the more numb I became to my distress. Close human contact and my active internal spiritual life anchored me, yet the desperation of depressive parenting drove me to find a way out. I ballooned to a huge 225 pounds. This was even more depressing, but at least it helped me cope.
However, being a parent while having depression was also, in its own way, a blessing. With a small child in tow, I had no choice but to get up and take care of him. I could do for him what I couldn’t do for myself. I found the minute physical activity helped me stay out of the negative mental chatter that erodes the mind.
To be honest, though, when I was taking care of him, I was only going through the motions. Emotionally, I was inundated with foggy fatigue. Physically, I got him bathed and dressed, fed and off to preschool, although he was constantly late. I often got a talking-to about how it was important to get him there on time, because he’d miss fun or interesting things. They had no idea he was lucky to be there at all. But of course I never told them that; isolation is a silent killer of this disease.
In the summer of 2001, I was finally diagnosed and put on SSRIs. I felt better, more alive, but they had an intolerable side effect: I felt spiritually disconnected. Prayer and meditation became numb and scary. I am vehemently against taking drugs of any kind, so I sought out a naturopathic physician who does real-time biofeedback brain training. It took six months to teach my brain how to have healthy brain waves, and I was able to ditch the SSRIs. I didn’t escape them unscathed, though; they caused endometriosis (an internal bleeding disorder), for which I had an ovary removed in 2007.
While I was healing my brain, I was also determined to lose some weight. At one point, I had noticed a correlation between physical movement and feeling better. Sure enough, as I took up a little exercise—wooden though it felt—exercising for only 20 minutes a day really made a difference. I knew 20 minutes really wasn’t adequate, but the baby step that was manageable was either walking a mile, or doing a quick exercise video. I found my mood lifted. It also became clear that the toxins making my body fat and sluggish continued to make my mind fat and sluggish. More baby steps included banishing soda and wheat from my diet. As I ditched them, my mind cleared even more!
As I began to piece my physical and spiritual health back together, my mental health improved right along with them. So did my relationship with my son! Parenting—and life—began to take on an ease I’d never felt before. All my little baby steps seemed inadequate at the time, but they had powerful results. Currently, I’ve been depression-free and off SSRIs for ten years, I’ve lost 50 pounds, and my income has radically increased as I was able to get back to my career as a writer. When the tendency for depression does show up, it’s only for a few days at most.
My story turns out to be not unique. Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D. cites similar cases in his book Spontaneous Healing. As it turns out, the best kept secret in the mental health industry is that depression can be healed by taking baby steps using a holistic approach. And if I can do it, so can you! The best part is that your relationships with your children improve right along with it all.
(c) 2011 by Caitlyn V. Johnston, M.B.A.
To contact wellness coach Caitlyn, visit her web site at Expansive Prosperity and Health Holistic Coaching.