Depression. I’ve been pretty open on here about the fact that my 4th pregnancy/baby messed with my brain – a lot. A year after her birth I’m still working on finding my new “normal,” and am hoping that time, medicine, support and lifestyle changes will continue to help me heal.
There’s a lot more talk these days about previously taboo issues like depression, anxiety, miscarriage – but I find that there still is, depending on your social circle, a huge gap in understanding when it comes to mental illness vs. physical illness.
It makes sense, of course. Physical illness is usually obvious, right out in the open – a broken bone, a round of chemo, a surgery – these are all major concerns, and ones that almost universally illicit sympathy.
But depression? Anxiety? All the different “syndromes” and “disorders” that can affect the mind – those are much harder to understand, and because of their very nature, the person suffering often does everything she can to hide it. It’s common for people with the brightest smiles to be the ones who are hurting most deeply.
Depression and mental illness are harder to recognize, not only because they’re hidden but because they look so different from one person to the next. Maybe that person in the store is a total jerk – or maybe they’re trying desperately to see past the images in their mind, the voices that don’t exist, or in the case of depression – that invisible weight that crushes and suffocates.
I’m no stranger to mental illness in others, but it’s another thing entirely to live with depression myself. After my initial round of depression, I thought it was “over,” which in retrospect, was pretty naive. 😛 Depression isn’t a headache that you can take an Advil for and it goes away. Depression comes in waves, highs and lows, days that feel wonderful and days that feel impossible.
This isn’t a pro mental health expert post, but after taking a lot of time to try and find my way, I figured I must not be the only one struggling with this. The “drama” if you will, of an initial share about PPD is affirming, but the day to day work that goes into healing our minds is a much less exciting process, one that requires quiet courage and a strong heart.
I’m laying it right out there – none of these things worked for me on their own. I tried “alternative” methods and all kinds of things which helped some but not completely, and I ended up accepting the prescription my OB offered me. I needed that to jump-start my recovery. If you do – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If you don’t, that’s fine, too. Maybe you’ll need for just a few months, maybe longer.
Medical care for our minds should be seen no differently than medical care for our bodies.
With that said, here are some basic things that help me while I’m parenting through depression.
I run my days based on the Red/Yellow/Green light concept. (Not my own idea, I saw it online a while back and started using it.)
Red Light Day: red light = stop. On a red light day, focus only on the bare essentials. This is NOT a day to schedule a play date, volunteer, or start a project. My red light days include:
- Change the diapers and make sure the toddler gets to the potty on time. Stuff like getting them dressed and giving baths doesn’t happen today, but diapers/potty are a must, obviously.
- Make sure everyone eats something. “Something” being the key word. Order a pizza. Hand them a bowl full of crackers and an apple. Water bottles. Red light days aren’t for trying that Pinterest recipe or hosting an extended family dinner. If you have older kids, red light days are perfect days to assign them the task of taking the food and/or independently helping themselves.
- Step outside. Not an outing. Don’t pack up the kids and take them to a museum! YOU – step outside the door, rain or shine, and stand there for a couple minutes.
- Hug your kids and say “I Love You.” You guys are going to get tired of me mentioning this one, but it’s pretty much going to be on every list like this that I make. If you do nothing else with them or for them today (and it’s ok if you don’t!!), give each child a real hug, look in their eyes, and tell them you love them.
Touch is healing and love is powerful. Doing this one small thing will lift both you and them on this challenging day.
That’s it. That’s a red light day. Then you wait for the day to end, and hope that tomorrow is better. <3
Yellow Light Day: yellow light = slow down. On a yellow light day, make a short, simple to-do list, and that will vary greatly depending on your situation. For me, I’m with the kids and work from home. A yellow light day for me includes all my red light day tasks plus:
- Play dates and getting the kids to activities. I’m an extrovert, and on a yellow light day, more often than not, my heart is lifted by being around the families my kids spend time with. So this is on my yellow light day list. If you’re more introverted, this would probably not be a yellow light item for you.
- Basic housework. On this day, I’ll usually do a laundry and make simple meals, smoothies, etc. that are easy to feed my kids… and make me feel a little better about the bowl of crackers we ate yesterday. 😉 If there’s a specific home task or project I want to do, I’ll give it a try on a yellow day, depending how complicated it is.
- Gym/Walk/Move. On a yellow day, keeping active is a huge help to me. When you see those (mostly useless) memes about how you don’t need medicine, you need to exercise and get outside – that actually could work on a yellow day. (Not on a red day. On a red day, ignore those memes. They don’t know.)
- Something for you. Writing has always been an outlet for me, and since I started blogging, it covers so many areas that bring me joy. On a yellow day, I write. Sometimes I write and share it with all of you, other days I write just to release my own thoughts.
What is your outlet? Photos? Bubble bath? Reading? Talking with a friend? Watching a show? Make sure you do it. Taking a few minutes to do that today will strengthen your mind and heart if another red light wave comes your way.
Green Light Day: green light = GO! Today is a day to do all the things! You feel good today, you feel focused. Make a list of goals, and get stuff done. Or just breathe and enjoy the feeling of the weight lifting off your heart a bit – that’s good, too! A green light day for me includes everything from my red & yellow light days plus:
- Phone calls & appointments. These almost never happen on red or yellow light days, so on green days, I make answering/making calls and appointments a priority.
- Cleaning. My family as a group and I personally think and work better in a clean, mess-free space. On a green light day, I dust and vacuum. If I want to get all crazy I even wash the windows. 😉
- Work. Because I work from home blogging, and more or less set my own hours, it takes a level of concentration and baby juggling that I quite simply do not have in me on red or yellow light days. On a green light day, I make a list of tasks in priority order and cover each item one at a time.
As a SAHM, “work” for me also includes the extras for my kids, so on a green light day, I’ll often do an art project, seasonal activity, bake a treat with them, etc.
- Date night/family time: This is a highly personal choice but for me, if my family sticks around with me through my red and yellow days, I want to make sure they also get time with me on my green light days – days when I’m focused, cheerful, and the best version of myself.
This is how I worked through the worst waves of depression. As time goes on, I find myself having less red days, and I pray that that pattern will continue. But if it doesn’t – now I have a plan, I have a way to get through that day and know that a better day is coming soon.
I hope this was helpful to some of you. Struggling with depression as a parent is a whole other level of challenging.
You are not alone. You are seen, you are valued, and you are loved.
Do you struggle with depression or mental illness? I would love you to share your story in the comments, but even you don’t feel able to share openly, I’m sending you love, prayers and all the hugs to get you through your red light days.