I try not to diagnose myself with depression on Chicago’s trademark gray winter days. Those days lend themselves to morose reflection and permeate everything with a sense of gloom and doom. When the cloud cover is low and the sun is just something that people over in California get to experience, I hunker down into survival mode.
But when the sun comes out, all studly and arrogant, showing off by making the snow look shimmery and lighting up every room in my house like it’s fucking New Year’s Eve– and I am still feeling the funk, then the questions begin.
The first: What is wrong with me? I don’t really ask that of myself in my sweet, first-grade-teacher voice. It’s more like my lifetime-smoker-hungover-alcoholic voice. And usually there is an F-bomb in there. It’s not a question, it’s an accusation. The subtext is hey, Missy, you have your health (physical, at least), two beautiful children, a near-perfect husband so stop feeling blue.
But you know I can’t always talk myself out feeling the funk. Actually, I have never talked myself out of the funk (though exercise, good sleep, connecting with friends, medication, and therapy have helped).
The second question: What brought this on? This question sounds harmless enough. Nothing wrong with doing a little inventory of my moods and pinpointing the malaise, right? But when it’s an unanswerable question, it starts an endless loop of conjecture. Is it the stress of my new job? Is it the transition? Is it the weather? Should I exercise more? Should I cut out sugar? Should I join cross-fit? More yoga? More sex? More girlfriend time? More sleep? Less negativity? Less self-absorption (ha! as if!)?
Those questions are annoying but they are like watching a full-cast production of a rousing Les Mis medley compared to what comes next: The questions about how my funk is affecting my children. I am not myself– I have less energy and less overall vitality. I know on some level they can pick up on that. Do they think it’s their fault I am blue? Are they going to “catch” it from me? Will they only remember this part of who I am? Is this harming them? How many times can I let them see me cry before it’s abusive to them?
If you have struggled with depression, then you know that those questions are some of the worst. I believe it’s healthy for my children to see me express the entire range of human emotions, but is there a line? If so, how will I know when or if I have crossed it? Honestly, the times when I can eke out some tears feel a million times better to that numb-I’m-not-really-here haze that sometimes comes over me. Usually, when my kids see me cry, they are fascinated– they move in to study the tears falling from my eyes like little scientists who have stumbled upon an alien life form.
My number one goal with my kids is to be authentic with them– both when I am joyful and when I am depressed (and everything in between)– and I do my best to explain why Mommy is not very peppy and that it is not their fault. From there, I do my best to focus on what we are doing and pray my ass off that the funk passes quickly.
What do you tell your kids when you are blue/depressed/sad? Have they ever asked about your moods?