As I sat crumpled on the floor of my living room, my head in my hands, sobbing, I felt her little hand on my shoulder. “You okay, mom?” she asked, in her baby way. It was too late, I couldn’t hide it from her anymore. She had seen it.
After battling for over a decade with depression and anxiety, I’ve finally started to open up to family and friends about my invisible struggles. On the outside, life looks pretty great and for the most part, it is. You would never be able to guess that I struggle to get out of bed every day or that I have to fight against negative thoughts at some of my happiest moments.
Over the years, I’ve learned to live with it. I’ve adapted and accepted it as a part of me. It’s become so normal to feel the dark clouds that I barely even realize they’re there, casting a shadow on my brightest days. It’s funny how easily I’ve learned to lie to everyone, even to myself. I truly believed I was doing better, that I’d healed. But I now know, I’ll be fighting against my mental health forever.
After becoming a mother through adoption, I was faced with this startling reality, as post-adoption depression took a hold of me with an intensity I never expected. At the time of our adoption, the subject hadn’t been discussed much and I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I thought I was a bad mother and that my daughter would be better off with someone else. It took me a long time to recognize depression rearing its ugly head once again.
The lack of sleep and the high demands of caring for a newborn child increased the effects of my otherwise dormant anxiety and depression, making it all I could see.
It began to affect every area of my life, attacking my marriage and chewing away what was left of my self-confidence. Self-care was furthest from my mind; keeping my baby safe and healthy was my only priority. It wasn’t an easy start into parenthood. We got the call for our daughter with only one week to prepare for her arrival at our home. It was a whirlwind of events and paperwork to get her there. After years of waiting, there she was.
The high of suddenly becoming parents, a dream come true, was immediately followed by the weight of responsibilities and exhaustion.
It took me longer to bond with her than I had imagined and I felt immense guilt over that. I struggled every day to keep my thoughts healthy and my depression at bay. But I felt constantly watched and judged – by social workers, by other mothers, by family members. What kind of mother would I be? Most of it was in my head, but I could feel their stares boring into my skin, making me think twice about every single decision I made.
When depression and anxiety became too much for me to handle on my own, I opened up. I finally reached out and asked my family for help. And help they did. They all chipped in to take some of the weight off of my shoulders. They gave me love. They didn’t understand my struggles, but they didn’t let me fight it alone. They gave me as much time as I needed to pick myself up and put myself back together. Knowing I no longer had to fight against my depression and anxiety alone, I found enough strength to stand up straight once more.
However, I won’t lie, there are many days when I don’t feel so strong. Days when I have to push through and fight with my mental health with every ounce I have. Fighting this sometimes makes me feel all alone in this world. But recently, I was reminded just how far I’ve come in my journey and how I never have to feel alone again.
My daughter, now 2 ½, has seen me cry and break down. For most of her life, I’ve managed to keep this side of me hidden from her. But kids just know. They feel it. Like an energy surrounding me, my daughter always seems to act out on my bad days, like she can feel it, too. Maybe it’s in my tone of voice, my distant stares into nothing, lost in thought, maybe, it’s just a feeling.
When I was hit with such a heavy wave of it recently, one that knocked me right off balance and made me break down in front of her, she had the grace to comfort me. I was overwhelmed by her kindness. It occurred to me that although it’s probably not healthy for my daughter to see every breakdown, it’s okay for her to see some of them. Because they are a part of who I am. What better way to raise a considerate individual who will not judge, but love. One who will be able to understand the struggles some of us go through on a daily basis.
In my moment on the floor, my daughter offered kisses and Band-Aids to heal my boo-boos. She wanted to heal my head. Now, I know my daughter is not responsible to make me feel better or to heal me, but you know what? It helped. I knew in that moment that I’d raised her well. That I’d been a good mother. That she would care about others and know how to have compassion.
Michelle Young lives in Ottawa.
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