First, and most important: You don’t hate your kids. In fact, you love your kids so much that every day, even though you may be suffering from a low-grade death wish (or worse, in many cases), you make yourself get out of bed and push through.
You make yourself pour cereal in the morning. You make yourself smile at pictures drawn, at balls bounced, at toys brandished. You force yourself to throw in a load of laundry, and you might even force yourself to fold it. As you walk through the house, you make yourself pick up small items — a toy, a book, a sticker — and you make yourself put them away.
You will yourself to get dressed, because the kids want to go to the park. You dress your children. You make your hands kind while you shove octopus arms into sleeves, while you locate the inevitable lost shoes. And when a lost jacket makes you cry, you gather yourself back up and herd them out the door.
You tell your children that Mommy gets sad sometimes and it’s okay and you swallow it, swallow it, swallow it hard; you hug them and you make yourself find the jacket and you know deep down that this is not about the fucking jacket at all.
Every other stay-at-home mother does the things you do. But for you, it’s harder. You can only do them out of a sheer force of will and an incomprehensible depth of love. Because to be depressed means to not want to move. It means to want to curl in front of the TV or stay under the covers for days. The way you relate to the couch is unknown to anyone but those who have battled depression: the sheer pull of it, its relative safety from a world intent on pain. Depression whispers at you to sleep, sleep, sleep. Depression makes you so damn exhausted. The type of exhaustion you can literally feel settling in your bones.
Everything is fuzzy. Your whole body might literally ache from the exertion of getting up in the morning. But it doesn’t matter. You are the stay-at-home mom. So you get up anyway. You get up through the pain, through the haze, through the exhaustion. You comfort small, crying children when you are so tired you want to cry yourself.
Other people, when they get depressed: someone often notices. Someone in their lives, a co-worker, a friend, they say: so-and-so isn’t themselves. But you’re a stay-at-home mom, and your “co-workers” think an Elsa dress is acceptable attire for the grocery store. There is no one to notice you besides your partner, unless you are lucky. And even if you are noticed, even if you are called out and offered support and love, even if someone in your life says, “You are depressed. You need help,” there is often no help.
You have no one to call. Your friends can only help you so much (if you have them). They cannot pick up your children every time they hit their head on the table and scream. They cannot cook hot dogs for lunch. They cannot clean up the ruins of Play-Doh and then scrub down your bathroom. Or maybe they can do one of these things, but then they vanish again, and you are alone and back to square one.
Other depressed adults see other adults. You do not. You see small people staring up at you, making demands, then saying, “Mama? Mama? Why are you crying, Mama?”
Because you cannot hold it together all the time. You snap more easily and when you snap more easily depression tells you that you are a terrible parent. You believe this depression monster the way you believe your own self. You are more impatient. You are more resentful; you are more angry. The depression monster mocks you: this is because you are deficient and broken. You believe it. You become more depressed. You do not deserve your children, you think. You do not deserve these sweet creatures who are only asking for you to love them when you scream at them for losing their shoes. When you make them cry because they left toys on the floor. When you plop them in front of a movie and ignore them for two hours because you just fucking’t can’t anymore. This is because you are a horrible person, your depression monster says. And you believe it. You believe it in your soul that you are actively hurting the very people you love the most. And you cannot stop because depression doesn’t just quit.
But through all this terrible pain, through this haze of misery, you must add the everyday duties of motherhood. You hurt. But help isn’t coming. No one can hear your SOS call; they’ve stopped looking for the life raft; they called off the search parties. You must carry the weight of your children and the weight of your own pain. You must struggle under both.
Ordinary mothers, healthy mothers, they struggle to balance it. They complain of loneliness. They talk of how hard it is to be a stay-at-home mom: how isolating, how difficult. But they do not carry your darkness. Their pain does not whisper to them all day long. They do not struggle with tears when confronted with a messy room, with a pile of laundry. They don’t experience pain and intense anxiety from simply existing.
They do not have to fake it because they are afraid of what their depression will do to their children if they see it day in and day out. Because you have read the statistics. You know that having a parent with a mental illness counts as an “adverse childhood event.” You, personally, are a walking adverse childhood event. You know this and it hurts you every single day. You hate yourself for it. If you were better, your depression tells you, you wouldn’t feel like this. If you were stronger, you wouldn’t act this way. If you were happier — and you would be happier if you just accepted life as it comes — you would find peace. Your depression tells you that this is all your fault.
Your depression is a fucking liar.
But you cannot drown it out. You have another toy to pick up, another face to wipe, another juice to fetch. You are too busy getting your ass in gear to do more than the bare minimum, and the bare minimum is survival, not metacognition. Your depression knows this. You cannot outthink it. You cannot outrun it, especially with children clinging to your legs.
You are alone. You are a caregiver, and you must care for others before you can care for yourself. You get shoved to the side. This is both your towering strength — you cannot develop a close, personal relationship with your couch — and your terrible weakness: you cannot breathe, cannot spare a moment to give yourself the care that others demand from you.
You are a stay-at-home-mom battling depression and it is so fucking hard.
You are a stay-at-home mom battling depression and you feel so alone.
You are a stay-at-home mom battling depression and you feel unseen.
You feel unloved. You feel unappreciated. You feel unworthy. You feel hurt, broken, afraid.
And yet you get up. You pour the cereal. You comfort the sick child. You ooh and aah at the crayon drawing.
You are a stay-at-home-mom battling depression. You do not know it, but you are a damn hero.