By Brandy Browne
According to the CDC (2020), as many as 1 out of 10 mothers in the United States experienced a major bout with depression within the last year. Getting personal for a moment, I believe that this occurs for many reasons. My personal story with depression actually ties back to before my husband and I had children. We experienced multiple miscarriages trying to conceive our first daughter. In the middle of undergoing fertility testing, I fell pregnant with her, and this time, our pregnancy was successful. Within five years, we were parents to three beautiful children, two daughters and a son, and my world was forever changed. I poured all my energy into being an amazing mom to those beautiful little people we were blessed with. My identity was nearly solely tied up in being their mother. Date nights were very rare (yes, my relationship with my love of nearly twenty years suffered as well), and though I was frustrated, I felt guilty asking for help or needing time to myself, because, after all, there was a time it looked like we might not have children at all. So, I kept pouring from my empty cup. The funny thing was that the more I poured into these precious people, the more exhausted and grouchy I became. Finally, after several family events (my father’s health deteriorated, my husband had several employment changes within a few years, I had some changes within my career focus in moving from upper elementary teaching to early childhood education), I came to the point where I desperately needed help.
I went in to my physician, who bluntly asked me, “What do you actually do for you when you are not taking care of everyone else?” It was at that very moment that I realized I did not have one thing to tell her. I could not come up with one single hobby that was not tied to my family or work. I left that day with a prescription for an antidepressant and some gentle directions to work on finding something for me.
I stumbled the next few weeks. I had been tied up in the identity for others that I had no idea how to start for me, and I was exhausted from trying to be (and failing) everything for everyone for so long. Then, one day, I saw a Facebook post advertising a Color Run not to far from me. I had never even walked a 5K distance before, but for some reason, I decided I wanted to try. I began running nearly every day. In the beginning, I could barely run thirty seconds at a time. I noticed right away how clear my head was after I went outside and took that thirty to forty five minutes for myself. I decided to translate that into other areas as well. Simple changes. I locked the door to take a long bath. If I had had a stressful day, I got the kids started playing independently, and then I went and shut the door to gather myself for ten to fifteen minutes before reengaging. I started saying NO when I did not have the time or energy to commit. I locked the door so I could have some alone time with my husband without being paranoid a child might interrupt us. I made them go play, so we could snuggle and watch a movie on the couch. And I felt SO MUCH BETTER! Even the little things that had been so increasingly difficult to deal with were easier after I carved out a few minutes for myself.
Through medical treatment, a good support system, lifestyle changes, and being intentional about making time for self care, I have run three half marathons, a full marathon, earned a graduate degree (another long time goal that had been shelved for so long because, I mean, I was a mom and who had time for that), and am raising some sweet, healthy, well adjusted kids who are even better because Mom is better for them. I was not punishing my children by taking care of myself. In fact, it is just the opposite. I am so much happier and calmer in my interactions with them when I am at my best. It is absolutely critical that you care for your whole person in order for you to be at your best for those you love. Never feel guilty for taking a moment for yourself because when that moment passes, I guarantee you will handle little Sally’s next meltdown with much more grace than if you had both been tired and exhausted. Finally, we are modeling what we want our children all the time, whether we are intentional about it or not. Modeling taking care of yourself will inspire your sons and daughters to take care of their physical and mental health as well, and is that not what we desire for our children? Raising resilient, well adjusted productive members of society begins with modeling how to properly care for ourselves.
CDC. (2020). Depression among women. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/depression/index.htm