That One Time When I Was Depressed …
I grew up in a transient home. My dad began his career as a Navy officer right around the time I was born and I spent the eighteen years of my childhood pulling up roots every two and a half years (and sometimes even more frequently). There are obvious disadvantages to this family lifestyle, but there are some real advantages too. Our family was pretty close – I like to think because we were each others’ constants. This is a good thing when you are trying to promote a feeling of unity within a family. I was also relatively free from peer pressure. Maybe it was just that my relationships weren’t very deep so friends didn’t have a lot of influence – or at the very least I could tell myself that if my social life wasn’t all that great now, there was always another move to look forward to where there would be new opportunities for friendships. One thing I did learn was that I could stick out just about anything because things always come to an end. Afterall, they always did during my growing up years.
Fast forward to marriage and motherhood. After coping with infertility and unemployment I felt like adoption would be a piece of cake. I already had one child who was still living after ten years and was turning out to be a pretty pleasant person. We wanted a bigger family and there were kids out there that needed homes – a perfect match. We took the adoption preparation classes where we were educated on things like the attachment cycle and what happens when it is disrupted. We learned about fetal alcohol syndrome and sexual abuse and food hording. It didn’t sound pleasant, but we figured we’d cope. We felt like our expectations were well grounded. Then the whirlwind of adoption occurred – visits for our homestudy, visits to meet our soon-to-be children, more visits by multiple social workers to keep track of how things were going. There were therapists and interventions and testing – all on top of two very active toddlers (because really, while they were preschoolers in age they were very much like toddlers in all the ways that mattered).
Looking back it is clear I was pretty overwhelmed – but I just kept thinking it would get better – things always change and come to an end (see that early lesson coming into play?). I thought once the adoption was final and we had fewer visitors, I’d feel less harried and stressed. And I did feel a little better. But I soon realized that the things that caused the most stress were learning to parent two children who had an overwhelming amount of emotional baggage that presented in distressing behaviors that I could never seem to do anything about. I read stacks of parenting books, adoption books, emotional disorder books – all looking for answers to cope with the chaos that was our home. But there were no answers – even today I don’t know that there are any definitive answers. Just like you can’t fix diabetes but can only learn to live with it, you can’t really fix mental illness. You can treat it and maybe, when the person who is suffering gets emotionally mature enough to want to work on it, it can get better or coped with more effectively. But still – the brain damage done doesn’t just get loved away or disciplined away. You really just learn how to live with it in ways that cause the least amount of chaos.
Depression often accompanies big life changes. It would be easy to say that I had the adoption version of baby blues. I think it was a little more complicated than that. I expected that things would get better eventually and as the years passed and I wore myself out looking for answers or techniques or SOMETHING that would help it became more and more clear that things weren’t getting better in any measurable way. I waited WAY too long to get help. I was a crazy mom who cried all the time and when I wasn’t crying I was yelling – or screaming. Scary. It was such a relief to start taking antidepressants and to stop feeling at the mercy of my emotions.
The funny thing is while I got better and eventually felt well enough to deal with my life without medication, the damage seems to have been done. My life is still pretty much the same, though some things have improved as my children have grown and are S-L-O-W-L-Y maturing AND because I have finally learned how to manage my family life so that there is a minimum of chaos (though we still deal with it). But I still find myself coping with that feeling that things are never going to change, that this is my life, that there isn’t much joy in it. I think that is probably depression talking, because to my rational mind my life doesn’t look that difficult. But I find myself back on medication and struggling to do those things I know will help me feel better. What is most difficult to reconcile is the fact that my faith SHOULD mean I can weather this, but curiously knowing something is true doesn’t seem to change how I feel. Maybe that just goes to prove that unrelenting stress and depression can change how your brain works. I don’t know. I just keep finding myself hoping that things WILL change, even though the last ten years have argued otherwise…
Anyhow, one thing this experience has done for me is to give me a lot more empathy for people struggling with depression. I wouldn’t classify my experience as very serious, but it does seem to suck the joy out of my days and I can only imagine what it would be like to literally not be able to get out of bed. And it does make me grateful for those things that make me genuinely smile or even laugh! One of my goals this year is to live my life with more cheer – to be of good cheer. Let’s hope I’m successful.