After yesterday’s post, I feel like I should provide some further follow-up about how I’m doing now.
I am doing pretty well overall, though I have my challenges. Last fall semester was especially difficult. In September, I made the horribly difficult decision to euthanize our dog, Lucky. I say “our” dog, but in some significant ways he was really my dog. I spent more time with him than anyone else in my family, and I was the one he wanted when he was sick or scared. It is still difficult for me to talk or write about Lucky without tearing up, so it should be no surprise that my emotions in the immediate aftermath of his death were extremely raw. I still can’t even think about getting another dog. I just can’t.
Another issue I struggled with last fall was Mentor Prof’s health. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in the summer of 2012. It was caught early, but it was an aggressive cancer. I hate to sound as if I am making her illness all about me, but I was terrified for her. I had already lost a good friend and a professor to breast cancer, and that was all I could think about at first. MP went through hell–aggressive chemo and radiation treatments that lasted nearly a year–and it was hard to see her suffer. At the same time, I was and still am amazed by her emotional and physical strength throughout the ordeal; at one point during treatment, she was walking five miles a day.
By spring, she was through some of the worst of her treatments, and I was through the initial stages of my grief for Lucky. Spring was a much better semester, but even with the emotions I was dealing with in the fall, I still did pretty well. I had no problems with functioning normally, in spite of my fears and sadness. When I think back on all of it, the difference between Fall 2011 and 2012 is hard to believe. I was a different person.
This summer has been pretty good. The first week at home was tough; this has been my first summer without Lucky, and I felt his absence quite acutely that first week. The house seemed so quiet and lonely without him. The Trayvon Martin verdict also shook me up pretty badly, and the following week was rough. I think I am going to write about that in a different post, though.
Something that really helped me this year was M’s schooling. She had a wonderful year at her new school, and it was such a relief to not have to worry about her! Having that worry removed from my life helped enormously as I continued to heal and grow stronger this year. She will be in fifth grade and MIDDLE SCHOOL this fall–I can’t believe it.
I have talked pretty openly with the kids about my depression and have stressed again and again that it is not their fault. They didn’t make me sick, and they can’t make me better. I also remind them repeatedly that I love them, even if I am crying or angry over nothing. It’s not perfect, but I do think they know that it’s the depression that can make me weepy and moody, not them.
Once I started getting better, I realized they knew more than they ever let on, especially P. One day last fall or winter (this would be 2011-2012), after I had been on the meds a while, he said to me, “I’m really glad you don’t cry all the time anymore, Mommy.” Of course, that statement made me cry, but he was right–I was no longer driving them to and from school or activities with tears streaming down my face. I was able to come home and spend time with them, instead of being curled up on the couch. When he said that, I realized just how much he understood, even though he was only three at the time.
P knows that Mama has problems with feeling very, very sad all the time, even when there is nothing sad happening in my life. He knows that that this is called depression, that it’s because of the way my brain is wired, and that I take medicine so that I can feel better and have more energy. He also knows I see a therapist and go to our family doctor for this reason. At his age, this is the explanation that I feel is appropriate. He still worries about me. He is very quick to notice if I am crying, and he asks if that means I am getting sad again. I remind him of the difference between regular sadness and what Mommy feels, and that helps reassure him. I also remind that our doctor and my therapist (who he has met) are taking good care of me and that I take my medicine so I can be well. That reassurance seems to set his mind at ease pretty quickly.
Since M is older, she has a deeper understanding. She knows that I suffer from depression, that the problem is rooted in my brain, and that I take medication for it. She has gone to my therapist with me and learned about some of the things that can affect my well-being. I am open with her when I have a bad day. I have talked with her about the fact that this is something I will watch for in her as she gets older, since problems with depression can run in families. I have stressed to her repeatedly the importance of getting help and that taking medication for a mental health issue is the same as taking mediation for a physical problem. I am trying to make sure she doesn’t grow up with the stigma that I grew up with about these issues. I have not shared with either child the extent of my depression. I fear knowing that I was suicidal could be very traumatic and upsetting for them, and my therapist agreed that knowledge could be harmful.
I do worry that my illness puts too big of a burden on the kids, especially M, but both my kids are pretty well-adjusted. They are happy and healthy, physically and emotionally. I can see that with my own eyes, and their teachers (as well as my therapist and our doctor) say the same thing. I am trying to trust in that and not worry.