You may have seen an uptick in news articles discussing the principle behind taking “mental health days” off from work and your rights at your place of employment to use a vacation or sick day if you’re not physically sick (such as this article or this one or this one). But what about taking mental health days as a mother?
There is no “Paid Time Off” when you’re a mom. In fact, there’s no pay at all and I’m not sure who came up with that shit system. Am I the only one that feels that I should receive some sort of stipend from the government in exchange for raising behaved (well, we are working on that) law-abiding (eh, we will see in a few years) citizens who can contribute to society?
Until I can find a mom union to join to demand some better rights, I’ve got the full-time job of parenting in addition to my actual full-time job. And while I can take time away from the latter with almost no repercussions, it’s been a struggle to get the break that I occasionally need with the former.
Yesterday was a bad day for me. Nothing happened. It was just one of those days where I get “blacked out” as my husband calls it. Depression is something that I’ve dealt with for quite some time. My therapist diagnosed me with major depressive disorder at the age of 18, but I’m positive that it’s something that I’ve had since the age of 11. And, every few years, I go through a period of either several weeks or several months where the bad days outnumber the good and I usually find myself going back to therapy or on medication or a regimen that consists of both.
This is something that I never would have admitted on a public forum a few years ago. However, I’ve come to accept that depression is a disease, a type of mental cancer. Your mind becomes invaded with a different kind of cancerous cell: thoughts that tell you that you are worthless, that no one will ever love you, that you’re just a waste of air and space on this earth. There’s been much progress in talking about mental health just as much as we talk about physical health. We still have some ways to go, but that’s why I feel that it’s important for me to be a part of that conversation.
Fortunately, I haven’t had a major depressive episode since I was pregnant (which is a whole other blog post). From time to time, though, I do have days where I really just need to hide from the world. What I’ve struggled with most since we had our son is the guilt that comes on these occasional days when I am operating at 30% of my typical mom function. My son just wants to run and jump and play which exhausts me even on my normal days. On my blacked out days when the depression and fatigue are very present and real, it just gets a little too overwhelming for my mind.
Here are some things that I have told myself on days like the one I had yesterday:
Taking Mental Health Days as a Mom Will Not Hurt Your Child
There’s all the things that you’re told to do that make you a good mom:
- Cooking perfectly balanced meals for your child
- Limiting the amount of screen time
- Playing and engaging with your child
Last night, my son had Burger King chicken nuggets for dinner, watched way too much YouTube, and was put to bed without his usual bedtime story (partly because I ended up falling asleep right beside him). It wasn’t one of my best parenting days, but he was alive, fed, and happy. And, sometimes, that’s all that matters.
As a mom, you are not going to always be constantly engaged with your children. You may have chores to work on, errands to run, Meghan Markle news to catch up on. Or you may just need a breather from the constant demands that children place on their parents (like when my son wants me to listen to him tell a story even though he doesn’t speak any discernible English). And that’s okay too. If you’re like me, too much human interaction can be exhausting. I used to be able to come home to my one bedroom apartment after work and decompress. I don’t have that luxury anymore since I now have two other people in this house with me who I can’t legally kick out.
Luckily, I have a husband who understands that I sometimes need to disappear into our room to read a book, watch “I Love Lucy”, or just lie on the bed and try to sort my mind out. Unfortunately, babies and toddlers may not get that need. And that’s okay too. There’s never any true day off from being a mom, but you can take some shortcuts to make it a bit easier to get through the hours until bedtime. Because putting an unrealistic burden on yourself to be the perfect parent every damn day will likely eventually kill you if you are someone who deals with depression and/or anxiety.
Leave the Guilt and Shame Behind
Leave post-it notes around your home if you have to remind yourself that depression is a disease. And, just like most diseases, feeling guilty about the fact that you have it isn’t going to get you anywhere.
The unique thing about depression is that, because it affects your mind, you literally feel as if your own self is working against you. Guilt and shame are two key operatives of depression. And, when you are in that state and your mind is what has become the enemy, how do you separate what the depression is doing from your true self?
One way is to…
Let Your Partner In and Let Him/Her Help
If you have a spouse/partner/lover/baby daddy/momma who you trust and is not a major source of your depression, let them in to what is happening. Over the years, I’ve gotten pretty good at recognizing the difference between when my normal brain talks and when the depression talks. But, sometimes, I still need outside help. A person who loves you and knows what you struggle with can be the guide to helping you back to reality.
And it really doesn’t even need to be someone who you are in a romantic relationship with; a couple of times when I was pregnant and was up in the middle of the night going crazy, I reached out to a friend who I figured would be awake just to talk things through. I know just how strong the impulse can be to keep everything to yourself in order to not look weak. That’s how I thought I would come across if I talked about what I was going through.
But I’m in the strongest position that I have ever been mentally and that’s because I do talk about it, openly and frequently.
On that note…
Do Not Let Things Get Too Bad Without Getting Outside Help
If you take one thing away from this, please have it be this last point. I’m not currently in therapy because my blacked out days are occasional and still allow me to function daily. If it ever got so bad to the point where I couldn’t get myself up to get dressed, go to work, eat, or leave the house and I found that pattern continuing over multiple days, I would know that I needed professional help. If I found myself constantly snapping at my son or husband due to irritability from the depression, then I would go seek professional help. If the bad days started to outnumber the good, then I would go and seek professional help. Having the occasional bad day is not the same as a full on major depressive disorder episode. The latter requires help, whether in the form of talking to a therapist or receiving prescribed medication.
And I’ll emphasize it again: there’s nothing wrong with any of that. Treatment for mental health needs to be discussed in the same way as one would discuss going to a chiropractor for back issues and taking Tylenol.
In the end, the way that your children have the best version of you is for you to take care of yourself. There’s a time and place for putting others first and it’s not all time, even if it’s your own children. Yesterday I took some time off from my usual mom duties; today, I’m feeling back to my normal self . My son and I went to the park, worked out at the gym, made my son dinner, and I didn’t even get mad when he farted right on me (intentionally, I might add). Balance, you know.
If you have any other tips for handling depression as a parent, let me know in the comments!