To my dearest son Duvy,
I know that you are really young, only 11 years old. There is something that I wish I can share with you, but I fear telling you about it. I can’t burden you with it, yet it is your right to know. I can’t expect you to hold on to my secret like I do, yet I don’t want you to go tell the world about it (though I fear that people might know, because something of this nature is impossible to fully hide). I am trying to keep my dignity intact, but at whom’s expense is that?
There is so much I want to tell you, like how sorry I am that your cousins can’t ever come over for Shabbat. As a matter of fact, you can’t ever let any of your friends come over, because what will they think seeing your mother lie in bed all day in her pajamas? How can I let them in to a house that is covered in dirt, and expose myself to the critique of others? Then there are times when you need to make dinner for the family, because your mother was too depressed to fulfill her parental responsibilities. Which kid your age has to carry that much responsibility?
You are only a child, and I want you to feel like a child. Yet you are so mature, for you were forced to grow up way too young. You look after your siblings, tend to their needs. The little ones run to you with their “boo boos” and you are always there to comfort them. I am so ashamed that the baby calls your name, more than he has ever uttered the word “mommy”.
It seems at times like your mother doesn’t care about them, and you come to admonish me about my behavior. I stay silent, because I know that you are right, and my behavior is far from okay. Yet I do care, more than you will ever know. I feel so terrible for all the times that I push you away, and hide in the security of my own world. It bothers you so much that I am glued to the screen of my computer, and shut you out of my world. You beg me to let you in, listen as you tell me about your day, and take an interest in the things that are important to you. Yet I ignore your pleas, and don’t tend to your crying heart.
My heart bleeds for you children. My body is wrapped tightly in a straight jacket paralyzed by something called depression. It has held me captive for six long years. If only I could tell you about it, explain to you why our house is different than all the other homes of your friends. I feel really guilty, more than you could ever imagine. I want the best for you my precious children, yet I don’t know what to do. I feel powerless to turn my life around.
Some days things are normal, like every other home you have been to. You finally see your mother dressed and out of bed, the house is clean, and there is homemade food on the table instead of the usual takeout. We sometimes even have great days, where we get to go on trips, eat out for dinner, and do stuff like regular families do. Your mother can be really attentive, listen to you talk about your day. I can see your eyes shine brightly, wishing that you can hold on to those “good days” forever. But you know that days like that are just like a balloon, that can pop at the slightest prick of a needle. The cycle keeps repeating itself, over and over. There is no stability in your life, you never know what to expect when you walk through the doors to our home, after a long day in yeshiva.
If only I would be able to provide you with a stable home, and give you the childhood that you deserve. I also crave stability in my life, being able to predict what tomorrow will look like. Your anger is mine too, so is your pain, and the frustration of it all. If only I could heal your aching heart, and heal my illness at the same time. I really struggle to stay afloat, more than you could ever imagine. I never give up fighting for you and your siblings. But sometimes the waves are just too strong, pushing me away from being the mother I want to be. I land so far off shore, fearing that I will never get back to you, my children.
I pray to God to free my brain from the shackles of depression, and be free to live the life I so desperately want to. I wish that I could turn on the lights, and experience the joy of life once again. I was in denial for a really long time, hiding from the truth that lie right in front of me. I told myself that I was okay, and I really believed it for a very long time. Now I finally started going for therapy and have an appointment with a psychiatrist. I feel like I might stand a chance and there is a flicker of hope on my horizon.
There was a lot of pain that I was running away from. It might not be easy, facing my demons head on. Yet I really want to heal my sick mind. I promise to do everything in my power, to get well and become the mother you need me to be.
Sincerely, from Mommy
I wrote this only four months ago. I shed many tears as I saw the reality of my life on a paper. My goal in life was always to be a good mother. It was the only thing that ever mattered to me. I was severely emotionally and physically abused as a child. After being so wounded throughout my childhood, I wanted to give my children the childhood I never had.
I did succeed in a certain sense. Throughout the years that I was depressed, I never hurt any one of my children emotionally or physically. They thrived on the compliments I bestowed upon them and my unconditional love and acceptance. They are luckily all happy and confident children. I did provide them most of the times with a listening ear, but due to my severe anxiety and depression it wasn’t always possible. I felt really guilty at the time, but in hindsight I feel like I did the best I could under the circumstances.
My depression/anxiety started after the birth of my third child. I did see a psychiatrist and we got my severe anxiety under control after about a year with the help of medication. While I was suffering from severe anxiety and panic attacks, I developed a phobia to leave my home. I was anxious about having a panic attack in public. Even when the panic attacks were gone, I never left my house.
I sort of fell into a rut and into a unhealthy cycle. I suffered from severe insomnia, which didn’t help the situation. I never knew if I would be able to fall asleep at night. I would usually fall asleep about the time that my husband’s alarm clock would ring for him to go to shul. I would then need to nap all day till 3:00 in the afternoon, just on time for my children’s buses. I wasn’t able to schedule any appointment for the children and myself, because I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to make it on time. There were nights that, with the aid of sleep medication I did fall asleep, but I never knew when the medication would work. It failed me more often than not. It was a huge contributing factor keeping me a prisoner to my home.
At the time I numbed my emotions, therefore I didn’t know that I was terribly depressed and it kept me from seeking help. The reason I decided to reach out was because concerned family members coaxed me to see a therapist. I was reluctant to agree, hurt that my family was discussing me behind my back. When my brother told me that life didn’t have to be so miserable, I looked at him clueless. I had no idea what made him think my life was miserable.
Thank God, I decided to go for therapy. It changed my life completely around. I dealt with my childhood trauma and slowly I made progress. Now it’s about 6 months since I started therapy. There is rarely a day that I sit home. I am able to finally be a fully functioning human being. I finally learnt what happiness feels like. It wasn’t easy. It’s not like I swallowed a magic pill, it was hard work. I had to push myself a lot to get out of bed or simply take a walk down the block. Slowly it became easier as I got into a healthy cycle.
I enjoy the simple things that people take for granted. A trip to the dentist is comparable to a day at Disneyworld for me. I hadn’t been able to take a child to the dentist in years! I felt so grateful that I was able to take care of my daughter’s teeth!
The first time I cried in years was after my first session of emdr therapy. I felt happy as I cried because I was able to feel something. Anything was better than feeling completely numb.
I wrote this epilogue because I wanted to let people know that there is hope out there. Medication is simply not enough to heal depression, at least not in every case. Especially if you experienced severe trauma. In my case, my traumatic childhood was a large contributing factor that caused my anxiety and depression.
If you ever saw me out in the street you would never know that I wasn’t emotionally healthy. I appeared on the outside just like everyone else. I sounded like a really happy person too. By talking to m,e you would never guess that I wasn’t okay.
People experiencing depression/anxiety don’t walk around with any defining markers. They can be the most put together woman out there and their children don’t necessarily look neglected. They, in fact, might be the best dressed children on the block.
There is awareness in our community about mental illness, but the stigma is still great. Therefore I was all alone in my journey with no one to support me. The times I suffered from severe anxiety and panic attacks was brutal. It really would have been helpful not to have to have gone through this all alone.
I pray to God that people will one day come to see mental illness the way they perceive a physical illness. I am grateful that I got my life back and I am able to give my children the mother they deserve. Never give up on yourself because depression is something you can beat.