Lessons from a single mom who lost too much to depression
When I initially approached single mom JT, inquiring about her depression in a trying-to-be-polite manner, her response was “In a nutshell, I have major depressive disorder, PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder], anxiety, OCPD [obsessive-compulsive personality disorder], and suicide attempts.”
I knew she was the gal I was going to interview, and it was a relief, as I believe the demystification of depression—the ability to be honest, without shame—is a major step toward healing.
In 2011, using her experience and desire to heal, JT founded the Facebook page “Depression Is Kicking My Ass” as a safe place to discuss feelings and frustrations about depression with the message: “Don’t ever forget, YOU’RE NOT ALONE!”
While pregnant with her first child, JT graduated college with a degree in administrative assistance. While very pregnant with her second child, she graduated with an associate’s degree in business administration. While a student, she also worked full time and cared for her children.
“I suffer from major depressive disorder, anxiety, panic attacks, PTSD [due to sexual trauma], and OCPD. I’ve struggled with cutting and suffered postpartum depression. I was admitted to a children’s psych hospital for cutting, was hospitalized for suicide twice, and am a domestic-violence survivor. Plus I am a single mom of two daughters. They don’t live with me right now, but I have a wonderful group of women who are helping to raise them.”
Q: When did your depression begin?
A: I was in middle school when I started cutting to relieve emotions. My mom discovered what I was doing, and I wound up in a children’s mental hospital for a couple weeks.
I was a wife and mom by 19; a naive, selfish child tasked with raising a baby, with a husband only slightly less immature than I.
The pregnancy was unexpected. I was terrified and not looking forward to being a mom. I hated my growing body.
I grew up with bridal magazines, Harlequin Romance [novels], and soap operas. My dreams were not based on reality . . . so it was a rude awakening finding myself marrying someone I didn’t like because I’d gotten pregnant.
My wedding to Nick was simple, nothing I’d dreamed about. I smiled, was polite, but on the inside was sad I had to settle. I had no control over a day that was supposed to be mine. I was a child getting walked down an aisle for adults.
I never had the desire to carry a child. I didn’t want strangers between my legs; it was scary, considering the sexual abuse I’d endured growing up. Within days of giving birth, I unknowingly started suffering from postpartum depression. Because of this, [my daughter] Nikki and I did not bond well. I loved her but struggled to show it.
Meanwhile, Nick was ecstatic. He was in college and worked full time. When I’d get home from work, Nikki was my responsibility . . . as was the housework, cooking, the every-fourth-hour nighttime feedings. My ex began to nitpick. I felt horrible about my ability to mother and was severely depressed and exhausted.
Four months later, I discovered I was pregnant again. I was terrified. I already felt like a single parent. The excitement Nick had shown for Nikki wasn’t there. He left the “decision” to me. I knew I would try to harm myself if I had to raise two babies alone. I saw abortion as my only option. I’d always been against it, mainly because of my religious mother and my ignorance gathered from romance novels and movies.
The abortion broke my heart. I felt ashamed. I had no one to talk to. I told everyone that I had miscarried. I couldn’t bear to be judged.
By the time I learned I had postpartum depression, there was nothing I could do to re-create that bond with Nikki. As she got older, we simply didn’t get along. I tried to be patient but didn’t understand her. I tried to control every aspect of her life and make it “perfect.” I wasn’t able to help her discover herself and be an individual.
Nick understood Nikki. He’d say they were a lot alike—and I couldn’t stand him. They bonded over putting up with me. It never crossed my mind to get treatment for depression on a consistent basis, and I started cutting again.
Q: What about your younger daughter?
A: When I discovered I was pregnant again, I cried tears of joy. My second chance to do motherhood right!
But I needed to handle my home life. I got the divorce, only to take him right back. I was scared of being alone. I didn’t think a good man would want me.
Brooke was the light of my life; being her mom was the only thing I was doing right, but I started to sink back into depression. I’d take Benadryl to sleep and not have to deal with anything. Nick had to do all the work.
So he left—moved to another state for another woman. Alone, I came unglued. I decided to overdose on pills. I had the girls asleep in my bed. I called Nick to let him know what I’d done, and he called the police. When I woke up, I realized he was never coming back, and it was selfish to have the girls in my bed while I overdosed. Imagine the trauma!
I was admitted to a hospital—a mini mental-health getaway with lackluster accommodations and first-rate care—but I was only there for three days because of work and the kids.
I struggled those first few weeks at home. I contemplated suicide. One night, Brooke crawled into my lap, put her hand over my heart, and told me she loved me. She saved my life.
I moved back to my hometown to be near my family. The only job I could find was working third shift at a school for the deaf. I still struggled with depression, and the work shift made sleeping difficult. I couldn’t work the hours and be responsible for my girls, so my aunt and cousins took them. They did an amazing job raising my kids . . . and it made me feel like shit.
I struggled financially. I felt like a huge burden to everyone, and I wanted to end my life again. My mom figured this out and got me back to the hospital. Again, I was released after three days.
I began working with an amazing therapist who helped me discover I was suffering from PTSD due to childhood sexual abuse. How that went undiscovered until my late 20s is beyond me.
I moved in with a new boyfriend, Philip, even though I knew he didn’t like kids. Again, I made the poor choice of putting a man before my girls. It didn’t take long for depression to consume me. If I didn’t get out of bed for work, it was hard to get up at all. I tried to explain my depression to Nikki, but I’m sure she saw a lazy mother sleeping all day.
Q: How did the Facebook page come into being?
A: Depression Is Kicking My Ass was born out of my first anxiety attack. I’d been diagnosed with depression and PTSD, so I had to research what I’d experienced with my anxiety attack. I saw the stigma attached to mental illness. Anxiety kicked my ass; depression was kicking my ass, so that’s how I came up with the name.
I wanted a place where people could discuss depression without being judged. I wanted the page to be respectful of all viewpoints; some people stand by taking meds, others don’t. It’s OK to disagree as long as respect is maintained.
I, along with a core group of consistent posters, established the structure of the page, each posting something on a certain day of the week. I believe a lot of our success came from the personal touch—each suffering with our own illnesses and using different treatments. It was beautiful to see we were making a difference. I was excited to be part of something so meaningful.
Our core group fell apart due to misunderstandings. A lot of the personal touch went away, but it was the end of the team that really hurt.
Q: How did running the page affect your parenting?
A: The Facebook scheduler kept the page going. My home life fell apart. Nikki decided she wanted to live with her dad like I’d done to my mom at that age. Brooke began to suffer when her sister left. I relied on her too much emotionally and focused on everything but her. I couldn’t see it was damaging.
Philip left me. Then Dane came into the picture . . . and left as well. I was so concerned with finding a man I neglected to give Brooke what she needed. I knew she wanted to be with her big sister—but she was afraid to leave me. One day she looked at me and said she saw suicide in my eyes. At that point I knew she had to live with her dad for her own well-being.
Q: What were the ramifications?
A: I began a journey of self-discovery, acknowledging and owning the things I’d done wrong. The most important was acknowledging I was a bad mom—not the worst, but a bad one. I didn’t know the first thing about being a mom, but I knew I didn’t want to be like mine.
Then I stepped back and thought about what she had gone through that influenced her choices and what her mother had gone through. My resentment was replaced by compassion.
I asked both of my girls to list how I had hurt them. I didn’t make excuses but explained my struggles with depression and the examples I had growing up so they won’t suffer as adults like I did.
Q: How are you managing now?
A: Things have improved, though I still struggle and know that right now I’m not able to care for Brooke full time. I am as involved as I can be. As long as she’s happy, I’m happy.
Q: What advice do you have for other moms who are struggling with this issue?
A: There are many times in my story where I point out what I didn’t know. It is so important for parents to teach their kids what to expect in the real world. I was a young woman afraid to get birth control!
Just because you’re “real” with your kids doesn’t mean you encourage bad behavior. Educating them on reality empowers them. It is not my place to judge or make them feel bad for decisions they make. I want to make sure my girls know I am there for them, regardless.
Q: Are you concerned about the genetic component of depression?
A: Yes, but it doesn’t keep me up at night. I try to be open and honest about my struggles. My goal is that if they suffer from anything themselves, they have support and understanding.
Q: What are you up to now?
A: I’m currently not on medication, but I am in therapy with an amazing therapist. I work with mentally-ill inmates at a state hospital [in prison]. It is dangerous and difficult at times but can be very rewarding. I like it a lot! I have tons of time to just sit and think. My heart goes out to the clients because I’ve been in similar situations, so I don’t judge them.
Q: Closing thoughts?
A: I know I’ve said a lot, but it’s to make a point. Every experience has affected me and has played a role in who I am, who I am becoming, and who I am as a parent.
I’m far from done growing!
Depression is incredibly common yet often left untreated and misunderstood. Don’t let depression take the toll that JT endured. Reach out for help. And know that as you seek help, the ESME community is cheering you on and here to listen.
Kathleen Laccinole, ESME’s Dating Resource Guide, has penned numerous films and parenting books but is best known for producing the highly lauded Greta, age 20, and William, age 16.
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