Depression. There, I said it. Depression. Depression. Depression. Do you have the urge to wash my mouth out with soap? Of course not – it’s not a dirty word. So why then, is it never said? Why, as special needs parents and caregivers, do we not talk about it? It’s real, it’s prevalent, and it’s not going away.
In 2014, I was pregnant with my second child. In 2014, John was diagnosed with severe autism. Yes, it was horrible timing, I know. The stress of the testing along with pregnancy hormones created a perfect storm of crazy for me. I remember one day in particular. John was eating lunch and wiping his hands, not on his napkin, but in his hair. We had worked and worked on this, but it wasn’t clicking. I was so frustrated, but walked away before I lost it. I slammed my bedroom door and started screaming. I had to get it out. I screamed and screamed until my throat was raw, and then I collapsed and cried. How was this my life? How was my beautiful, smart child autistic? What had I done to make this happen? What had I done to deserve this? And was it going to happen again with this next one?
I was positive that after the baby was born and we got John settled into school and therapy, that I would bounce back and everything would return to normal. It quickly became apparent that it wasn’t going to. John was getting the help he needed, and I had a healthy baby who was annihilating his milestones. Life should have been great, but I was in a fog that I couldn’t find my way out of. All I wanted was to sleep and be alone. And I was angry. So very angry. Any little thing would set me off – particularly anything to do with John or autism in general. Surely this wasn’t me. It had to me the postpartum hormones, right?
It came to a head on our wedding anniversary. Mom was watching the boys, and Bill and I were headed out to brunch to celebrate. I had been looking forward to it for weeks – a real date! When we arrived at the restaurant, it turned out that Bill had forgotten to make reservations. We couldn’t get a table and had to change our plans to another of my favorite places. But I was livid. I barely ate and seldom spoke the entire meal. When we got home, Bill was done. It was his anniversary too, and I had ruined it. I remember him asking me, “Are you really this miserable?” I realized then that something was really wrong. My problem was affecting my entire family.
The next day, I made plans with my two closest friends. I knew that they would tell me the truth. I remember as we sat outside at Starbucks, and I told them what was going on, there was no surprise in their eyes. Sympathy yes, but no surprise. They were very gentle as they said, “If you think it’s a problem, it probably is.” I went home that night and started researching. At that point, autism blogs were all that I had for reference, so that’s where I started. I was shocked when I visited two of my favorites, Autism with a Side of Fries and Autism Daddy. They both had written posts on depression! (Links are below.) As I read their words, it was like taking a glimpse into my own life. This was me too! I wasn’t alone in this! I wasn’t the only one angry at the world and determined to make everyone around me miserable too. I wasn’t the only one that was drained and exhausted. I wasn’t the only one headed for burnout.
I knew that I had to do something, so I called my doctor. I don’t call much, so they fit me in ASAP, knowing something was seriously wrong. As much as I didn’t want to say it out loud, I swallowed my pride and told her, “I think I’m depressed”. She immediately understood, and was able to articulate everything I couldn’t for me. Yes, the child I dreamed about wasn’t going to happen now. Yes, the future was incredibly uncertain and terrifying. Yes, parenting was going to be completely different for me and probably strain my marriage. And yes, I couldn’t live like this.
We discussed several options, and agreed to give medication a try. With the prescription, she also gave me three more conditions I had to meet. The first was that I had to make time for myself every day. It could be five minute or five hours, but I had to do something only for me every single day. The second was that I had to think about whether or not I needed to see a professional counselor. If so, she wanted to do the research to send me to someone that dealt with special needs families. The third, and most important, was that I find some other special needs moms to talk to. I tried to explain to her that I had my friends, and I was good, but she wouldn’t hear it. She explained to me that the only way to get through this was with people who were walking the same path and who could truly understand what I was going through.
So I took the prescription and I took her advice. I reached out to another autism mom that our BCBA had introduced us to. Again, I heard the words “Me too”, but this time it wasn’t on the computer screen. This was someone in the trenches with me that lived 5 minutes away! I started looking for things to do for me – read a book, take a bubble bath, work in the garden. I thought about counseling, but in about a month, I started to feel better. I smiled more. I laughed at my husband’s jokes. I enjoyed my children. Best of all, I could face autism without a dark cloud hanging over everything. I started to feel like me again. Don’t get me wrong – it’s still a battle. I still have days where autism wins. But when I’m down, it lasts a day, not a week. I am able now to not take things so personally, and look at John’s behaviors with a more compassionate, less personal eye. Most importantly, I now know the signs and am better able to regulate myself and ask for help when I need it.
If you think you might be suffering from depression, say it. No one will wash your mouth out with soap! It will not go away on it’s own, and it’s okay to ask for help. Depression not only affects you, but your entire family. For more information on depression, please visit https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/depression. Take care of yourself so you can be the parent you always wanted to be.
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