I’ve posted often on my struggles with depression and anxiety. Part of it, I believe, is because depression and anxiety are genetically encoded in my DNA. I have a strong family history of depression, and I unfortunately inherited the gene. Part of it may also have to do with my less than ideal childhood. I won’t get into details, here, but suffice it to say: I didn’t get the love I needed as a child.
I’ve spent plenty of time bemoaning my position in life, feeling sorry for myself, being jealous of others and wishing things were different. But, it’s only been recently that I’ve started to understand that my journey is teaching me more than I ever thought possible. There are silver linings to my sadness. Here are a few.
- I will always love (and love and love and love). Deeply and authentically. Maybe more than I should love. But there will never be a shortage of love.
As a child, I didn’t get the “love” or nurturing I desperately needed from my parents. This can usually result in one of two things in later adulthood: a person may be unable to give or show love, not having a “model” to work from, or they can constantly give and seek love in an effort to gain what was not received in childhood. I’m definitely guilty of the latter. I tell my daughter that I love her approximately 400 times a day. I tell my spouse that I love him every time he enters or leaves a room (I’m sure he’s actually sick of hearing it by now). It’s almost an automatic platitude now, which means I have to be careful it isn’t rendered meaningless, as phrases we utter too often sometimes are.
I seek out pure, unadulterated love in all of my friendships. I am selective when it comes to choosing my friends (not that there’s a horde of people knocking down my door in the hopes of becoming my friend, but I digress) because I value authentic, raw, personal, shared and emotionally intimate experiences. I am not someone who is good at or looks for small, meaningless chatter. If I can’t talk to you about the state of my mind or hear about the state of yours, it just won’t work.
There are many pitfalls of loving so deeply. I set high expectations of people. I ask too much. My boundaries are blurred. I take on others’ emotional baggage as if it were my own. And I expect too much of others – particularly my friends.
I’m working on that. But one thing is for sure: if you’re in my life, you’re in it because I love you deeply. Never question that.
- I will recognize the signs of anxiety and/or depression in my daughter.
Looking back, I can guess I started experiencing depression in my early teens and anxiety in my early twenties. At the time, I had no way of knowing if the emotions I were experiencing were typical or not. No one talked to me about it, or pulled me aside out of concern. I know now that depression runs rampant in my family. I truly believe that the depression I experience was inherited from my mother. And my spouse is no stranger to depression, either. So, where’s the silver lining in that?
I now recognize the signs of depression and anxiety. As my daughter grows older, I will pay close attention. I will listen and not judge or interject, in an effort to keep those essential lines of communication open. I will be open and forthcoming about my experience, without using fear tactics. I will do all I can to remove the stigma surrounding mental illness. I will talk about how far I’ve come, not how far I have to go. I will go to the ends of the earth to ensure she has the help she needs, should she ever need it.
- I will put my daughter’s needs before my own, but I will not neglect my own needs.
Growing up, my own mother put her own needs and her addiction before me. What did that teach me? It taught me to always put my daughter’s emotional, physical and spiritual needs before my own. This, in my view, is the true essence of motherhood. My inner child still wants to cry when I think about myself at 3 years old and how life was for me compared to the life we have given our daughter. I still get extremely emotional about that. Who couldn’t love an innocent 3 year old child? But I’m working on healing from that pain. And I will get there. Until then, her happiness is my happiness.
In the same vein, I will know when I need to take a break. I will tap out when I have to. Everyone needs a break from motherhood. When I take the time for me, I come back to her feeling refreshed and happy. While my daughter’s needs will always come first, I will not neglect my own needs outside of motherhood.
- I will not settle. For anything.
As a child, I always thought I wasn’t “good enough” to be loved, or I thought that I could be loved if I were “better”. While my incessant need for perfection and recognition are fundamentally unhealthy emotional needs, they have helped me to never give up on myself and my goals. I poured my heart into my studies in university. I tried for 6 grueling years to get into law school, and have been busting my ass ever since. I know now that, even though traditional legal work is not a good fit for me personally, I can use my law degree to do what I really want to do: help others, especially children who grew up in households like mine (or worse). I won’t settle for anything less than the rewarding career I deserve because I have worked tirelessly to get here. Because my mother didn’t see any potential in me, I had to motivate myself. While it’s fundamentally unhealthy to expect that my achievements will finally make my inner child feel “recognized”, I am proud of where I am and I know I am setting myself up for a life doing what I deem to be purposeful work. I didn’t make a difference to anyone as a child, but I will make a difference to a child as an adult.
- I will strive to make a difference.
Because I traveled the road I did as a child, I have a burning need to make a difference in the world. I know I may seem overly idealistic, but it’s always been a passion of mine. I know I’m destined to work in a “helping” profession. I know I’m not in it for the money or fame. I’m in it solely for the fact that helping others will bring me purpose. Had I had an “easy” childhood, I may have been satisfied working in another field. But I fundamentally believe that it is my purpose to “help” others.
- I will be idealistic.
I am living proof that good things can come from bad environments. I’m not a statistic. And I’m idealistic as hell. We are not destined to repeat our parents’ mistakes. We can grow and learn and change. I did.
- I will teach my daughter how to be a mother. And an adult.
No one taught me to cook. Or clean. Or iron. Or do laundry. I literally had to figure it all out myself. This leads me to feel like an inferior adult all of the time. I’m terrified to cook for others, and I’m constantly criticizing myself. If I find myself in a busy kitchen full of women cooking or preparing food, you’ll catch me in the corner doing something stupid like petting the dog or rocking back and forth. Most of the time I feel like a child in an adult’s body. In short, I never learned how to be an adult. And most importantly, I never learned how to be a mother. I had no idea what nurturing or taking care of an infant entailed.
One thing’s for sure: I will teach my daughter how to change a tire. How to sort laundry. How to hang a picture. And I will talk to her about motherhood and nurture her until the cows come home. I will tell her how to change a diaper, how to rock a baby to sleep, and so much more. Even if she chooses not to become a mother, I want her to know about everything motherhood entails.
- I will heal my own inner child.
Some really shitty things happened to me when I was a kid. And some really great things didn’t happen to me when I was a kid. I thought I was fine until I gave birth to my own child. I look at her innocent face and wonder how someone can’t love a child with every fiber of their being. It’s almost as if I’m looking at myself through her eyes, and it kills me to think I wasn’t given the love she is given. It affects all facets of my life, although I didn’t realize just how deeply the hurt ran until she arrived. But I won’t let it dictate my future anymore. I will heal my inner child however I can. I will never stop trying to heal my inner child.
- I will never stop working on myself.
Depression and anxiety and dysfunction forced me to look at my life from all angles. I can’t take shortcuts. I will stop at nothing to heal myself and to live as fully and as happily as possible. I will not let my past follow me around like a disfigured shadow. I want to move past coping and start thriving. Some people may think I attend therapy too often or rely too heavily on my medication. Others may think all this “me time” is a farce. It’s not. It’s absolutely essential to my mental well-being and I will not apologize for it. I may need more “me time” than the average person, but I will not apologize for it. One day, my daughter will thank me for continuing to work on myself outside my role as her mother.
- I will be my daughter’s mother before I’m her friend.
My mother sought a friendship with me, not a mother-daughter relationship. As I became a teenager, she wanted a drinking buddy, not a goody-two-shoes daughter (which, I was – much to her dismay). Our relationship was the essence of dysfunction, and it scarred me deeply. What’s even more difficult to fathom is the fact I have access to a biological mother (I know I’m considered to be “lucky” by some who have lost their mothers) who in all aspects has never acted as my mother. It’s very confusing and embarrassing and unsettling and scary — there are so many emotions involved. Sometimes, a person just needs their mom. And, while there is a woman who gave birth to me out there somewhere, she is not my mother. Everyone needs a mother — or a mother type figure.
I will never, ever be my daughter’s friend before I am her parent. If I can be both her parent and her friend, I consider that a win. Kids need parents. And although there may be times my daughter doesn’t like me, she’ll look back at some point and realize I was acting as her mother and not her friend.
I truly believe that my experiences have forced to me reflect on and improve myself. I am highly conscious of the fact that I could have found myself on a much different path today, and I’m so grateful I’ve been forced to come to grips with my depression, anxiety and dysfunctional childhood. If I hadn’t, I may have been destined to repeat the cycle.
Never forget: there is beauty in sadness.