I've been on Prozac for about three months now. It took me a while to get through the initial side effects but I can honestly say that many things have gotten easier.
I've stopped freaking out at the small stuff. I don't constantly feel like no-one likes me. Hell, I've even had a couple of days of genuine happiness. I still worry it's not real and that when I stop the medication my mood will go into free-fall, but for now I can't deny that my depression has lessened.
Happy mom = happy child. Right?
I'd assumed feeling better would result in better parenting. The reality is a lot more complicated.
Depression can crush you – it suffocates your energy and desire to do things. With a lively toddler around I couldn't get away with not doing anything, so instead I made do with doing nothing for myself.
As a baby and, more recently, a toddler, my son is pretty vocal about his needs – whether it's hourly night-time breastfeeding or 23 books read before breakfast. Early on in my single parenting journey when I was struggling to get things done – still trying to manage like before – I had a moment of clarity: I'm only here for my son – that's all I need to do.
So that's all I did. In reality, doing more was impossible. Shutting down was my coping mechanism. The cloak of depression told me mothering was my only role. This wasn't bad for him though, he was the center of my world and his needs came first. It just so happened that no-one came after him, not even me.
Now, I have wants and desires of my own. Now, I'm sitting here on the park bench ignoring my son's requests to be pushed on the swing as I try to snatch ten minutes for myself to type this out on my phone. Sometimes these selfish wants of mine include my son, too. When we returned from the park I gave him options for our afternoon fun together – games, cookie making, or arts and crafts. He chose the television.
I can't lie and say that it didn't hurt. If I had engaged him more in the past, would he have chosen the games? When I was slumped on the sofa he knew how to handle me. Now, I'm just becoming some clingy mom.
For almost three years, I believed there was no alternative. Now, I've reached a point where I'm fed up of parenting alone day-in and day-out. I want to have a break from parenting, and from work. A couple of months ago, I probably would have said it's impossible to get a break from, it's too much to ask. Now, I'd tell you it's absolutely necessary, I need an alternative to stop me from losing my mind.
Pre-baby, patience was never my strong point. In the first three years of parenting, I shocked myself at how patient I'd become. I was the extreme of relaxed parenting, taking an hour to walk home from the park – where were we rushing to, anyway? Time felt like a never-ending continuum, days stretching out like eternity.
These last few weeks I couldn't tell you what exactly I've done differently with my time – not much, probably. Perhaps I've scrubbed the toilet a couple more times. Put on a few more washes than normal. Seen more friends. No huge change, but somehow I've run out of time. I have no space to even reply to a text message. I'm struggling to keep on top of things and, like all busy parents, my child is bearing the brunt of this.
Over the last few years, my capacity for empathy has been high. When my son had tantrums about his toast being cut up the wrong way, I understood. While the life events that have caused my depression may have been more life-changing than the shape of bread, I watched my son's face scrunch up, his tears fall, and his feet push against each other in anger. I could recognize the emotions. I only had to think back to the other day – sometimes the other minute – to remember how overwhelming and debilitating it is to have no control over your life. When my son had a tantrum I knew how to comfort him.
It was simple, really. The outward symptoms of an adult breakdown are not so different in outward symptoms to a toddler meltdown, so I gave him what I so badly craved: love, patience, and understanding. I avoided at all costs what we so often seem to shove down the throats of distraught adults and children alike: distraction, shushing, and placating. This is rarely what any of us need.
Maybe I'm misremembering. There were times when I was so frustrated with him I screamed – loud, guttural screams. There were other times I took myself away from his screams when I couldn't cope anymore. But it was somehow different – under the cloud of depression, I was more accepting of my son and his needs. I didn't try to mold and push him into doing things. It's not the style of parenting I would choose, but when you have things to do and places to be, it's a mode of parenting that's hard to avoid.
I thought this journey to recovery, wherever it ends, would be about improving as a parent – about becoming more patient, more understanding, more engaged. I expected a one-way trajectory of onwards and upwards. I was wrong.
I want to hold on to the lessons depression has taught me. I want to remember how it feels to be so distraught you cannot breathe. To remember that feeling loved is the most important thing. I'm not a better or worse mother whether I'm depressed or happy, just a different one.