Homeschooling with depression: The hardest part of Shawna’s homeschool year

Homeschooling with depression: The hardest part of Shawna's homeschool year

Written by Shawna Wingert of Not the Former Things

As I woke, I felt a familiar dread spread throughout my body. I had barely opened my eyes, but already felt anxious and sad about what the day would bring. I wanted to turn over, pull the covers over my head, and just go back to sleep.

I wish I could say that my boys don’t have a mom that sometimes struggles just to get out of bed, and face the day.

I wish I could say that our homeschooling hasn’t suffered on days like this.

I wish I could say that once I get up and have a cup of coffee, it all seems better.

But I can’t.

What I can say is that I am a mom of two boys. We homeschool. And I have struggled with depression.

The hardest part of my homeschool year

This is not something we really talk about, as moms or as homeschoolers. Both motherhood and homeschooling require us to be on our game, capable, responsible, productive.

And depression makes me feel anything but.

The hardest part of my homeschool year has been fighting the feelings of despair and loneliness that accompany depression (at least for me), and still participating as my children live life and learn.

It snuck up on me this time. My son was diagnosed with a serious auto-immune disease mid-year. The whirl of doctors, new medicines, and therapies quickly threw our homeschooling routine into a tailspin. But that wasn’t the only problem.

Every single day felt like a struggle to just make it through. And yes, while some obvious circumstances were difficult, the reality of how depressed I really was didn’t hit me for weeks. My nine-year-old figured out before I did.

You are not funny anymore, Momma. You used to laugh a lot,” my youngest son said as I dragged through our reading lesson.

I looked at his sweet face, and knew he was right. I have been depressed in the past. Really depressed. Clinically depressed.

How did I not realize it was happening again?

shawna3

As my eyes welled with tears, I forced a smiled and said, “You’re right. I have been really sad lately. Thank you for being patient with your momma while I work through all of this. I want to laugh more too. What should we do to have some fun right now?

He beamed, and then dragged me out to the trampoline.

I literally had to force myself to jump, when every fiber of my being said, “I am too tired to jump. I can’t do it. What does it matter anyway? I am not going to feel any better.”

It wasn’t much, but getting onto that trampoline with my sweet boy was a start.

It’s now a few months later, and I am feeling much more like myself. We laugh together more. I no longer crawl through my days, with the cloudy confusion and dead weight that depression brings. Things have settled down a bit. We are all healing.

As I reflect back, there are some very specific things that helped me. If you find yourself struggling to climb out of the dark pit that is depression, it is my hope that maybe these will help you too.

Name it

Admitting that I was depressed was difficult. And yet once I did, I started to feel better. Not because the depression physically lifted, but because I was more willing to give myself grace.

If things were not going well, and I felt like I couldn’t handle making another meal, or working through another book report, I would acknowledge it.

Saying, “I am struggling with depression right now. Of course this feels hard,” instead of “What kind of mom lets her children watch this many You Tube videos…eat this much sugar…not do math for three days…etc.” helped lift some of the defeat that was feeding my despair.

Naming it also helped me begin to figure out ways to help alleviate some of the pressure and anxiety I was feeling.

I started to try and go for a walk every day, no matter how short. I began making sure I was eating regularly (one of the first things to go when I am depressed, and then the lack of food and low blood sugar just makes me more depressed).

I began taking a fish oil supplement recommended by a friend. Naming it allowed me to begin to fight the depression.

shawna2

Just do the next thing

Some days, this meant forcing myself to get some exercise and fresh air. Others, it meant taking a short nap while the kids were busy playing.

Every day, it meant reminding myself to just do the next thing.

Not thinking about anything beyond the next thing I needed to do to get through the day, helped to eliminate my anxiety about all the things.

Instead of playing out all the bad things that could happen in the future, if the depression didn’t lift, I just put on an audio book and reminded myself that it was enough for right now.

It helped.

For a while, I even started writing down everyday items on my To Do List – basic things, like ‘Make Breakfast’, ‘Give my Son his Medicines’, and ‘Read One Chapter in our Read Aloud.’

Checking them off felt like I was at least accomplishing something, and helped me feel encouraged to keep going and try to do something not on the list.

Slowly but surely, I started to feel encouraged, like life was doable again.

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Photo by Darron Birgenheier

You aren’t the only one, and it’s OK to ask for help

There is so much shame wrapped up in depression.

The nature of it makes me feel isolated, lonely, and somehow less than every other homeschooling mom I know.

Add to that, the fact that this is not something we often discuss as a culture, or as group of moms hanging out at the park while our kids play, and it can seem like no one else has ever homeschooled their children and actually had depression. And that is simply not true.

I am writing this because once I started sharing my own struggles, I learned more moms than I ever would’ve suspected have struggled with the same thing. More than that, I learned that we all feel like total failures when it comes to homeschooling our children while battling depression.

This does no one any good. Not me, not you, and not our children.

There is no shame in asking for help. It is brave.

It takes a ton of courage, and a momma’s heart committed to doing what is best for her children. It might mean asking friends to pray with you. It might mean seeking counseling. It might mean a trip to your doctor and a prescription. It might mean any combination of all of these.

Getting help cuts through the shame and feelings of being stuck. It gives you options and a plan. And it helps eliminate the feelings of just being so cut off from the rest of the functional world. Your children deserve that. So do you.

One of the reasons we homeschool is because we believe there is value in our boys learning about everyday life. Unfortunate as it may be, depression has been a part of our everyday life.

Who knows, maybe one day my son will better care for himself or his wife, because he witnessed my struggles this year.

I am encouraged by that thought, and this one: Homeschooling with depression is still homeschooling.

It might look different for a period of time, but there is so much to be learned about loving one another, picking up the slack, and working together to help a family member.

These lessons, more than any other in our academic curriculum, will last a lifetime.

Have you struggled with depression while homeschooling? What helped? What would you share with other parents dealing with depression?

This post is part of our Hardest Part of my Homeschool Year series.

About Shawna Wingert

Shawna Wingert is wife to a fun loving, makes her laugh all the time, stole her heart away husband. She is also momma to two uniquely challenged, wildly joyful little boys. She writes candidly about motherhood, special needs, and the beauty of everyday messes at Not the Former Things.

Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing your story. While I have not suffered from clinical depression, I did notice that we got “out of whack” this summer. We were not doing the fun things we usually do and not getting together with friends. It definitely took me acknowledging that something was off and accepting it in order to move on. I do think that one of the toughest parts of homeschooling can be the loneliness. We do not have to be lonely, but we can be. We(as in homeschool families) are not out in public daily unless we make the choice to be out and around people. Fantastic post!
    Sharon’s latest post: Neighbors

  2. Amen. I’m on prescription meds for depression and homeschooling a dozen children. It is hard when I can’t find the joy–sometimes I have to stop what I’m doing, find a hidey-hole and literally list my blessings until I can go on. Life is filled with joy! I just have to see and feel it in spite of the chemicals that tell me otherwise. Thanks for your honest, sweet post.
    Anne’s latest post: A Week, Briefly (#2)

  3. melanie lawn says:

    I really enjoyed your honesty, it was very ….. validating for me to know that I am not the only homeschool Mum who, despite feeling like the world is crushing my shoulders, still did not want to send my babies off on the school bus each day ( Oh the guilt of having them home watching their Mum mope about all day !). I have very recently come through a very low period that I managed to recognize as depression. Earlier this year we moved the whole family to the other side of the world, and despite that it is an English speaking country and I ( naively) thought it would similar to home, I might as well have landed on Mars ! First came Culture shock, then came the depression. Its the loneliest feeling in the world, and the closest I ever came to sending my already behind children back to school. I still feel like I don’t belong here, but I am getting through the days now without the long spells of just feeling sad and numb. It takes only very small things to knock me back though, so I know to be kind to myself because I am not there yet.

  4. I struggled for years without knowing that my issue was depression. The signs were all there, the family history etc. but it wasn’t until I completely broke down that I received help. I appreciate your writing about this and hopefully it will help someone before they get to that breaking point. Now, after years of counseling coupled with medication I am the me I want to be when I am home homeschooling my son. I still struggle with some aspects, but now know to reach out and not retreat when this happens. Your reaching out and talking about it helps lift the shame that circles around depression. Thanks for opening up the conversation.
    Ann’s latest post: Slow Progress

  5. I am right there with you. I’ve struggled with clinical depression and anxiety for 15 years (probably my entire life to be honest), on and off and on medicines. This is one of the reasons why I doubt myself in homeschooling my kids. But since I feel so strongly called to homeschool, I just do what I can to stay on top of it. I know there is a reason I need to be with them, and I think part of it is so that I can empathize with my children’s own struggles, and they will learn from mine. We need to talk about it more and not keep our hard times so taboo.

    • So well said, Rebecca! I can see glimpses of depression and anxiety in my youngest son already. It is my hope that being with him, side by side as we homeschool, will help set an example of how to cope with it – without shame and isolation.
      Thank you for your comment.
      Shawna@nottheformerthings’s latest post: Not The Former Things Top 5 Most Asked Questions (and their answers!)

    • It’s interesting you say that it’s possible you had it all your life. That is how I felt after I was put on anti anxiety meds. Once the meds took affect and I felt better for several days I turned to my husband and said, ‘I think I may have been a candidate for medication for a very long time.’ It’s strange how much I resisted the idea. It wasn’t until I felt better that I realized how I had been feeling wasn’t “normal.”

  6. I have had severe(ie hospitalization severe) PPD this past year and a half and have been doing a little homeschool preschool (really relaxed FIAR) with my older boy. It’s hard and sometimes I worry forward and think “if I can’t do this now how will I make through the harder homeschool years”. There is often too much TV, not as healthy of meals, and guilt. It’s so tough. But taking help and giving myself grace have been the biggest two things… It’s getting better!

  7. This is my tenth year homeschooling my three, both here and overseas, and I struggle with depression on a semi-regular basis. Thank you for your honesty. It helps to name it and to know that those of us with this bent are not alone.
    Hannah’s latest post: Another Direction

  8. Thank you for this! I have struggled with anxiety and depression in the past, and there has been a lot of pressure on me regarding homeschooling, especially since my daughter is 6 which means she is “supposed” to be doing “real school.” But I am also about to delivery our third child at the end of September and my rambunctious three year old is along for the ride. This has been a very hard pregnancy and there have definitely been long periods of time when I’ve felt depressed. My husband also suffers from depression, and while his is generally well managed by medication, between job and additional home stress, he’s having a hard time as well, though he won’t admit it. So I’m torn between taking care of myself and trying to care for him. Then there is the lack of understanding among family and friends whose first response is always “just put the kids in school.” as though that’s some kind of magic solution that will just make all the problems go away. Yes, my house would be quieter and maybe there would be less mess, but I’d still be dealing with the tantrums and the discipline issues, only it would be limited to the peripheries of the day, which are already the hardest. I’m encouraged to read about someone who is continuing to homeschool even though difficult life circumstances. It gives me hope that we will manage this next season.
    Bethany V.’s latest post: Reflections on my Final Weeks of Pregnancy: Five Minute Friday

  9. I could have almost written this exact post. Last year was our first year of homeschooling. My son’s were only pre-k and K so it didn’t seem like structures school. We just played an had fun everyday. They learned a thing or two along the way;) After my baby got older and, long story short, things started to change (hormones) I noticed that I was way more anxious and irritable. I yelled at my kids almost once a day. This wasn’t like me. I felt terrible about myself. I was tired. Too tired. I had been diagnosed with anxiety in the past and medication was helpful but I hadn’t taken it in over a year. I guessed I would have to go back on the medication but I just tried to get through without out it. I thought I could solve my issues through prayer, counseling, reading, writing, etc. I couldn’t. I needed more help. Once I got on the medication I felt back to my old self. I wasn’t super happy. I didn’t drop 50 pounds, run a marathon, re wallpaper my entire house or anything like that. I didn’t have THAT much energy. I just felt, well, less cranky. I felt “normal.” I started do more with the boys and started to LOVE having them with me all the time. All those months of feeling terrible and thinking they’d be “better off” in public school were gone…are gone. I doubted me. My husband doubted me in that he thought I would be “better” if the kids weren’t such a burden. My counselor pointed out that I seemed unhappy as a homeschool mom. At every turn I felt bad about my choice to homeschool. I let the doubt and fear take over. I gave in to the idea that I wasn’t good enough and that public school was “better.”

  10. This post is going to help so many— for those who do not suffer clinical depression, but still feel ‘down’ or ‘out of whack’- it could be acedia. Looking into acedia and identifying it is helping me fight it
    priest’s wife @byzcathwife’s latest post: random life lessons on my birthday- part 2

  11. Your first paragraph… it’s like you pulled it from my life. I’ve seen counsellors/therapists in the past, never been “clinically diagnosed” as depressed, but have gone through some rough things. Many people would call me “pessimistic” – even though I call it “realistic”! – and most of my battles are psychological.

    It is SO hard to get up most days… I hear my kids already arguing, and I know I have to get up, punch in my time card as it were, and get to work on breakfast and dishes and a host of other things. Nevermind managing to teach them what they need to know! Just taking care of them feels hard enough. I often joke with my husband that it’s a successful day if we’re all alive. 🙂

    I recently started seeing a therapist who basically said I needed to change my thinking patterns. I was discouraged, because I already knew this and it just seems impossible. I had to stop seeing her because of finances. Just yesterday I had a miscarriage, and I have no idea how I’m going to begin school next week and focus on what needs to be done; there are just layers of sadness and I have no idea how I’ll see it all through.

    Thanks for sharing your experience and acknowledging the fact that it happens, you don’t need to be ashamed, and we’re not alone.
    Karla’s latest post: A Neverland Baby Shower

  12. Thank you so much for your honesty. This really really touched me today. I am not depressed at the moment but I do suffer most winters with depression. This past winter was the worst and like your son, my son was the one to notice. My sweet boy said ‘Mummy I know you are trying to look happy on the outside but I know you are not happy on the inside’ This broke my heart and kickstarted me into action at the same time! I have made a plan for this winter. I have enlisted help in my home schooling for the first time (asking for help is not my strong point!) Whilst it is summer and im feeling good I’ve listed all the things that help me when I am depressed because when it hits I can’t think straight and I don’t know what helps. I have also been honest with friends and family about my depression for the first time because again when I’m in the thick of it I can’t bring myself to talk to anyone about it. The isolation and the guilt about the fact my boys see it all too is crushing. But you are so right in what you say about it being a part of our homeschool/family learning. Thank you thank you for making me realise I am not a rubbish homeschooler/mummy and making me realise I am not alone. 💜

  13. Thank you Shawna for your encouraging blog. I home school my 13 and 8 year old and find it really hard when I feel low and feel that I am “doing enough or it’s not good enough”. I am on the up, though have occasional drops which feel extra hard when you have been feeling good for a few weeks. Usually I just cry out “help” to Jesus and ask Him to give me what I need – take one step at a time and for Him to “fill in the gaps” where I struggle. Thank you – it’s nice to know that I am not alone.

  14. Thank you for this post! I’ve struggled with depression for 15+ years and questioned the calling to homeschool at first, wondering if I could really make this work. We’re starting our fourth year of homeschooling now and I’ve learned to build a lot of flexibility into our plans. Some days Mommy just needs to lie on the sofa and try to regain her strength, and that’s okay. We make up for it on other days. Sometimes homeschooling can be a challenge for achievement-oriented people like me as there is no daily pat on the back for accomplishing specific goals, but I do have an educational objectives list that I look at monthly so I can see our overall progress. That’s really important for my depression – to see positive progress and see the value of my work. I wish you all the best in your homeschool year! Don’t forget to rest, eat well, connect with God, and get outside whenever possible! <3

  15. I appreciate your article, and honesty about depression. It can be so debilitating, and I just wanted to tell you about some vitamins that we have found that have literally worked miracles in a few situations in my life. They are a non-profit company called True Hope, and their vitamins are excellent for mental health in many different areas. I have seen them completely make drug-induced schizophrenia disappear over night, as well as completely normalize bipolar depression. Although I know it won’t help everyone, it is definitely worth trying out. Wishing you all the best.

  16. Yes! I struggle with clinical major depressive disorder and generalised anxiety disorder and while I am medicated, it’s still an ongoing struggle that can sometimes affect my daily life. Having others talk about it too is so helpful. Thank you for sharing this!

  17. I have struggled with this. I do struggle with this. It comes and goes. What helps me the most is getting outside every day, and a lot of counselling. I also have tried medication but the most helpful has seemed to be counselling (cognitive behaviour therapy). It doesn’t stop the depressed and anxious thoughts from coming but it does make it so I can work through them in a manageable way. Doing the next thing is also important and helpful but I often have to literally FORCE myself to do just that. I wish I didn’t have to deal with this. But I do and wishing it away doesn’t help. Thank you for sharing.

  18. Been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt. What helped is not keeping it secret. Sharing that I’m struggling and asking trusted friends and sisters in Christ for prayer. Knowing I’m not bearing the burden alone, that I’m loved and cared for, not only by God, but by good friends, helped me just put one foot in front of the other. And hearing a little, blue fish telling me to “Just keep swimming”. I know. It’s dumb, but it did help.

  19. Thank you for sharing! Last year an acquaintance and I were helping a mutual friend with her wedding. One night when we met to discuss things, this acquaintance was the last to arrive and our friend asked her, “How are you?” The friend and I both expected the typical, vapid, meaningless, “fine.” But instead this acquaintance didn’t hesitate and said, “My depression has been pretty bad today but it’s better than yesterday and today I focused on eating enough healthy things.” It shocked me! It was awesome! To talk so honestly and openly about her struggles was so inspirational!
    Shirley’s latest post: Spouse and Family Support Guide, Ch 5 Working Out Our Own Salvation

  20. Jaime Scharf says:

    I appreciate this post as I’m sure many others do as well. I too have struggled with this and it is so hard to push through. It can be a mountain of effort to do the smallest and simplest of tasks. I think you have some great suggestions here. I also keep a blessing journal which helps refocus me, as well as typing out scripture that reminds me of the truth amidst the lies that reside in me.

  21. I can’t thank you enough for sharing this.

  22. I can relate to this, and I’m so encouraged to join the conversation that we usually don’t bring up like you said, “This is not something we really talk about, as moms or as homeschoolers. Both motherhood and homeschooling require us to be on our game, capable, responsible, productive.”
    For me, I didn’t realize I was depressed – all I could feel was pain. I finally went to my doctor with a list as long as my arm of all the painful things in my body. He read the list, sympathized and said, “to me, it seems like you’re depressed.” And that’s when I broke. Burst into tears, and finally received the help I didn’t even know how to ask for.
    I was depressed because I didn’t have any boundaries, I was saying yes to everything and doing nothing, and felt like a failure at everything.
    Since then, I’ve grown so much – just one little baby step at a time.
    Thank you so much for sharing your Hardest Part, Shawna. It’s such a comfort to know I am not alone.
    Cara@TheHomeLearner’s latest post: Day 24: Facing down my panic (the story of the desks). #B2S #31Days

  23. This is a great post!! One thing I have to remember when I go through bouts of depression is that homeschool doesn’t have to look perfect. It doesn’t have to be all 5 lessons of math or reading the entire book that week. As long as you get something done – no matter how little – you were successful! And it’s true that helping someone get through depression is a learning experience in itself. My 11 year old is so sympathetic and helpful because she’s had to be the strong one some days.

  24. Wow, thank you for sharing this post! I was struggling with depression this last winter and didn’t realize it. I had just gone through another miscarriage and couldn’t shake the blues. Finally at a play group, when most of the other moms had already left I asked a few friends what they did when they felt depressed. It helped me so much to see that other moms struggle and to realize that I actually was depressed! It took another month or two to finally get out of it, but I hope if it happens again I’ll remember how to deal with it. Thank you for sharing your experience!
    Katie Laws’s latest post: Homeschool in the Woods

  25. Thank you for writing this. It’s so good to read it and the comments. I don’t connect easily with other people, even other homeschoolers, and it’s good to know I’m not alone. I’ve dealt with some level of depression probably my whole life, and as a very sensitive person I react easily to things and need lots of self-care to keep an even keel. My elder child is wired like I am. It’s hard but I know that awareness of my “thorn in the flesh” keeps me more dependent on Jesus than I would be if I woke up happy and energetic every day! Blessings to you, sisters!

  26. I have been struggling with depression for about 9 years now. I’m on an antidepressant but the last two months have been horrible. I also have endometriosis and it has gotten worse in the last two months also…which is probably where the depression is coming from. I believe the hormonal changes are just wreaking havoc. Every day I have that overwhelming, hopeless feeling and I don’t want to get out of bed. I look at the chores and schoolwork that need to be done and I just want to run away and hide. I really appreciate you writing this…we need to know we’re not alone. I’m feeling better just from reading this. Thank you!!!

    • I have found that removing all sources of gluten has eliminated all pain from endometriosis as well as a whole host of other things, and after about 6 months gluten-free has also eliminated my major clinical depression slash rapid cycling bipolar slash pmdd. If i have even a speck it comes back with a vengeance. I had gone off to improve fasting glucose levels, and didnt expect such a transformation. Its worth a shot. Just be prepared for detox symptoms the first few weeks.

  27. Thank you for your posting. I am a homeschool mom with depression and high anxiety and OCD. I worried excessively for my children’s chronic health issues…. I am praying for you and your family. Barb

  28. I know this was written a while ago, but it gave me some much needed encouragement. I struggle with seasonal depression, and I know every year from January until the sun peeks out in March, I’m going to struggle. I struggle with motivation, focus, exhaustion, self-doubt, and impatience during three months of the year. Every year. Last week, I was so down, we didn’t do school. One day I barely got off the couch, and my sweet 6 year old son told my husband at dinner, “Mama just sat all day. She didn’t get dressed or anything.” He loves the Disney movie “Inside Out,” and with a knowing look in his eyes, my sweet husband said “Sadness was running headquarters for mama today. But it’s not always like that.” He immediately lit up and said “Ooooh! Sadness took over headquarters! I get it! Haha!” It touched my heart that he put it in a way my son could understand, and in doing so also gave me permission to sometimes have days like that and then just try again tomorrow.

  29. …this… I really needed. thank-you, so much…

  30. Thanks so much for sharing Shawna. As someone who goes up and down into depression periodically (and I feel like i’m going down again unfortunately) this was a timely read. I also believe that my children are more caring and empathic because of it-sometimes I ask them for help, and they are always so happy to give it. Right now my 12 year old daughter has appointed herself my yoga boot-camp instructor…………….my children are wonderful and they’ll always be what stops me sliding too far down.
    Thanks again.
    Kelly’s latest post: Travelling and Homeschooling in Australia-teach your own on the road

  31. I know this post is old but it really helped me. You’re not the only one

  32. Hi, Shawna. I am clinically depressed, homeschool, and mom to three. I’ve been dealing with my depression for about 12 years. I’ve been on a slew of different meds….some working others not so much. I switched doctors in 2016 and had been doing much better. A month ago I would of said I even felt human again….but the last two weeks I felt that feeling creeping on. We had a family situation and then one thing after the other! Haven’t schooled a real school day in two weeks. Even as I type this I just want to go back to bed. I think the most upsetting part is that I thought I wouldn’t go through this again. It’s so debilitating and I find myself questioning everything! I googled depression and homeschooling and pulled this up. I dont know how to pull out of it! I usually pull out within a few days but it’s lingering. I feel lost, defeated, and here I am with more time lost to school time. I feel for any parent that has to battle this dreaded illness! But I keep faithful that the Lord will carry me through this episode and the next one too. Blessings 🙂

  33. First year HS and getting very unmotivated. Not from the teaching, that is online, but being home together all day. It’s draining me, partly because of my parenting style and his personality.

    I always find being alone is the most peaceful state for me. As a single mother it seldom happens during the day. Being alone I’m more motivated to do things like cook, clean, create, work, but with my child around all day, I feel I can’t get stuck into anything, without being interrupted from my mental flow. Being interrupted just kills it for me. So I do things at night, but it’s not as satisfying. It is probably just my boundary setting isn’t clear enough to not disturb me and let my child know I like to get on with things and to know it’s not the time to ‘chat’.

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