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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.