Author Topic: How do you talk about your mental health difficulties with your children?  (Read 1918 times)

shelivesthedream

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Life is hard for me right now. I'm 12 weeks pregnant, it's a constant physical struggle, and there's not much hope of me getting significantly better before I give birth. I have a 1yo and a 3yo and I am drowning.

I've struggled with depression and anxiety in bouts throughout my entire life. I first remember an episode when I was about six. I don't know how to talk to my kids about it - either now or in the future. "I'm sad today," is the best I can manage to the 3yo. "I don't know why."

I don't want to hide this from them forever. (Right now I hide in my bedroom during naptime to cry. I know I need to call my midwife. I just haven't been able to get over the hump of how hard it seems yet.) I want them to know this about me as they grow up, in the hope that it will help them one day if they end up suffering too. I hope that by the time they're old enough to hear anything real about it, it will be about how I sometimes used to feel. But I don't want to traumatise them or burden them or worry them.

Do you talk to your kids about your depression/anxiety/similar? Or don't you? How? Why?

PoutineLover

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I'm really sorry that you are going through this right now, I hope you can get the help you need. As hard as it seems, it'll probably help to talk about it. I'm not a parent yet, but I can share my perspective from a child's point of view.

My mom went through a mental health crisis when my sister and I were young (7 and 11 I think, so a little older than your kids). We were aware that something was wrong from the way she was behaving, and that she had to go to the hospital for a while to get better. She was open with us about what was going on and we were aware that she had to take medication after that. I remember being worried about her, but it made sense to me at the time and it wasn't that different from going to the hospital for a physical issue.

We've talked about it over time and when I was older she said she was worried that it had a big impact on us, but we didn't feel traumatized or burdened by it. We were glad that she was able to get treatment and when she had another episode when I was a young adult, I was able to help. There were obviously a lot of complex feelings, but having it out in the open was much better so we could understand what was happening.

I think at a very young age it's okay to just tell your kids that people feel very sad sometimes and not go into a huge amount of detail. You can talk about ways to feel better and let them know it has nothing to do with them. As they get older it's good to share more and let them know what's going on in an age-appropriate way. It'll help them recognize if they struggle too, and it might be easier for you to cope if you don't feel the added pressure to hide it. Wishing you all the best, it's not easy but you don't have to do it alone and kids are stronger and more resilient than we give them credit for.

goat_music_generator

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An acquaintance of mine recommended this book about it: "Out of the Darkened Room: When a Parent is Depressed: Protecting the Children and Strengthening the Family":
> By far the most valuable part of this book for me was the stories about children of depressed parents. Most people who mention that their parents were depressed are people who are fucked up about it. If your dad was depressed for most of your childhood and youíre fine, you donít generally bring up your dadís depression very often. But if you were traumatized by it, it comes up a lot. So itís really easy for depressed people (me) to conclude that depressed people are universally shitty parents who fuck up their kids. And it was really comforting for me to read pages and pages of stories about mentally ill parents whose children were fine. In spite of having a parent who attempted suicide, had manic episodes, or lay in bed all day crying, the kids were happy, got good grades, had friendships, got into good colleges, and generally had perfectly reasonable childhoods.

I haven't read it yet, mostly because I'm not pregnant yet. But you may want to check it out.

TheFrenchCat

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I'm severely clinically depressed along with anxiety and other symptoms and I have a 5 year old daughter.  I try my best, but there's no way I could possibly pretend all the time.  And nap time doesn't last forever, of course.  We've told her that sometimes people's brains get sick just like their bodies do, since your brain is a part of your body.  We also tell her that brains getting sick can make you feel sad, even without a reason.  I think we started telling her that around three years old, and once I started needed more treatments that she needed to come to the waiting room with us for, we just told her the doctor was giving me a treatment to make my brain feel better.  She does get concerned still if I start crying but she doesn't seem scared and she's a very happy child in general.  We want to do whatever we can to make her feel comfortable with emotions, both hers and other people's, and we hope if she has problems ever that knowing my history will help her come to us. 

I'm so sorry you're going through this, but as long as you're talking to your kids in an age appropriate way, I don't think you should worry about it hurting them.  Calling your midwife sounds like a great idea.  Something I've done when I'm struggling to contact someone is to ask my husband to make the call for me.  It feels silly to me, but it gets the job done.  Also, are you in therapy?  Your therapist has probably encountered this situation before and probably could help you work out what you want to tell your kids. 

Also, when I was pregnant, I went cold turkey off all of my meds and refused any treatment apart from therapy, and, to put it mildly, it was horrific.  I wish I hadn't done that and I don't know what you're doing now or willing to consider, but there are options of meds and treatments for pregnant women.  I hope I'm not being pushy with that, but I especially hate to see someone suffer like that. 

shelivesthedream

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Thanks, guys. I'll check out that book when I can summon up the energy :)

I left the house today, and while it was tiring and took me nearly an hour to walk to the end of the road and post a parcel, it calmed me down a bit. I was slow, yes, but I managed it without feeling sick or dizzy because I paced myself well.

@TheFrenchCat You're not being pushy at all. I don't have a great history with medication - side effects at a level where it was a genuine question whether the cure was worse than the disease. I've been doing really well for two years (after PPD/PPA with firstborn, treated with therapy alone - no MH troubles at all with second baby) but it turns out that being chronically ill, even if it's temporary (I expect birth to fully cure me!) is... really depressing.

I'm going to try to make the call tomorrow. It's just going to be leaving a message to ask her to call me back. But the thought of all the work that will cause on my part is exhausting: having to have my phone with me and on loud, having to then talk to her, probably having to go to an in-person appointment at some point, having to make decisions... It's enough to make me want to sleep for a week!

And I find "getting onto the MH pathway" a PITA because it's so hard to get off again. Everyone for the rest of eternity asks how you're doing and if you need anything else. The team I'm with are great and have been willing to trust me when I say I am quite self-aware about when I'm not OK and will seek help if I need to, which has been a relief not to feel badgered/interrogated so far. But I know Making The Phone Call will change that.

ender

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I am really sorry you are dealing with this.

I have wondered the same thing and... have no real answers, other than sympathy and empathy for you (and hope someone comes along with some awesome advice).

chemistk

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Without trying to paint a narrative that I don't (and won't) ever know truly the full depth and breadth of, my wife has struggled with PPD & Anxiety for the last almost 7 years (oldest is 6 and anxiety started up midway through her pregnancy with him).

We haven't ever brought it up directly with them, at least not specifically with our oldest (the younger two really aren't at a point where we could articulate anything meaningful to them).

My wife is very good at keeping it all in, especially when she's alone with the kids, but there have been a number of periodic anxiety attacks and wild mood swings. I can think of, perhaps, one sole event that the kids would have dwelled on last year but to them I think it just appears as though we're both arguing about something.

Otherwise, if/when an anxiety episode does occur I usually try and help my wife remove herself from the situation and we both try our best to let them know that she is sad, tired, or just needs some alone time. Otherwise they never ask about it, and there aren't really any troublesome behaviors from them that would suggest they've subconsciously internalized any anxiety events.

I can't say whether our approach is the right approach - most of the time, it's done on the fly (as is often the case, these events can precipitate out of what seems like thin air). But, what I try very hard to do is be supportive of my wife whenever she's feeling down or overwhelmed and to take the kids' attention away from my wife (but not in a way that sweeps it under the rug, rather to let them know that everything's okay and that Mommy will be back shortly).

One thing I now realize we do (as I type this) is that we never pretend that she's going to be 'better' after she takes whatever space she needs. I think that helps set their expectations that something like this can happen and that its occurrence is not atypical.

On the meds front - she has had prescriptions from two antidepressants (although I can't recall which) and both were a mixed bag. They prevented the anxiety and the really negative thoughts, but one (as she says) made her feel numb to the world and fairly neutral to everything and the other puts her on edge and makes her generally more irritable.

----

FWIW, these last few months have been much better, for a number of life changes that have been good for her and her outlook on things.

EricEng

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Life is hard for me right now. I'm 12 weeks pregnant, it's a constant physical struggle, and there's not much hope of me getting significantly better before I give birth. I have a 1yo and a 3yo and I am drowning.
This is tough even without a history of depression and anxiety.  We had 3 in a little tighter spacing than you.  A few months of 3 kids under 3 was madness. 

Anyway, my wife hit some pretty hard lows during pregnancy and after (see below).  The best decision she made after talking to sister in law (on kid 4), her mother, and me was to go to her midwife who prescribed her a hormone pill (name escapes me, common) to help level out her emotions.  She hated the idea of pill, but it worked for all three of them while they got through those early rough patches.  Your solution will vary, but we went through a very similar circumstance and that worked miracles for us.

She had hit lows of self hurting just to try to find something she still cared about.  She was so low nothing mattered to her, not even the lives of her children.  Do something before you hit that bottom.  As for your actual question, we don't talk to our kids about it at this age because it is beyond their understanding.
« Last Edit: May 13, 2021, 01:26:17 PM by EricEng »

Malcat

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Do you have a good counsellor? Can they give you guidance or refer you to a child specialist who can help you broach this in the healthiest way possible?

shelivesthedream

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Made the call and left a message this morning. Hope to hear back today or Monday.

I'm not currently in touch with any MH professionals because I've been fine for two years, and for several years before that episode too. The antenatal clinic has a full team which I can be referred to and assessed by, though.

former player

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I'm sorry you are having such a difficult time.

Are you able to talk to DH about this?  It was very heartening to read TheFrenchCat's experience of her DH being able to help her get over some of the barriers to managing the help she needed.  I can totally sympathise with the notion that it's hard work getting help when you are not well.

Malcat

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Made the call and left a message this morning. Hope to hear back today or Monday.

I'm not currently in touch with any MH professionals because I've been fine for two years, and for several years before that episode too. The antenatal clinic has a full team which I can be referred to and assessed by, though.

I'm glad you are reaching out for help. If you are prone to mental health episodes, even if you are fine most of the time, it's a good idea to sustain maintenance therapy with a trusted therapist ongoing.

That way you're not starting from scratch with someone in the middle of being in a crisis. You already have support, they already know your history, and what's even better, is that you can act a lot faster and sometimes stave off a crisis before it gets overwhelming.


shelivesthedream

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@former player Mr SLTD is operating at 110% of capacity until after his exam on Wednesday. He is already doing 99% of chores (I just started putting laundry in drawers if he brings it upstairs) and maybe 75% of childcare (a few weeks ago it was 100%), and has recently handed in coursework and has an exam on Wednesday. He knows I'm struggling, but he's not really able to take on anything else until the end of next week.

@Malcat That's an interesting idea. I don't know if that would be possible without going private. (UK, so NHS) I've also been lucky to be able to see several specialists over the years whose experience in a particular area has been helpful. (E.g. birth trauma psychologist) I think in the UK, people can often have that kind of relationship with their GP for ongoing up and down mental health issues, but we keep moving house every few years.

I'm really genuinely turning that idea over to see if it would be possible for me. It is something that appeals, but we have a different healthcare landscape so I think it would look different. We don't tend to have "our" healthcare professionals except our GP. I don't have "my" gynaecologist or "my" paediatrician. All specialist referrals would flow through the GP as and when required. So I've never had "my" therapist in that sense - I've had a series of sessions with someone I've been referred to until I got better enough to stop.

I've become a better patient over time, though. I know what helps and what doesn't. For example, I prefer "Let's talk about your childhood" to CBT, so I can ask for that and get to the point quicker.

I'm sorry this has got so off topic. My 3yo Awdry told me at bedtime today that he heard me crying at naptime but stayed in his room and played and did not come out. He was cheerfully pleased with himself for following instructions and did not seem remotely traumatised. I told him that I was sad so I had a bit of a cry and then felt a bit better. We're trying to stop him putting on histrionics at the moment and it often comes out as, "Stop crying!" I'm trying to come up with a better version that's still intelligible to a 3yo who has just looked you in the eye and calculatedly upped the volume of his "distress" and really needs to knock it off and use his ample vocabulary to tell us WTF is the matter. My grandiose dreams about teaching my children how to value their emotions are dust.

Malcat

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Yeah, I'm in Canada, so I paid for a private psychologist for years. Even as a broke student, I still did maintenance care. My current official psychological evaluation is "remarkably mentally healthy and thriving" and yet I still see my psychologist at least once every few months. The way I stay healthy is by keeping up with my psychological care.


former player

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Oh my you have got it all going on just at the moment.

I know money is tight but if you do have a bit of spare cash and spending it on something would help you all get through the next few days I'd go for it.  Call on friends and family too if you can.  And of course use your journal here as much as helps.  Best wishes for the next few days.

shelivesthedream

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Replies on the original topic still very much welcome, but I am diverting to my journal for wailing and gnashing of teeth over my current personal situation: https://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/journals/young-uk-little-money-lots-of-dreams/msg2842525/#msg2842525

Moonwaves

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Disclaimer: I am not a parent, nor do I play one on television

I know of a couple of mindfulness books aimed at young children written by an Irish guy called Niall Breslin and I'm sure he's not the only one who has written that kind of thing. They got good reviews and he also got involved in helping develop emotional resilience classes for primary school kids as well, IIRC. My sister's now 3-year-old started learning about the different emotions last year in creche (goes a couple of days a week). I think they were shown pictures of faces and learned the words to describe the feeling - happy is a smiling face, sad is an upside-down-smile, and that kind of thing. It was very cute because we on a video call and I was showing them something on my balcony when suddenly he piped up that the flowers were sad (the flowers were extremely droopy because I hadn't watered them in quite a long time). It struck me as a really good idea to give kids the vocabulary to be able to articulate what they're feeling. That's exactly what happened in my very first therapy session ever, age 28-ish, when the counsellor handed me a similar printout of faces/emotions and asked me to name the three emotions I was mainly feeling that week. It was hard.

It was so good of Awdry to be able to let you have the time you needed. I'm really impressed, that's some great parenting to get him there.

Chris Pascale

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Re: How do you talk about your mental health difficulties with your children?
« Reply #17 on: October 31, 2021, 09:05:58 PM »
"I'm sad today," is the best I can manage to the 3yo. "I don't know why."



You've nailed it. This is very age appropriate, and it allows them to sympathize.

I've shared some things with my kids, and so has my wife, but not the depth of despair we have felt at times.

You matter to a lot of people, and I hope you know that.