Almost exactly a year ago, I started seeing a therapist. I was in a place where I felt utterly alone, isolated, sad, angry at times, and frustrated. I wanted to spend my day curled up in my closet crying. Telling anyone how I felt seemed impossible because as a stay-at-home mom (SAHM), I’m supposed to be happy…at least that’s what I told myself. I was depressed and didn’t know what to do.
These feelings weren’t new. I had been making excuses for why I felt the way I felt. I’m just tired, I’d say. Or we had a new baby in the house, so I was adjusting to that routine. Or I was pregnant, so the hormones were making me emotionally crazy. Or it was just a bad day. Or…it went on and on. I’m someone who journals on-and-off, and when I looked back through my writings, I noticed feeling some level of depressed for about two and a half years. Time to get some help.
As most of us do when we want advice, I turned to the Almighty Google Search. I didn’t know what depression looked like, but once I started reading about it, I knew that’s what was going on in my head.
I felt like I should be able to fix this. I’m a smart, strong, capable woman who has been able to do anything I set out to do. Why in the world would I be sad when I get to stay at home with my kids? I don’t have the mental weight of being the wage earner. I have awesome kids without any major learning challenges or physical hinderances. I get to determine the schedule of my day, to a large degree. Why wouldn’t I be going through life happy as a clam?
Turns out, I’m not alone. I started searching for stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) depression and found loads of articles like this one about why so many moms are quietly depressed at home. Lots of people suffer from depression and I don’t want to ignore any of their situations with this post. But it’s Mental Health Awareness Month, and I’m talking today about SAHM depression and how it affected me.
As a SAHM who homeschools their kids, it was easy for me to self-isolate. It was easy for me to go days without really talking to another adult besides my husband. At drop off for kid’s activities, I’d just stay in the car because I hadn’t showered, or was telling myself loads of negative self-talk and didn’t have the courage to say hello to anyone.
At home, I’d make up stories about the moms walking down the sidewalk with their strollers or dogs. I’d long to be them, with a carefree day able to roam around outdoors. I felt like I was locked up inside my house unable to leave.
My identity was lost during this time. I wasn’t sure who I was, other than an unpaid nanny, housekeeper, and chef. I told myself that anyone could do my job…that I didn’t really matter.
The only people I spent my days with (my children) were largely ungrateful, demanding, and exceptionally moody. I spent my days bending to their needs and wants, instead of directing our days and bending their moods back to where they should be.
My self-care had plummeted. I wasn’t reading, exercising regularly, or spending time doing things I enjoy. I was exhausted, even though I was sleeping more than usual. When I would see others, I’d put on a smile and act like everything was great because I was embarrassed. Women who get to be home with their kids all day without the pressure of making a living shouldn’t be sad or lonely…this was the refrain in my head.
I continually told myself something was “wrong with me.”
The Way Out
I never took medication to help with my depression. But I did start seeing a therapist every Thursday. Her name is Lisa and she is wonderful. She helped me talk about what was going on, helped me prepare a plan of attack to get out of the ditch I had made for myself, and helped me change my way of doing things that had gotten me there in the first place.
Being a SAHM doesn’t cause depression, I did that all on my own. I was not running my life, I was coasting through it, being kicked around by the whims of my children. I needed to start thinking about what I wanted my life to look like and how to make that happen each day.
Lisa didn’t “fix” me, but she did give me the tools to navigate trouble spots that led me to the depression I was in. There are days when I feel myself sliding back into old habits, especially during this pandemic when we’re so isolated from seeing people. We were created to be social beings and it’s hard when you can’t be socializing.
After years of being depressed and then a year of climbing out of the hole I was in, I’ve learned a few things about myself and how to keep it from happening again. Here are some takeaways, in no particular order:
- Regular sleep matters more than you think – same time to bed, same time to wake up
- Nurturing your mind is critical – read a book, news, a magazine that teaches something new
- Have a hobby – this needs to be something you can do for a short period of time that doesn’t require a babysitter. Maybe it’s knitting, or puzzle making, playing sudoku, maybe running or gardening suits your fancy. Spend a few minutes each day doing something that has nothing to do with your kids.
- Feel good about your appearance – even if you’re home all the time, it matters what you put on and see in the mirror. Brush your hair, wear earrings, wear those cute shoes you have, whatever makes you feel pretty when you catch a glance of yourself.
- Check your diet – evaluate your food and see what you’re eating. Did you know that eating a lot of food with soy protein could make you sluggish or overly emotional? There’s a lot more to food labels than most people think. Check the vitamins you’re taking, the amount of vegetables in your diet, and your lean protein intake. What we put in our mouths is a major factor for good mental health.
- Get outside – on my darkest days, I just wanted to sit in the closet and cry. Something that always helped was getting outside. Even just sitting on the porch breathing fresh air helped clear my head and let me fight through the day.
- Write it all down – it’s easy for thoughts to get jumbled in our heads. Writing it all out helped clear the cobwebs, let me sort through what I was thinking, and determine what was true and what was junk.
Being a SAHM is an extremely difficult job. For SAHMs like me who are in the trenches day-to-day at home with their kids, who want to be there and nurture these little humans into responsible, capable adults…it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It takes everything out of me that I have to give.
All moms are valuable in their kid’s lives. As a SAHM, I’m the primary role model for my children. I spent countless hours modeling for them what an adult, a friend, a parent, a spouse, a teacher, and a woman should look like. As a culture, I think we often times minimize the role of a stay-at-home parent. When I was going through all of this depression, a friend of mine pulled me aside and tried to talk me out of staying home with my kids. Their argument was that I was too capable to “just be at home.” Raising these kids to be the future generation is the most important thing I can spend my time doing at this phase of my life, I told her.
In order to enjoy my kids and be able to do my “job” well, I need to be taking care of myself first – daily – or I tend to become resentful and angry. And nobody wants to be around that mom, including me.
Like I often say, the intersection of motherhood and life is messy and we need all the help we can get. If you’re in a spot like I was (and still am sometimes, if I’m totally honest), please get help. If you don’t know where to go, talk to someone you trust about how you are feeling. You are not alone.