This is probably one of the most difficult posts I am ever going to write.
I have depression. And I have done for a very, very long time.
My daughter is now eight. Her entire life, she has been used to seeing me go through periods of over-the-top-happiness (often short lived), followed by periods of sullenness, tears and rage. She has made me laugh when I’m happy, hugged me when I’m sad and avoided me when I’m angry. And, particularly in the last year, she has become my strongest supporter.
This time last year, after one of the longest “happy periods” I can remember, my daughter became a big sister. When I was pregnant and for a short while after my son was born, I thought I had finally gotten rid of depression. So did my daughter. We were relaxed and enjoying what seemed like “normal” family life.
Then it hit us from nowhere. I say “us” because it’s not just about me or what I was feeling, it’s the effect that it had and continues to have on my daughter that worries me the most. She became someone that not only cared for her mother during dark periods, but her baby brother too.
My daughter keeps her brother occupied while I sit in the bathroom with the door locked for long periods of time. “Mummy’s on the toilet – she must be doing a really big poo!” I hear her say to him and giggle. We both know that I’m not.
She plays ‘peek-a-boo’ with him while I try to change his nappy, to stop him from rolling around and to stop me from getting frustrated.
She shuts the door when I’m in another room crying, or sometimes screaming. She comes to hug me when she hears that I’ve calmed down, telling me “I’ve put him to sleep. He loves having his head stroked!”
She is everything. But she shouldn’t need to be. She shouldn’t have this weight on her shoulders at eight years old. She shouldn’t have to go to school wondering how her mum will be when she gets home. She shouldn’t have her childhood clouded with memories of stress and responsibility. She shouldn’t need to worry that her baby brother will have the same experiences as her.
Something has to change. I haven’t figured out how to change it yet, but whatever it is, it starts now.