“Mommy, are you sick?” My oldest son asked me as we pulled into the CVS Pharmacy drive-through to pick up my prescriptions.
“No. I just need this medicine for all the time.” I explained.
He had asked me this before. I usually found a way to avoid giving the true answer: I have depression.
I know that depression is not my fault and that there is nothing wrong with needing medication. My antidepressants are a necessary drug for me to live a relatively “normal” life. Combined with regular therapy and overall physical wellness, these little pills help me feel like my real self and allow me to manage the struggles that I have.
Suddenly I realized that I should just be honest with my almost nine-year-old son.
“Well, sometimes parts of our body don’t work exactly right, and you need medication to help them do what they are supposed to do. Mommy’s brain has trouble working correctly. It’s hard for me to feel the right emotions at the right times. Sometimes when I want to feel happy, I feel sad. For no reason. It’s called depression. I take this medicine to help fix my brain so that I won’t feel sad all the time.”
He said, “Oh, ok. So, the medicine makes you happy?”
I explained, “Well, not exactly. It helps balance some chemicals in my brain. What it does is help me feel what I want to feel. Without it, there will be times when I want to feel happy and play with you guys, but I just can’t. My brain is forcing me to feel sad and think bad things. So when I take my medicine, I can be happy at happy times, but I am still sad during sad times.”
He asked, “What kind of bad things does your brain make you think?”
I paused, wondering if I should move forward with the conversation.
I finally said, “Well…things like ‘I am not a good mom,’ ‘The kids would be better off without me,’ and other things that I do not wantto think. My brain tries to lie to me, and I know those things aren’t true. I wantto be happy around you kids and be a good mom to you.”
“Well that makes sense on why you need the medicine.” he said matter-of-factly.
“Do you have any other questions?” I asked.
And that was the end of it.
It struck me how there was absolutely no judgementin his responses to what I told him. Admittedly, I had felt embarrassed just saying all these words out loud, but he just accepted the statements I gave him as fact. He seemed to immediately understand the concept that something was wrong with mommy, and I needed help to fix it. Full Stop.
There was no blaming me or citing of character flaws as the cause of my condition. He didn’t assign negativity or fear to the disease that I have: it just exists to him.
I was worried that telling my children about my struggles with depression would be a burden on them, which is why I avoided it for so long. I didn’t want them to worry about me or think about things that were too difficult for their age.
But to be honest, it was rather easy when I broke it down into simple terms.
Children are so amazingly smart, innocent, loving, and resilient. And I realized that I can frame my mental health struggles for him any way that I want, before the world tells him what to believe about it. Telling him about my depression was the best decision that I could have made.
It is empowering to me to know that Ican be the one to teach him that having depression is not a shameful thing. Ican help change the perceptions of mental health challenges by teaching my children from an early age that this is simply a part of my life, and that many other people deal with similar things as well.
We really need to give kids more credit on what they can handle. If we present things in an age-appropriate manner, teaching kids about the real world is a positive thing. We don’t need to be afraid of it. Our kids love us and will love us no matter what. Trust in that.
To access more mental health information and resources, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Kristen is currently a stay-at-home mom to three wild and crazy boys, ages 8, 6, and 3. Kristen loves to write about parenting, motherhood, and child safety. She is a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician and has a passion for contributing hands-on car seat education to her community. Kristen has a Bachelor’s degree in Marketing from Texas A&M and an M.B.A. from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. In her spare time she loves binging on Bravo shows while sipping a Diet Coke.