To look at my little boy, well he isn’t so little anymore he is 13, but he will always be called my little boy by me, you would not know that he was being raised by a single Mum living with depression. He is a happy, mature, independent, committed, talented, smart, and friendly boy who is good at everything that he does – school, sport, hobbies, friendship – I don’t think there is anything that I can say he can not do or that there is anything in his life that is wrong or missing. I guess that says something about my parenting, as a single Mum, and my ability to parent even when I have been struggling for many years with severe depression.
As a single parent living with depression there have been a number of challenges that have had a profound impact on me as a parent but what has always stayed true is that as a single parent I was always forced to continue as a parent even though my depression was severe and the need to give up was a constant battle for me.
What has always been evident is that I was very good at looking after my little boy, but I was very bad at looking after me.
There is not a day that goes by since I have been a Mum that I have not felt guilty about being a Mum with depression. While I have raised a little boy successfully, and to be someone any parent would be proud of, with no problems or issues, it does not stop me from feeling guilty that he has not had the Mum he deserves to have because of my illness. When you are single parent you are forced to keep going, it is not like the other parent is there to pick up the pieces when you are too depressed to get out of bed, or to undertake daily tasks required by every parent, there is no choice you have to do it no matter how sick you are. Despite my ability to keep going through adversity, and times when I was extremely ill, I feel guilty that I was not there enough, that he saw me at my worst more than once, that he missed out on things because I was too ill to take him, that he was the one comforting me when I could not cope with depression. It does not matter who I have raised my little boy to be, nothing can take away my guilt that I was not the best parent I could be.
Then there were the times when after a suicide attempt, always on the weekend he was with his Dad, that I was in hospital, some of these occasions for weeks, and more recently months. Nothing can make up for this time that I have missed with my little boy because of my own actions and my illness. If it is not bad enough that I was too ill to look after myself, I had a little boy who did not have his Mum around to look after him.
To compound my guilt, I had my ex-husband, my little boys Dad making calls and texting that I should not have access to my little boy because I was an unfit Mother, and that he would have my little boy taken away from me because of my depression. My GP had assured me that unless I was a murderer or drug dealer there was little chance that my ex-husband would be able to legally get my son taken away from me, that did not make me feel any better. Overall, not being there for my son, because I was in hospital and too sick, was the hardest part of my life as a parent. You do not get over that.
Towards the end of 2012, and in early 2013 I went through months of electro convulsive therapy (ECT), not only was I in hospital for months for this to occur, as a result of the ECT I suffered retrograde amnesia. Losing nearly an entire year of memories, and some of the last three (3) years worth of memories, it was and continues to be difficult. Yes it was scary, confusing, and frustrating but the worst was not remembering that my little boy had visited me in hospital every second day, not remembering what happened on his birthday, and not remembering holidays, special occasions, and school events with him. These memories were wiped from my brain, as if they had never happened.
Before I even had my little boy I was always determined that I would never be the Mother that mine was to me. I would always be there to listen to his concerns, problems, and about his day, I would always be there to show him affection and say ‘I love you’, I would have a relationship with him that he always knew I was there for him no matter what and that he could come to me about anything no matter how big or small. I was committed to being this type of Mum and that I would never subject him to the emotional poverty that was so inherent in my own childhood. In this regard, I have never allowed depression to take this away from me. Yes there were times when I was in hospital that I was not there for him, but I have never allowed myself any other time not to be there, no matter how much depression affected me I would not allow it to affect my relationship with my little boy.
I often wonder what my little boy’s perception and opinion of me is as his Mum. If he was asked ‘what is your Mum like?’, what would he say? Would he say ‘she is the best Mum in the world’, or would he say ‘my Mum is always sad’, I hope it is the former. I would hate to think that the only memories my little boy will grow up of me is a depressed, sad Mum, or a Mum who spent a lot of time in hospital, I hope that his memories will be of us playing together, spending special occasions and events together.
Another element of my Mother’s guilt is that despite loving my little boy dearly, that he is the center of my world/universe, and I could not be me or live without him I have always struggled to enjoy being a Mum. I blame this solely on my depression. From the moment he was born to this very day, like day to day living for me, being a Mum has been a constant struggle, which I have rarely enjoyed. The thought of kick to kick, going to the park, playing, play dates, sport, and everything that goes with being a Mum has left little enjoyment with me, I have found it extremely hard to do, and I always found even the littlest of things exhausting. Despite this I always tried, I did not want my depression to mean that my little boy would go without because I could not do my bit. Even when he was a newborn with little support from my then husband I found every task of motherhood a struggle, impossible, exhausting, and this overshadowed my memories that having my little boy was a happy, enjoyable occasion for me. I have so much guilt and so many regrets that I was this type of Mum, and continue to be. I hated seeing Mum’s around me who weren’t like me, they were happy, loved every moment of being a Mum, everything was a pleasure and enjoyable, playing with their child was something they loved and looked forward too, and I admit I was so jealous that I could not be them. I had the perfect baby, little boy, yet I couldn’t enjoy him, everything was way too hard and so exhausting every damn day. I quiet frankly feel like a bad Mum because depression has taken from me my enjoyment of being a Mum.
Don’t get me wrong by reading this that you think I am a bad Mum, because that is far from the truth, this is how depression has affected me being a Mum, and to be honest, the affect has impacted me more than it has my little boy.