Explaining My Depression to My Teenage Daughter

photo credit - Ed Selby

{photo credit: Ed Selby. click for original photo.}

As we sat down for dinner tonight, I guess my exhaustion was clear. My 13yo daughter, who has a compassionate spirit, asked if I was ok.

After I said yes, she said, “Is there anything you would change about our lifestyle? Like, would you have had fewer children or would you not work so much?” She explained that she thought she would like to have a large family, too, and find fulfilling work, but wanted to know if it was something I would recommend or something I would change if I could.

Of course I wouldn’t change it, and I told her so.

I also confessed that it probably wouldn’t matter what our lifestyle was like. I might still be similarly troubled and tired at the end of the day.

“That’s just how depression is, I guess,” I told her.

“You have depression?” she asked. She looked both sad and horrified. How ironic, I thought. One of the things mothers with depression worry about is that they’re going to mess up their kids. And here my daughter didn’t even know that depression is something I’ve battled since before she was born. I thought I had always been very open about it, but somehow this daughter had missed it.

Either that, or she was just accepting me as I was, the only mother she’s known in the only condition she’s ever known me.

“What makes you so sad?” she asked. It almost makes me cry to think of why she asked. I know it was because she was trying to see how she could help.

“It’s not about what makes me sad. It’s just how my brain functions. There doesn’t even need to be anything sad happening, but sometimes I’ll still feel that way.”

She still seemed confused about it, so I tried what I thought was a fitting analogy:

“Imagine a woman is born with a limp. Something about the way her leg formed is different from most other people. And say she lives in lot of different places during her life. When she lives on a flat street, it still takes her longer than everyone else to get to where she’s going, but she can get there without any more obstacles than her limp. But say she moves to someplace that is very hilly. Now it still takes her longer to get to where she’s going, but she probably needs to stop more often, too. She’s probably more tired, maybe even gets a little more frustrated. My depression is like a limp. When life is relatively smooth, I can move along – maybe in a different way than a lot of people – but I do it my way. Then when life gets a little more bumpy (like it is NOW, being on my own during the week, going through *so* many life transitions), it takes even more effort, and it wears on me more. My mental “limp” is aggravated and things are harder than they were before. But flat or hilly, I have a limp. A mental limp. It’s not about happy or sad. It just is.”

My daughter thought on this for a few minutes and seemed to understand. It was a powerful moment between the two of us.

What about you? How would you explain depression to your child?