Grappling with the reality that your child or close family member battles invisible demons, day in and day out, is such a heavy and underrated load to bear.
People don’t often talk about the residual shame felt by the parents of children with depression. “Is it my fault? What could I have done differently? Was I not there for them enough?” We turn our pain inwards, examining everything we’ve ever done as parents for errors that could have created a young child with pain beyond their years.
Yet, the reality is that there may be very little you could have done that would have prevented this outcome. The CDC finds that rates of adolescent depression and anxiety are rising every year. In most cases, there is absolutely no benefit to your own self-hatred or self-blame.
It probably feels obvious to find a mental health professional for your child, but seeking help for yourself can make all the difference in the world for you, too. In fact, by getting yourself out of the cycles of self-blame and self-loathing, you can begin to deal with the all too common belief that being a highly-sensitive person is an inherently “bad thing.”
Highly-sensitive children see the world in a different way, and that is their superpower. Some say that highly-sensitive children take one look at the world we live in and dare to ask how so many people live their day-to-day lives pretending everything is all okay. They are not afraid to grapple with the reality of suffering, like so many of us are.
Depression, or any mental illness really, does not mean someone is weak, fragile, or lacking the grit to ignore life’s challenges. Basic tasks, though — like keeping a room clean or learning how to drive, not to mention graduating high school — can be especially challenging. But what about the strengths these children offer us?
Just as unspoken as the challenges of parenting a depressed child, are the special moments.
The “depressed” people in our lives are sometimes the most intuitive, with the richest inner lives. They are often perceptive, and deeply moved by beauty and joy. They possess unique forms of intelligence (and humor) the rest of us seem to lack. They often feel the emotions of others deeply and are highly empathetic, making them some of the most caring, thoughtful, and alert people.
The opposite of depressed is not joyful, just like the opposite of sensitive is not brave. Sensitive children are, potentially, even braver than most of us who raised them. They are not afraid to feel the horrors of life and the realities of suffering. They pay attention, they notice, and they let themselves know. They sit with their emotions and feel them, instead of running away from them.
In Glennon Doyle’s book Untamed, she talks about her daughter’s sensitivity as a superpower that will heal the world;
“In most cultures, folks like Tish are identified early, set apart as shamans, medicine people, poets, and clergy. They are considered eccentric but critical to the survival of the group because they are able to hear things others don’t hear and see things others don’t see and feel things others don’t feel. The culture depends on the sensitivity of a few, because nothing can be healed if it’s not sensed first.”
We are taught from a very young age to take our big emotions and tuck them away somewhere no one can see. We are conditioned to believe that vulnerability is a weakness, that sadness and empathy can be felt to a fault. While manifesting in different ways for young girls and boys, both have been trained to focus on what needs to be done, ignoring the emotional impulses of their intuition in favor of avoiding a public breakdown or doing homework. Just consider how many times, as caregivers, we tell children to stop crying.
For a few generations now, our goals for young people have included going to prestigious colleges, obtaining high-paying jobs, attaining achievements, striving for perfection. American society is built around rushing, around racing, around molding children into efficient workers, and you can’t work an office job or an assembly line if you’re crying about something. This has had a profound effect on who we are as parents: no one paid attention to our emotions, our sensitivities, our mental illness– and it can be hard to accept that we’re not living in that era anymore.
But alas, most parents want better for their kids than what they had themselves. Receiving a depression diagnosis for your child can be bone-crushingly, world-endingly painful. No one wants their child to suffer. No one wants their child to have to deal with the harsh realities of existence that we already know too well.
Getting through such a thing takes courage. Courage to feel. Courage to seek the mental health resources you need for yourself; to stop blaming yourself, to have someone to talk things through with, to reflect on your own life experiences, and how to be the best caregiver you can be. Properly invest time and energy into self-care to fill your own cup first. It isn’t easy, but you’ll be stronger for it.
Getting through this takes the courage to accept your child for who they are. This could mean accepting that depression and other mental illnesses are very real and serious battles. It could also mean simultaneously acknowledging, treasuring, and even celebrating the fact you get to spend time around a very special soul on this Earth.