- My depression started when I almost failed out of college, and then it never went away.
- Two weeks after my wedding day, I became suicidal.
- As a parent, I wonder how my depression may affect my sons.
Content warning: This article mentions suicide.
My least favorite number is probably 5150. When used by the police and mental-health professionals, it’s code for being a danger to oneself.
I have been 5150’d twice. I’ve been depressed almost my entire adult life. Sometimes there’s a situational reason; sometimes not. I may go outside in the bright sun and see only gray. When feeding myself is too hard, I go hungry. And sometimes getting dressed seems insurmountable.
My diagnosis of
came when I almost failed out of college because of an undiagnosed learning disability, and I went home to get treatment. That summer, my father received a diagnosis of terminal lung cancer. It was two years later that I got married, and two weeks after that was the first time I became suicidal. Years later, depression is still with me.
Therapy and medication helped a little
I wasn’t going to kill myself, but the idea of going to sleep for a long time and waking up with all my problems gone was appealing. My depression wouldn’t let go of me, even as doctors switched doses and increased dosages. Therapy and medication helped, but my mental illness persisted, while I barely did.
After the birth of my sons in 2003 and 2006, I became even more depressed, having had to stop taking my medication during pregnancy. I couldn’t see the joy in these new lives or feel the rush of love that new moms talk about. There was no opening of my heart, but a closing down of my brain. I hired a nanny and a housekeeper so I could stay in bed.
When I had a miscarriage in the second trimester of a subsequent pregnancy, I stopped functioning for months. Sometimes I could fake it, but mostly I was under a thundercloud.
On the anniversary of my miscarriage, we’d planned to get out of town. But I was distracted and couldn’t bear to go.
I’d had therapy the prior day and confessed, dramatically, that I wanted to die.
When I told my husband I couldn’t go, he took the kids and went anyway. After hours alone and the relief of not having to go on the trip passed, I felt better.
My therapist called to check on me, but I didn’t answer the phone. So she called the police to do a 5150 check. Hearing my circumstances, they handcuffed me and put me in the back of a squad because until someone could come to get me.
I was taken away in front of my children
After my divorce, my ex-husband weaponized my depression, calling me “mentally unstable” and “crazy.” One day, I apparently wrote something alarming and cryptic on Facebook, which caused a friend to call the police, who took me away in an ambulance — this time in front of my young children — on a 5150.
Instead of going to the police station, I was taken against my will to a mental hospital. I had cracked under pressure from my depression and how my ex-husband treated me, and I had a breakdown.
It wasn’t until afterward that my boyfriend told me how bad it had been: I was sleeping all day. The dogs were defecating in the house. I wasn’t properly watching the kids when the nanny wasn’t there.
Now, five years later, things are different. I have medication that works, a regular therapist who understands me, and a life coach. I’m up and functioning most of the time. When I’m not, my boyfriend has my back. We both know what to expect, even though we don’t know how long my depression will last, whether days or weeks, despite all the stopgaps I’ve put in place. I’ve learned to power through and do what needs to be done, like caring for my sons and the house, even in the depths of it. Gone are the days of hiding under the covers. Not gone are the days of regret about how I used to be.
I wonder what effect my depression may have on my children. I wonder if they even noticed the things I did when they were little.
My younger son, who’s now a teenager, is extremely sensitive to my moods and facial expressions. If I take a nap, he’ll ask me if I’m sad. If I’m not smiling, he gets worried. He’s scared when I tell him I’m depressed or having a hard time. He cares, but he’s angry about it, too. I’m not like other moms.
I worry that my mental illness has affected not only me but also my children. Maybe they’ll only remember me being in bed, not engaging, making excuses for being sick. Or maybe they’ll remember long days at Legoland, Christmases, trips, volunteering in their classrooms, and the birthday parties I threw, too. I don’t know.
What I do know is that my biggest memories of parenting are the times I let my kids down because of depression.
The author has asked to remain anonymous to protect the privacy of her children.