I was already struggling as a parent before the pandemic turned the world upside down. Four years ago, I was diagnosed with clinical depression, anxiety, PTSD and agoraphobia. I’ve managed my responsibilities as a parent through therapy, medication, routine and alone time to decompress. In 2019, I felt like I was finally getting into the groove of managing my mental health. I was loving my time as a mother and wife, thriving as a writer and enjoying my days all-around.
Once the pandemic hit, the guard rails keeping my mental health in check fell. I lost my routine, my space and my support. My kids were with me full-time while I attempted to keep my writing career afloat and make sure we had enough food in the fridge and clean underwear every day.
My husband set up an office in the basement and was typically off-limits during the day while he worked virtually with his colleagues. I felt alone and isolated, and the darkness began creeping in. There was no safe space away from everyone else where I could reset and recharge, nowhere to turn when the constant motion inside of my home became too much for me.
I started to notice that social media was filled with parents who felt overwhelmed, just like me. None of us seemed to be managing well. Still, I wondered if these parents were really like struggling the way I was. Did their kids actually sit in front of the TV for the majority of the day because they couldn’t manage? Did they actually feed their children unbalanced meals, unable to bear the fight? Did they struggle to get out of bed every day, to go outside for a walk or to engage with their kids on any meaningful level, like I did?
Leela R. Magavi, M.D, a psychiatrist and Regional Medical Director at Community Psychiatry in Newport Beach, California, says that instances of depression have likely increased in mothers during COVID.
“During this pandemic, many women are experiencing burnout as they are completing all their previous tasks in addition to now teaching their children,” Dr. Magavi says. “The pandemic decreases mothers’ ability to follow a routine and socialize, which can directly affect emotional and physical wellness.”
She encourages mothers to safely socialize with others, which may mean connecting with others virtually or setting up phone calls with friends. She also says that women in partnerships should engage in open and honest dialogue about their needs. “Aligning parenting styles helps create reliable structure within the household,” she says.
Once I realized that this pandemic wasn’t going away, I knew that I couldn’t keep waiting in the in-between, willing myself to survive each day until we got back to our old lives. It hasn’t been easy, but slowly I’ve introduced a new sense of structure into our home. My husband is still busy, but in the morning I try to stick to a familiar routine with the kids that includes eating breakfast, getting dressed and preparing for the day — even if we don’t have plans for the day. I also go for at least one daily walk, and we get outside and play more with outdoor toys. I know for me, waking up my senses with nature is both soothing and comforting. Something as simple as picking up pretty fall leaves can lift my spirits, and making a craft together at home is a way to spend quality time. We try to limit screen time (not always successfully, but we do our best) and, when we do allow it, I try to find ways we can all enjoy it together, like watching a movie we haven’t seen before or playing a game together on the iPad.
Another helpful task I do each day is write a list of goals for my day, since I find checking off these goals helps me feel a sense of accomplishment. I also allow myself the space to retreat when I need to, be it through a warm bath in the middle of the day, or twenty minutes outside on the porch. I put my phone away in the evening and read a book to relax and unwind. I’m learning to respect my needs as a human being, and teaching my children to respect them, too. It’s been a challenge, but my kids are slowly starting to learn that sometimes I need my space. I know that getting them started on a simple activity, or sitting them down with a movie and a plate full of snacks will buy me some time on my own. I try not to use my phone as an escape during these moments, and really do something for myself that makes me feel recharged.
As someone with clinical depression, I know that sometimes you do everything right, and nothing changes the way you feel. Or, you simply can’t manage the effort to attempt these new things. Still, with the help of my family, I’m trying.
If you’re experiencing any symptoms of depression, seek the help of your family doctor or other mental health practitioners. Symptoms can include: feeling helpless, loss of interest in daily activities, sleeping more or less than usual, appetite or weight changes, loss of energy, just to name a few. You can also call the National Helpline of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which is a free, confidential, and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The number is 1-800-662-4357.
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