When I Asked My Son About Depression and Anxiety

My son is going to be twelve at the end of this year. He is so bright, albeit occasionally insensitive. He carries on conversations with adults with virtually no trouble. Often times, his knowledge base can exceed that of the adult with whom he is speaking, and I am told his teachers are impressed with him. But sometimes, he can hurt feelings. He can be a right little turkey, as I say. I’m sure it’s normal, but because of this I was understandably nervous to talk to him about the mental health problems I face.

What I take for granted, I suppose, is that he overhears my conversations on the phone and sometimes reads things over my shoulder as I write them. I can forget that I’ve spoken aloud about something to someone else while he’s been near, which is easy to do because he rarely looks like he’s paying attention to anything. He’s usually absorbed in his own activities, whatever they are, apparently lost in his own little world.

As far as I can recall, I haven’t directly spoken to him about depression or anxiety. I could be wrong, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover what he had to say on the subject when we had a little chat the other night.

What is depression?

-Thinking that nothing can get better and thinking that there’s no hope even if there is, a bit.

What do you think causes it?

-Other people.

What is anxiety?

-Fear. Knowing what’ll happen next but hoping it doesn’t happen.

What do you think about people with anxiety and depression?

-That they’re doing well because they’re trying hard and I think they’re getting through- just about.

Do you know that I have anxiety and depression?

-Yeah.

What do you think about that?

-I think you’re doing well, you’re working hard.

What do you think it would look like if I didn’t have these things?

-Without it you’d be happier, you might have a job.

What do you think people should know about anxiety and depression?

-That they should try to understand and give some respect because for ones that have it, their lives are harder.

Then, he said the most clever thing of the whole conversation. He gave a great analogy to help describe having depression and anxiety.

If you could describe depression and anxiety as a thing that might represent it, what would you say that is?

-It’s like a jar inside you, full of the anxiety and depression, and the jar is really hard to open. If you could just get the lid off the jar the anxiety and depression would get out and you could be happy, but the lid is stuck and you try really hard to get it off, but can’t do it alone.

I must add I have had a difficult week with my son. He is about to transition into secondary/high school, and routines at school are currently inconsistent as they practice for the school play and get things organised to end the year. It’s been a bit stressful for him, maybe, and in turn has been extra stressful for me. He hasn’t been listening, caring, or any of the desirable things I wish to see from him. But just when I was beginning to doubt the good in him, he comes out with this.

He does listen. He does care. And I should never discount that perhaps his knowledge of what I’m going through affects him, too. But in all, I’m so proud of him that his true understanding and compassion, one could say, is greater than that in many of the attitudes I’ve seen in a large number of adults. So instead of feeling guilty that I might be adversely affecting him, I think it’s safe to say his experience of seeing these illnesses in me has expanded his understanding and compassion for others.

I don’t think you’ll find bigotry toward anxiety or depression coming from my son anytime soon.

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I love my little turkey.

Not Broken, Just Prepared

Sometimes it’s hard to keep trudging through life when so many things have gone wrong. A lot of people don’t have this kind of life experience, but a lot of us do. Things happen and while there are so many who will look down on anyone for feeling ‘victimised,’ I think it’s important to call a spade a spade and say yes, I was victimised by this person or that event. It was not my fault. That way we don’t internalise it and feel like we’re bad people for ‘letting’ something happen (and if anyone tells you that unjustifiably, that’s insanity), or that we’re whiners for saying it was wrong.

Another difficulty is that the lasting effects of whatever trauma we’ve experienced can be so challenging we often feel ‘broken.’ We wonder why we can’t just enjoy things anymore, why we cry at television adverts, why we’re scared of things that other people find trivial, or why our load feels so much heavier than the next person’s.

My mom was struggling with some of these feelings after I became pregnant with my firstborn. (For those of you who haven’t read it, the back story is here.)

She and I were at a camp in Hungry Horse, Montana, for our traditional weekend away. We used to go every year if we could help it, it was the only thing you could call a “vacation” or “holiday” that we ever really took. It was a church-based retreat, and to this day, that campground remains my favourite place on Earth.

This particular summer, I had just turned fifteen, and, being pregnant with my firstborn, my mom and I both had a lot to process. The incident and the uncertainty of the future were weighing heavily on our minds. We were not wealthy by any means, and never owned new vehicles or anything like that. Choosing to keep my son was my immediate choice and I stuck by my guns, but it was not going to be easy. My mom was supportive of my choice, and was willing to help, but was no doubt under pressure about the situation.

One night at the camp, I was already deeply asleep in the cabin. Mom was in Teakettle lodge, the mess hall, playing board games with others until probably midnight when it was time to lock up. Most other campers were also asleep. There are no lights on the campground after a certain time, so with her flashlight lighting her path she made her way back to the cabin.

When she got to our door, she realised she had forgotten to bring a key. Up in the mountains, in the dark, no shelter, no blanket, and everyone fast asleep. She tried waking me up, but I sleep like a rock and I’m not sure an earthquake could wake me. Bears have been known to come wandering through the camp, the end of May is not summery enough to keep the ground from freezing overnight, and it rains there a lot. I’m pretty sure sleeping on the ground was not going to work out very well.

She didn’t know what to do.

We may not have had much but we did have an old Ford Explorer. Being old and second-hand, the door was broken and wouldn’t lock. Thankfully it was so beaten down no one would steal it, and on this night my mom was able to get into it and out of the cold, much to her relief.

As she reclined her seat to get comfortable, she was thinking about my situation and how sorry she felt for me and what I was going through. She had been praying about it, asking what to do about it all. It was, after all, a retreat where prayer was one of the main focuses. It was then she heard a voice from the back seat say, “It isn’t broken, it was prepared.” She turned to see where the voice came from, but there was no one there.

I realise that this will sound bonkers to many and immediately at the mention of “prayer” about half of you or more will roll your eyes. And that’s fine. I’m not pressing any beliefs onto anyone or indeed, reflecting any of my own. But I know my mom was really shaken by this experience in a good way, and it has had its impact on my life as well.

Sometimes when things really get on top of me, I think of this. Yes, I have been victimised in the past by many things. No, I will not be ashamed of that. I do feel like I was given an extraordinary load to carry, and I also feel it’s important to tell people about it, no matter how personal. I am a survivor, and a fighter. Yes, I have felt ‘broken’ so, so many times. But I choose to believe that for whatever reason I was not ‘broken,’ I was prepared.

I especially believe this because my son, despite the circumstances of his conception, is an awesome little (big) boy. He’s going to be twelve soon, which is really strange to think about. Throughout the years he has been an excellent motivation to keep being a better, stronger, more resilient person despite the many times it has been so incredibly difficult I have seriously wanted to quit.

In no way do I view his entering into my life a ‘breakage’ of anything. His existence has opened my eyes to many things and given me a perspective of the world that I would never shun. I don’t yet know what my purpose truly is, but I know it isn’t to sit still feeling broken and helpless.

Since the day my mom first told me this story, I’ve never looked at anything the same.


If you have a story of something being ‘broken’ but turning out to be ‘prepared,’ I’d love to hear it.

Feel free to comment below or blog it and link to this post to get my attention.

Dear Lucy (Letters from a Birth Mother)

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In 2008 I parted with the only daughter I ever had. No matter what anyone tells anyone, adoption is not easy. It is not easy for the birth parents, it is not easy for the adoptive parents (whom I refer to as “real” parents).

This is one of the things in my life I don’t talk about much. It weighs very heavy on my heart for so many reasons. The whole year of 2008 was fraught with so much pain, so maybe it’s that talking about it brings up all those feelings. But it’s probably also because, despite the real reasons why I chose adoption for my daughter, people will always jump to conclusions as soon as the words “adoption” or “birth mother” are mentioned.

It has been a source of ridicule as some nasty people have tried to use it as a weapon against me by twisting the situation, insinuating that I had her taken off me. I did not. While I would like to remain calm and know that these people are trying to get to me and I shouldn’t let them, and that they have no idea what they’re talking about, it has hurt in the past. I believe I am better at handling it now, but like the rest of the things spoken about in this blog, I know I am not alone in these things.

I have kept so many of these things to myself over the years, and what it’s done is destroy my soul… Board up the windows, lock the doors. No one gets it. No one will understand. I can’t trust anyone with the information. Therefore I must remain alone and keep the secret hidden.

No. This will not be the case any longer. Every one of these things I write about is helping to heal my broken heart. It’s shedding light and giving perspective to a lot of issues at which people like to stand from afar and point fingers without even trying to step into the shoes of the ones they are so quick to judge.

It is also helping to break the silence between myself and her real parents. It was agreed that it would be an open adoption, but I haven’t known how to do that. As stated in other posts on this blog, I suffer from anxiety which is like a running script in the back of my mind, over-analysing everything, all the time. I talk myself out of so many things before they begin. I’ve wanted to reach out for years, but haven’t wanted to step on any toes, haven’t wanted to interfere or cause any trouble.

But now, Lucy can read. I am a long way away, but she can see these letters. And with the blessing of her parents, I can share them with the readers of this blog, because I think it’s important to tackle this semi-taboo subject to attain more understanding for both birth parents and real parents, and the children in these situations.


Table of Contents

Dear Lucy 1

Dear Lucy 2

Dear Lucy 3

Dear Lucy 4

I Thought I Said “No”

It was a during a time when so many other things were going on. I had finally got skinny again. I was being bullied less. I had resolved to try out for cheerleading out of stubbornness and while the popular girls didn’t accept me onto the varsity team, I was good enough to be on the wrestling cheer squad. Though a bit of a consolation prize and clearly because I wasn’t ever going to be one of them, I was excited. Things were at least a little bit better than three weeks before.

While in the gym during the try-outs, laying on the floor stomach-down, I noticed something unusual. My breasts were sore. To me this meant my suspicion was correct; my life was going to change forever. No sweeping it under the rug.

I was not a person of many friends but I did have one whose birthday sleepover I went to the next day. I had been nervous all morning and afternoon because I didn’t know what to do about what was on my mind. I thought I said “no,” I kept saying to myself over and over again. By early evening I was in tears. I felt bad for interrupting Irenea’s birthday celebrations but as it was just us two in the room and she insisted, I confided in her.

I was supposed to take the bus home from the dentist. I didn’t have any money and didn’t know the bus schedule. The last few times I had taken the bus I had fallen asleep by accident and woke up five miles across town, as the bus pulled into the station for the night. I was fourteen. I didn’t like the feeling of walking home across town alone. I was too anxious to do that. I called the only person I knew with a car; His name was Justin.

Justin was sixteen. He thought he was some hot-shot. He drove a light blue Monte Carlo. A few nights before, he had driven me to the cliffs above town and played Prince’s song Purple Rain, telling me some story about his cousin’s funeral. He put the seats back and was trying to make a move on me. I kept saying I want you to take me home now. He finally did, huffing and puffing about it the whole time.

Things were so bad at home I wanted to be anywhere else but there. So this day when he picked me up from the dentist and said “Do you want to watch a movie at my house?” I agreed. I didn’t like his ultra-blond hair under his bandanna and his transparent eyebrows, his tendency to act like some black gangster with his Afroman rap tracks and his “naww” instead of “no.” He was a pretender. I loathed him the minute I saw him. But he was kind of nice to me. Hardly anyone was nice to me.

He drove me to Hastings and he picked out two movies to rent. Then he took me back to his parent’s house. It was a blue double-wide on Monad Road. He got the DVD player from downstairs and set it up in his bedroom. He put the movie on. As we watched the first few minutes on his bed, I felt so uncomfortable. If my home had been a normal home, maybe I would have seen being in his bedroom as a red flag. But I was used to sitting anywhere there was space and he said he didn’t want his parents to interrupt so I didn’t mind, until he started touching me.

Gathering all my courage, I told him I really don’t want to do this right now. He did stop, for five minutes. Then he tried again. I don’t want to do this. He paused again, but then on the third attempt I got scared. I froze up mentally, and I don’t remember anything except laying on my back, staring at a TV screen. Lights on, nobody home, unable to move until the credits started rolling. Suddenly back in ownership of my mind, something told me I was pregnant. It wasn’t just paranoia, it was like I knew in the full sense of the word. I looked down toward my legs suddenly and saw he was still there. I told him to get off me and ran to the bathroom. I was in shock. How did this happen?

He seemed pretty pleased with himself. I kept saying I was pregnant, and I just knew it. He kept telling me I wasn’t. I asked if he’d used a condom. He said no. I was enraged that not only did I say “no,” I mean, I thought I said “no,” but to top it off he didn’t even use any protection.

I didn’t want to tell anyone. I didn’t understand what had happened. Why did I go with him? How did it get that far? This was the person I’d heard had bragged about getting twelve-year-olds to perform sex acts on him. I really didn’t like him from the moment I saw him. But I panicked thinking of falling asleep on the bus and being alone walking through town at 9pm. How ironic that my avoidance of danger landed me in it all the same.

He drove me home where I kept silent and stunned for three weeks, trying to pretend it never happened. Until the birthday party. I think I’m pregnant but I said no, I told Irenea. I was hysterical. I thought I said “no,” I thought I said “no,” I implored.

She said we had to tell someone. I told her I was afraid to tell my mom, so we told the principal the next day. Then the police. If not for me, I thought, then for the twelve-year-old girls he’s been bragging about. Someone had to stop him. I had no idea how difficult telling the police was going to be as I had to describe in detail what exactly had happened and use technical, anatomical terms. I was fourteen and it was humiliating, sitting in front of this cop whose wife used to babysit me as a child, having to describe in those cold technical terms what exactly transpired and trying to remember how and at what point my pants were removed and why.

Over the years, I have tried to come to terms with this and have begun to understand what happened. I’d been abused as a child by a man parading as a Christian minister/do-gooder which set the foundation for the dissociative episode when Justin pressured me for the third time. I have often struggled with people telling me that isn’t rape, I didn’t fight back. I didn’t say “no” properly. I’ve heard I was making it up, I just didn’t want to get in trouble for being pregnant, I’m a liar.

But I never said yes. I never gave permission. I said “I really don’t want to do this right now” and “I don’t want to do this.” Neither of those come close to being a “yes.” He was notorious for this kind of behaviour. But no one wants to say that. They’re so busy slandering me for pressing charges and saying what a good man he was. They didn’t see what I saw in the short time I knew him.

He died in 2013 while running from cops during a routine traffic violation stop and was ejected from the car. He never did get his act together. He remained a delinquent until the day he died. Somehow in my mind it adds to the pain knowing that he never did change his ways, he never did redeem himself. As if somehow that would make it better.

I thought I said “no” but while I didn’t say exactly “no,” what I did say should have been clear enough.

It should have been enough.

The “Mental” Stigma

Last year I knew someone whom I have chosen not to know any longer. We’ll call him Travis. His friend came by quickly while we were chatting, reeling from a conversation where he claimed he had just been yelled at by a woman who had just told him she didn’t want to see him anymore.

“She’s got that depression thing, you know? She’s mental.” He said this with a wince on his face like he was talking about someone with leprosy, for example.

I looked at Travis and he looked at me. My look was saying “Don’t you dare laugh at me, I know what you’re thinking.” His look was saying to me “I really want to laugh at you right now but don’t want you to punch me in front of my mate.”

I listened to this friend of Travis, and inquired more about his predicament. She had four kids. She was dating him, but he wasn’t very supportive and now he doesn’t know what to do about her because he didn’t want to break up, but she’s got that depression thing. He was out of his element.

He carried on talking about that depression thing. “Those women are crazy, you know?”

At this point Travis did start snickering. Partly because he realised his friend was inevitably about to put his foot in his mouth, partly because he was taking the piss out of me (British term- told you I’d switch back and forth) hinting that I was also “mental.” Jerkface.

I gave him the “Seriously, don’t make me punch you.” look.

I then turned to Gary, Travis’s friend, and began to explain in the gentlest of terms that there are far more people who struggle with depression than he realises, and depression doesn’t mean the same as mental the way he’s saying it.

Upon further pressing, it was clear why she had broken up with him. He had absolutely no understanding of the condition and was talking about it in the most derogatory of ways. I could hardly believe my ears at what ignorance was coming out of this man’s face.

Being the person that I am, I don’t tend to sit back and say nothing when something’s going terribly wrong. In a room full of people where there’s been a request for a volunteer to do something, and no one wants to do it, I’m the one who will put my hand up and get it done. I hate wasting time, energy, and a good opportunity.

To Gary’s surprise, I told him that I, myself, have struggled with depression for quite a long time. I didn’t do anything to cause it, it just was. Would I like to get rid of it? Of course! Who would want to keep something like this? But a sure-fire way of alienating and angering the person who has it is to make them feel like they’re icky because they happen to suffer from it. In the end I told him that after their most recent conversation, it would be best to back off and let her welcome him back on her terms if that’s what she wants to do. At best he could say, “I just want you to know I’m here for you” and BE THERE if she needs him, without judging, or giggling, or cringing.

To be quite frank, it’s not cool to call people mental if they have depression and/or anxiety. It’s also not cool to laugh about them because of it. There is a huge stigma surrounding mental health issues that needs to end. For someone with depression who is already feeling horrible, to see other people joking and laughing about someone else who has this is extremely hurtful. It can cause them to withdraw further and become more afraid to live their lives.

For a person who has never thought about harming themselves, or known what depression or anxiety truly is, I understand that the vantage point they’d own is not one conducive to understanding what it’s like. And that’s okay. It’s okay to not be able to understand. What’s not okay is condemning/ridiculing what you don’t understand. I’d like to think that we’re all generally headed towards getting this concept as a society, but clearly there are plenty of people who aren’t there yet.

As I’ve described in this open letter, our co-humans with adverse mental health conditions just want a little bit of understanding. Less singling-out. Less icky faces when talking about us. Less ignorance. Less stigma.

Please?