Gillian Marchenko is serving as our guest blogger this Spring. Her new book, Still Life; A Memoir of Living Fully with Depression publishes in May and her work has appeared in numerous publications including Chicago Parent, Today’s Christian Woman, Literary Mama, Thriving Family, and MomSense Magazine. Her first book, Sun Shine Down, was published in 2013. She lives near St. Louis with her husband Sergei and their four daughters. Connect with her at her Facebook page.
I guess the short answer is they already know about it anyway.
My husband Sergei and I have four girls. I have depression. One of my most serious episodes occurred at the end of 2011 into 2012. At some point during that time, I basically gave up on life. It’s hard to admit as a mom and also as a Christian, but I stopped functioning. I found myself in and out of bed, sometimes up to weeks at a time for months. Unless there was something I absolutely had to do, I was locked away in my room, sleeping or watching television. Before then, my major depressive episodes occurred mostly around the birth of my kids. So the girls were younger. They didn’t notice as much, And I liked it that way.
But years ago, my children were eleven, ten, six, and five. The older girls knew something was up with mom. All of a sudden I wasn’t making lunches, picking them up from school, participating in family prayers, washing clothes, or kissing them goodnight at bedtime. Their mother was no longer there, although I spent the majority of my life those months in our house.
Since then, as I am able, my goal has been health. I call it ‘working the system.’ There are several things I do to help me stay in the safe zone and away from the waves of depression that still threaten (and sometimes succeed) to knock me down on a daily basis. I pray. I read scripture. I see a cognitive behavioral therapist. I take antidepressants. I am trying to open up more to friends, family, and my church community about my battle to fight the stigma that exists around mental illness.
I’m not healed. But I am healing. It is a day by day, ‘do the next thing’ struggle.
But depression is a family illness.
One of my daughters is often angry that she has a mom who fights depression. Another doesn’t talk about it much, but spends a lot more time alone in her room. The little girls show their emotions, too. One wants to always be in my face, like if we aren’t touching, I’ll disappear. The other tends to ignore me after a bout of depression. I have to work to get back into her good graces.
My husband and I have set some ground work around my depression for our kids.
- We tell our children when I am struggling.
Trust me, they can tell when I am having a bad day. But still, we say it out loud (and if I can’t verbalize it, my husband does it for me). I am a firm believer in words. If the spirit in our home is downtrodden and we don’t talk about it, then it becomes a bigger deal and scarier to our kids. If we talk about it, depression is no longer the elephant in the room. By naming it and talking about it (according to the girls’ ages and level of understanding), it isn’t me against my family, but us together moving toward health. It also teaches my kids to talk about their struggles, too.
- We protect our children from the wholeness of my depression.
We don’t tell them everything. Our job as parents is to protect them. There’s no need to go into the depth of my despair. They are not my confidants or my counselors. I’m the adult. I’m the mom. They should get to be the kids.
- Outside of a depressive episode, my kids can tell me how they feel.
One of my daughters is a verbal processor. She needs to talk about things. In order to help her, she can say anything about my depression when I am well enough to hear it. “I hate that you have depression! You don’t do enough as a mom! Why can’t you just get over it?” I let her tell me what she is thinking, and pray that I have the wherewithal to stand it, and also to grow from it. I commiserate with her. “I’m sorry that my illness is so hard for you. It isn’t fair. I am trying to get better.” I don’t know if this is right or wrong, but I know she feels a lot better being heard. Her mom cares. That’s huge to her.
- Life goes on when mom is struggling.
Yes, everyone has to pitch in more when I am not doing well. But we also want our kids to know that life goes on. My husband and I try to get them to all their school and social obligations. There’s still laughter in the house and prayer. Sergei makes a point to spend more time with them if I’m out of commission. I am trying to connect more with them as I am able. The children are learning (and re-learning and re-learning) that life isn’t perfect. People get sick. People struggle. But life goes on.
- And God is still good.
We believer in Jesus. He is the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:12). I want my kids to see that in the midst of trials, God is still good and he is in control (. It is work, I’m not going to lie, but I try to thank God for what he is teaching me through my depression in the presence of my children. I want them to see that I trust God. I want them to see that they can trust him.
- Having a plan regarding my kids helps.
Guilt and catastrophic thinking are two major components of depression. “They hate me. I’m the worst mom in the world.” These are thoughts I combat often. Knowing that we have a plan for our family helps. It helps me feel like a better mom because I am doing what I can, well, to be a better mom.
In Still Life, Gillian Marchenko continues her description of depression: “I must keep still. Otherwise I will plunge to my death. ‘Please God, take this away,’ I pray when I can.”
For Gillian, “dealing with depression” means learning to accept and treat it as a physical illness. In these pages she describes her journey through various therapies and medications to find a way to live with depression. She faces down the guilt of a wife and mother of four, two with special needs. How can she care for her family when she can’t even get out of bed? Her story is real and raw, not one of quick fixes. But hope remains as she discovers that living with depression is still life.
Still Life is available here for pre-order from IVP Press.