Childhood Depression and Anxiety – Avoid Feeding the Monster

Having grown up with depression and anxiety challenges as a child, I constantly watch my kids for the signs I once showed. Do they like to stay in bed all day? Are their moods reflective of the bipolar disorder that once consumed me? Do their emotions soar to elation only to come crashing back down to utter blackness in an instant (beyond normal hormonal kid madness)? Do they grow so dark that I cannot see their light shining through? Do they become excessively focused on negative scenarios? Do they see themselves as being broken? Are they unusually connected to the pain of others? Do they talk about suicide?

For me, the answers would have been clear to those close to me by the time I was in middle school. In hindsight, I knew that I was struggling beyond the norm before I was even out of elementary school. Was there anything that my parents or anyone else could have done that would have steered me in another direction? The plain truth is this – I really don’t know.

Please note that I am not a trained medical professional nor am I a psychologist of any kind. The only role in therapy I have ever served is as the person on the sofa with sad tales, zombie-chic runny mascara eyes, and a box of someone else’s tissues at the ready. If you are looking for professional medical advice, you won’t find it in anything that I write. Also I should disclose that I can’t teach you how to iron either. Those skills just aren’t in my wheelhouse, and I don’t plan to add them anytime soon.

I am speaking as an individual who survived the blackest nights of being clinically depressed and terribly suicidal. I am speaking as a person who doesn’t just hope that recovery is possible – I know that it is a reality. When I tell people that I no longer have depression, I mean that with absolutely sincerity. I’m not going to lie – I can be a serious bitch, and I am highly explosive at times and heavily in the doldrums at others. But that is not the same as what I experienced decades ago. Not even close.

When I was growing up, we faced some extremely stressful situations. Based on every other family I now know and reality (as I perceive it today), it appears that my genetic pool has never maintained a corner on the stress market. Everyone has stuff. Everyone has stories. Bad yucky sad tales and heart-wrenching experiences. It’s just the way the humanity cookie crumbles.

So when major unfun stuff happens in or to my own family now, I look even closer to see how my children respond. Are they emotionally drowning or are they temporarily set back but heading back toward being okay? Do they disappear for hours and hours to hang out by themselves in their rooms for days? Do they withdraw from actual humans and get lost endlessly in mindless technology time? Does the bulk of their artwork or writing reflect heavy emotional tones? When I see these behavior patterns kick in, I remember my own downward spiral, and I act immediately to try to prevent my children from entering that treacherous ride.

While I recognize without question that there is a true physiological element to depression (thus why I fear that my children could have it), I also believe that we have the ability to circumvent and rewire that part of our makeup. Consequently when I see them displaying a behavior that appears to be “feeding the depression monster” (ramping up the potential for greater negative mental feedback), I immediately try to redirect their actions.

One of the rotten parts about being a kid is that you only have as much freedom as you are given by the adults around you. One of the best parts of being an adult is recognizing how you can use that dynamic to help your children when they need it most.

Here are a few specific examples I have used in the past month:

  • On multiple occasions, we have forced the older kids to turn off their emo sad FM music, leave their rooms, and come hang out for family night. We eat food that they like, we watch goofy movies together or play games, and ultimately, we end up spending hours laughing instead of emotionally stewing solo. Everyone goes to bed feeling like it was a good day because that’s how we closed it out.
  • My son told me that he was writing some very heavy and sad poems at school, and that he wanted to focus on writing this way because the other kids were so impressed by his depth. I’m not looking to raise Edgar Allan Poe II nor do I feel like this is good long-term brain food at all. I said nevermore to that crap and told him that I wanted to see a balance in his writing. I even called his writing teacher on the sly to let her know the importance of her being aware of this dynamic, too. She was glad that I contacted her and said that she had assumed that he was a deep-thinking writer with a heavy style. We agreed that he could still express his emotions while finding more balance via incorporating the positive emotional elements as well. She is encouraging him to find balance in class, and I work iinon this at home.  My son and I now talk about his writing every couple of days. I encourage him no matter what, but I try to focus my highest praise on the positive works. This isn’t about squashing his true feelings. It’s about programming his brain to point toward the half full glass version of thinking versus automatically seeing a smashed cup of darkness weilded by a creepy raven.
  • My kids get frustrated with the behaviors of some of the other children around them.  As fate would have it, it turns out that really small people can be seriously big buttheads (that is the scientific term for heavy duty jerkfaces). Instead of focusing on all the garbage that those other kids do, we try to find something good in them, and if that is a lost cause at that moment, we try to come up with an alternate good thing that happened that day to focus on instead.

The key to this is mental and emotional redirection. As parents,we want our children to know that we hear them and that we see them. We seek for them to feel emotionally validated, and we want them to be able speak to us with openness and honesty.

However as parents, we also need to show them which emotions are beneficial for them on a regular basis. Everyone is allowed to be sad and angry sometimes. We are even permitted to rage and be devastated. But we cannot allow those emotions to be our baseline. We have to help them figure out what emotions should be the outliers and what should constitute healthy daily living. We have to enlighten them on the obvious. It’s truly okay to not be okay sometimes, but ultimately it feels better to feel better.

Personally I find it cathartic to have a good solid cry every now and then. I have a handful of gut-punching songs, TV shows, and movies that are certain to do the trick if needed. Sometimes I’m just want to be a bear, and I don’t want to be cheered up dammit!

But even then, I still try to maintain awareness of how far I can let those emotions run. I only allow myself to take it so far. If this goes on for several days, I take steps to shift how I’m feeling by turning on funny shows and upbeat music. I change the channel when the heavy stuff appears until I can watch it without feeling emotionally inundated. I force myself to get out of the house and do something that doesn’t stink even if it’s something as simple as going to a plant store (Jo❤️🌸4ever).

It’s same story with the kids, but I attempt to expedite the process. I choose to change their sadness channels as quickly as I can. They don’t have the awareness to pull out of the spiral, so I do the best I can to steer them safely away from it instead. I refuse to allow them to feed the sadness or desire for isolation.

Can I guarantee that my children won’t face severe depression? No. Not at all. Do I know for certain that they will never face the darkest moments of feeling suicidal? It terrifies me to recognize that I can’t say yes to that either.

But I have seen that their hours of heaviness can be turned to moments of joy. I am certain that being aware of the warning signs and red flag behaviors might offer us opportunities to intervene in innocuous yet effective ways.

There are times when we can stop them from embracing the negativity. They are moments when we can avoid validating increased unhappiness by focusing on finding something to laugh at or something to do that makes them smile instead. The key is to figure out how to flip the switch the other direction in a way that engages your child.

I pray for blessings for all who struggle with depression and anxiety. Whether you are the one who is experiencing those challenges or you are the one who is trying desperately to send a lifeline to another navigating them, it is so very important to choose joy whenever you possibly can. There are numerous options for treatment, and I strongly recommend that anyone in need should seek available help. Please know that depression does not have to be a lifelong sentence. Stop the downward spiral whenever possible. Feed the best, not the beast.

Love and light to you always – Joanna

Enlighten

21 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. James J. Cudney IV
    Oct 23, 2017 @ 07:45:23

    You are wonderful the way you adapt to try and ensure they do well… as in eating the foods they like… so good of you!

    Reply

    • MoJo
      Oct 23, 2017 @ 08:04:25

      Yeah I can’t really say that eating their kind of foods is the biggest sacrifice on my part, but it’s still a good idea given that I don’t want to fight about salad while we are trying to flip the happy switch back to on. 😉

      Reply

      • James J. Cudney IV
        Oct 23, 2017 @ 08:09:16

        It’s compromise. Good parenting. Helps show so many different approaches, way to love, how to support… you should be quite proud of yourself for it all.

      • MoJo
        Oct 23, 2017 @ 08:12:59

        It depends on the day my friend. Just ask my kids. Or maybe it’s better if you don’t. I’m sure that they would give you a serious earful! 😘

  2. Angie
    Oct 23, 2017 @ 08:00:08

    Thank you. I worry about all of these things with the step-teenagers in my life, and will absolutely be implementing a few of your suggestions.

    Reply

    • MoJo
      Oct 23, 2017 @ 08:11:51

      Your concern for their welfare speaks volumes about you and your parenting. Depression is insipid and Incredibly difficult to face. There isn’t any one perfect answer to fix the problem. But staying involved as a parent and flexing yourt parental muscle when you can for their benefit is so critical. I think that people are so afraid of invalidating another person’s emotions that they become fearful of speaking up against them. I don’t think you have to speak against someone else’s feelings as much as you just need to redirect them if it all possible. You sound like an amazing mama. You go girl! ❤️ Joanna

      Reply

  3. mainepaperpusher
    Oct 23, 2017 @ 12:50:45

    What a thoughtful, heart-wrenching post. You are such a wonderful mother to be so cognizant of these things. I’m not a parent so I can’t understand the fear you must have that they might fall into depression. I know from experience that it’s a terrible state to endure. My best to you and your family. ❤️

    Reply

  4. wakinguponthewrongsideof50
    Oct 23, 2017 @ 13:35:09

    THank you for this! Everything you wrote is so important for people to understand. Depression exists, but it doesn’t have to define you. Parents should be aware of what there children are feeling and thinking as much as possible. Everything you’re doing with your kids is spot on correct. Love to you!!!

    Reply

  5. Blog Andrew
    Oct 23, 2017 @ 15:41:47

    Joanna your son may take after you and blossom into an accomplished writer, and switching the tech off and playing as a family seems the best fun I can ever imagine, why doesn’t everyone do this? Great post.

    Reply

    • MoJo
      Oct 24, 2017 @ 13:20:42

      It actually is fun until they decide that they want to play a two hour round of Uno. About halfway into the game I find myself trying to peek at their cards just so I can hurry up and lose! 😉 Hugs to you sweet friend!

      Reply

  6. Hussein Allam
    Oct 24, 2017 @ 10:07:09

    Awesome post! Loved it a lot😊 Mojo

    Reply

  7. Ted
    Oct 28, 2017 @ 09:19:44

    ! I get into’t think you sustain to verbalize against somebody else’s feelings as much as you just motivation to redirect them if it all potential.

    Reply

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