If you ask a parent the one thing they truly want in life for their children, they’ll undoubtedly say happiness. But what if your child isn’t happy? What if your child is questioning whether their life is even worth living? It kind of messes you up as a parent.
When my daughter was hospitalized for her depression, I asked the social worker assigned to her, how did this happen? We were getting help. She was on medication, she had a therapist. He told me depression is like a whirlpool. It can turn and turn and turn and then, out of nowhere, it can quickly suck someone under. I thought about this a lot in the months that followed.
As a parent, above the waterline, suicidal depression is more like a tornado. It lifts the roof off your world, scattering your emotions and sense of self in a million directions. All the while the storm is raging, you have to stand still and steady. And when the flood waters rise, you tread furiously to keep you both afloat, not letting on that you’re tired and worn out and not sure you can save either one of you.
In the aftermath of this crisis, I started crying. Mostly in my car on the way to work. It was odd and sort of fascinating to me. I’d never been a crier. It was as if my body had filled up with so much water during the storm that even the smallest bump in the road was enough to push a few drops over the edge.
I know uncontrollable crying is a sign of depression, but in lieu of spare change, time and emotional energy to fix myself, I started to listen to podcasts. I needed a distraction, but more, I needed to learn how to be happy again. I needed to make sense of my life and my choices. To understand why I was making this same drive to work, day after day, when I was failing at my most important job.
Listen to podcasts for self-help
I’m not sure how I found out about Cathy Heller, but her podcast Don’t Keep Your Day Job sent me down a rabbit hole and got me hooked on the medium and self-help in general.
The premise of her show is that you can make a living doing what you love. To prove it, she deconstructs the lives of those who’ve done it.
Over the last two years, she’s interviewed a ton of amazing, successful women (and some men) like Caroline Miller, Tamara Melon, Jessica Huie, Bobbi Brown Jeff Goins, Seth Godin and many more. And though they lead vastly different lives, it quickly became clear that they follow common guideposts through life, like:
- If you’re fearful, you’re doing something right.
- You have to show up.
- The body only quits something when the brain commands it to.
- Happiness is a byproduct of helping others.
- Busyness is a choice.
- Done is better than perfect.
My favourite is clarity comes with action. It’s become my own mantra and it’s what’s propelled me to think I could or even should write this blog.
There’s another that Cathy says often: purpose is the opposite of depression. That’s never felt quite right to me. You can have purpose and still be depressed. Or alternatively, I think when you’re in it, when depression lingers endlessly and nothing seems to work to alleviate it, it can become one’s purpose.
Listen to podcasts for stories of survival
It was from Cathy that I learned of Ruth Soukup and other survivors of depression.
Today, Ruth is a successful blogger, author, wife, mother and most recently the creator of her own podcast Do It Scared. Before all that she attempted suicide four times and was, the final time, in a coma with a ten percent chance of living. Against all odds, she survived, and was more depressed than ever.
You can read her full story here, but essentially, after trying everything including electroshock therapy, it was exercise that saved her. Her dad had told her she could live at his house, sleep 23 and half hours a day, but for half an hour every day, she had to get out of bed and exercise. So she did.
Months later she sought out a new therapist and told her she didn’t want to talk about the cause of her depression or how to alleviate it, she wanted to talk about how to move forward. Literally, how to put one foot in front of the other. How to live.
Hannah Hart is another survivor. She’s a YouTube personality, comedian and co-creator of Hannahlyze This, the “self-help podcast that just can’t help itself.”
With her co-host Hannah Geld, they try things like rage rooms, animal therapy, reiki, gratitude journals and the like, reporting back on results.
I’m not so into this podcast — maybe I’m a bit too old for it– but I’ve learned two invaluable things from Hannah.
Like Ruth, she follows the one percent rule in life. Rather than try to accomplish big things like being happy, she focuses on the small things, like bathing or cleaning her room or making a grilled cheese sandwich.
So my daughter making an egg for breakfast when she’s surrounded by an almost tangible cloud of depression? Pure joy for me now!
Hannah also introduced me to the disappointment of depression. What it’s like to have something you were really looking forward to, only to wake up, depressed and unable to do it or enjoy doing it. Living with disappointment wasn’t something I’d considered before.
I also didn’t know that depression rarely travels alone.
This fact of life seems to be common knowledge amongst guests on The Hilarious World of Depression. If you listen to nothing else, listen to this.
It’s hosted by American Public Radio host John Moe (also living with depression) and features interviews with comedians and other creatives including Dick Cavett, Peter Sagal, Maria Bamford, Mike Brown, Jeff Tweedy, Rhett Miller, John Green, Wil Wheaton and many more who share their own experience with the illness.
It’s created with the help of HealthPartners and MakeItOkay.org a non-profit organization aimed at erasing stigma, but I can assure you, it’s the furthest thing from sanitized mental health moments.
The conversations are funny, but also heart-wrenching. They’re raw, open and honest, and they’ve provided me with more insight into what it’s like to live with depression than probably anything else.
Listen to podcasts for sleep
Finally, though totally unrelated to self-help, is Sleep With Me. Ever since I had kids I’ve had trouble sleeping. It started when they were babies. As life got busier and work more stressful, it evolved into insomnia. The events of the last few years, haven’t helped.
Now I turn to the monotonous tone of Drew Ackerman, aka Scooter. In a dream-like stream of consciousness he drones on and on and about nothing. It knocks me out! I barely get through the sponsor credits and if I wake up, I just push play on the same episode and I’m out again. Unfortunately, I couldn’t tell you what he talks about — I’m never awake long enough to find out.
While none of these podcasts have relieved my daughter’s depression, they have helped me with my own. They have given me strength and focus. They’ve helped me deconstruct my own thought patterns, how to separate truth from belief and how to put one foot in front of the other.
I think they’ve made me a better person, a better parent. At the very least, I’ve stopped crying in my car.