Help Yourself

How to keep going when you feel defeated by your teen’s depression

The thing about parenting a teenager with depression is that you, dear parent, have to keep going, even when you feel defeated by your teen’s depression. For what it’s worth, here’s what helped me to keep my head in the game when I felt my daughter’s depression was winning.

About ten months into my daughter’s depression, I was broken. Emotionally and physically exhausted. Sleep deprived and hopeless.

No longer sure I liked my husband, my dog, or my family, I moved through my life on autopilot and cried in my car on the way to work. Parents of depressed teenagers crying in cars. It’s a thing, you know.

I remember sitting opposite my husband one day in our living room, the coffee table between us like a referee, while he very gently suggested I get professional help or antidepressants.

“You don’t get it,” I snapped at him. “I’m not depressed. I just hate my life.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge proponent of professional therapy. I think everyone, sick or well, should see a therapist. And, in retrospect, I was depressed, but like most depressed people, I couldn’t see it.

But even still, I thought, he didn’t get it. He didn’t get how spent I felt. We were living off my single income and my very full-time job, and paying a small fortune in therapy for my daughter. I had neither the time, money or energy for looking after myself.

And then I picked up a pen and paper. That simple act made all the difference.

I know I don’t know you or your situation, but even in the slight chance it might work for you, here are three small steps I think you can take today that might help you keep going even when you feel totally defeated.

Step 1: Write it out

Shonda Rhimes, the creator of Grey’s Anatomy, would tell you to dance it out, but I recommend writing.

Grab a piece of paper and write it out. By it, I mean all of it. Everything that’s happened since your child became ill. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling. Just write about the stuff.

Write about when it started. What you noticed first or, like me, didn’t notice. The things your teenager has said to you. The times you failed to be your best self.

Write about doctor’s visits and the disgusting bedroom. School refusals. Self-harm. Suicidal ideation. Suicide attempts and safe plans.

Write about the disappointing Mother’s Day. The maddening obsession with social media. Food issues. Friend issues. Panic attacks. Whatever it is you are facing, write it down.

I know what you’re thinking: “Writing this stuff down isn’t going to make me feel any better.” But try it. At least once. No one, but you, will ever read what you’ve written. You can burn it afterwards. But before you do, take the second step.

Step 2: Read it

It’s fucked up!

Excuse my language, but there’s really no other way to describe it. Yes, you are dealing with an illness. And yes, you love your kid, but you have to admit, things are pretty messed up right now.

In January, after yet anther trying holiday, a friend emailed me to say, “I have to tell you about my Jerry Springer Christmas.” It made me laugh out-loud.

We are living Jerry Springer lives. Lives we thought happened to other people. Lives we didn’t ask for and certainly don’t deserve. So, give yourself some grace.

Accept you are going through an extremely difficult situation. That it’s normal to wonder if you will survive your teenager’s depression. That your life is hard and unfair and living this way, day after day, feels horrible and defeating.

Agreed? Then you’re ready for step three.

Step 3: Choose something different

Choose something different.

Again, I know what you’re thinking: “If I could choose something different, I would.” Well, here’s the thing: You can choose something different.

You see, if Byron Katie, the self-help guru from Texas, read your story, she would say, “It was always meant to happen that way. Because it did.”

All those things you wrote down? They were always meant to happen that way. Which begs the question: what happens next?

Whatever you do next in this very moment, staring at your piece of paper, is what will happen.

It’s an incredibly powerful thought because it gives you control over your life when you thought you had none. It puts you smack dab in the present. Not in the worry of the future or the guilt and shame of the past, but right here. Right now.

You get to choose what happens next.

I chose a journal. A navy blue moleskin, lined. It cost me $34.00.

It did not make my daughter well, or stop me from crying in the car on the way to work, but it reminds me daily that I have control over my own thoughts and actions. That I can literally write my own story.

I’m sure there are other ways to keep going when you feel totally defeated–like professional therapy if that’s a realistic solution for you right now. But if it’s not an option, this free, three-step program worked for me when I was at my breaking point.

If you try it, let me know if it helps.

Further Reading:

Call Crisis Services Canada if you are thinking about suicide or worried about a loved one. It’s available 24/7 by phone and 4pm to 12am ET by text. Call 1-1833-456-4566 or text 45645.