How Do I Prevent Passing these Disorders Down to my Kids?
I am a mother of three. Two girls, 14 and 12 and a son, 11. I’ve suffered from Depression, Panic Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder and PTSD since I was a child. I wanted children of my own so desperately and from my early 20’s made a pact with God (or my conception of God) that I would never parent any child of mine the way I was parented. I did kind of hope (and this is awful) that I had boys because I was such a mess as a teenaged girl that I thought I could do better with boys. But there was a different plan for me and now I’m on the cusp of having two teenaged girls in my house going through all that hormonal and brain-growth related angst at virtually the same time! When they were born I thought to myself, “OK, here’s my chance to do it over again my way and get it right…I can do this.” I studied and went to therapy and prepared in every way I could think of. Dear Lord, if reality could only be as simple as what we imagine in our heads.
When my children were younger it was much easier to cover up the symptoms of my depression and panic/anxiety and to pretend all was well with Mom. Plus I worked outside the home, so I was out during the most stressful periods of my day…that is until I completely fell apart in 2012. I’ll save that story for another day. But at that point I had to give up my career and focus on my health for the sake of the children. It was a major adjustment but quite necessary; I was simply disappearing into my depression and almost none of me was left to offer them. So I left work and have been at home since that year.
That first year at home is a blur from all the doctors’ appointments and treatments. I also attended a full time Trauma Program 5 days a week. The myriad changes to my meds alone were enough to make me feel lost and almost invisible except for the disease. The emotions were hard to hide from the children despite them still being pretty young, but we told them I was ill with Fibromyalgia (true) and that was causing me to be tired and “not myself,” (untrue). My husband and I were blessed to be able retain in-home childcare for those occasions when I was completely wiped out and I truly believe that helped me get over that particular episode of illness without impacting them too badly.
The problem now, or rather I should say problems, is first the intractability of my disorder(s). It is highly resistant to treatment and I can tell you I have had almost every one accepted by the medical community. Now I’m into the realm of the experimental. But I’m going for it because I know that I can feel better. I can do better and I have gotten back my personality, my empathy and my overwhelming adoration for my children, some of which had been smothered by disease for a while. I am moving forward. I am doing a good job and I love my kids. And this is being the best mom I can be.
The second problem, I cannot completely control. Some part of this disease is heritable. There is the never-ending nature vs. nurture debate, which applies to depression and anxiety as it does to so many diseases of both body and brain. With all the research I could find, there are no exact figures or predictive models out there to tell you what the chances of passing this down are, just simply based on genetics. Some doctors with throw out a 40% chance for girls and somewhat less for boys that they will inherit my depression. But these figures are guesstimates and completely situation specific. I can tell you I intend to nurture my way around those figures if it turns out the reality is even close to that high.
But therein lies core issue really… I have no model of my own for how to be a “nurturer.” Both my parents were depressed and unwilling to get treatment. Both had a tendency toward narcissism with its attending underlying lack of self-esteem, which was then turned on me. They were emotionally and verbally abusive…often cruel. My father was louder and meaner, my mother passive, sarcastic and always taking his side. She had absolutely no instinct to protect me whatsoever so I don’t really know what that feels like. Now that he’s gone, she took over his meanness. She will never change. Most never do. So as I said, I had no model at home for how to nurture my children through their teenage years and into adulthood. So what do I do? Well first, I look to my husband, who is kind and compassionate and was the first person in my life to show me nurturance. He teaches me daily how to be a better Mom. Plus he thinks the sun rises and sets over his children’s heads, which sure as hell can’t hurt their self-esteem.
Beyond that I visualize the archetypal “good mother” in my head. She comes to me in hard times and tells me it wasn’t my fault. She says it doesn’t matter if my own parent’s couldn’t love, that was their problem. She tells me she will protect me and make sure I’m never hurt like that again. And most of all she tells me I’m a good Mom. For anyone who hasn’t seriously attempted this type of self-talk and visualization, I can’t do enough to convince you to try. Whenever I have that twinge of anxiety or guilt about what I’m doing wrong with my kids or if I even know what I’m doing at all, I hear that calming voice (an amalgamation of my grandmother and a family friend I think) and I know I’m ok. I can do it. I love those children and that’s exactly what they need.
It’s happens to be exactly what I need too.