Living with depression: Nina’s journey with depression and raising a family

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Living with depression: Nina’s journey with depression and raising a family

Nina raises a family and experiences depression. She and her husband speak openly about her illness with their three sons and Nina says that while coping with depression isn’t easy, talking about it has brought them closer together as a family.

Talking to her children inspired Nina to write a book, in the hope it would help other parents with depression communicate with their kids about their symptoms. Nina speaks about the experiences that motivated her to write the book; being diagnosed with depression and sharing the news with her family, as well as how living with depression has influence her family life.

Getting the diagnosis

“Getting diagnosed was complicated,” Nina said. “I’d been experiencing strange symptoms for years – it was like my body would just freeze. My mind was still working but I couldn’t speak or move. Even when the doctors prescribed me an antidepressant medicine and referred me to a psychologist I didn’t realise I was being treated for depression.”

“I was first admitted to hospital with depression symptoms in September 2012, when my sons were 9, 12 and 14 years old. I saw a psychiatrist there. I’ve been seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist on a weekly basis ever since.”

With the support of her psychiatrist Nina has come to better understand her condition and the reasons for its development. “I’m a bit of an all or nothing person. I was a teacher, in addition to raising my own kids, and I worked hard, bringing work home and devoting a lot of time to my students. My psychologist believes the symptoms are my brain’s way of telling me to stop.”

“When I was working I used to get symptoms when I relaxed, for example during recess or lunch break. When I was working in the classroom my mind was busy and it coped. But when I relaxed it would sometimes just shut down. And I didn’t know why until I was eventually diagnosed with depression a couple of years later.”

Sharing the depression diagnosis with her family

Nina never questioned whether telling her children she had been diagnosed with depression was the right thing to do. “I’m quite open about having depression and consider it an illness. I would tell my children if I had cancer or a broken leg, so why wouldn’t I tell them that I have depression?”

“Kids are very sensitive to change and they would probably notice something was wrong with me, so I thought it was important not to keep secrets, and give them information about what I was going through, so that they could understand. I definitely don’t want them seeing me upset and thinking that they’ve done something to cause that!”

Nina says her children didn’t know very much about depression until she was diagnosed. “I asked them a while back if they had learnt about depression and other mental health conditions at school. My oldest child is now 17 and he said they did, but not until grades 11 and 12. They didn’t learn anything about it in primary school and early high school. So they didn’t know too much about the condition when I first told them I had it.”

“Since then they’ve found out a lot. I tell them about the symptoms I experience. For example in my book I write about the symptoms, and when we read the book together I will tell my children that I often feel like that, or that I only experience that symptom once in a while. I talk to them regularly about depression and don’t keep it a secret. I’m sure my husband does that too. So depression is a normal part of their lives and they know that their mum has an illness.”

“My eldest son experiences severe anxiety and that’s motivated him to learn more about mental health conditions. He finished school last year and some of his assessment pieces focused mental health conditions in children and teenagers. I think getting information about anxiety helps him to understand and cope with his condition.”

Effects on family life

Experiencing symptoms of depression has definitely affected Nina’s family life. “I’ve spent about 200 days in hospital in the past three years, so that obviously has a big impact on my family. There are also days when I’m there at home but not really there emotionally. And other days when my symptoms make me get angry and frustrated really quickly and I take that out on them and have to apologise later. My husband and kids have to cope with me and without me, at different times and in different moods.”

“My husband has been fantastic, supportive of me and the kids. He really steps up when I need him or when I’m not around. But he also sometimes needs a break. He likes camping and might go away for a weekend on his own. That’s his time out and I’m happy for him to take that.”

“I’m not able to work anymore, so my husband is now the sole breadwinner. After my initial diagnosis I attempted a return to work program where I started working part time and increased to full time work over a ten week period. But the back to work transition was too rapid for me. My symptoms can still be severe and trialling different medications and management strategies has been a long process that is still continuing.”

“Not working means I can dedicate my energy to my own children and coping with my illness. I try to push on at home and not lock myself in my room to escape. I also have time to attend day sessions that offer strategies for how to cope with depression. Recently I’ve been exploring diversional techniques including art therapy, which I find helps me dump my negative thought out onto paper. I also see a psychologist.”

“The kids have also coped really well. They’ve had to grow up a bit quicker than some kids and start doing things like making school lunches, cleaning up after themselves and getting on with their homework alone when I’m not around. But they have grown into polite, responsible kids and I’m sure their future wives will be pleased to find them well-trained in all the domestic chores!”

Talking about depression has also had the positive effect of bringing the family closer together. “My children know that there is no topic that’s off limits. If they’re experiencing difficulties they can come and talk to me about it, as I’ve talked to them about living with depression.”

“My kids also support me and are really empathetic. When I’m down they might simply give me a kiss or tell me that they love me, to help cheer me up. When I need to be alone, they know why and they’re able to give me space.”

“One of the most frustrating symptoms I experience is memory loss. We might watch a television show together and the next day I can’t even remember doing that. We’ve been on family holidays that I hardly remember. The kids help me cope with this by talking about the things we’ve done together so I remember. I’ve taken to writing things down so I can remember them and my children also help out with that. They understand what’s going on if I can’t remember the word I want to say or can’t remember how I wanted to finish the sentence – they often fill in the blanks.”

“We do what we can to keep our family life as normal as possible. For example we planned a family holiday to Thredbo and I was unable to go as I was experiencing severe symptoms. So my husband and the boys went on holiday and I stayed home. I’ve started going to church but my husband and children choose not to and I don’t think they should have to make that change just because I have chosen to.”

The biggest challenge

Nina says that the biggest challenge for her has been communicating openly and honestly with her family, without worrying them too much. “I want them to know I have depression and the types of thoughts and feelings the condition causes me to have. But I don’t want them knowing every time I have a depressed thought – it would just cause them to worry too much. My psychologist is really good at helping me work out how to talk to my husband and children about my symptoms, without making them worry constantly.”

“Often I experience symptoms at night when they’re asleep and I’m lying awake, thinking and feeling lonely. I’m used to dealing with that now. Usually I put on headphones and listen to music or watch a movie to distract myself. There’s no point in waking them up and worrying them.”

Advice to other parents

Nina emphasised the importance of treating depression as an illness and realising it’s a very common one. “To other parents with depression I would start by saying, ‘Remember you’re not alone.’ Even though not many people talk about having it, depression’s a common condition. We just don’t hear about it because there’s still a lot of stigma. People are scared to tell their bosses and their friends and their children they have depression because they’re worried about the reaction they’ll get. I hope that talking openly about my depression can help reduce this stigma.”

Nina says she would recommend all parents with a diagnosis of depression tell their children and put aside time to talk to them about it. “Over the years I’ve been treated and hospitalised for depression, I’ve met a lot of other people with depression and a lot that don’t talk to their children about it. Some think their children are too young to understand and others just don’t know how to go about having the discussion. But kids are smart and can pick up if something is wrong with their mum or dad’s mood. It’s possible to keep a diagnosis of depression a secret but children will probably pick up on the mood changes sooner rather than later.”

“Explaining that depression is a disease can help children understand it as an illness and something that can’t be controlled, and most importantly that they haven’t done anything to upset their mum or dad. Talking about emotions and what people do and look like when they feel happy or sad might be a good way to start a conversation. Getting children to talk about how they feel at different times might also be a good strategy.”

“In my book I describe the symptoms of depression quite vividly, but in terms that children can understand. I really hope the book can help other parents with depression start the conversation and have meaningful and ongoing talk about what depression is, how it effects people, and how it’s an illness, not something to be ashamed of.”

For more information on Nina Mitchell and how to explain what depression is to a child, see http://www.nutsaboutnina.com.au/

More information

Mental health support for Australian families

 

Date Created: January 25, 2016 Date Modified: September 18, 2016

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