As I mentioned in a previous article on Insights for Parents of a Depressed Person, today I wanted to share what a day in the life of a depressed child might look like. Although, first I would like to clear your mind and give you a breath of fresh air. A child who is depressed has an illness. As previously mentioned, if they have the symptoms of depression for two weeks or more, depression becomes an illness. It is not your fault that your child is depressed. It is not the fault of your child. It happens. For many different reasons it can happen.
Two personal experiences left me feeling out of control – verbal abuse and music lessons. The verbal abuse carried on for many years from a bully during high school. Then I wanted to enroll in piano lessons so I could play the music I heard on the radio. But when I took music lessons, the focus was on Chopin, Beethoven and Bach and was not the music that interested me. I became trapped in an experience that should have been pleasurable, but turned into an act of forced discipline. For years my dad would sit next to me at the piano with a belt, making sure I would practice daily. Everything felt out of control. I didn’t know what I could do or where I could go.
I did ask my parents, begged, and pleaded with them to let me stop playing the piano, but it went on for years with more and more lessons I hated…and dad continued to sit next to me with his belt. I couldn’t even talk to my parents about what I was going through, because they weren’t listening in the first place. Your child needs to see you in a healthy way before they can feel free enough to approach you, to talk about their depression. However, they may talk to a school counselor, friend or on a forum on the internet. The fact that they are speaking to someone is amazing! It will help them to not feel alone and that there is a place for them to get help.
Now I’m not saying my dad was a bad father. He probably thought he was being a good father by instilling discipline in me and continuing to pursue something even when things started to become tough. But like any father, they make mistakes. Some are small and insignificant…and some are much larger. I am not currently a father, nor do I expect to be a father….but I do know if I did become a father I’d make profound mistakes and smaller mistakes just like my dad did as well. But in the back of my mind…I would always try to do what is best for my child….because that’s what parents do, and so did my father.
I say all this because I know my father loves me and I love him. I think things would have been different if they listened to me more. The fact that I was the one who wanted to play the piano and now wanted to stop, should have been a signal to them that something wasn’t quite right.
Television, Movies and Video Games
I know when I was going through my high functioning level of depression, I took to movies, TV and video games as a means of escape. I could for a few hours leave where I was presently and get involved in something that took my thoughts and feelings away from where I was. I remember at the age of 13, I went to the movies by myself, and watched a James Bond movie called, “For Your Eyes Only”…not once….not twice…but 13 times that summer! I wanted to get away from my problems in life rather than face them, as I didn’t have a place to turn or know what to do.
Through my teenage years I read a lot of self help books which helped me cope with things. But I was just coping…not resolving…not working through my issues…my anger. And I was angry. I was angry at my father for putting me through these tortuous piano lessons. I was angry at that bully in school that was verbally abusing me. Yet to look at me back then, I seemed like I was put together. I worked out at the gym three to five times a week. I was eating healthy. I was losing weight. But I still wasn’t dealing with the core issues of my depression. I didn’t even know I had depression until I looked back on my life and could see from where it came.
So if you see your child consuming TV, movies or video games…it could be healthy, but it also could be an escape from their depression into a world they create for themselves. I have heard some people who are depressed say they like the video game “Skyrim” as they can choose who their character is, where they go, and what they do. And I’ve heard from others who play video games, that it is more real than reality. And to me it was like that as well.
But again I would suggest that you let them be. Let them escape from the trappings of their mind, thoughts and feelings. Let them work through their depression at their own pace. And in the mean time, prepare yourself for one day having a conversation with your child about depression.
Look for Structure
Once I realized I had depression, I sought out structure. Each morning I woke up and had a routine. I had my breakfast and took my coffee to the computer. I turned on some nice relaxing music and played Texas Hold’em online (not for money…just for fun, if it was for money that would be a whole other story) while sipping my coffee. I did this each and every day for over two years…why? Because it was a way of working through my thoughts and my depression. The music was a distraction for my ears so I could get away from any depressive thoughts and feelings. The Texas Hold’em was there to take my thoughts and focus them on something, rather than let my thoughts roam free and possibly think of depressive things. What kind of things you might ask?
I would just start feeling down about myself. How I did things wrong in my life. I was divorced. I lost two jobs in six years…while being off due to depression for three of those years. How I could only go to college rather than university as I didn’t focus in on my marks in high school during those years. I felt like a loser almost every day. And when you start to feel like a loser, you start to filter things like a loser and pick on yourself and what you do wrong each day rather than what went right. It becomes a slippery slope to self incrimination, self doubt, low self esteem and low mood.
What can I say to my child?
I know you desperately want to break through that bubble…that box your child is trapped in. To set them free. To start to feel free. Free to share their feelings. Their emotions. Their thoughts. Their hopes. Their fears.
As I said before, don’t ask your child, “how are you doing?”. But, what you can say to your child is, “what has made you smile today?” Do you notice the difference? Can you hear how this is asking them something specific rather than a broad outlook on what their day could and could not have been?
To me this was critical! I came to know someone who also had depression. He was a neighbour and when I would walk my dog, I saw him almost every other day. Once I did the typical “how are you?” And immediately I saw his face change from a smile to a frown. From hope and optimism to hearing how he had a hard day, things were going rough and he was crying earlier. I realized at that moment, I affected his day by a simple question that we use each and every day…when what we really mean to say is “hello”.
So instead we started saying, “it’s good to see you today” as we both agreed “how are you” is too vague and dangerous for our thinking. But saying “it’s good to see you today” is a positive thing. You are glad to see the person. You have missed this person.
And so I started talking to my wife about not asking me “how was I doing today” but change to something more positive, like the above or “what made me smile today?” The change is in the mindset of the person. Instead of thinking of what they went through during the day from the depression, you are helping them to focus in on what made them happy and recalling it back to their minds.
And this is the breath of fresh air I want to give you today….to your child as well. Asking them questions that will bring up and build positive feelings and thoughts. Be free from the guilt of your child’s depression and help them be free from the guilt of having the depression. I hope and pray you will embrace and surround your child with positivity so they can have a moment of fresh air as well.