Friday, October 3, 2014

Dealing with Depression While Raising Special Needs Children: 30 Daysof Random

Okay, the reader-selected topic was this:  "Dealing with the depression that fits along with having a special needs child." 

They can't all be light-hearted/funny/entertaining.  

The topic itself (as listed) bothers me.  So there are a couple things I want to clarify:

1)  I know nothing about the challenges of actual diagnosed depression.  I get depressed.  I don't have depression.  Huge difference. 

What I DO know is that my advice about how to deal with being depressed about something related to raising a child with special needs should in NO way be construed as valid advice to give someone who struggles with depression...who is raising a child with special needs.

2)  I reject the notion that depression "fits along with having a special needs child."  Reject it.  

I get depressed about a lot of shit (that sounds like I'm constantly depressed and that's poorly communicated.  I just mean, on the rare occasions when I'm depressed, it's for any number of reasons)...including my special-needs child.  Those issues are not related to special needs.  99% of the time they're related to my inability to master my own expectations.  Getting the cart before the horse, if you will.  Not accepting where things stand.  

I'm so in love with the little girl Lily is.  Raising her can be a chore.  Sometimes the things she does depress me.  Sometimes I need to search my soul to figure out whether the reason they depress me is valid, or whether my attitude is the true issue. 

Alright, take the previous paragraph and replace Lily's name with Emma's.  It's not special needs-related.  It's me.  The problem is me. 

Unrealistic expectations.  Failure to accept my children for what they are/where they are versus what I might have thought they'd be.  That expectation could be as minor as..."I thought she'd grasp scientific notation with greater alacrity""I thought she'd be potty trained by now."  In both cases, examination reveals that..."who fucking cares how she struggles with scientific notation.  Let her learn at HER pace...not the pace YOU learned when you were in middle school.  She is not you.  She is different.  Accept her.  She is an awesome kid.  Her mind is more directed to the artsy things you rejected when you pursued engineering."  or "Who fucking cares how she struggles with potty training.  She's not ready.  Her body isn't giving her the signals that her brain is able to decipher as, this feeling means I need to go to the bathroom, i should do that.  She's not doing it to spite you.  She's doing it because she's just not ready yet.  She is an awesome kid.  She is bubbly and happy and full of life and energy.  She is not her sister.  She is not you.  Let her be her."

That's me.  That's my path.  Depression does not come with the Lily package.  It might be an option in other children's packages, but depression isn't standard with the Lily model.  I can only speak to my path.


I'll say the thing that special needs parents say they hate:  "I don't know how you do it."  Even though I DO know how you do it. 

I don't know how you deal with SIB's (Self-injurious behaviors)
I don't know how you deal with fecal smearing

I don't know how you deal with aggression
I don't know how you deal with non-verbal
I don't know how you deal with melt-downs

I don't know how you deal with elopement

Why?  Because I'm not an autism expert.  I'm a Lily expert.  I know how to deal with Lily.  And I know that how you deal with the above (if that's your path) is the same way that I "deal" with Lily's challenges...Love.  I love that fucking kid sooooooo much.  I'm responsible for her.  I will be the best damned dad to Lily that I can be.  It's a matter of personal pride, passion and love.  Special needs parents hate to be told "I don't know how you deal with _____" because the answer should be obvious...because I love my kid.  Duh.
thoroughly posed picture of me attempting to look frustrated,
depressed and, quite literally, "blue". return to the topic (at long last)...

When I am down, when I struggle, when I'm frustrated and at a loss...I remember that Lily is struggling more than I am struggling.  I remember that Lily is more frustrated than I am.  I remember how much I love that kid and how much I want to help her.  I remember that Lily didn't ask for her struggles, she just deals with them as best she can, the only ways she knows how, and that sometimes her way can be rough on me.  I remember that she's not doing it out of spite or payback.  I remember that I love her unconditionally and that every time I put conditions on how happy I am with where Lily is, I remove the word "unconditionally" from the sentence.  And that removing the word unconditionally from the sentence renders it nonsensical, false, abhorrent...I remove the conditions instead.  I reboot.  I redirect.  I refocus.  I remember.  I love.

If you struggle with depression...not the "my kid is bullied at school and that makes me blue" kind of depression, but actual depression...simply pulling yourself up by the bootstraps isn't an option.  You need help that I can't provide.  If you're actually depressed and not just don't benefit from rah rah speeches.  You need medical/mental health assistance.  You owe it to your kid and yourself to get it.  To reiterate:  None of my "remember love", "refocus", "consider her struggle" advice works if you suffer from diagnosable depression. 

But if not...see above.

Saturday and Sunday's installments will be a bit more upbeat and frivolous...nobody reads on Saturday and Sunday anyway. Oreos...then yoga pants...yes.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. As usual, you hit the nail on the head. (Forgive the use of idiom, but that is the focus of both my guys' speech therapy lately so I'm spouting them like a crazed English teacher.) Anyway......

    I love that you differentiated between "today I feel blah, depressed" and "I have a psychological disorder, depression". ME, I have the psychological disorder kind, the kind you take medication for because if you don't you spiral down to a dark place and the struggle to get back to the light seems fruitless. It took nearly 8 months of declining energy, crying all the time for no understandable reason, shitty sleep, and to be honest God-awful parenting before I hit the doc's office and said, "I don't what is wrong, I just know I can't do this anymore. I can't FEEL this way anymore." I was also on the verge of shoring up my small amount of remaining gumption in order to slap the shit out of the next person who said, "Just smile and focus on the positives."

    So, my two cents worth of advice: Don't be a big moron like I was and wait until you are so deep in the depression hole climbing out doesn't appear possible. Don't wait for your child to say Why are you always so sad Mommy/Daddy? I put up a good fight until I couldn't fight the fact that I needed help. I felt like I was a failure as a wife and mother because I couldn't "just get up and get it together". Hell, I even managed a half hearted argument with my doc when he suggested I start an antidepressant. I told him if I popped a pill every day just so I could function that was the same thing as admitting I was too weak of a woman to handle my life and that thought depressed me MORE. Best thing any doctor ever said to me, "So diabetics using insulin are inferior to you? Your brain doesn't make what it needs, that's not you weak that's your brain lacking a needed neurotransmitter." Well.....okay then, that was easier to swallow. And swallowing a pill every day along with some good old fashioned talk therapy worked for me.

  3. I appreciate your take on this, Jim. That said, research shows that parents of special needs children ARE more prone to depression, and in particular, there's some overlap in the neurology between autism and depression, so -- surprise! -- autism parents in particular are proven to be more prone to depression. I understand the (awesome) desire to clarify that it's never "my child is making me depressed," because that's unfair to the child, and there's a difference between "my kid is depressing" and "my life is hard and I am grieving and that is not my kid's fault."

    All of this is to say, I am really glad that you, personally, do not suffer from depression. And I get your inclination to clarify that you don't think depression and special needs go together -- for you, it doesn't, and I see how you could feel as if that's somehow insulting/minimizing to our kids. I am just here to gently suggest that your "rejection" of this notion could feel alienating to those of us who truly do struggle with depression and much of our struggle revolves around our kids. It's not our kids' fault. You're right, it's about expectations, it's about grief, it's about acceptance. But maybe don't "reject" something that is a reality for many. There's enough divisiveness in our community already.

    One more thing, then I'll step off my soapbox: Anyone experiencing depression should get help; any parent experiencing depression should get help. It can be hard to get help, so for those parents struggling to do so, consider it part of your duty as a parent to get yourself healthy so you can tend to your kids. "Please take care of yourself" is a message I think we can all agree upon.

    1. I THINK I understand what you're saying, but I want to clarify...

      When you say that "parents of special needs children are more prone to depression" and further that there's "overlap in the neurology between autism and depression"...I read that as...pre-existing. In other words, once more, it's not the "act of raising special needs children" that causes depression. It's that people who suffer from depression are sometimes autistic, and further that people who are autistic are more likely to have autistic children. In other words...the depression exists, then you have kids. Right?

      Regardless, the kind of depression you're talking about is nothing I'm qualified to comment on other than to say...get help.

      I feel like you're putting a really find point on it. But let me restate so that I'm not alienating...and without vetting your sources (I think you do your homework) I'll just flat out agree with what you're saying...

      Depression and autism sometimes overlap. Clinical depression is not caused by the act of raising autistic/special needs children. Autistic/Special needs children do not cause clinical depression in their parents. If their parents are clinically depressed, then that depression pre-existed, and linking a parent's clinical depression to his children's autism is a bit of a red herring.

      So...if you're struggling with depression...I urge you to get help. Dealing with your depression while struggling to raise children (of any kind) would be so hard without proper help. But raising kids with special needs doesn't make you clinically depressed.

      Are we on the same page? Or no?

    2. Yes, I think so. :) Depression is cyclical and is a pre-existing neurology, yes. Raising special needs kids doesn't cause depression, but if you have that neurology and are then subjected to extra life stressors (such as raising special needs kids...), you are more likely to experience an acute episode. Not the kids' fault; you could just as easily be triggered by something else. SOME types of clinical depression are ONLY triggered by extreme stress. SOME types can occur at any time. Neither of us want to place blame, my point was only that to say it's not something related COULD be perceived as a slight to those who are stress-triggered. That's all. Rock on.

    3. *continues to rock as instructed*

  4. This was a good post. You were very clear and very thoughtful and I agree with you. There are many things in this world that are depressing. Autism is just one of those things. Expectations play a big part in "letting the depression get to you". If it grabs hold and doesn't let go-then go get help. I always tell my children that it is okay to ask for help. If you try a few times and fail, don't be upset about the failure. Ask for help and then try again by yourself another time.

  5. Extremely amazingly well said. Glad you're doing this 30 days of random thing - I would have hated to have missed this for it being still locked in your brain. :-)

  6. As a depressed (diagnosed) person I very much appreciate how you stated this. I also really appreciate how you focus on your stuff, and don't generalize (consistently in all your writing, not just this post). And you're a kick-ass dad. It takes a lot of strength and willingness to be vulnerable to be able to look inward and see when feelings are borne from unrealistic expectations. Not all parents who love their kids are able to do this.

  7. "To reiterate: None of my "remember love", "refocus", "consider her struggle" advice works if you suffer from diagnosable depression" - Well said! Thank you for sharing these personal experiences with your readers. I believe that people who suffer from depression need to seriously consider treatment options whether that be counseling or medication because just "thinking positive" doesn't cut it. I want to tell you all about a series of books I read recently entitled "Healing the Mind and Body" ( by Dr. Paul D. Corona. As someone who suffers from mental health issues I try to stay informed about the medications I take, and also what is available to me in the future. These books are an amazing source of information about bleeding edge ideas and practices that could very well help many people with these problems. Dr. Corona seems to live and breath the treatment of these disorders and therefore comes across as a passionate and trustworthy resource. I think you might benefit from these books as well as anyone else looking to find the many options out there when battling depression.