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I am a SAHM - My Experience of Depression

By Susan Whelan - 30th May 2012

I found Yvette’s blog post last week about stay-at-home mothers and depression thought provoking. I am a stay-at-home mum and last year I was diagnosed with depression. It never occurred to me to link the two, however in the past few days I have given quite a bit of thought to the connection and the different pressures and expectations experienced by stay-at-home mothers compared with women who work outside the home.

In the end, I really couldn’t find a reason why one role is more stressful than the other. As a society, I think we put an incredible amount of pressure on women in general, and mothers in particular, to be all things to all people. No matter what decision we make, we seem to come under fire for not having ‘better’ priorities. I do believe, however, that stay-at-home mums can perhaps be more vulnerable to the kinds of isolation and disconnection that leave depression unrecognised and untreated until it has taken a significant hold on someone.

With my diagnosis, I was forced to take a long look at my life. My counsellor encouraged me to make some changes, particularly focusing on doing things for myself. I hadn’t realised just how many of my own interests had fallen by the wayside over the years. Without responsibilities outside the home, I had become almost totally defined by my role as a wife and mother. It isn’t about the monotony of the housework (although it is boring as all get out) or a lack of mental stimulation (my kids more than keep me on my toes mentally). Besides, there are plenty of jobs that are both monotonous and mindless. Instead, it is about losing connection with the people and interests that helped me to maintain a sense of myself as an individual, rather than part of a group.

I recently read The Reunion by Australian author Joanne Fedler (Allen & Unwin, 2012) and the following passage really stood out for me. As a group of women, mostly mothers, gathered together for a girls’ weekend away, one character was reflecting on the kinds of thoughts she had when woken in the middle of the night:

"You know, I thought we’d be friends for life, that group from our last getaway. But those friends were, like childhood, just for a season. As our kids developed their own quirks and talents and we all carefully weighed up who might flourish in an all-boys or all-girls school, who might do best with a religious- or art-and-drama-based education, it’s as if we’ve scattered like shooed seagulls in the directions our children’s personalities have taken us. I had no idea just how fickle I could become, and how easy it would be for me to befriend the parents of my child’s latest best friend. I wonder, sometimes, what happened to the integrity of my own preferences."


For me, these thoughts really struck home. Before children and even when my children were younger, I still had a clear sense of myself. I had interests and hobbies, pre-children friendships that I invested time in and a sense of myself as something distinct and separate from my children. As my children have grown older (they are now 8, 11 and 13) and their needs have drawn more on my emotional rather than physical reserves, I seem to have let go of those interests and friendships that also required an emotional commitment on my part. It has been so much easier to drift into relationships and activities that run parallel to my children’s lives.

My wake up call last year was a week of endless tears and a feeling of being completely overwhelmed by every aspect of my life. As I sobbed my way through an appointment with my GP and through subsequent appointments with a counsellor, I realised that so much of who I am as an individual had been consumed by the demands of motherhood. I had no problem justifying time spent on activities that benefited my children, but struggled to carve out even the smallest amount of time to devote to something simply because it interested me. My camera gathered dust, valued friends drifted out of my life and my wardrobe remained totally devoted to the kind of suburban mother uniform of jeans/cargo pants and wash-and-wear shirts that was so practical when my children were younger.

Reclaiming myself has been a difficult and painful process. I’m gradually learning to not feel guilty for taking time for my own interests and priorities. I’ve culled my wardrobe of the monotonous items in various neutral shades and introduced some colour and indulgence, including a newly developed love of bright red lipstick and gorgeous shoes. I am spending time with friends, taking time to write and I’ve even dusted off my camera.

The biggest lesson I have learned in the past year is to stay connected – with others and with myself.

I want my sons and daughter to grow up knowing who I am, not just the woman who prepares their meals and makes sure that their school uniform is clean (most of the time). I want them to know that I don’t need to have a job outside of our home to have value as an individual. I am more than the list of tasks I perform for my family or for an employer, just as they will be.

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