As humans we have a myriad of different mood types which we swing through at an alarming rate. Yet, as a single mum, depression may visit you all too frequently.
I have been a single parent for eight years and have suffered with depression from within my marriage and still do today. I have been through the full cycle of not recognising my depression; firmly denying it; trying to cope without support; learning to accept and understand my depression; to ultimately managing it successfully.
Every day I am alert for the sinking signs of my own sadness and I have become an expert on what they are and how to act fast to stay on top of my mental health.
I am not a doctor or a psychologist and make no claim to diagnose, cure or provide expert advice around depression. I am a single mum with clinical depression who has learned to live a healthy, happy, successful life with two great kids and a thriving business.
The reason for this article is to share my red flags of depression taking hold and the simple tools I use to work through it while still functioning as a mother.
If you recognise the symptoms and feelings which I share below and have not yet sought help for depression, please do. You can visit your local GP or call Lifeline or Beyond Blue for support. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help, guidance and treatment.
I personally chat to both Lifeline and Beyond Blue on my podcast, so take a listen to find out how they can help you … and how bloody wonderful they are:
Beanstalk Single Mums podcast with Beyond Blue (coming in Feb)
I also delve deeper into a lot of the issues mentioned in this article on a more personal level in my “You’ve Got This” Single Mum eCourse, along-side helping you deal with many other challenges us single mums face.
Note: I have only covered some signs of my depression in this article, there are many others and we each experience depression differently.
SIGNS OF DEPRESSION AS A SINGLE MOTHER AND HOW TO COPE
ETERNAL EXHAUSTION AND LACK OF MOTIVATION
Feeling tired all the time is a No.1 sign of depression for me.
Yet, as a single parent it can be hard to identify it as a symptom of depression because we are usually fairly exhausted!
I have found there is a difference between “normal exhaustion” and “depressive exhaustion”, the latter of which is an inexplicable lack of motivation and extreme tiredness.
Basically, if you have been crazy busy all day and fall asleep on the couch the minute the kids are in bed, this is normal. Anyone would be tired after the kind of day you have had!
A more worrying exhaustion is the kind that you get at 10am even though you slept well. Or you’re having a quiet day, yet you don’t have the energy to make a sandwich for lunch or iron your top.
If you feel accountably tired and unmotivated:
Be super kind to yourself and give yourself a break from everything apart from the absolutely necessary i.e. getting the kids up and to school, going to work, ensuring everyone is clean and fed. All that other stuff (cleaning, bulk cooking, Pilates, sorting the garage) can wait until you feel better.
Also, check your diet to make sure you include energy boosting foods and supplements. You could even get a health check to ensure your vitamins levels are where they should.
Many people find that exhaustion and lack of motivation can be managed by incorporating exercise into your weekly routine, which is certainly worth a try. However, for me it’s about doing less and being super gentle with myself until my energy returns.
DESPERATE FOR ESCAPISM
Another undeniable sign that my depression is rearing its ugly head is the desire to escape from the world I am living. I feel myself thinking: “Stop the world, I want to get off”.
I want a break from the day, from the routine, from my commitments and from my head.
This can reveal itself in a fairly innocent fashion whereby I develop an unhealthy obsession with my bed and the need to curl up and sleep, even when I am not tired. Why? Because Dreamland is far more inviting than my real world.
In the past, if bed was not possible as it’s 3pm and I need to collect kids, do homework, prepare dinner (you get the picture), I used to drink alcohol as a form of escape. Other people may partake in substance abuse, overeating or another unhealthy addition. Behaviours such as these are red flags with neon flashing lights and fireworks firing from the top.
“Taking a break” or “feeling fed up” is part and parcel of mum-life but feeling an insatiable need to escape may signal that your mental health is suffering.
If you are constantly longing for the sweet relief of escapism:
It’s time to get acquainted with the many healthy ways to temporarily break-free from the reality you are struggling with.
Carve a little time in your day for your own personal escape. This could be as simple as:
- Walking around the block and seeing other people who take your mind off your own life
- Allowing storylines in books and movies to sweep you away
- Learning to meditate to calm and control your monkey brain and impending negative thoughts
- Listening to podcasts that channel your thoughts elsewhere or music that takes the focus off your gloomy thoughts
At the risk of you rolling your eyes dear reader: You could find a new hobby or craft. Knitting (yes, knitting!) is where I go to escape most days. Just ten minutes concentrating of the simplicity of wooden needles and wool is enough to calm my mind and provide the escape I so desperately crave.
UNWILLINGNESS TO ASK FOR HELP
The natural reaction if we struggle is to reach out for help. It is human nature.
If our car breaks, we call on a mechanical. If we have tooth ache, we call on a dentist. If we feel down or need to vent, we call on a friend or family member. All perfectly normal stuff.
A red flag of my depression is not wanting to call on anyone.
I feel so miserable that I worry about bringing other people down to the horrible place I am inhabiting. Not only do I not want to upset others, but I feel embarrassed about where I am. It’s like opening the front door to someone when your house is an absolute pigsty. I’d rather just slam the door shut.
A few of things to look out for here are: Feeling depressed but unwilling to reach for support; displaying introvert tendencies when you are usually outgoing; or (like me) you have normal introvert tendencies with are exacerbated i.e. a fear of taking the bins out!
Time alone with poor mental health is not good and it’s important to take action straight-away.
If you are afraid or unable to reach for help:
First remember that according to the Black Dog Institute, one in seven Australian’s will suffer depression at some point their life time, so you are not alone.
Connect with a friend or family member. This can be as simple as a phone call or a coffee date. You don’t have to tell them you feel depressed if you don’t want to … just connect and talk. I can not put into words the power of human connection when you are depressed. It is like magic.
Moving forward, make sure you have a support system around you for when depression jumps out from its hiding place. If you don’t have one and are not sure how to create one, it is something we work on in my “You’ve Got This” Single Mum eCourse and is an absolutely invaluable tool as a single mother but equally important to help keep on top of your mental health.
COPING WITH DEPRESSION AS A SINGLE MOTHER
COMPLETE AND UTTER OVERWHELM
I’m a “doer”. I expect you are a “doer” too. As single mums we have to be.
I generally charge through my days and complete an amazing number of chores in record time. Caring for the kids, working, cleaning, cooking and everything else that comes my way.
But sometimes, the thought of doing just one of these things overwhelms me. Literally the thought of having to do it, will send me into a blind panic or a spiral of self-pity
It is normal to experience overwhelm, but if you are feeling overwhelmed by a schedule you would normally do in your sleep, then your depression may have come knocking.
If you experience unfathomable overwhelm and you can’t shift it:
Give your spinning head a break by writing out a list of everything you need to do, even if it’s ordinary chores you don’t usually have a list for. Include everything from cleaning your teeth to making dinner. Remove anything from the list that is not essential and make another list of stuff to do another day, that way you won’t feel overwhelmed by what you are not doing!
Work through the list item by item crossing off items as you go. Gradually you will get a feeling of moving forward and this in turn will help you to feel less overwhelmed and more accomplished.
Honestly, this might seem like such an obvious thing to do but it helps me every time I hit overwhelm overdrive and it can stop my depression in its tracks.
THE BLEAK FUTURE FEELING
How do you feel when you think about the future?
The reason I ask is because I find it is a great question to gauge my mental health at any point in time.
I used to feel excited for the future. Yet, in my most depressed years, I felt nothing for the future … it was like I didn’t have one. Now I feel OK about it, and that is enough for me right now.
If you feel excited and positive about what the future holds for you, that is a great thing! On the other hand, you might feel anxious and negative about your future.
Having hopes, dreams and visions for a future is really important. It is what drives us forward every day and gives us the determination and strength to thrive.
But, if your feelings for the future are bleak all the time, this could be a signal of depression taking hold.
If your future is a place of worry, instead of a place of hope:
Take some time to work out what is worrying you.
It might relate to your finances or your health? Perhaps you are worried about being alone or providing for your children? It is likely a number of different things.
Next think about what a happy future looks like to you and how you can capture those aspirations.
The importance of this is two-fold. Not only do you have plan for the future which you are working towards, but you have peace-of-mind that everything is going to be ok. You can draw on this when you feel down and it will create a more optimistic thought pattern.
If you need help working on a plan for your future, I can help you with this in my “You’ve Got This” Single Mum eCourse, which is all about getting a plan in place and working towards it, alongside all the other challenges of single mum life!