Community//

How it feels to be a high-functioning, overachieving, extrovert Mum – with depression

A letter from someone you know, telling you how they feel and asking for your help.

This morning I nailed a pitch to win a new client, and smashed my budgets for the quarter…

…this afternoon I took 10 minutes choosing a pen to write this because I felt guilty spending $2 when I ‘didn’t really need to’ (even though I think nothing of spending $100 on my little boy in a ‘quick shop’).

I wanted to write this last week, but I was in a slump, so I didn’t really want to write it. Or anything. Or get out of bed for that matter. But I did all those things because I have to.

This ‘letter’ was also prompted by the fact that a friend of a friend committed suicide last month. She had 2 kids, a career, a home, a husband… and all I could think about was ‘how low would you really have to be to go that far?’ And then I realised, I know how low. And I’ve been near there.

I’ve had to stop getting really angry with people who’ve said ‘God, isn’t that selfish? With 2 kids, how could you leave them?’. These people have obviously never felt worthless. If you haven’t, I guess I understand this point of view. How bad could it be, right? How could you ever feel so low that you would leave your children? What people don’t realise is that when you’re there it honestly feels like they would be better off without you.

Have you ever had a broken bone? If not, how do you know how it feels? And actually, that’s not even right. That’s a pain (and most women have a high pain threshold don’t we?!). It’s also a cause and effect, you know why it happened and how to fix it. It’s immediate. You didn’t have a broken arm a minute ago, now you do.

Depression sneaks up on you slowly. You have no idea why (usually), but you’re just feeling down. Then the next day you’re more down and so it goes until literally all you want to do is curl in a ball in a dark room and hide. But (thankfully?) you can’t, because you are a high-performer, boss, employee, wife, mother, friend, do-er and there is stuff to do, people who need you.

On a good day, I feel like people like hanging out with me that day. On a bad day, I feel like I have no friends.

In my dark days, I thank God I have a husband and a 6 year old, because I swear on most of those days I would go into a dark room, probably with a couple of bottles of wine, and not come out for days on end. All I can see is that I’m a shit Mum. I don’t give my son enough attention, I give him too much attention, he doesn’t eat enough vegetables, he won’t do homework, he plays too much iPad, etc. etc. etc…. 

I know my husband loves me, but the guilt I feel about feeling/acting down is overwhelming. How can he put up with me? He works hard and comes home to this miserable, sad person all the time. (Unfortunately for him I’ve usually worn out my game face by the time he gets home). Doesn’t that suck? Wouldn’t he be better off with someone who isn’t like that all the time? He insists it’s not all the time. It feels like it.

I lost my Mum last year. I still can’t say the ‘D’ word. I know my Dad and my half-sister love me unconditionally, but they don’t live nearby and they’re rubbish on the phone. My brother has his own life going on. But we all grew up together, that’s unconditional. My husband chose me, so he should be able to get out if he wants to. And my son didn’t have a choice, but he has his whole life ahead of him and what if I screw it up?

People who mean well say parenting is hard, and it is, for everyone. Every mother has guilt. Not every mother lies awake at night, all night, trying to figure out what to put in her kids sandwich because he’s a fussy eater. The guilt is overwhelming, and the choice is overwhelming, and the lack of choice is overwhelming.

I know all the tricks. I know all the things you’re supposed to do to pull yourself out. I was doing it myself until I was 39, and then I asked for help.

If one more ‘helpful’ person says something like “Oh, but you need to make yourself go to the gym…”. I know I need to, but it’s really hard when you’re embarrassed to walk in because you’ve been crying in the carpark (I don’t know why) for 15 minutes. Or you are so flat that you literally feel nothing. Nothing. You just about have energy to get home never mind go to the gym.

My responsibilities are what keep me functioning. 

It’s the lists. ‘Oh, I use lists’ says everyone. Not like this you don’t. It’s not a ‘to do’ list, it’s a list of ev.ery.thing that needs fixing in your life, your families’ lives and the people around you. It’s pages long. And you probably have them everywhere. They rule your life and every time you look at them, far from helping, they make you more anxious.

My husband thinks I miss the lifestyle of a single person. What I miss is regular contact with best friends, people who know you enough to know there might be a problem. The trouble is when you’re the listener, the organiser, the go-getter, and you are good at putting on a face – or indeed seeing people genuinely lifts your mood – people don’t see it. I know people are busy, but why doesn’t anyone ring me to organise things, why doesn’t anyone ring me to see if I’m okay? Probably because they think I’m busy, and they don’t know I’m not okay.

On a good day I know that. On a bad day I feel like the most unloved person in the world. And if that’s true, what’s the point in me being here? If I didn’t ring anyone for 2 weeks, would anyone notice? Would they care? My family would be sad, but they’d be ok. They’d find someone better at being a wife and Mum than me….

So, friend of a friend, I get it.

When you’re a HFOEMwD you are doing a really good job at work, you don’t tell people how you feel, you have a great life (on paper) and you have everything under control. What people don’t see is the panic attack when you have to change lanes on the Anzac Bridge, the tears that constantly threaten to spill out during every meeting, the utter rejection you feel if you don’t get invited for lunch, the hours you spend Googling ‘peanut butter without peanuts’ so you can find something to give your son to take to school lunch, the fact you can probably count the days since someone ask you how you were today, and meant it, and listened to the answer. 

And it feels weak. You tell yourself, “Everyone feels down, wtf can’t I snap out of it?”. If I’ve tried exercising, eating better, drinking less (and no, no drinking is not an option), pills, counsellors, days out, I even did a bloody grateful journal – but what if you do all that and when no one’s looking you find a spot and cry your heart out? Then what?

It’s bullshit this thing. It makes me so angry.

Why can’t I think positively?

There are people around the world in terrible situations.  I’ve got a house, car, family, money.

I know I should be grateful, I know that. It doesn’t help. 

Sometimes I wish I had a physical ‘something’ to overcome instead of this hidden, mental stuff. It would be obvious to me and everyone else what I was having to overcome. People would get it. People might even be proud of me for doing it instead of just saying ‘cheer up’, ‘it’s not that bad’, ‘you should be grateful for what you have’. If you have a cold people are sympathetic, they ask if you’re ok, if they can help. With this stuff in your head few understand. In fact, if you’re a HFOEMwD the chances are people would fall off their chair if you told them this was all going on behind your game-face. Of a couple of people I’ve told, their first reaction has been shock. ‘I can’t imagine you ever being down or sad or anything.’ See, I’m good…

If something happens to someone you know, and you didn’t know they were feeling that alone, it’s not your fault, they didn’t want you to know. If someone trusts you enough to tell you and show vulnerability as a HFOEMwD then please find time to text, call, listen, plan things. For more than just a couple of days after they have confided in you, this doesn’t go away with a few Armaforce.

I am not surprised at all that many women struggling with depression badly are HFOEMwD with kids who ‘had’ a great career. There’s no feedback or KPIs in parenting. Contrary to popular belief, you can’t make your child perfect, they are who they are. No one is going to praise you for it or give you a raise or promotion. The chances are there’s less chance of raises and praise and promotions happening at work now too if you’re working, as you have to work less hours – or at least leave early, and they don’t know you log on after the kids have gone to bed.

My ask is this…

Even HFOEMwD’s want to be looked after sometimes.

Call me, invite me out, tell me I’m a good Mum, listen to my answer when you ask if I’m okay. Most of the time I’ll say yes, but one day I might say no. And it would be really awesome if you’d take me for a coffee and let me drop the act for an hour or two.

    The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Learn more or join us as a community member!
    Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

    You might also like...

    Community//

    6 Things I Learned From Working With Mentally Challenged Kids

    by N.A. Turner
    Community//

    3 Simple Ways to Heal from Loss

    by Kimberly Lucht
    Wisdom//

    29 Years and Counting — My Body Confidence Story

    by Theo Brenner-Roach

    Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

    Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

    Thrive Global
    People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

    - MARCUS AURELIUS

    We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.