The Problem With Depression

What you see on the outside may not match what's on the inside, and if you're concerned you have to look and listen for the signs of depression.The problem with depression is that the magnitude of its depths is often kept secret. Whether due to shame or awareness, often the person who is depressed won’t let on how bad it is. They may just say they’re having a tough day or a rough season but they’re okay. What’s a concerned friend or family member to do?

There are signs, though. Signs you have to look for and look at through the lens of someone who is depressed.

A messy house may just be a sign of a tired mom who’s been woken up multiple times a night for the last week. Or it may be a sign that the woman feels so defeated by her surroundings that she is merely giving up.

A woman who jokes about not having showered for a few days may be totally fine and just choosing to spend her 10 few minutes a day sitting in peace and quiet instead of washing her hair. Or it’s possible she is severely depressed and would rather stay in bed because she feels her body and her life doesn’t matter enough for her to take care of herself.

You have to look for these signs. You have to be vigilant. And you also have to be persistent when you ask “how are you?” That is such an easy question to dodge, to laugh off, to give a one word answer to. It’s easy to brush it off and not truly answer it honestly. If you think someone may be struggling with depression, you have to ask how they are and mean it and be willing to ask follow-up questions and listen and listen more.

It will be difficult. It will be uncomfortable. You will feel like you’re crossing a line and pushing boundaries. You may be tired of hearing them bemoan their life but the annoyance you may feel is nothing compared to the weight of despair they are carrying.

And I am here to tell you that if someone is important to you and you’re worried about them and they are suffering they will be overjoyed to know someone cares about them enough to ask and to listen. But you have to do the work.

The problem with depression is that the magnitude of its depths is often kept secret. You must look closely. You must ask. You just listen.


My Son Doesn’t Need To “Man Up”

My son doesn't need to "man up." Other kids need to stop being jerks. And I need to teach my son to stand up for himself and others. I was bullied as a kid.

Aside from being quiet and shy which made me a great target, I was also born with albinism. This means I am super pale, even more so when I was younger, and have a difficult time seeing things far away which put me in the front of the classroom which drew even more attention to me.

I was never physically attacked, but the name calling began in elementary school and followed me all the way into high school.

It was difficult and sad and not something I want anyone to experience.

Especially my son who is beginning to get bullied himself. At just three-years-old.

He’s always been pushed around by his cousin who’s just a few weeks older than him. They’re family and I’ve talked to his mom, my sister-in-law, about it, and we’re helping them work it out. But the other day at the park another boy, one we’d never seen before, zoned in on my son.

First the boy, who was probably a year older than my son, pushed him on the playground bridge for no discernible reason. Later he grabbed my son’s arm and began tugging on him at which point I yelled “hey!” and a distant mom said, “we don’t touch people.” When it happened again, I yelled “let go!” and when Levi came over to me I said, loudly, “That boy is being mean and we don’t have to play with mean people.” We walked away and shortly thereafter went home for the day.

I’ve heard that “boys will be boys” and other junk phrases. I don’t buy it. I’ve also heard that I need to teach my son to stand up for himself and that is, sadly, not something I thought I’d have to start doing this early.

It breaks my heart because my boy is perfectly content playing alone and doing his own thing. He’s independent and a little quirky and is fine just being left alone. So for another little boy to target him and be mean for no good reason is maddening. My son wasn’t bothering you, little boy, so why did you go after him?

My fear is that this behavior will continue and follow my son into his school years. That he will continue to be devalued by his peers. That his own self-worth will be broken down by each cruel interaction.

I can’t fight his battles for him. No one could fight them for me when I was a little girl. But there are things I can do and will do.

I will teach him how to identify a mean person and to stay away from them. They’re pretty easy to spot once you know what to look for.

I will teach him to find the nice people and stick with them. I still believe there are more of these types of people than the others.

I will teach him that he, as a person, is worthy of respect and kindness and does not deserve to be treated unkindly by his peers or anyone.

I wlll teach him that everyone is worthy of respect and kindness and encourage him to extend grace to everyone.

And, yes, I will teach him to stand up for himself, but I will also teach him to stand up for others. To speak up when something wrong is happening. To do the right thing regardless of what the consequences may be.

My son doesn’t need to “man up.” Other kids needs to stop acting like jerks. But we don’t live in a perfect society so instead of teaching him to man up, I will teach him to stand up. Stand up against cruelty. Stand up against injustice. Stand up against those who just want to tear other people down.

And I will cling to hope. Hope that perhaps this behavior won’t follow him into school. Hope that he will always do what’s right. Hope that he will be a difference maker instead of a deviant. Hope that he will be a loving and kind and respectful person. I think we can all agree that’s the best thing we can do for our kids and the future generation.

Embracing My Inner IDGAF

I've lived too many years worrying what others think of me. I'm almost 33 and it's time to embrace my inner IDGAF attitude. Because I don't. I’ve always been a people pleaser.

Blame it on my environment, genetics, the way I was raised, it doesn’t matter. The fact remains that for almost 33 years I’ve always been the one who wants, even needs, to make people happy. I don’t want to disappoint others. I don’t want them to be mad at me. I don’t want them to judge me or think unkindly of me. So I’ve learned to say the right things. Do the right things. Shirk from causing waves and keep my opinion to myself should it possibly cause some discord.

It’s been fucking exhausting.

And I’m done with it.

I am embracing my inner IDGAF. (Translation: I Don’t Give A F…)

If someone isn’t my husband, my family, or a few close friends, their opinion will no longer put a stronghold on me. I will no longer be giving up any of my brain cells in the name of worrying about what others think of me. I have a full plate between being a SAHM, wife, and freelance writer, and I need all of my mental energy to keep me and my family afloat.

If you think my house is messy IDGAF. I do the best I can given the day’s circumstances and if it doesn’t meet your standards I no longer care.

If you don’t like something I wrote, that’s your opinion and you are completely entitled to it. But IDGAF because I write for me so as long as I like it, I do not care.

If my kids are whining at me because they’re bored, guess what? IDGAF. You have enough toys to fill a storefront and are old enough to entertain yourselves. I spend a shit load of time with my kids teaching them, playing with them, and making sure they’re growing into well-adjusted members of society. If they’re bored, they can deal with it.

If I don’t load the dishwasher the right way or fold laundry incorrectly or don’t make the bed for days, IDGAF. These things are minor in the grand scheme of things and I’m done worrying about things I never should’ve worried about in the first place.

And it goes both ways, too. If someone does or says something I don’t agree with, IDGAF. It is their life to live. Their choices to make. They have no impact on my own so you do what makes you happy and healthy. Don’t worry about me and I won’t worry about you.

Life is hard. It’s hard making a marriage work. it’s hard raising kids. Work is hard. Finding socks that match is hard. We all make our own lives more complicated than they actually are without allowing someone else’s opinions of us effect how we live.

So I’m making IDGAF my new life motto. I’ll worry about my own life and choices and let everyone else worry about theirs. While I’m new to this idea, I can’t see any negatives coming from it. My hope is that it makes me more confident in how I live and how I raise my family. I hope it makes my writing more honest and transparent because I won’t be worrying about what people think. My hope is it makes me a better mom because I won’t wonder what the checker at the grocery store is thinking in regards to what’s coming down the conveyor belt.

There’s mental freedom looming on the horizon for me. The freedom to speak my mind, to live fearlessly, and to be happy. Genuinely happy because I’m living my truth. Joy is coming, friends.

You Gotta Laugh or You’ll Cry

Parenting is full of situations that can bring you to your knees in a fit of tears. Sometimes it's easier to find the humor and laugh instead. There are moments in my day, week, year where I am faced with something difficult, annoying, or infuriating. Something that gets under my skin and makes me want to rip my hair out until I resemble The Rock.

It’s called being a mom and it’s a part of this parenting gig you just can’t away from.

It starts the first time your kid poops on you and it ends… well, according to my 73-year-old mother, it never ends. I’m a mom now and sometimes my kids, my husband, my life presents me with situations which are undesirable.

I don’t know how we’re going to pay all of our bills and my husband’s schooling, for example. I don’t know how to get my kid to eat broccoli. My son is only about two inches away from climbing out of his crib which means, in two inches, my world will be over.

So what do I do?

Well, I could cry about it. Heck, on a lot of days I do cry about it. Big, fat tears. And while crying is highly therapeutic and few things feel better than just letting it all out and replacing the fluid you lost sobbing with wine, I’m a much bigger fan of finding something funny in the situation and giggling, howling, chuckling, chortling, snorting, laughing or whatever else you wanna call it.

When my son runs into the kitchen stark naked after bath time and pees all over my freshly mopped floor, I could get upset and shoo him away before he starts to splash in it or…

I could laugh at his jazzercise moves as he happily squeals and does gleeful squats in his birthday suit.

When my daughter has been quiet for way too long and I find her sitting in her bed, surrounded by Hershey’s Kisses wrappers from my evidently not so hidden stash, and her face is smeared with chocolate, I could get upset and sigh and consider myself to be the worst mother ever for somehow letting the whole event happen or…

I could laugh at how sheepish and apologetic she is, how cute she is while picking up the all the tin foil pieces, and be grateful I don’t have to make her dinner after all.

When my husband neglects to put his plate in the dishwasher for the 600th time, leaving it on the coffee table where my toddlers will inevitably find it, I could cry at the over-dramatic idea that he doesn’t love me, doesn’t care about me or…

I could laugh because my son is now using it as a drum and my daughter is dancing to the impromptu musical number.

If you’re a parent, you have to laugh. You have to find ways to laugh at your kids’ antics, your partner’s shenanigans, and yourself. This parenting gig is the hardest thing in the world and if you’re not finding the honor in it you’re going to bury yourself in remorse and regret and failure and frustration.

So what if you burned dinner? Look at the recipe and laugh at the fact you actually thought your kids were going to eat something with broccoli AND brown rice.

So what if your partner’s snoring woke up the sleeping toddler next to you at 5 a.m. and now you’re both up before dawn? Look at your kid’s bed head and have a good guffaw at how impressively it stands up.

Toothpaste on the walls, macaroni on the floor, a little one covered in your make-up head-to-toe, you gotta laugh about it. Don’t let mommy guilt or Pinterest or bloggers who poop rainbows get in your head and make you cry. Just laugh.

It’s the best therapy there is.

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© 2014 Toni Hammer, as first published on Scary Mommy

I’m Not A Bad Mom

It turns out all the reasons that you think you're a bad mom just mean you're totally, completely, 100% normal.It was 7:30 in the morning when my daughter came to me and asked, “What wrong, Mommy? You otay?”

The reasoning for her question was the fact that I was slumped on the living room floor and ugly crying into my 5th cup of coffee. At seven thirty in the morning. There are a lot of people who are just starting their day and I… well, I had already thrown in the towel.

“Mommy’s just sad, baby,” I told her.

“Why sad, Mom?” she asked, patting my back with more maternal affection than I could have mustered in that moment.

“I’m sad because my coffee is all gone,” is what I told her.

What I was thinking was, “I’m sad because I’m done. Finished. I can’t do this motherhood thing anymore. I was, am, and always will be an awful parent. I can’t do it right. Everything I do is wrong. I don’t think I can do it for another day—let alone for the rest of my life. This sucks. I suck.”

Overdramatic? Yes.

True? Probably not.

In that moment, though, it felt true. It felt like I was an awful mom and I had a long list of reasons to back up my suspicions.

  • I was ugly crying in front of my children. That can’t be good for the psyche.
  • I had already yelled at my son approximately 81 times that morning because he has an obsessive compulsion to climb onto the dining room table.
  • I wasn’t sure how many more times I could say, “Stop hitting your brother” before giving up and turning my home into Lord of the Flies.
  • My kids eat the majority of their meals picnic-style in front of an episode of Curious George because there are days where I just can’t handle the battle which is getting them to eat and behave at the table.
  • I lock myself in the bathroom for 5 minutes to breathe, pretend I’m alone, and click my heels three times in desperate hope that I will be whisked away to my real home because this place where I live now blows chunks.
  • My kids don’t eat enough vegetables.
  • My kids eat too much junk.
  • My kids watch way too much T.V.
  • I don’t know how to effectively discipline either of my children.
  • I don’t know what to do with either of my children all day.

And the list goes on.

That morning I was convinced I was the world’s worst mother.

That night, though, while vacuuming up what seemed like an entire box of Cheerios, I had a rare moment of clarity.

I’m not an awful parent.

I’m normal.

Once I stopped beating myself up with tears and fears and guilt, I began to remember blog posts I had seen, stories I had heard from friends, and books I read (back before my kids ripped out all the pages.) I remembered:

  • Other mothers yell at their kids sometimes.
  • Other mothers can’t sleep because their guilt keeps them awake.
  • Other mothers give their daughter cereal for dinner and call it good.
  • Other mothers have homes with dirty bathrooms and sticky kitchen floors.
  • Other mothers hide in the closet for just a moment’s peace.
  • Other mothers can’t come up with fun things to do with their toddlers.
  • Other mothers pray their son will go back to sleep when he wakes up at 5am.
  • Other mothers are positive they’re screwing up their children.

If all these women—friends and strangers—are having such a hard time… that means it’s not just me.

And if we’re all on the same page… if we’re all having the same struggles… then…

I’m not a bad parent.

I’m just normal.

So that’s a load off my mind.

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© 2015 Toni Hammer, as first published on Scary Mommy

The Struggle Of The Introverted Mother

Being an introverted mother is hard because when all you want, and need, is a moment alone, tiny toddler hands pull and poke and suck the life out of you.Not too long ago, I woke up one day and decided I was going to be attentive to, and present with, my kids the whole day. I was interested in every toy they brought over to show me. I heeded every cry of concern they had over some cartoon character’s possible demise. I listened to them, played their games, and did everything I could to be the best mom ever.

That night I was absolutely exhausted.

It could be because my kids are closing in on two years old and three years old, respectively, and two toddlers would wear anyone out. And that’s part of it, but not all of it.

I know some may scoff at the idea of my being so proud for interacting with my kids all day. I’m their mom. Shouldn’t I do that every day? What’s the big deal? Do I want a medal?

I do, but not for that reason.

The reason this day was so special and so exhausting is because I’m an introvert.

There is a misconception about introverts which believes we are anti-social. That is totally not the case. We can be very social. I don’t hide in the corner at parties nor do I spend every waking moment wishing I could be by myself. I need people like anyone else.

At the crux of being an introvert is the desire — the need — to be alone in order to rejuvenate. Some people can go to a party or a busy mall or an outing with a couple friends and feel completely refreshed and revitalized. For us introverts it is the opposite. Our downtime is sacred. We use the quiet, the stillness, the absence of interaction as a way to renew our bodies and minds. We need that time alone to become ourselves again.

So that day where I chose to be with my kids and attend to their every want and whim, where I was attentive and intuitive, that day took every ounce of energy right out of me. I had zero downtime from the moment I woke up until they went to bed, and by the time they were snoozing I was too tired to do anything to recharge my own batteries.

It’s a daily struggle for me. I want to be a good mom who is watching their every move and hearing every word because, as we’ve all been told, these moments pass all too quickly. I want to watch every musical act my daughter performs and applaud every puzzle piece my son puts in the right place. I want to laugh at every joke and play every game.

But I also want to take care of me. Taking care of me, though, requires a break which is not always possible. Some days my kids don’t nap. Some days my husband has work and school and isn’t available to give me a reprieve. Some days I have to slog through emotional exhaustion just to make it to bedtime; mommy guilt weighing heavily on me for eying the clock while desiring just a few moments of solitude after my kids go to bed.

Being a mom is the best job in the world. It is rewarding and magical at times. For us introverts, though, it is also a daily battle to find the balance between informing our kids we are always available while sometimes our sanity wishes we weren’t.

If you’re a fellow introvert, you know what I’m talking about. Know that it’s okay to desire alone time. Know that it’s okay to be completely drained after a long day of keeping your kids alive and happy and healthy. Know that you are not alone… unless you want to be.

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© 2015 Toni Hammer, as first published on Scary Mommy

I Don’t Remember Why I Married Him

Sometimes it's hard to remember why I married my husband, but the reasons are there if i look for then. I worked in the post office at the small Bible college I attended. One of my jobs was to hand out I.D. cards to the new students every semester. I suffered from what I self-diagnosed as “crush of the day” syndrome back then so I was titillated to have the opportunity to meet many of my new potential suitors. (This was Bible college after all. Everyone was seen through the lens of potential marriage material.)

It was in that post office that I first met my husband. Upon seeing him, I felt a Nicholas Sparks type of inexplicable emotion. It wasn’t love at first sight, but it was “I must see more of him and talk to him and perhaps make him mine.”

I made it happen albeit the small school size made it fairly easy to figure out where he’d be and when. We became quick friends, but had a tumultuous relationship that those in their early 20s can identify without explanation.

Months turned to years of an on-again-and-off-again friendship. Mistakes were made. We tried dating and my heart wound up broken. He pursued me once more and I made him jump through hoops to prove that he had changed and really wanted me.

Eventually we found ourselves at a crossroads. Our history, and sexual tension, led us to a decision: We could either get married or part ways forever as it became undeniably clear we could not be “just friends.”

We became engaged one month and one day after we started dating for the second time, and seven months later we were man and wife.

Looking back now, it’s difficult for me to remember why I married him that day. It was partly a logical decision. As I said, we couldn’t remain in the friend zone without one of us getting hurt, but I didn’t want to lose him forever, so marriage appeared to be the correct step forward.

There was also an emotional aspect to the decision — there would have to be in order for me to make such a life-changing commitment. But, still, were someone to ask me that day why I married him, I’m not sure I could have given a reason more than, “Because…”

In May, it will be six years since we stood on his parents’ property and vowed to faithfully stay together forever. And it has been throughout those six years that my reasons for marrying him have become more tangible.

This is why I married him.

I was unemployed for the first seven months of our marriage. In addition to keeping food in our fridge and four walls around us, I also had a couple thousand dollars in credit card debt; debt that he assured me time and time again was now “our” debt because we became one on May 23. Twice a week for several of those first months, he donated his plasma which allowed us to keep our heads above water and to get rid of my debt — our debt.

This is why I married him.

He works 7:00 p.m. – 4:00 a.m. during the week, and on the weekends he keeps the baby monitor with him which allows me to sleep uninterrupted — a feat that is all but impossible when you’re the mother of two toddlers. When they wake up in the middle of the night on Saturdays and Sundays, it is him who cuddles with them, plays with them, gets them milk, and puts them back to bed so I can catch up on the much-needed rest I lose during the week.

This is why I married him.

When I reached my breaking point and called him at work, sobbing and moaning that I couldn’t do this motherhood thing anymore, he arranged for his mom to come get the kids for a couple days so I could get a literal sanity-saving break and see a doctor who prescribed me medications which now make it possible for me to cope with the stress of my life.

This is why I married him.

A few times a week, he tells me how impressed and in awe of my work ethic he is as, after the kids go to bed, I strive to make writing a career. He is consistently and constantly supportive of my making a dream come true and is quick to sacrifice his own downtime in order for me to pursue my goals.

This is why I married him.

He has become an outstanding husband and a wonderful father to our two children. He is a man of integrity and fortitude, love and respect.

I don’t know why I married him in 2009, but as the years we’ve been together pass by, my reasons for saying “I do” multiply daily. He may say that he is the fortunate one for marrying me, but I know all too well that I, in fact, am the lucky one.

Getting a B in Motherhood

No one gets an A in motherhood. But you also don't deserve an F. In college, I had a class with a notoriously difficult professor. He wasn’t mean or vindictive or cruel. He was actually a pretty great guy. His classes were just tough and that’s the way it was.

Because I enjoy challenges, I decided to bust my butt for one of his tests. I had studied for the previous one and pulled a C which was okay coming from him, but I wanted to see just how high of a score i could get if I really sunk my teeth into the material and didn’t sleep much for a few days. The night before the test I attempted an all-nighter which turned into a 4am-er because I hit a wall and passed out for three hours before heading to work.

I took the test and felt like I did reasonably well. I knew I didn’t get 100% because, well, I’m human, but I was fairly confident in my performance. The days passed slowly until we finally got the results back.

86%.

I. Was. Ecsraric.

According to his grading scale I had earned a B which for any other class I was in was equivalent to an A++ as far as I was concerned.

I had done it. I had put my nose to the grindstone, worked my tail off, and reaped the fruits of my labor. I was so proud of myself that, 8 years later, I’m still talking about that monumental achievement in my college career.

And yet…

I don’t give myself the same credit for the things I do on a day-to-day basis as a mother.

Every day it seems I go to bed feeling like a failure. I didn’t do enough engaging activities with my kids. I yelled at them. I lost my temper. I didn’t listen when my daughter was telling me a story or chose not to build a block tower with my son because I was tired. All I see in my mind’s eye when I’m lying in bed at night is little check marks, each one pointing to something I did poorly that day, and when the check marks are added up it comes down to an F.

That’s not an accurate assessment, though. It’s just plain not true. There are a million things that I do with my kids almost every day. I talk to them a lot. And not in baby talk or even words that are necessarily on their level. I talk to them in mostly adult language so their vocabulary expands.

I put their music on (thank you, Pandora, for your Disney station) and dance with them in the afternoon when we’re all in a slump.

I have them help me cook and have even started allowing my daughter to make her own peanut butter sandwiches as a way to encourage her independence.

I DID A CRAFT PROJECT THAT INVOLVED GLITTER FOR CRYING OUT LOUD.

I’m not a failure.

Motherhood is hard just like my college professor. It’s so hard that no one gets an A. It’s impossible. An A means perfect and no one is a perfect mother. Not me, not you, not anyone. But I think we can all earn B’s in motherhood.

Getting a B means you worked your ass off to be the best mom you could be to your kids that day. It means sacrifice of time and sleep and temper. It means you endured hours of tears and tantrums and screams. It means you put your head down, pushed aside selfish desires, and gave yourself to your kids. You were present. You were available. You were their mom.

You get a B for motherhood. You’re not perfect, but you’re not a failure. You’re doing everything you can and that’s all anyone, including your kid or your spouse or your mother-in-law can ask of you. Be proud of your B. Be excited. Go celebrate with a drink. You earned it.