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Mother Talk Blog Tour - The Ghost In The House

Three Kid Circus is the third stop on this month's MotherTalk blog tour, featuring award-winning journalist and freelance author Tracy Thompson's new book The Ghost in the House: Motherhood, Raising Children and Struggling with Depression.

I've never suffered from depression, either before or after having children. When I agreed to read The Ghost In The House: Motherhood, Raising Children and Struggling with Depression, I had no idea what to expect. I assumed that I would be reading a memoir, or perhaps a just the facts ma'am book about depression. When it arrived in my mailbox, I ripped open the envelope and joined my three kids out on our deck. I set up a lounge chair and kept a lazy eye on the wading pool while reading the introduction.

Depression is a subject that has come out of the closet, except when it applies to motherhood. Somehow, juxtaposing depression and motherhood - to raise the possibility that there are some things about the work of raising children that may be stressful, or even conducive to illness - seems bad manners. Motherhood is supposed to make women happy, period.

With a dolphin-like squeak, my three-year-old launched her self in my direction, splattering the open pages in my lap with grape-sized drops of water. I snapped at her. Clearly she could see that I was reading, and she didn't need to be splashing. Couldn't she just serenely sit in the wading pool with her siblings? Couldn't they just let me read in peace?

What is maternal depression? Thompson offers this definition:

It's what happens when a mother's depression reaches out to ensnare her child. It's depression exacerbated by stresses common to motherhood, and - most important- it can be transmitted from mother to child via learned behavior, environment, genetics, or any combination of the three.

Most of the women I know maintain that it is "normal." My mother is a woman of strong convictions. We've had many conversations over the last decade about my frustration over the rigors of child-rearing. "Those were the best years of my life," she tells me. "I loved everything about being a mommy."

Yet, when I mentioned that I was reading The Ghost in the House, and began to describe the book, she waved away the conversation. "All mothers struggle. All mothers have stress. All mothers are depressed. They always have been, and they always will be. You just do the best that you can. There's no point in discussing it to death."

So, polite society would rather not hear about stressed out mothers. But who is merely stressed, and who is depressed?

..."normal" is not the same thing as "healthy"... So it is with maternal depression: if it's not a huge topic, perhaps this is because many mothers simply consider its classic constellation of symptoms - chronic exhaustion and/or trouble with sleeping, dysfunctional eating patterns, low libido, anxiety, loss of pleasure in life, constant feelings of guilt, and inability to concentrate - to be "normal."

Oh. Wow.

This last spring, I visited two doctors and a therapist, looking for reasons behind my inability to keep up with daily tasks, my bursts of insomnia, and the foggy feeling that kept me from feeling truly present in my own life at times. All three professionals were in agreement: the rigors of being a mom to three young kids were at the heart of the matter. I simply needed more sleep, more exercise, more time outside of the home.

Thompson's explanation of her term motherstress paints a vivid picture of how "unrealistic cultural expectations, the demands of an increasingly complex society, the inherent difficulty of the work combined with lack of social recognition" affect our stress level. All mothers are affected by motherstress. However, for women who are prone to depression, this motherstress can create the perfect environment for a major depression.

I stood up and dragged my chair farther away from the splashing kids. After telling the kids to settle down (hah!) I buried my nose in The Ghost in the House once again.

...I'm not talking about a bad day, or even one of those bad patches every family goes through from time to time. Maternal depression is a Bad Day that comes for a visit and refuses to leave. Maternal depression can also be described as a constellation of behaviors that are a reaction to a very specific stress: the demands of children.

Thompson seamlessly weaves her own life experiences with depression with the latest research and quotes from the hundreds of surveys, letters and interviews she conducted for this book. The first half of the book not only defines maternal depression, it gives the reader a window into the families affected by this serious illness.

The popular perception of depression is that it makes people sad. Chronic irritability is a less recognized but equally common symptom, and it can escalate up to anger attacks - periods of uncontrollable, hysterical rage. Sigmund Freud's famous dictum that depression "is anger turned inward" may be true in some instances, but when it comes to maternal depression, that rarely seems the case; for depressed mothers, depression is anger turned outward - at the kids.

It was like a mirror being held up to my face. While I've never experienced an anger attack, I have experienced ongoing periods of crankiness, demands for unrealistic behavior - hello, sitting silently and not splashing in the pool, anyone? - and it brought tears to my eyes. I put the book aside and jumped into the middle of the action, getting drenched in the process.

The second half of the book presents the science behind maternal depression, and details some of the coping mechanisms that mothers employ - both the positive and negative. Thompson's writing is engaging, honest and nonjudgemental. Even as she addresses the affects of depression on children, she offers hope and insight from mothers who have recovered from maternal depression. The end result is a rich, multi-layered and ultimately hopeful look at lives affected by maternal depression.

Reading this raised some questions in my heart and mind that I have been afraid to confront. Am I a depressed mother? I am quick to jump to the conclusion that I am not. Perhaps it is merely motherstress. I closed the covers of this book with a determination to address my issues anew, for the sake of my own health, and that of my family.

The Ghost in the House: Motherhood, Raising Children and Struggling with Depression illuminates the illness behind the symptoms, and gives hope to women who have struggled silently, and to the children who are being raised with the spectre of depression in the home. This should be mandatory reading for health professionals who work with mothers, and for anyone who wants to understand maternal depression. I recommend it highly.

This is stop three on The Ghost in the House tour. To read more, visit:

Monday 8/7: MUBAR
Tuesday 8/8: Woulda Coulda Shoulda
Wednesday 8/9: Three Kid Circus - me! hi!
Thursday 8/10: ParentHacks
Friday 8/11: Sweetney
Tuesday, 8/15: Dooce interviews Tracy for AlphaMom

Comments

Wow. Thanks for sharing this book review. I need to read this.

Wonderful review. Having suffered from depression, I know that one of my worries is that whenever I have a bad day, I think "Oh, no. It's back!" I've had lots of conversations with my doctor about the importance of not pathologizing every bad day (otherwise, as moms, we'd all be on meds!). I think the difference is that when I was depressed, when I got knocked down, I couldn't get back up. Not for days or sometimes months. Now that my maintenance dosage of meds makes me "normal", I still get knocked down -- a lot -- but I am able to keep it in perspective (sort of!) and keep on trucking, so to speak.

I'm more convinced everyday that we were separated at birth. You are cuter though (I'll call myself the brainy one ;P).

I'm reading this book too, and even though I started on medication three weeks ago for PMDD and depression I was still shocked at how much she describes some of the things I have been feeling.

O.M.G.
I am a chronic b*tch to my family. I thought it was just stress from a haggard life-style with a F/T job that I hate...
It's no fair to call it PDD now (what with youngest being 5) but it's D all the same...
Sigh... I wish I could be a better mom. I feel so trapped.

Running out to get this book right now.

Also - try Perfect Madness - Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety.

"But who is merely stressed, and who is depressed?"

I've often wondered this myself. Having suffered from several episodes of clinical depression in my adult life, I always panic when I feel "that feeling" and I worry that it's back. But then you brush it off as stress because it's easier than dealing with the reality of depression.

Today is one of those days when I needed to read a post like this. Thank you!

And judging from the other comments, I am relieved to know that I am not alone.

I just sat here and cried my eyes out reading this. It is me. It is how I feel and how I treat my family. The anger, frustration, sadness, it's all, me. I have suffered from depression my whole life, but never like after I had kids. I plan on buying this book asap. Thank you so much for being honest. I'm not alone after all.

Hello. trapp2 [url=http://www.trahnu3.com]trapp3[/url] Thanks

wo! you all know the words already. Three kids, irritable all the time. job loss. stuck. looking for validation. thanks.