What Depression Looks Like When You’re a Mom

By Candace Ganger

This morning was like every other. My eyes struggled to open as I dragged myself from the threaded waves of bed sheets. A grunt, or three, I make my way into the land of the living—a brightly lit house brimming with the kind of optimism only my 10 and 5-year-old can bring through an early morning sunrise—a place that feels more unfamiliar, yet more comfortable, with every passing day. My feet drag, arms just weighted appendages, while the ache in my chest awakens, emboldened by the start of another day; a new day with new beginnings and hopes, or a new day with more of the same.

Through the first cup of coffee, I’m the most unlikable protagonist: angry and restless for no real reason, but also every reason in the same breath. The series of motions adds to the gravity crushing my bones. My children sense it. They keep their distance until my eyes pop wide open, but even still, there will be an emotional barrier for some time. Until the grog completely fades (it never really does). Until something shifts my perspective.

Until it’s time to move on with this new day. And so, I do.

We dance through the morning, a dizzying array of choreographed routines to get them dressed and ready for their school day. Lunches are packed. Chores are complete. Dinner is prepped. Without giving my thoughts the chance to stack, and instigate, I move, and I keep moving, and I don’t stop moving until the day’s end. There’s an art class. And grocery shopping. And work. I work and I write, and I write and I work. I run. Far and fast, in the blazing summer heat of the south. Recovery is a cold shower where my mind wants to drift; to sink into the chasm of depression. There’s no time. There’s never any time. I do what I’m used to doing—treat the symptoms systematically, however little my attempts may help—because in the end, I want to heal. To feel the highs and lows of living.

In the evenings, I assist with homework, do the laundry, and laugh at my son’s obscure jokes. You might find me folding and re-folding the laundry, sweeping, and re-sweeping the kitchen floor, or counting, and re-counting the seconds that pass. These are pieces of my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Pieces of me. Together with my anxiety and depression, the disorders try to exhaust me to death. To defeat me. But every day, when I drag myself from my bed, I tell myself: “They can’t. They won’t. Not today.”

This is what it feels like to be a mom with high-functioning depression.

I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety from the time I could walk, and talk. Mental illness runs rampant in my family, affecting both male and female—it’s power and affliction knows no discriminatory bounds. From my brother to my grandmother, we’ve all endured similar struggles. I’ve been taught to live with, infinitely surrounded by therapies and medications; any and everything my loved ones have done, to help them and myself come to terms with their/my/our mental illnesses. Because of this, I’m proactive seeking treatment and yet, I’ve somehow settled into my adult life as a mother and wife, with a dull, lingering, invisible cloak of depression. You might not see it, but it’s there.

Some days, I’m emotionally swept away by depression’s undertow, lying in that sea of silken sheets, until I’m able to muster the courage to ask for help. Other days, when I feel more defiant, I push through the discomfort, and do whatever I have to. To be the wife my partner deserves, the mother my children need, and the woman I know I am—outside of this disease.

My exterior says I’m strong. Confident. Determined. Brave. Fearless. Resilient.

Inside, I’m weak. Insecure. Dark. Broken.

I’ve seen the top of the antidepressant mountain, and I’ve sunken into the murky pits of it. Through childhood traumas, and severe postpartum depression that nearly ended my life after the birth of my oldest, there’s little I haven’t tried to better my mental health. I want to be here; I want to live, to feel. When I think of my kids, I hope they don’t remember that early morning version of me, forever. I work hard through my day to ignore the pangs of sadness, so they remember the good times. The laughter. The endless hugs. The nose kisses. And the words I sing to them every night before they close their eyes: “You make me happy, when skies are grey.”

I’ve come a long way in managing my depression and anxiety. I’ve heard the voices of suicide, and took the steps to stay instead. It’ll never feel easy, and I have a long way to go, forever really, but I want to. Need to.

High-functioning depression is a slow-burn, invisible but powerful. I can be all the things everyone expects me to be. At the same time, the fire inside will eventually consume me, if left to its own volition. These kind of fires—unhealed wounds—will never die without the acceptance that I’m not capable on my own.  It’s a battle to be fought with an army. Through our typical days here, when I find a moment of solitude within, I see the acceptance of the real version of me—the one not buried by the depression—in my children’s eyes and I think, if they can love and accept me the way I am, maybe I can, too.

You can, too.

And so, tomorrow, when I open my eyes, I’ll try to start the new day differently. I’ll aim to embrace the beginning as the gift it is—even if I don’t feel it. And maybe, if I say it, eventually, I’ll believe it. I’ll continue doing all the things that alleviate the darkest symptoms, with the hope that the laughter bellowing through the house can be real and the depression will someday fade completely. For now, I’ll hug my kids and sing. No matter what I feel, or what the day might bring, they are the sunshine, and they’ve chosen me to beam their light upon. A light that I may be undeserving of, but one I’ll work to earn.

With that belief, maybe someday, I’ll be their light. And together we’ll shine.

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Comments (14)

  1. Dana

    Thank you, yes Candance you nailed it! I am you and you are me high functioning mom with depression! Thank you for sharing, we not not alone, we are loved, by our children, by so many we just have to believe we deserve it, if only we could believe we are worthy! Today is another day that we woke and today we made it a beautiful day for them and for them. You are awesome!!

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  2. Chelsea

    Thank you Candace. I, also suffered severe post-partum depression with my eldest son. Your story is proof that we can stay, everyday, no matter what the day brings!
    I cried when I read this:
    “if they can love and accept me the way I am, maybe I can, too.
    You can, too.”
    You are treasured hope today and to that I will add courage.
    Thanks again – Chelsea

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  3. Another mom

    Spot on. Thank you. People think I have the perfect life. I’m strong, invincible, Wonder Woman. Couldn’t be farther from the truth.

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  4. April

    This helped make me feel better. So true for me also. On the outside I have it all together and look like I am balancing raising my 2 kids by myself, but on the inside I am held together with Scotch tape. I work hard every day to make sure my kids know I love them and they are the best thing that I have in my life.

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  5. Stephany

    I can relate to this description completely. Mandisa sings a song called “He is with You”, and there is a line that says “He is with you when your kids are grown, and there’s too much space and you feel alone, and you’re worried if you got it right or wrong…” I am always praying for my kids and that they won’t remember my imperfect outlook, anxiety and depression. They are now 19, 16, and 12. They all show signs of depression and anxiety. I have gotten them help, but I am always worried about this “curse” I’ve passed on. Thank you for sharing. Makes me not feel so alone. Blessings to you.💕

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  6. Shannon

    I read this on the day my daughter began taking meds for depression, at age 18. I am heartbroken, feeling guilty and ashamed of the genetics I likely have passed on to her. I was diagnosed in my mid 20’s, and I’ve had many depressive episodes, so I am sentenced to medication for life. I’m ok with that now, but I just didn’t ever want this to be passed along to my children. I shared your post in an effort to improve my family’s understanding of high-functioning depression – you described it so beautifully and so many points hit home. Thank you so much for sharing. I want to shine for my daughter, in hopes she will shine again too.

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  7. Lee

    I choose to be happy when skies are grey.

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  8. Julius

    Thank you 🙂

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  9. Debora Veerman

    Thank you for this. So very moving.

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  10. Sarah

    Oh my gosh. I cant believe you are able to put into words everything ive been feeling. Thank you so much for your beautiful words on such an ugly disease that i hate how it affects me and my family.

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  11. Ash

    Thank you for this

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  12. Mom

    Thank you for sharing. I’ve struggled with depression, severe anxiety, and thoughts of suicide for as long as I can remember. I’m married now with two boys under two and I’ve been struggling a lot lately, especially with feeling isolated and hopeless. Medication paired with my love for my children is the only thing that helps me even get out of bed. We barely make enough money to support ourselves so I don’t have any time or money for therapy. I feel trapped and so desperately want help, but don’t now where to start.

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    1. TWLOHA

      Hey Friend,

      We hope you know that we admire your strength. We are proud of you for fighting this battle and we believe that you will win. We would love to help you start the process of finding help that is right for you. If you would like, email us at and we can send some resources that may be helpful to you!

      With Hope,

      Reply  |  
  13. Ann

    I can completey relate to this article. Thank you for sharing. I put on a face everyday for my husband and kids, but inside I don’t want to smile or talk. I do not want to be put on medication so I live with it but it’s hard. I hope one day to feel better, and I hope you have been feeling/doing better.

    Reply  |  
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