(Artwork: Tess Emily Rodriguez)
She’s made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to… Ask Erin is a weekly advice column, in which Erin answers your burning questions about anything at all.
I am at my limits of coping with my daughter’s depression.
My daughter is 20, and is pretty depressed and suffers from high anxiety. I often do the right things, but it is taking its toll on me. She has no structure to her life, no motivation, no joy, no interest in anything, no friends.
She rings my ex-husband when she's fed up with me or finds me to be pressuring her too much, and he collects her, and then vice versa. We can talk to each other about her issues, but we are in the same place really.
She has said she thinks it might be easier if she weren't here at all. I try to say that she's at the bottom of a dip at the moment and that it will get better, but although she acknowledges this, she says she always ends up here.
I have just moved to a beautiful big house — big change, and that takes time. But I can’t get her to participate or take any interest in decisions and plans. She needs to do some physical activity but hates running and is too nervous and scared of other people to join a gym.
I would like her to go and do voluntary work at a children's nursery; she did this before, and it went quite well. She could do this again but is reluctant to take the steps necessary to sort it out.
I can't do everything for her the entire time.
She's on medication and has been for three years, and we have recently changed it in the hope that things might improve. Perhaps they will make a difference, but at the moment it's all getting decidedly worse.
I found your website as she just sent me a link about worse things to say to someone who's depressed as I was trying to get her to smile rather than sit slumped and looking miserable. I said it might help to smile and sit up. So that was wrong.
Help! I am exhausted from trying to be positive and try to get her up/ dressed/outside/ doing little tasks. I talk to my friends and my ex-sister-in-law. They have no answers but do at least support.
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I understand how frustrating it can be as a parent when you can’t fix things for your kid. It’s even more frustrating when it feels like she could do things differently; she could change if she wanted to.
But that’s not how depression works.
I’ve been on both sides of mental illness, as the loved one of someone who is struggling and as the person who is struggling. As hard as it feels to be in your shoes, trust me when I say that it is far worse to be the one with depression.
My experience with depression has been lifelong. I struggled with it from the age of seven. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-30s that I really stabilized. I am not telling you this to scare you or say that it’s going to take another decade or longer for her to get some relief. I am telling you this because depression is not a one and done illness. And make no make no mistake; it is an illness.
Treating depression requires a combination of efforts, and there is no one size fits all solution.
What worked for me? Talk therapy, the right medication, and cognitive behavioral therapy. That laid the foundation for the rest which has included spiritual work, self-esteem boosting actions (like volunteering, sticking to commitments, setting a schedule for myself), etc. But without the foundation of therapy and medication, I couldn’t have arrived at the place that I could do the rest of the work. That’s important to remember.
I am glad to hear that you and your ex-husband can communicate and support her as she goes through this. And, as I said, I really get that you’re frustrated.
So, what to do with your feelings?
First, stop trying to fix her. Yes, you can be there for her as a parent when she needs an ear. Yes, this requires patience. Don’t try to solve her depression for her. Don’t tell her to smile, get outside, if you just did X you would feel better. Remain a stable touchstone in her life. Help her access care when you can — rides to therapy appointments, etc. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t set boundaries.
I know for me that boundaries, or the lack of boundaries I had, didn’t help my depression at all. It’s okay for you to set boundaries with her. Modeling healthy boundaries will help her to do the same. You do not have to do everything for her all the time.
Access support of your own.
I know I sound like a broken record in my column, but seeing a therapist yourself would be so helpful as you navigate this relationship with your daughter and her depression. Further, I know so many people, myself included who have greatly benefitted from 12-step support groups Al-Anon (not just for loved ones of alcoholics and addicts) and CoDA.
Vent to your support system. Model healthy behavior. Be there as a parent, without trying to fix it. Know that finding the right medication and therapy takes time. Dig deep for that patience, mama.
And above all, please remember that depression is not a choice.
The information within Ask Erin should in no way be interpreted as medical advice because I'm not a medical professional. But I am here to help — to share with you the wisdom I've gained after years of making mistakes. If you have a question for me about relationships, addiction, dating, friendship, depression, sex, consent, what I’m watching, what I’m reading, Black Agate, or anything at all, use the contact form below or email me at email@example.com. As always, your anonymity is golden. Lastly, I’m so excited to share my Ask Erin Self-Care Guide, free when you sign up for my weekly newsletter. xoxo