It came over me most often at night, after my little girl was in bed. It came after my computer was shut down, after my work was put away, and the lights were turned out. That’s when the suffocating waves of grief and loneliness hit hardest, coming at me again and again, threatening to pull me under and drown me in my own tears.
I’d dealt with depression before. But in my adult life, this was surely the most relentless bout I had experienced.
Of course, I knew why I was depressed. Life had gotten hard, confusing, and scary. A friend had taken his life, and everything else spiraled downward from there. My relationships all seemed to be breaking apart. Old wounds with my family were coming to the surface. Someone I believed would never leave me just disappeared. And all of it piled on top of me like this weight I couldn’t bear to carry anymore.
If it hadn’t been for my daughter, standing on land before me as the waves kept threatening to pull me down, I’m honestly not sure I would have survived it.
Not surviving wasn’t an option, though. As a single mother, I didn’t have the luxury of falling apart. I didn’t have the option of breaking.
I know that’s why depression hit me most at night. During the day, I had someone relying on me completely. There was no other parent waiting in the wings to take over as I worked through my grief. There was no one else to tag in if I was having a bad day.
There was just this little girl, whom I love more than anything or anyone else in this world, counting on me to keep it together. So I did my best. Every day was a battle. I had limited energy for anyone else. But for her, I pushed every ounce of strength I had to the surface.
I don’t believe I was the best mom in those months. I was certainly not the mom she deserved. But I forced myself out of bed day after day. I got on the floor and played with her. I took us out on mommy-daughter adventures. I fought through the fog to show up, again and again. I did all of that for her.
In some ways, I think being a single mom might have saved me from the darkness. Her little light was shining brighter and brighter every day, reminding me of why it was so important to fight through the hurt I was feeling.
Each day, it was a fight. Let there be no doubt: there was a fight. There was forcing myself back into regular therapy, even when finding the hours to do so felt impossible. There was a daily battle with myself to get on the treadmill, the one thing forever capable of clearing my mind, even when all I wanted to do was hide beneath my sheets. There was the grueling task of reaching out to friends, admitting how far I had fallen, and slowly rebuilding the support system I had inadvertently demolished in my haze.
There were baby steps, and it was hard. In so many ways it was harder because I was a mom. Time for self-care seemed even more limited than it had been before. But there was also that voice whispering in my head, reminding me that this little girl I am so blessed to call my own was counting on me.
That voice wasn’t always kind. There were moments when my face was soaked in tears and I looked in the mirror only to hear that voice say, “This isn’t strength. This isn’t the woman you want your daughter to see.” Logically, I knew that voice was wrong. I knew that even the best mothers fall apart sometimes, and that it’s OK for our kids to see us struggle.
In my heart, however, I just wanted to be better. I wanted to be better for my daughter, because single moms don’t have the luxury of breaking. That voice in my head was always quick to remind me how deeply I was failing in my role each time I allowed those tears to fall. To be clear: I did spend a fair amount of time in therapy talking just about that voice.
Life is hard. If you had asked me a year ago, I would have told you I had it all figured out. I would have told you that the pieces of my life had come together like the pieces of a puzzle, and that everything was as idyllic as I could have possibly imagined.
But I’m not perfect. I never will be. I’ve experienced anxiety and depression. I fall apart when things get hard. Luckily, I also have the ability to pull myself out of those traps. I’ve done it before. I know that if I’m dragged under again, I’ll do it then, too.
I’ll pull myself up for my daughter—for both of us. I’ll do it for our family. Bottom line: I’m a single mom, and I don’t have the luxury of breaking.
Leah Campbell is a writer and editor living in Anchorage, Alaska. A single mother by choice after a serendipitous series of events led to the adoption of her daughter, Leah is also author of the book Single Infertile Female and has written extensively on the topics of infertility, adoption and parenting. You can connect with Leah at her personal website (LeahCampbellWrites.com) on twitter (sifinalaska), and Facebook.