Talking to kids about depression
This interview is from A Kids Book About: The Podcast, with host Matthew Winner and author of A Kids Book About Depression, Kileah McIlvain. It has been lightly edited for clarity.
What is depression?
Depression is a state of your brain, and actually it's a disorder that causes the brain to feel so sad and so discouraged, that it really gets in the way of doing everyday life.
When we talk about depression, we often link it to sadness. But, as you can imagine, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
Different people experience depression differently.
My feelings of depression make me feel really alone, like nobody really understands what's going on inside my head because a lot of that, you're feeling it inside and it kind of feels like it's a fog that you can't really see through.
It kind of keeps me from being able to enjoy the things that I normally know I like to do-–like garden and read or listen to music or sing.
And honestly, sometimes it makes me feel angry, cause I kind of feel like I'm not in control of how I'm feeling.
That experience of not being able to control how you’re feeling is something I think you’ve probably experienced at least once in your life? Or maybe you’re even nodding along, saying, “Oh my word I feel that feeling all the time!”
Well, sometimes it can't be avoided, and sometimes there are triggers. There are really sad things that have happened in my life and I know that it has triggered a state of depression for me.
Looking back before I knew much about it at all, it was just this overwhelming sadness and loneliness. And when I started getting help and when things started looking up because I was getting help, I felt less alone.
And so now sometimes with more tools I can kind of see when that's kind of coming on. I'm like, “Uh-oh. Things are feeling pretty grim and pretty dark.” But now that I know that I have trusted people that I can talk to about it, I have medicine that I take that will help me be able to recognize when my mind is going to those foggy places, those alone feeling places. That really does make a difference.
So now I can recognize it more, and it doesn't always need a reason to just kind of show up. Sometimes there is. Sometimes things trigger it. And sometimes it just kind of shows up and it's not really anybody's fault. It's just there.
This whole episode today is going to revolve around help. I always save time to ask our authors about how we can be of help to others as we go about our lives and you might recognize some of the same strategies suggested in previous episodes coming up again today. That’s terrific.
I think one of the greatest tools you have to help others, listeners, is your ability to feel empathy. That means your ability to connect with how someone else is feeling. And that often leads to doing, doesn’t it? Doing something to help that other person feel seen and loved and supported.
I think that without the help that I do have now… I just remember feeling really overwhelmed. And I think that when I was able to start getting help, hearing that other people dealt with the same thing that I do, or just generally understood how I felt and that it wasn't something that I needed to be scared of...That really helped.
I think a lot of the feelings of loneliness, at least, and, and hope knowing that there are other people. I'm not alone. And even if it doesn't cure it for the rest of my life, there's hope. And that I can grow. And that there are people there to help me out when I'm in a spot where I don't feel like I can move on or where I can't get up. Being there for each other, it makes all the difference.
If I'm in a place where I can help somebody else, even if I'm struggling, I think that makes all the difference. I feel like in some ways it makes what I struggle with meaningful because somebody else might be going through the same thing too and might feel really lonely. And if I can help them by even just saying, “I know what it feels like. You're not alone. Let me point you in the right direction.” You know? I wish somebody had done that for me when I was a kid, you know, and I didn't have words to say how I was feeling. I didn't know where to get help.
And honestly, a lot of the adults in my life either didn't understand, or I was just, wasn't even taught words to say, you know, like I'm feeling this way or this feels really, really dark. And you know, when it's scary to you, sometimes you can feel well, maybe it could scare somebody else. I don't know.
Excellent, excellent point there! If it’s scary to you, sometimes you might feel that whatever you’re feeling might be scary to somebody else, too. And that, in turn, might make you keep your feelings to yourself. But listener, please. No matter what you’re feeling inside, please share it with someone who you know will listen. That is exactly what your person would want you to do. Trust me.
It took one person, and that person for me was actually my husband. We were on our way to a music practice and we were in the car and I don't know what brought it on, but I just started to totally break down.
I talk about this in my book, but everything just started kind of flooding out…
And so he actually stopped the car, and [it] was in the middle of summer. And we were walking through a park and it was three hours long with me just saying “I... I'm suffering and I don't even know what to do about it. I feel this way. It's super dark. And I don't see any reason for me to just continue being here at all.” I felt angry. I felt sad. I felt lonely and he listened and then he hugged me. And those were the turning points.
It didn't mean that everything was immediately better, but just to be seen and just to be known and have somebody listen...it was that point that I got help. And, and so I'm really thankful for that. Even if I didn't have the words at the time he was there.
It can be scary to ask for help. You know that, listener. I know you’ve felt that before. And finding the right kind of help? That’s something that can take time and it’s often different from one person to the next.
I have a really wonderful psychiatrist that I see. And she is a part of the team of people helping check in with me, check in with my mind, and see where I'm at, how I'm feeling. And they're specifically trained to be a safe place for me to be able to talk about how I'm feeling and talk about options, like what's helpful. Is it, spending a few minutes of meditation and working on my breathing to help calm my whole body down to, to kind of stop and check in with myself and see how I'm feeling?
Sometimes it's really easy to ignore taking care of ourselves when we don't really understand how to identify how we're feeling. But it's been really, really helpful having a therapist. I can talk to my kids even about how I'm feeling because after I wrote my book, actually, even though we're very open about talking about how we feel in my family, um, the book that I wrote helped them to have more words and kind of put even their own mom on their radar and others who might be experiencing the same things to be able to say, “Hey, I've noticed this. Here… can I help?”
“Can I help?”-- If each of us made it a point to sincerely ask that question each and every day, we could all accomplish a whole lot of good.
I think even just acknowledging someone or noticing somebody makes a huge difference in someone's life because feeling depression is so, it's such a lonely feeling. It's such a deeply lonely and isolating feeling…
If I were to go back and tell the person that I was when I was feeling all those things and when everything kind of came flooding out in that park in Portland, like I would say to her that there is hope and that my story does matter. And that my place here in this world matters, even if I can't feel it. And even if I can't see it. Especially the hard parts.
And it's okay for the hard parts to make up our life and to be a part of who we are and that it may feel scary, but it's, it's still worth it. And if we can even recognize the hurting and the struggling in our own life or in someone else's life, making that small point of connection can make the difference between life and death for somebody.
And that small bit of courage...it's worth it.
Each week on A Kids Book About: The Podcast, we talk about the big things going on in your world with a different author from our A Kids Book About series. This week, we have Kileah McIlvain, the author of A Kids Book About Depression.