Motherhood And Madness

DepressionBy Dr. Dorree Lynn

When her husband suddenly walked out on her, my friend Barbara was a very young mother of four children between the ages of two and six. Her husband had become addicted to pot and their marriage had begun to disintegrate. Barbara was a “good girl” and she had sixteen years of perfect attendance Sunday School pins to attest to this fact. She had left college to marry her childhood sweetheart, and a family was soon on the way. No money and sudden single motherhood almost threw her over the edge.

Depressed, scared and overwhelmed, she found herself filled with feelings hitherto unfelt. Her nerves were frayed, she wanted to scream and when the children screamed she wanted to shut them up any way she could. Terrified that she would harm her children, she would lock herself in a closet until she could regain control of her feelings. I was always impressed by her ingenious solution.

Barbara had no family and no support in the neighborhood. In desperation, when she could muster the energy, she would pack all four children on a bus and visit her ailing mother for what minimal help and solace her mother could offer. Days seemed dark and there were many nights where Barbara would have just as soon not seen the next day. She had no job skills, so she went on welfare to survive. With the little money that she was able to scrounge, she found a therapist tohelp her. “Dorree,” she once told me, “If I could find the money to get professional help, anyone can. Don’t ever let any one tell you otherwise.” It was a lesson I learned well.

According to Barbara, therapy saved her life. Slowly, she began to function and the closet no longer seemed the only hope of saving herself and her kids. This event had happened many years ago, before the advent of drugs, and support groups and even religious outreach programs. Pretty much all alone, Barbara began to rebuild her life and to mother her children. Eventually she remarried.

In spite of their original hardship, two of the children blossomed, and two took many years to straighten themselves out and to grow into decent functioning men. Barbara made many mistakes along the way. But who can blame her? In my view, she deserves kudos and badges for courage and perseverance and for the knowledge that she not only needed help, but also that she managed to find it.

It is a myth that mothering is easy or always joyous. There are few women in our society who don’t know the feeling of wanting to hurt a collicky or screaming child or leave the room in order not to. Most women have the feelings and never act on them. A few, like Andrea Yates, break and go over the edge into a realm unthinkable by the majority. These women are desperate and in despair. And, if married, their husbands, are equally culpable if they turn away from what they know is going on.

Barbara has remained a close friend. Her life path is very different from mine. But, the wisdom gained from her struggles so generously shared with me, has taught me not to judge harshly. Motherhood is supposed to be the best time of our lives. For many of us, as much as we may love our children, simply, it is not.

This column’s for you,
Dorree Lynn, PH.D.

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Dr. Dorree Lynn is co-founder of the Institute for the Advanced Study of Psychotherapy and a practicing clinician in New York and Washington, DC. Dr. Lynn served on the executive board of the American Academy of Psychotherapists and she is on the editorial board of their publication, Voices. She is also a regular columnist for the Washington, DC newspaper, The Georgetowner. Dr. Lynn is a noted speaker and well known on the lecture circuit.

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