Homeschooling without depression is like a bushwalk that’s a little beyond your fitness level.
At some points you want to quit, but the regular glimpses of beauty are reward enough to keep plodding along.
Homeschooling with depression is like climbing Mount Everest.
With no Sherpa.
In a blizzard.
Wearing a bikini.
There’s no great view. There’s no positives. Just a really hard slog that seems neverending.
And sometimes it’s so difficult that laying down in the snow and drifting away permanently seems like a good idea.
Homeschooling requires the parent to stay positive, to carry the children along in their enthusiasm, and be carried along in theirs.
It requires creativity, motivation, the ability to be nearly constantly switched on and accessible, and (most importantly) a deep and intimate connection with each child.
All things that are really, REALLY hard when depressed.
Problem is, it’s something many of us will have to deal with at some point. With 1 in 7 Australians experiencing depression in their lifetime (and that’s without mentioning anxiety and disorders such as bipolar), there’s an awful lot of us out there, muddling through as best as we can.
My experience with depression is not something I’ve ever spoken about publicly, but I think it’s time I did – silence and pretending to cope doesn’t help anybody, especially me.
I had severe depression for about two years, and it’s only recently reached the stage where I’d classify it as mild.
I now have more good times than bad, get by without medication, and can deal with the milder bad times. I still have trouble day to day, but compared to the worst times it’s a breeze.
During those worst times I was essentially non-functional for days to weeks at a time – my daily goaIs were reduced to having a shower and keeping everyone alive. Dealing with the normal daily needs and requests of five children was totally overwhelming and required everything I had to manage.
But even during the hardest times I never thought they would be better off at school. Things may not have been ideal, but the children were still learning. They were still happy, confident, and busy.
Now I have (some) brainpower back again, I can look back and see why. Here’s what helped me during my worst times.
Have a great foundation
I was lucky in that I’d already spent many years homeschooling, and put in a lot of thought to our foundation. We already had a family culture of learning, of homeschooling as a lifestyle. We were clear on our goals, we knew the activities and curriculum we did and didn’t like, and the children had great habits of working diligently and independently.
If you don’t have a great foundation, start building one right now. You never know when it may save you.
If you’re not sure where to start, Zero to Homeschool walks you through the process.
Attend to priorities and avoid busywork
With my limited capacity I needed to make sure that the activities I did do were important ones.
I would ask myself questions constantly.
Do I NEED to organise the spice drawer? Not at all.
Do I NEED to mindlessly scroll through Pinterest? No way.
Do I NEED to help Forrest edit his letter to a penpal? Definitely.
Of course, I’m not perfect. Some days I would fritter away all of my time on rubbish and neglect the important activities.
But by trying to spend my limited energy on the important things first I made sure that many priorities got done. Even if I wasn’t doing everything I should, I was still doing some of it and we were still moving forward.
Keep up physical contact
I retreated into myself often – I couldn’t deal with myself, let alone others. I still craved intimacy, but just wanted it without any talking or questions or demands.
I regularly slept with the children. Nearly every night found me in one of their beds, spooning them, breathing in their familiar smell. It was reassuring and calming, without being at all overwhelming (after all, they didn’t do anything).
I also kept reading aloud. This is something I can do even when I’m distracted, full of anxiety, or feeling mopey. I have a multi-track mind, and one track could continue absorbing the words and speaking them while another track raced through my head at warp speed, screaming gibberish at me. While reading aloud, we snuggled. Again, we had physical contact and intimacy, with peace.
While I’m not particularly comfortable talking about depression (or any other subject I find intensely personal), I did tell the children the basics. I have depression, it makes me feel sad and blah and tired, that’s why I take tablets every morning. I would tell them if I was having a bad day. I would ask for help if I needed it.
I wanted to make it very clear that it wasn’t their fault.
I know the husband has talked to them more about it, but honestly, I don’t know what he’s said. I trust it is appropriate.
Find zero-effort educational activies
Things like documentaries, audiobooks, board games and puzzles are educational, but required no real effort from me. If I couldn’t manage anything at all I knew David Attenborough or Michael Mosley would take over our education for an hour or two. Having a few books of papercrafts or educational colouring books stashed away was reassuring – if a day got too much for me I could pull one out and gain a few hours of relative peace.
Ditto to going to many places. As we were travelling we could take full advantage of new and interesting places. Many days we would go to the museum, botanic gardens, national park or other attraction, and I would plod around in a haze while they explored, collected and learned.
We would also go to homeschool group. Sometimes, I would say hello to the parents and wander off to sit by myself. There’s probably parents all over the country who think I’m a horrible snob (sorry). But my children had a great time, and that’s all I cared about.
Finally, we used more open-and-go curriculum. I didn’t have the energy or creativity to build units from scratch. Mystery Science, MOOCs, and Story of the World were usually manageable. I kept on searching out living books and other resources I knew they would become immersed in. And we joined every library we could along the way and visited them regularly.
Take advantage of your good days
This was incredibly important. If I had some energy and attention to spare, I’d pull out the activities that were usually overwhelming for me. I’d cook extra dinner and a few loaves of bread to put away for a not-so-good day.
In essence, I’d play catch-up. I’d always knew the things I’d neglected that I really shouldn’t have, and I’d do them as soon as I was able.
This really helped to keep guilt somewhat manageable. I may not have been performing anywhere near as well as I’d have liked to, but I was still doing a reasonable job.
Would you be happy to help out someone that’s struggling?
Usually, the answer is yes – helping people is something that makes us feel good, and we all love to feel useful and needed.
Guess what? They’d probably be happy to help you out too.
Give them the opportunity to feel good, build your community, and strengthen your relationships with others.
If you can afford to pay someone to take over the busywork, like housework or errands, do so. Homeschooled teens are usually keen to earn money if you can’t afford to pay business prices.
If you need your partner to help with anything, ask them.
If friends or family offer to help in any way, say yes. Or take a deep breath and ask them.
My husband did most of the cooking and housework. He would take the children out so I could sleep (hypersomnia was a huge problem for me – it still is to some degree). He’s turned down a couple of good opportunities because they required him to be out of the house for long hours – and we both knew that I couldn’t cope with that at the time.
Hopefully, some of the tips here help you through your bad times. Please remember to get help – Google depression help line (and actually call), see your GP, and if you’re in Australia take advantage of free medical help with a mental health plan.
And remember, you can still homeschool through depression. It’s incredibly hard, but with the right management you’ll still be pleased with what your children are learning and the type of people they are.