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Health / Motherhood

‘When Mommy is Sad’: A Colorado Mom’s Journey Through Depression

When Mommy Feels Sad
We recently learned about a beautiful children’s book “When Mommy is Sad” written by Heidi Bartle, a Colorado mom who has struggled with depression and bipolar disorder. In the book, she explores her feelings and actions and their impact on her family. She shares her steps toward recovery include self-care, meeting with doctors, taking medication, and working with a therapist. The story’s resolution is not one of healing, but of hope.

Tell us about yourself and your family.

My husband, Garry, and I have been married for 24 years. We have five children: two young adults, one high schooler, and two middle schoolers. They are all wonderful humans. I have a bachelor’s degree in Health Science but stayed home with my kids in lieu of working in the field until the last few years when I found my voice in the arena of mental health. My family directs a small charity called For the Love, which helps homeless students, struggling families, and foster teens living in facilities. We love strengthening the community through service. We have lived in Colorado since 2008.

Can you please tell us about your mental health journey?

I was raised in a wonderful home with a strong family. When I was in high school I was a great student, athlete, and musician. I couldn’t understand why I started feeling waves of sadness, so I kept them to myself. In the absence of a better explanation (i.e., depression), I blamed them on my own weakness. This continued for many years as depression ebbed and flowed. Depression surfaced when I was a young mom. I had every reason to be happy, but I was sad. As we grew our family I experienced the typical hormone fluctuations of pregnancy that made my biological depressive tendencies worse. Finally, after my fifth child was born, depression took its place at the forefront of my life and I couldn’t ignore or hide it anymore. 
I saw a doctor, thinking I’d feel like myself in no time. Unfortunately, I experimented with antidepressants for almost a year before finding one that helped my mood and didn’t offer terrible side effects. The first one that worked lifted my mood tremendously. I felt ready to take on the world and launched into projects and exercise plans. My psychiatrist noticed the difference and wasn’t as elated as I was. The antidepressant had trigged a manic episode, not a normal mood. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder (type II). This diagnosis was devastating. I had just begun to accept that I had a mental illness called depression, but bipolar seemed more ominous. I had a bit of an identity crisis as I looked back on my life. I realized I had experienced many manic episodes but had always defined that level of functioning as my authentic self. Depression defined the Heidi who wasn’t trying hard enough. 
Medication and therapy have helped me see differently. The extremes of bipolar magnify and suppress my innate characteristics. Authentic Heidi likes to run for exercise. Manic Heidi trains for a marathon in 11 weeks. Depressed Heidi can’t make herself exercise. A younger authentic Heidi liked to socialize and do fun things with her kids and their friends. Manic Heidi would stress about every detail of a field trip, then scrapbook photos of the event within a few days. Depressed Heidi wouldn’t go out at all. These patterns continue to emerge as I battle mental illness, even though I consider myself to be in a maintenance phase.When Mommy Feels Sad

Tell us about your new book and why you chose to write it.

In 2017 I was experiencing a major depressive episode. My therapist urged me to find a way to talk to my children about my depression. I was horrified. I was certain that if my children knew I was so broken, they wouldn’t love me. One night, I was sitting at my son’s soccer game, and the words of a story started playing in my mind. I realized it was my story–the story of a mother with depression. It described how the depression affected her family and the ways the mother tried to get better, both at home and with doctors. That night I typed the story into a Word document. I printed the pages, stapled them together, and shared the story with my kids. I was fulfilling my therapist’s assignment, but I was surprised to find how therapeutic it was to tell my kids the truth. As I shared my feelings, I cried. They asked questions. Our conversation was beautiful.
My therapist thought my story was fantastic. To my surprise, she urged publication. She and two other therapists wrote rave reviews to include with the book. About six months later, I self-published an illustrated children’s book called When Mommy Feels Sad. Earlier this year I republished with Covenant Books, adding a glossary of terms, discussion questions, and classroom activities. Parents, teachers, health professionals, and therapists can use the book to spark conversations about depression. Tender, lifelike illustrations and direct storytelling make the book an excellent guide for talking about negative feelings, mental illness, and family relationships. 

What advice/insights would you give to a fellow mom who struggles with her mental health while trying to juggle a family?

There is no shame in having a mental illness, and seeking treatment is so important. I wish I had understood when my children were young how much medication and/or therapy could help me be a better version of myself. I could have modeled good self-care and healthy emotional awareness to my children. I strongly urge those who are struggling with mental illness–diagnosed or not–to reach out to a trusted friend and ask for help.
I also advocate talking about mental illness with children and teens. Give them the gift of understanding. Use the real words–depression (or the illness you have), psychiatrist, medication, therapist–when talking about your experience. Normalize mental illness so that they can ask questions, express their feelings, and maybe get help when they need it down the road. Remember, depression is just like asthma or allergies. We aren’t ashamed of physical illnesses, and we don’t need to be ashamed of mental ones.
Learn more about Heidi at her website:
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Mile High Mamas
Author: Mile High Mamas

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