What does it really feel like to have depression?
When we here at Ethicool tell people that we've created a children's book on depression, most people's response is Why? Children don't need to know about that!
But we completely disagree.
Depression is no laughing matter. At any one time, 7% of the population is depressed, and one in every four people will experience this crippling issue at some point throughout their lives. It's something that many children will see and experience, but often may not understand. And we wanted to change that.
So when Riley M. Rodger's poignant and heartwarming manuscript for My Daddy's Shadow landed in our inbox, we just knew we had to commission it. Riley's beautiful story uses the perfect metaphor to describe what depression feels like; a feeling she knows all too well.
Here's a little more about why Riley wrote the book, and her deeply personal journey with her own 'shadow':
1. Riley, your first book just got published! Can you tell us a bit more about yourself?
I have two cats who definitely receive a lot of my love! I love to do woodworking and am working on getting that up off the ground.
I’ve really enjoyed learning how to make different kinds of toys and resources for kids in my life that help them discover and understand the world around them - helping them grow.
This book is another way for me to help kids understand how the world around them works.
2. Many of our authors tell us that their passion for children’s literature (and writing more broadly) began as a child. Can you tell us more about whether or how this was the case for you?
Surprisingly, no. I did love writing and that began as a child - I wrote a book for my class and read it to them, but I didn’t like to read.
I would read books because that’s what everyone else was doing, but I really struggled with the long stories and lots of words on the pages (I would get bored and didn’t find much entertainment in it - it was a bit too slow of a pay off for me).
So coming to terms with the idea that adults can read kids books too was a gateway into creating children’s literature.
I want/ed to create books that adults can also read and still find passion for reading that aren’t too many words or too basic (learning colours, etc). I also want it to be entertaining for the adults reading to the children in their lives - as well as the children of course.
3. For those of us who haven’t read My Daddy’s Shadow yet, can you tell us a bit more about what it’s about?
It’s about a little girl trying to understand her daddy’s “shadow” (depression). It shows how sometimes depression can come in waves and so there are times when she does get to have her dad “back” and there are still times when the shadow is too strong for him.
4. You mentioned - very bravely - that the topic of depression was important to you as it’s something you faced yourself. For people that haven’t experienced this, can you tell us a bit more about what having depression is like?
Someone once explained it as the steps being more drawn out. For the average human, getting up may look like this: Wake up, have breakfast, get dressed, clean teeth, leave.
But for someone with depression, every moment is harder - like you’re trudging through mud while others are on dry land.
A morning for someone with depression may look like this: wake up, turn off alarm, get out of bed, walk to the kitchen, open the cupboard, get the cereal out, get a bowl out, pour the cereal, put the cereal away, get the milk out, pour the milk, put the milk away, get a spoon out, take the cereal to the table, eat the cereal, put the dishes in the sink, walk back to your room, open the closet/drawers, decide what to wear, take your pyjamas off, put your clothes on, leave the room, go to the bathroom, get your toothbrush, open the toothpaste, put it on the toothbrush, close the lid, brush your teeth, rinse your brush, go to your keys, get your keys, open and close the door.
Even just reading that is tiring, so you can imagine how hard it is to experience as a person. There’s a lot more ‘steps’ involved, because it’s all an effort.
You have to weigh up every moment because most of your energy is spent fighting your mind.
It can also feel lonely - like there’s no one who understands. You hear about others and hear that you’re not alone but it just feels like you are the exception and no one understands your position.
You can also feel, quite frankly, a bit useless. Everyone else is able to do simple tasks that you struggle with and you can feel very much like a failed member of society. But there is value in human life because it is human life - not for the rewards society reaps from you or your input into the economy.
5. We see a lot of writers struggling with writing stories on more difficult topics such as depression. Can you talk to us through how you created My Daddy’s Shadow?
It was a long process. I started with a non-metaphorical view of depression, but it didn’t quite feel the way I wanted it to. So I moved on to the typical “black dog”, but even that felt wrong.
It doesn’t feel like a black dog to me, it felt different.
So the first step was figuring out WHAT depression felt like. After that it was about incorporating the truth. I didn’t want to sugar coat it and say they all lived happily ever after, because while that would be great, it’s not really true. Some people do manage to recover from depression entirely, but many don’t. So it was important to me to show that. I also wanted to incorporate how lonely it can feel watching from the sidelines - especially when you really want to join in.
Once I got all those pieces together, it came along quite easily. I’m very much someone who gets an idea and creates eighty different possibilities to ensure I create the perfect one.
And that perfect one was ‘My Daddy’s Shadow’.
6. What do you hope that children and their families can take from a book like My Daddy’s Shadow?
To open up the discussion around depression and mental illness.
If they can read it and then start talking about the shadow, about who may have a shadow in the children’s lives - I want it to help the kids understand the people who may be struggling around them.
A hard part is that kids may take it personally - “Oh they don’t want to go to the park with me!” - when the reality is they just don’t have the energy and they want the experience to be fun. I also hope it opens up the acceptance of just being there. Going to events even if you aren’t going to stay long or be a partier, just showing up to show up. It allows people to feel included when they’re struggling and allows kids to understand that sometimes things are too much and it’s okay to stop and go home to refill your cup.
7. And finally! A big part of Ethicool’s vision is to inspire the next generation to create change. If you could inspire the next generation of kids to do just one thing, what would it be?
To never stop asking why. It’s an important question and one that is seldom asked from previous generations (“Oh, but that’s how it’s always been done.”).
I think change begins when you start asking why. Why do we do things this way? After asking why, you can start asking “why don’t we” - Why don’t we do it this way instead?
I know parents get pestered with the why question a lot, but as unphilosophical as children make it asking 500 times a day at age 3, it becomes the curiosity that leads them to change.
And change and curiosity is what we're all about! Grab your copy of Riley's truly inspiring title My Daddy's Shadow here.
I applaud you for writing about depression. Many forms and degrees of behavioral illness exists. Young children need to understand that this is part of reality. With understanding there is a better opportunity to accept and get rid of fear and move forward with living.
As a seasoned early childhood educator I thank you for handling a difficult topic with meaningful understanding. Write on!