Q: I am 29 and have trouble controlling my anger.
I divorced last year after nine years of marriage, have a 3 1/2-year-old daughter and have struggled for 10 years with depression even though I have been in counseling and was on Prozac for a short time. I have been doing much better since I divorced and bought my own place, but I still tend to take out my anger on my daughter, via verbal and emotional abuse.
I know I get mad at her because of my own long-standing issues. I dropped out of college after three years and haven't been able to get back into school and I'm also obese -- 300 pounds.
I don't know where to begin to pull myself together, but mostly I need help to control my anger, so I don't take it out on my daughter.
A: It will be easier to show your little girl love and respect once you begin treating your depression.
First call Parents Anonymous (909-621-6184), which sponsors free support groups around the country for parents who have abused their children -- verbally or physically -- or who are afraid they might. Together you will share your fears and your successes, swap practical advice and techniques and cheer each other up.
You'll still explode sometimes -- even the best moms do -- but with PA's help you'll do it less and apologize more. Children are wonderfully resilient and forgiving, but they still need extra hugs and a big "I'm sorry" when their parents treat them badly.
PA can help you show your love to your daughter, but you must conquer your depression before you can learn to love yourself. Otherwise, your self-esteem will be undercut by the symptoms of depression -- the sadness and fatigue, the shifting moods, the poor concentration, the anger and anxiety and by the way you sleep -- or eat or move -- too little or too much.
Ten years ago a psychiatrist might have said you were depressed because you were turning your anger inward or that you were angry at your daughter because you felt mad at yourself or helpless, but the problem is more complicated.
Today clinical depression is considered a serious medical illness that can appear spontaneously but is usually born in the genes and tripped by a crisis later. Although it can begin earlier, it tends to surface in the late teens or early twenties; it hits twice as many women as men and it generally strikes them in their baby-making years.
The good news: 90 percent of all cases can be treated successfully.
Go to a careful, caring internist for a thorough physical to discover or rule out metabolic problems or an endocrine disorder -- such as a low thyroid -- or cardiovascular disease, a chronic inflammation or a problem like candida. Any of these conditions -- and more -- can cause depression and must be treated first.
If they are ruled out, however, the internist -- or a psychiatrist or a psychopharmacologist -- will probably prescribe an anti-depressant, which can change the chemistry in your brain to make it work normally. You may have to try several drugs to find the right one, however, and wait two to three weeks for it to work.
You should also see a therapist or at least join a support group sponsored by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (800-950-6264) or by the National Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association (800-826-3632). For more help, read the fine new book on depression, "Restoring Intimacy," which you can order from NDMDA for $12.95.
These suggestions may seem overwhelming right now, but you've already had the courage to reach out for help. If you can find a little more, you can pull out of this quagmire and your daughter will bless you for it.
Please send your questions to Box 15310, Washington DC 20003 or to firstname.lastname@example.org