“Where did mommy’s smile go?” was something I often asked when I was a preteen after my father’s death at a young age. I remember a lot of crying in our house.
Kim Fluxgold of Thornhill, Ont., can relate. Now in her 40s – having been through therapy to deal with her own severe depression – she’s written a children’s book, Where Did Mommy’s Smile Go?, aimed at kids ages four to 10. The beautifully illustrated softcover tackles the difficult topic of explaining a parent’s depression to a young child.
Fluxgold said that in the 1970s and ‘80s no one really talked about mental health, yet it seemed that an awful lot of families were dealing with just such disorders, including her own. Fast forward to 2019, and people are being encouraged to openly discuss anxiety, depression and suicide prevention with Mental Illness Awareness Week in Canada in October and Bell’s Let’s Talk Day in January.
Fluxgold is thrilled that, unlike in the past, people are now more open about mental health issues. “I’m relieved that it’s become more acceptable to have discussions about how young people are affected by the mental health issues in their families, and by their own issues,” she said.
Fluxgold’s journey with her mental health issues began in earnest five years ago when she was 43. Working in a job she now realizes was detrimental to her well-being, she found herself feeling without purpose and believing she was on the wrong path in life. When she began thinking she was a burden to everyone around her, Fluxgold realized she was having an emotional and existential crisis.
That awful day in 2014 led her to several hospitalizations and life-saving counselling, but also to this new path she’s found herself on in the last year – as an advocate and spokesperson for those with depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.
Fluxgold started writing a blog that became part of her healing process. She wrote what she describes as a “very authentic” letter to herself in 2016 that provided great clarity for her, and helped her realize that her current issues and the paths she had taken stemmed from her earlier life. That impactful letter helped Fluxgold realize she had to share her journey and bring mental health to the forefront for discussion.
Fluxgold’s children were preteens and teenagers when her breakdown happened. She said they were scared and confused, just as she was, and they didn’t really know what was happening. It was difficult for them to understand the situation and to not blame themselves. Watching her kids experience her pain along with her led her to write a poem about her feelings and the impact her illness was having on her family. That poem evolved into Where Did Mommy’s Smile Go?
In the book, the characters are illustrated to look like her children and her husband. It is their story and they each had input into all aspects of the book. Fluxgold said her journey needed to be a shared one, as a way to empower her children also.
The book is written from a child’s perspective, and the first half provides a picture of a healthy, normal family doing what families do. Then, suddenly, Mommy’s mood begins to change and she begins to spend more time alone.
Fluxgold’s hope for the book is that it will create conversations in families that might not readily discuss their feelings and “allow children to understand that they are safe, loved and not to blame for their parents’ depression. Children should be reassured they can share their feelings and not feel judged.”
Fluxgold is vocal about how much her supporters have saved her life, time and again. “I want people to understand that no matter what, it’s OK not to be OK when you have the right people in your corner. I feel incredibly blessed, despite this roller-coaster I’ve been on.”