Shonda Schilling, wife of former Major League Baseball championship pitcher and six-time All Star Curt Schilling, seemed to have it all: four beautiful children and a comfortable lifestyle that enables her to be a full-time mother and wife.
Publicly, Shonda appeared to handle her children’s needs with ease with poise and a dazzling smile. Privately, however, she was struggling with depression that was exhausting and painful.
“It’s hard to believe I was unaware of my depression. But, I hid it from everyone, including myself,” she says. “I would crawl into bed when the kids went to school and sleep until 1:00 p.m. when I needed to get up to take care of them. I felt like I could fall asleep at any moment. I felt like I had worked for days and days and hadn’t slept. The depression was big and affected how I felt in every way.”
With Curt constantly on the road with the team, Shonda was often at home with the kids, all of whom have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Her eldest son also struggles with an eating disorder. And her son Grant’s behavior was spiraling out of control. Finally, in 2007, Grant was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome-a form of autism that has recently been found in children who at first glance appear disruptive and difficult.
“I now realize that I’d been depressed for a long time,” Shonda writes in her new book, The Best Kind of Different: Our Family’s Journey with Asperger’s Syndrome (HarperCollins 2010). “I look back, and it makes perfect sense. I would hear the noise of everything going on in the house, but I wouldn’t react. I felt as if I were watching my crazy world from the vantage point of a fly on the wall.”
“The self-consciousness that I’d always felt as the wife of a ballplayer stretched to new heights following Grant’s diagnosis,” Shonda writes. “Though finding out the truth about Grant had been a huge relief when it came to the practical things and managing his behavior, it had torn me up internally. I was down on myself for all that was happening with the kids and their many diagnoses. I blamed myself for not noticing that Grant was really different and not getting him help sooner. I’d lie in bed at night unable to fall asleep because I couldn’t stop thinking about all the times I’d treated him completely the opposite of the way I was supposed to treat him. The times when I’d yelled, the times when I’d punished-now that I understood more about how he processed the world, those scenes haunted me on a nightly basis. Instead of happy memories of Grant’s childhood, the past seemed to hold only examples of my own parental ignorance.”
The paradox between Shonda’s public persona and her private pain only added guilt to her malaise. “I didn’t want to complain,” she says. “My husband did something that millions of little boys dreamed of doing. We had plenty of money. I didn’t have to have a job. I had four beautiful children. What did I have to complain about? But, I would constantly compare myself to other parents, with their straight-A students and their star athletes.”
As Shonda watched how her own children were turning out, all she could see was her failure as a parent, her complete inability to measure up. While she longed to emulate her mother: “a great role model who handled everything,” she lived in fear of ending up like her father who had depression.
Reaching Out for Help
“For so long, so many doctors-including Dr. Shaughnessy and going back to Dr. Rosenberger, who first diagnosed Grant’s Asperger’s-had recommended I get help,” she writes. “I kept mistaking their suggestions for insults, a sign they thought I was failing at my job of full-time stay-at-home mom and wife-the only jobs I had. My response, when I wasn’t too offended to get an answer out, would be a very impatient ‘I don’t have time.'”
It wasn’t until 2007, shortly after Grant’s diagnosis, that Shonda finally called her family doctor. Fortunately, she found relief relatively quickly through a combination of antidepressant medication and therapy. “The therapy helped me find sympathy for myself,” Shonda says. “I want to take care of everyone else. But, if I don’t take care of myself, I can’t help my family. Through therapy, I am learning how to get my own needs met. I’ve realized that I can’t handle everything, like my son Gehrig’s eating disorder. This is not something I can handle on my own. There are experts who know a lot about eating disorders. They can help us.”
“I’ve learned to do the things I want to do when the kids are at school. I have a group of girlfriends that I go to lunch with regularly. I go to therapy because I want to. I also like to play a game of Solitaire before I go to bed. It calms me down. I love my life now. I enjoy and don’t worry. I have no interest in going back to the baseball life. I don’t want to have to get dressed up and impress others. I am allowed to be me.”
Shonda worries that her children will develop depression. But she and Curt instill in them an understanding that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength.
“I try to teach my kids to recognize their triggers, to be open to recognizing them. My kids have no problem talking to a therapist. They are open. Sometimes, we do need help. But in the end, these experiences have made our marriage and our family stronger.”