Editors note: This is the seventh in a monthly series of guest posts on the subject of mental health. For April we hear from Emma, a full-time mum, part-time volunteer, part-time career advisor and a Licensed Lay Minister. She talks of her lifelong issues with depression and post-natal depression and her words will I am sure strike a chord with many of us. She has her own blogs at http://llmcalling.blogspot.com/ and http://majorloveoffilm.blogspot.com/.
I agreed to write this guest post about my experience of depression, but being faced with an empty screen was daunting and left me wondering where to start. Then I realised that when I thought about my depression I saw images, so here goes.
How does depression look to you?
Is it far away, something that happens to others, just a shadow in the background?
Is it black and all-encompassing and around you every day?
Is it blinding white?
Or panic red?
For me depression has looked different each time I have been struck by it, I guess that’s why I never spot the very early stages, although I’m getting better. So with the aid of images and the questions I have asked each time I’ve been engulfed, come through my life and it’s ups and downs.
Why? What’s going on? How can I be popular at school?
Only now, looking back, do I realise how badly bullied I was at school. How I hated playtimes and PE lessons and the endless party invitations I never received. Everyday my self-esteem plummeted and I thought less of myself. In the end I believed myself to be worthless and useless.
I have been battling against that ever since. It comes back with a vengeance when I am in a depressive episode, it eats away at my soul and grows and grows so that I believe it all over again.
What’s happening to me?
Why doesn’t anyone like me?
Is this what everyone’s life is like?
Secondary school was, if anything, worse than primary school. OK the lessons were better and the fact that we were streamed helped, and the way I was with different people. But somehow the bullying followed me and then was taken up by others. Weirdly though I found a way to cope; I learned that if I ignored and stayed being friendly that they gave up a bit. In the end I was providing homework help to those kids who had the vicious tongues. It would be fine in a small group, but in a class or larger group I was the victim.
Why am I not enough?
Will anyone ever love me?
How will I go on from here? How can I take all this pain away?
At 16 things changed, I found myself somehow and joined a group that felt right and gave me the confidence to be me. I even got a boyfriend and life was amazing, best ever, for over a year.
And then it was over and my first massive depression came upon me. I couldn’t function, couldn’t see anything but the end, and I tried to bring it about. If I couldn’t keep that love then I was unlovable. There was no point. It took me a couple of years to really come out of this episode, a move away to university and my first real girl friends; finally I started to realise my worth.
When is the next holiday?
When can we escape again? Why isn’t my career making me happy?
I met my husband at university, we found jobs close to each other, we moved across the country together and we bought our first flat. We were engaged and planning a wedding and we both were succeeding in our careers. Life was good. Yet depression struck again. More subtle this time, I started realising that I was living for the holidays, the times when we could escape real life and be just us. It was escapism I was craving and eventually I couldn’t get enough. This time a promotion and job move was the cure.
Is it morning?
Why am I so exhausted?
Do I have to get out of bed today?
This is how depression felt in my late twenties. A void.
An expanse of unexplored, unknown and unforgiving land surrounding my dark hole.
Yet I was happily married, with a successful career and none of it made any sense.
I could barely get out of bed, I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome; but looking back it was clearly the good old depression. And something in me finally realised it because this was when I finally made it into counselling, a decision for which I will be eternally grateful to myself.
Why me? Why my babies?
Will I ever be a mother? Do I deserve to ever be a mum?
Anyone would be depressed when they suffer grief; well that is what miscarriage is. Have three in just over a year, with fertility treatments in between and it is completely understandable why I was as depressed as I was. After my third miscarriage I could barely function at all, sometimes I got out of bed, occasionally I left the house. I avoided my friends, my GP, my counsellor. I just didn’t want to feel better. And then I fell pregnant again, and this time I stayed pregnant, and then my baby was born.
Panic, panic, panic.
What if something happens to her? Will I ever be a good enough mother?
I had my much longed for, much loved, much adored baby. I could not have been happier. OK I was stressed about everything, but that’s normal for first time mums. OK I couldn’t leave her side or let anyone else do anything, but then she was my baby that we had waited five years for. OK I had no idea what to do with myself when she was asleep, but surely that was sleep deprivation.
It took over four months to be diagnosed with Post Natal Depression (PND); mainly because I was a-typical. I was happy and contented and functioning; but I was panicky and anxious and terrified something would happen to my girl. I didn’t want time away, not at all; I wanted never to leave her side. I wanted to always gaze into her beautiful eyes and hold her soft fingers. But luckily my GP saw what was happening and was kind and gentle and took me through the fact that I was anxious because I was grieving the loss of my previous babies. Yes I was depressed, but it was OK and acceptable and treatable.
I had tried anti-depressants previously in my life and hated them, HATED them! The numbness and the sloppiness and the lack of joy; but these ones were different apparently. And different they were, they didn’t take away the joy, but they eased the anxiety, and within 2 months I was feeling much more like me again.
Why am I isolating?
Why am I sleeping so much? Where has all my positivity gone?
This is how my depression feels now.
If my normal emotional state is a rainbow in a blue sky, then my depressed times feel like a faded rainbow in a stormy sky. I am still on my medication, but only a low dose with slight increases for periods if needed. I see my counsellor come what may, even when I know it’ll be hard. And I share how I felt and how I feel – it helps.
Life is good, it is real, it has it’s ups and downs like anyone else has.
Now I don’t panic.
Now I see the signs, even if a little later than I’d like.
Now I go to see my GP to adjust my meds.
Now I increase the frequency of my counselling sessions.
Now I reach out to friends and family and stop isolating myself.
For today my depression is a condition I live with, like Diabetics live with their condition. Like them I regularly check how I’m doing, and I adjust my therapies accordingly. I might one day be free of this thing called depression; but for now I live with it, openly, acceptingly and hopefully.
Now every day is a rainbow; it just varies in its brightness.