A few years ago several things happened in my life that changed me. I can’t say which particular thing was the final straw that broke the camels back (so to speak) but the chain reaction of events triggered something in my brain and I went into a very dark place.
I am sharing this with you here to bring focus on the normality and reality of depression and my journey with it.
I am nervous, not because I am ashamed, but because I don’t want to be looked at differently or pitied. I don’t want friends to feel uncomfortable leaving their children in my care. I don’t want to be judged. I had a colleague scoff when I told her I planned to become a counselor specialising in women’s mental health. She told me I’d need to sort myself out before I could help anyone else. That cut deep and I contemplated deleting this post altogether.
I do not have a thick skin, and so what was likely a throw away comment for her will sit with me for days.
Then, I realised that every woman who inspires me and who I look to for wisdom, courage and guidance has been through her own pain in some way or another and has been brave enough to share her story. They inspired me and I hope my story does the same for someone else. Through our own grief we can help others and heal ourselves.
So, on with my story.
I didn’t seek help straight away. I felt that I was justified in my feelings for a time and figured I would get through it eventually. I saw a counselor sporadically and relied heavily on close friends and family. I had my kids who kept me moving through each day and I got to a place where I was okay perhaps 70 percent of the time. It was the rest of the time that was the problem.
I would fall into such a dark depression that, at times, I honestly didn’t know if I would get out. I would have panic attacks and feel as though there was a huge weight on my chest suffocating me.
Sometimes, I felt as though I was out of my body looking at myself as a crumpled, broken mess on the floor and I wanted so desperately to gather the pieces of me in my arms and tell myself it would be okay. I would cry and sometimes feel like I couldn’t do anything to make myself feel better.
It was after months with no improvement in my moods when I finally caved and decided to seek help from my GP. Originally I asked for a Mental Health Care Plan so I could start seeing my counselor regularly, however, I soon went back and requested medication. I felt like such a failure requesting those pills. I should have been able to sort myself out. People go through so much worse and get through it. What was my problem? My GP was fantastic. She told me that it’s not about covering up or masking the issue. It is about clearing out all the clutter in your brain so you can look at situations clearly and actually help yourself heal. You can’t fill from an empty (or in my case, very full and overwhelmed) cup.
I also suffered from anxiety and had done all my life, although it only became a problem for me after having children. While it is not abnormal for a mother to worry constantly about her children, I would worry to the point of getting no sleep. I would check my first born was breathing multiple times a night, sometimes waking her in the process. I would question myself constantly about whether she was dressed warmly enough or too warmly at night. I used to send my sister messages when we had babies the same age asking what her baby was wearing to bed that night. When my girls were older, I would often come home from a perfectly lovely and drama free day out with them, and then in bed that night, I would imagine every possible scenario that could have happened. If we went to the beach and had a lovely day, that night I would be imagining losing my child or her falling under the water. This would happen all the time and I was a mess.
My GP prescribed Zoloft. This would combat the anxiety and the depression. She told me to give it two weeks and see how I felt. I started on a relatively low dose and waited for amazing changes. I thought I would suddenly feel happy all the time and life would be grand. That didn’t happen of course, but, what did happen (and it was the most incredible feeling) was that the noise in my mind stopped. It was just silence. I hadn’t realised how noisy it was in there. I was constantly thinking and going over and over things, and now there was nothing. It was bliss. The other thing I noticed was that while I would still feel sad at times, it was a manageable level of sadness. I didn’t fall apart and cry. I could acknowledge the sadness and move forward. I just felt calmer. I felt emotion and I planned for things, but where little things used to stress me out and make me anxious or irritated, now, I was able to let them go. It was liberating.
I played around with the dosage a little under my GP’s guidance, upped my dose through particularly difficult periods and then when I felt I was a little too numb, dropped it back again. I have now been on Zoloft for two years at the original dose and it has been good. I tried recently to come off them. I weaned myself very slowly and was going well until around a week without any medication. Then I started feeling low and sad again, started having the occasional panic attack and felt the darkness come back a little.
I immediately went back to the GP and she told me, in no uncertain terms, that what I have is an illness like any other. Just because it is in my brain and not my hip or shoulder, I can’t expect it to heal without proper care and rehabilitation. I must exercise regularly, change my diet and have regular therapy. Then, and only then will I be able to try to come off them again.
I am in a good place now, I am making changes to my lifestyle to feel better. I am not as scared to share my story. Those closest to me already know, and if it helps others to realise they need help or that they should feel okay about depression then it is worth it for me.