The following is a piece of writing I completed a few years back now. I hope it gives hope to those experiencing Mental Ill-health, that no matter how bad life can get, there is always light, love and hope. I am now managing my condition successfully and although I still have vivid memories of those times, that is what they now are; memories. Follow the Path with the light.
You get to the point of no return everyday. What, who pulls you back you don’t know, you’re not even grateful. You’re not resentful either though; you just don’t have the energy to care.
I remember being there, that numbness in your mind and heart. You fight it, albeit in vain, there’s no real control. The touch of your husband’s hand awakens you briefly, but the cuddles, the radiant smiles of your two boys mean nothing. Are they really mine? They’re cute and all, but I am not watching someone else’s children? That overwhelming instinct to protect; gone! That uncontrollable urge to soothe any hurt; evaporated. Let someone else love them for a while. I feel nothing. Yet, paradoxically, that very feeling keeps me panic stricken. How has this come to pass? To feel such nothingness and yet to have no control over feeling it? What will it have me feel tomorrow? It, being the operative word. It’s a beast that consumes you, takes away all predictability of thought, speech and action. It takes away you, and any sense of you before it: Post-natal depression.
I’m back from there, but I am not yet saved. I am yet to work what ultimately saves you. Maybe it’s the unconditional love of those you carried that finally penetrates the void. Perhaps it’s the constant, undying love and support of your partner, that never bending reassuring look in his eyes that brings you back. I am back, but not completely, perhaps completely, forever, is just an illusion. But it no longer has me in full grasp and I can feel its fingers slipping. That’s the one constant that keeps me moving forward. Can never, never go back there. What happens to those without that trampoline of love and support to bounce them back? Where do they go? What evil does it end up reaping on them?
You know-I cuddled my youngest last night and he smiled at me. At that very moment I knew I was still treading up hill, but also still moving further away from that cold, cold dungeon. It was only then did I realise I had not yet loved him until this point. To know I now do lifts you higher than ever disorder could ever dare to reach and pull you down.
It’s shaky ground. It’s a constant barrage of unconstants. One minute you feel you might almost have control, you almost, with that new feeling of parental love growing from your heart, believe you can now wade through almost anything, scarred and bruised but surviving. Yet the next minute you can feel yourself plummeting, reaching out your hand for someone to grab you. Only now do I know, the only real person to ultimately do that is me. She took me back there, but I now know I let her. I was temporarily lost, my crying eyes, my shaking body pleading my husband to try and bring me back. You know though, it’s not an infinite well. How many times can he do that?
It’s really quite simple now. On some days, used to be most before it moved and took over my whole being, not a thing can go wrong. Yet, there are those other days! You are loving them, enjoying them and bang, one bad nappy change, one interrupted sleep, one phone call and you’re as fragile as a crystal again. You want to break, but you get through it, body, mind, sometimes even a strained smile intact. See, that’s the difference between being here and being there. If I was still there I would not have survived the day with the ticking bomb only in my head, weighing down my body for only me to feel. I would have curled up into a little ball, retreated behind my wall of nothingness and let my children be some else’s problem. Each time this happens, I believe in something saving me. The difference as time goes on though, is that I know part of that something is now me. I am now actively using what has been taught to me, to survive and to even sometimes overcome obstacles to experience joy.
You know, having post natal, has been one of the most difficult obstacles I have ever faced. But like every journey, I have learned infinite amounts of knowledge, which given half the chance and half the inclination, will continue to make me a better person. When I say better, I’m using my yard stick. I am now measuring up to who I’ve always wanted to be but for some reason have never before had the courage to honour.
It’s about the forged part of me that I detested and sometimes still do. It’s the part that probably took me down to the depths of despair during my depression. When I wasn’t feeling that almost protective nothingness, I was at war with myself to be more me. It’s still is a constant battle ground. Before Post-natal Depression, I was a different person for every different person I made contact with. I was who I thought they expected me to be or me, but a weak, fake me, completely intimidated. It wasn’t important if that expectation was actually confirmed by them, or if they really were intimidating, only that I honoured those living pathological expectations in my head.
I rarely told anyone what I really thought. I assumed being honest would make me feel worse if imparting such honesty could potentially upset them. So, in believing my honesty unconstructive to them, I was belligerent to myself. Instead, I chose to live with the all consuming torment of, yet again, not honouring the real me. That was probably the biggest mechanism in my ticking bomb when depressed.
You see-it’s simple. Drop the facades, stand up and be counted, tell her, tell them what is ticking in your head. Let them figure it out. Once out, not in my control any longer. Out of me and that means a weight lifted, a potential bomb deactivated. But it’s not that simple, and it never will be. But it is getting better. Step by step I am building who I want to be and in return I am beginning to walk with a proudness I have never before felt. I now realize I do have control over my thoughts and actions, but not over the thoughts or actions of others. People cannot make me feel or react in a particular way, nor can I them. Just knowing that has meant a much nicer treatment of me and a refusing to any longer let the expectations or actions of others consume me.
I underwent treatment with a psychologist and took anti depressants for well over 12 months (read: 6 years now). In counseling I was made fully aware of my once unconscious, inner most distorted thought processes. I was a willing learner, but my teacher was highly apt at what she did. I wasn’t made to feel degraded, or mentally inept, I was made to see that I, along with a lot of the population who choose to ignore it, was suffering a disorder, one which was just as important as any medical condition to treat. This was the beginning of me getting better in every possible way; altering cognitions and stigmatization. Because of that, along with the three men in my life, I am where I am today. Where am I really today? Well, I’m not a happy, care free person, but I don’t think, regardless of the depression, I was ever going to be or was. But I’m not there either. All I know is that I am confident of never going back there and that is a stance I am incredibly pleased about.
I now genuinely attempt to have only positive influences in my life. I have a small network of people now who either know or who are beginning to know the real me. I love them and I love them for accepting the real me, especially, my boys. They have always known the real me. Perhaps that has been the biggest factor. While many are still trying to figure me out, my boys already know. All the more reason to stay where am I and keep progressing. I never want them to guess who I am today. They are my one constant, my safe haven where I can always be me. With them I have built a solid foundation of love, a foundation that I know behind every judgment, every criticism there is love. It is the solid foundation that the world can fall apart today, but at the end of it, I still get that kiss and cuddle, I still retreat to the warmth of his love, renew and face another day. As this foundation remains constant I am free to continue building and rewarding the real me. Sometimes that building means loss of some I thought special, but mostly, to those who are beginning to see who I really am, it means one huge gain, one I would not have experienced without depression.
As I read through this piece, even as I was writing it, I was aware of swapping between writing in first and third person. Aware I also was that the time frames may be confusing, not to mention some of the content arrangement. But, I will not change it, for changing it would undermine my true experience of this rollercoaster ride. You see depression, for me used to be surrounded in stigmatism, for many it always will be. However, I know I have come along way to admit honestly this one thing: Had it not been Post-natal depression, it would have been a depressive episode at some other point, triggered by some other event. It was pending. I was hiding behind the Post-natal depression label, like it was some type of cushion. Surrounded by people ignorant of mental illness and their sometimes equally ignorant judgments I felt that Post-natal had a more medical cause associated with it. A medical cause which helped people feel more comfortable with my disorder, as it did me for quite a time. I don’t know if I did have a serotonin imbalance triggered by my son’s birth and quite frankly I no longer need to know. It makes no difference. I’m not weak for having had, perhaps even always having a mental illness. I’m strong. Stronger than I ever thought imaginable. Not only am I rebuilding but I’m throwing the challenge out there that to not communicate, to not allow emotion to touch your life, to not admit you need help is to not reward yourself with the growth that comes from it.
This is only a small fragment of my learning. Realising that judgment of others is often a harsh reaction and one that highlights your own insecurities more than being a true reflection of the person you’re judging, is another. Learning what is important and what you should just let go of is another. The list is much more extensive and certainly not conquered, however it’s prioritizing what is important for you that is the thing to master. Many of us waste much energy on things that in the long run, contribute nothing to your own or others’ well being. I’m still working on all of those things and it is striving for these things that makes my life more rewarding everyday. More rewarding because I know in doing this I am setting our children in such a position so that one day, they can be whoever they want to be and most importantly, be comfortable with, confident with and love and respect that person.
You have probably been wondering why I have sent you this. The answer is complicated for each individual, but overall very simple. You have either supported me in this journey or are attempting to, most probably without even knowing it. I thank you for what you have given me and I hope, that in reading of this, some of you still learning about my battle, will now understand it more fully. I’m hoping to increase one’s knowledge of mental illness, so that we may begin the fight to eradicate our social banishment of people suffering such illness. I’m also doing it for me. Why? I want to. I’m no longer frightened of your reaction to it. What you think of this matters, but it will not consume me. And that, my friends, is a nice final outcome to such a long process of healing.
Is there a hidden message in there for each of you? Yes and no. What I want is for you to take from it what you will. If it makes you smile, then great, if it makes you cross, I would ask you why? If you blow it off as new age crap, I would ask why is it you’re judging? If you take it and learn something, now I think that is my ultimate purpose! I have learnt so much from each of you and have been able to use it all positively at one stage or another. I guess this is my way of giving something back.
In recognition of PND Week. Please reach out for help if you need it.