I’ve been pretty open about the fact that I’ve got a history of depression. It’s not a dramatic one. Four or five episodes of depression in the last 10 years. Usually it goes hand in hand with winter. I guess I’m just not one for dark evenings, morning, and rainy days…so sue me! When it happens I go on the pills, I do some therapy and I get through it. More often than not I’m off the pills in 6-8 months and getting on with things, confident in the knowledge that the civil war in my brain is over, until the next time. And it’s likely there will be a next time so I keep the watchtower manned, constantly looking for signs of ambush.
Usually my defences are pretty strong but last year was tough in a whole new way. It’s a truth universally acknowledged that when shitty things happen, a lot of shitty things happen at the same time. Am I ready to talk bout all the shitty things? Not really but, in a nutshell, my husband was away for 7 months, I had a one year old on my own and, early in the year I was attacked by a man I was working with. I lost my job. Friends chose him over me. My confidence upped and left and the only thing that remained was this stony, stoic, shock that numbed me to my core.
After all that it was too easy to mask my slide into depression with the understandable shock and trauma from the attack, exhaustion from being a single parent for most of the year and general weariness at the world. I just thought, “Of course, I’m down. I’m on my own. Something terrible happened to me. I’m tired.” As the weeks and months went on, my soul became comfortable in its own sadness. This was just the way you felt when all of this happened – who wouldn’t struggle?
Despite all my experience with depression, despite my sturdy emotional fortresses and despite my vigilance, I somehow managed to miss it. Depression can be a sneaky beast – it doesn’t announce its arrival. It sidles up, uninvited and, before you know it, it’s taken your brain hostage. I spent the rest of the year struggling but unable, or unwilling, to recognise it for what it was.
When I found out I was pregnant in January it triggered something in me. It dislodged something. It wasn’t conscious or obvious at first, but when I thought about having another baby I wasn’t excited or happy. I was terrified. I worried constantly about whether I would cope because, deep down I knew that in my current state, I couldn’t cope. In the quietest moments, when I was alone I allowed myself to secretly consider depression. Perhaps, I wasn’t just heading that way. Perhaps I’d been there for a while and just hadn’t seen the wood for the big, dark trees.
For a few more weeks, I continued on in denial making myself, my husband and Billie increasingly unhappy about our situation. Which sucked. I sucked the life blood from it. I was irrational, unpredictable, angry, helpless and tired. The horrendous morning sickness didn’t help. Being bed bound for five weeks cemented the depression that was already thriving within me. I gave into it and it swept through me completely.
It wasn’t until the middle of March that I finally broke. Jimmy Plays Bass was away and I was making breakfast and sobbing. I couldn’t stop. What had been inside me, hidden, repressed, bubbling away and gaining strength was now exiting me in a violent and turbulent way. I felt scared and out of control. I couldn’t complete the simplest of tasks. I couldn’t make a cup of tea. I couldn’t make breakfast. I put CBeebies on and sat in the kitchen and cried. I didn’t want this now: I was pregnant. I didn’t want to be depressed and as I thought that consciously for the first time, I realised I’d been thinking it unconsciously for the longest time.
“Mummy why are you sad?” Billie kept asking me. Over and over again.
I’d been in denial and now, here I was pregnant, unable to function and in charge of a small human who was looking at me with worry in her eyes. That was the final straw. I texted a friend, a friend who I knew would understand. She’d been there. She’d suffered depression. She’d managed it through pregnancy. She was a mama of two and she told me what I already knew: I needed to go to the doctors.
As I sat in a soggy puddle of tears and snot with the doctor I knew I had no choice. The very, very last thing I wanted to do was to take pills while I was pregnant. Who knows what the risks are? Actually, all the evidence suggests that the risks are very, very low but the chances of me getting through the rest of the pregnancy with Jimmy away a lot without completely dropping my basket were much lower. It was stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place. The blue pill or no pill?
I chose the pills. Five weeks on, I’m a new woman. I’m sleeping again. I’m remembering what it is to adult properly. The ball of worry and fear that had been squatting in my chest for the best part of a year has evaporated and what’s left behind is space to breathe. Am I 100% comfortable with being on anti-depressants while pregnant? Not in the slightest. Was I 100% comfortable with being in charge of myself and a toddler while depressed? Not in the slightest.
What I am 100% comfortable with is sharing this. If there’s just one parent, mama, dad, human out there who’s secretly wading through metaphorical mud every damn day of their lives, I’m here to say, it’s ok. There is a fix and actually, it’s a fairly easy fix. I know better than anyone that taking that step feels huge but as soon as you take it, you start to feel better. Not long after that, you’ll feel better still. There is an answer but first, you have to be brave enough to ask the question.