I don’t tend to read people’s blogs about depression because they are often, quite frankly, depressing.
I’m not writing this in the hope that others will gain great insight. I’m writing it just on the off chance that someone who wasn’t going to reach out will now do so. It’s unlikely, I know.
I remember very little about the first time I asked for help. Asking for help is not easy for me, in any situation, be it physically, financially, or emotionally. On this occasion, however, I knew it was necessary.
My youngest daughter was upset, and all I remember thinking was, “I’m going to hurt her.” It’s not uncommon, I know. My mum often reminds me of the times that she went next door for a cigarette to prevent herself from hurting me. But something felt very wrong. I was scared. I sat down and cried.
I remembered a number I’d seen on a leaflet, and decided to give it a call.
“Hello. I don’t know if you can help me. I don’t know if I’ve called the right number. I think I need to talk to someone.”
Beyond that, I remember very little. I hadn’t called the right number, but they were able to help me anyway. It was a women’s helpline, and it felt as though, almost immediately, I was in an office waiting to talk to someone.
The next step is also a blur. There were referrals, and a diagnosis of chronic depression. I wasn’t happy with the diagnosis, so I asked for a second opinion. Again, I was told I had chronic depression, and I would be put on medication for the rest of my life.
I know I’d had a kind of help prior to this. When pregnant with my son about 4 years beforehand, I’d flagged up as a possible risk for post-natal depression. I’d owned up to having very dark thoughts when my eldest daughter was a baby, and was subsequently informed that I’d possibly had post natal depression which had been undiagnosed, so they monitored me. I was sent for free massages as a possible preventive measure. I’m not sure how much it helped, but I did have a brief episode of what may have been post partum psychosis shortly after my son was born.
I don’t recall much about the episode, apart from the terror I felt. My son must have been a few weeks old. My husband had been sleeping in the basement as he thought the baby and I would sleep better on our own. I was lying on the bed one morning next to my son, and I had a sudden, intense fear. I’ve no idea what about, but there was an enormous panic inside me and I needed to get to my husband. It almost felt as though something were chasing me, and I needed to get to my husband as soon as possible. I grabbed my son and ran to the top of the wooden stairs. I remember standing there, pausing, and thinking, “This will take too long. I haven’t got time to walk down these. I have to get there sooner.” At that moment, I thought it would be far quicker to jump and fly down the stairs. I was a split second away from launching myself off the landing when I noticed my son in my arms. My thought process went something along the lines of, “He can’t fly. I can, but he can’t” and I rushed back to the bedroom to place him on my bed. By the time I returned to the landing it had thankfully occurred to me that I couldn’t fly either, but I ran down the stairs in a crazed panic, screaming for my husband. When I reached him I was a mess. I don’t remember how long it took me to calm down. I don’t remember much else at all, other than discussing it with my midwife during her visit the next day. She explained the seriousness of what had happened, and made us promise to get to the hospital up the road if it ever happened again.
You see, it’s all coming back to me now in a very disjointed fashion. But that’s how my brain works when I’m feeling like this. It’s like my head is a maze of corridors, but not empty corridors. They are full, like the corridors of a hoarder. It’s muffled, and only occasionally does a door open, revealing information. I don’t know where the corridors lead, or what’s behind the doors until I explore. It’s confusing. Sometimes it feels like a mad panic. Sometimes I just want to sit among the mess.
So, I was put on medication, and assigned a psychiatrist. I was given a questionnaire to fill in which she would use to decide whether or not I had bipolar disorder. A friend of mine had been through hell after a diagnosis, so whether or not I had it, I wasn’t about to be labelled. I researched the disorder and filled out the questionnaire to ensure that I wasn’t flagged up. I’m certain I don’t have it anyway.
The psychiatrist didn’t last long as she had issues herself, and ran off one night, never to return. It was then left to my doctor to continue my prescriptions, and one day he decided to try changing one of my pills to a different release rate.
I’m not sure if it was at that point when things changed, or whether I just perceive it that way, but I stopped functioning. I hid all day. My anxiety seemed to worsen. I was a terrible mother, not reading, not playing, just surviving. Of course there were good days when we would go to the park, but they would leave me exhausted, and begging my daughter to go to sleep with me. I’d get up in time to tidy before collecting my other children from school, and make it look like I’d been busy before my husband got home. Then I’d head out to work for the evening.
Anything important that happened during that time is a blur. If my husband tries to relive any memories which I don’t have, he says, “Oh yes. You won’t remember. Those were your sleeping years.”
One day I developed a sore throat, which prevented me from eating. I felt so ill that I was in bed, and after about three days I started to hallucinate. I don’t remember what the hallucinations were, but I remember that they accompanied a certainty that I was going to die. This was it. It was over. I asked my husband to bring my children to me. I wanted to touch their faces. The fear of dying wasn’t as bad as I’d previously imagined. My only fear was for them.
My husband was obviously convinced that I wasn’t going to die, and started to look up my symptoms on the internet. He soon realised that I was suffering from withdrawal. I’d had such a sore throat that it hadn’t occurred to me to take my medication for several days.
For me, this was a wakeup call, telling me that my entire personality was being controlled by a drug. I didn’t like the lack of control, and decided that I should wean myself off my drugs to see if I was better now without them.
It was a long, slow, process, entirely discouraged by the new psychiatrist that I’d just been referred to. She gave me horror stories of people doing crazy things, like turning up outside Canadian Tire at 4am, demanding to be let in to buy home renovation supplies and plants. I figured I could handle it. I didn’t go back to her.
Instead, I told my closest friends, and asked them to look out for me. They were all kind, and caring, letting me know they were there for me, no matter how crazy I got.
I’ve been off the medication for years now. I’m not saying it was a smart move. Some people will consider it irresponsible. But I’d rather live with the demons that I create, and learn to control them, than have the drugs numb me. I’ve been told by numerous doctors that I should be on back on the drugs. They’ve offered milder ones as a compromise, but I’ve still refused.
Recently the demons seem to have bred. I’ve been sinking deeper into my emotional duvet, not wanting to come out. When the dark clouds start to roll in, there is little warning. The odd rumble of thunder can mean nothing, and there will be blue skies again. But when clouds descend it reminds me of the ‘Big storm’ we had in Peterborough, Ontario back in July 2004. It was a day or so before my youngest daughter was born, and the storm circled the city all night, not being able to shift away, going round and round, bombarding us with bolts of lightning, and drenching us in torrential rain. Every time we thought it was over, it came around again, until it felt as though it would never go, and the end of the world was upon us.
My dark days are similar. They aren’t always just days, but sometimes weeks. I see a glimmer of light, but it’s extinguished, and I plummet into darkness again.
For me, the depression usually manifests itself as a fear. A fear of losing people, that they will dislike me, a fear that I’m a dreadful mother, or that I just fail in general. I struggle to communicate properly with those who I think I’ve disappointed, or those who might dessert me. While all the fears run through my head, I’m asking, “Where can I hide?”. “Where can I go where no one can find me?” I usually just get as far as a deep sleep, shutting down, blanking everything out, hoping it will all be gone when I wake.
On reflection, it seems like a test, a purging, or debridement. I need to ensure that the people around me are going to support me. It’s a horrible thing to do. I know, because others have done it to me. I’ve learnt to spot it, and not give up on those people. I cry from the pain they inflict, and then I forgive them, as I hope others will do for me. I don’t really want people gone – I want them to hug me.
I fully appreciate how hard it is for outsiders to understand. I have a hard time describing it, and I feel as though I’ve only just touched the surface. Nothing I can put in words can fully convey the emotions, and sometimes, lack of them.
In the absence of medication, I have sought help from a local Wellbeing clinic. I’m not expecting answers. I’m only hoping that, by talking to someone, it will release the pressure valve a little. There are times when it all comes to a head and I’m lying alone at night with no-one to talk to. Those are the nights which seem endless, as though the dawn will never come. I’m hoping to learn a coping mechanism for that, so that I can at least not frighten people off with what must appear to be madness.
In the meantime there is wine, and there is running. One is easy, the other takes a little more willpower!
I feel guilty when I admit that I have depression, as I’m aware that others have it so much harder than me, and I’m sure they have far greater cause to write about it than I do. But I hope that maybe a better understanding will lead us all to having more blue skies than grey. We are not easy to live with when the dark clouds surround us, but if you can stick with us during those times, we can look forward to the blue skies together.