Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Day 7- Love Your Life Challenge, Depression

Guest Post- Amanda and her story on Post Natal Depression
I was asked to other day “What is depression like?” by someone clearly interested, but with no experience of it.

How do you explain depression? It’s so different for each individual, and my experience is my own experience, based on, well, my own experiences. My particular life stage, too, is (was back then) similar to some, but different to many.

In hindsight, I guess I ‘suffered’ depression during my teens and early twenties. But my conscious experience of it was during my first pregnancy and for the first 18 months or so of my son’s life. I’ve had moments since, but it is this period that is most pertinent to me.

To explain it to someone who has no experience of it, the simplest explanation is to liken it to the Dementors in the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. They’re described as having the ability to suck “all the happiness and hope out of the world” and leaving you feeling like you “will never be cheerful again”.

Only with the Dementors, everyone feels the same. The world goes black and dark and cold. The world suits your mood and your feelings and your thoughts. You feel safe in your despair.

Depression leaves you feeling alone and unsafe. Your cold, dark black world is not matched by the smiling faces of your family and friends telling you how gorgeous/clever/funny your baby is. Nor by the intensely blue sky and radiant sunshine. Your cold, dark, black world sits, unaccompanied, in a warm, bright, cheerful place.

It doesn’t fit.

My understanding of depression at the time was that it was characterised by a powerful sadness.

I didn’t feel sad.

I felt frustrated. Extremely, uncontrollably frustrated.

I’d had a non-textbook birth, a ‘natural’ labour ending in an emergency caesarean. Thus commenced my doubts about my abilities to be a good mother. Or any sort of mother at all. I hadn’t “given birth” to him, so how could I be his mother?

To compensate, I read all the books. I had to do this right, to be the best mother I could be. I had to do it by the book; to get everything right.

I also had a non-textbook baby. He slept through from a week old. I had no breastfeeding issues. He didn’t need to be held close to me and was happy lying on the floor, or sleeping in his cot.

The result of this was the lack of understanding from those around me. What could I possibly have to be worried/concerned/sad/frustrated/angry about? At least I had a “good baby”.

My frustration compounded, I had no release for my anger or angst. I had no one to turn to, no help or support from relatives, and an amazing husband who could do nothing right. Because I wouldn’t let him. I found fault with everything he did, try as he might.

The darkness that set over me, the bleakness and blackness was not sadness or despair. My thoughts were consumed with death. Mostly my own. Sometimes others.

I would become frightened that people would die. Just drop dead. The phone would ring, and when I answered I was overwhelmed with visions of the person on the other end dying. Sometimes just … dying. Other times in horrific, bloody accidents. Or illnesses.

Mostly, my world was overwhelmed by how I could stop my life. My drive out to uni, along a freeway, consisted of checking out every pole, every tree, every truck. I wondered if I should drive in front of one and brake, or turn into the path of another.

Preparing meals gave me something to focus on, to control. It was monotonous, yet purposeful. And flooded with visions of the knife sliding the length of my forearm and the blood running down my arm as I continued to slice the carrots.

My analytic mind, perhaps in an attempt to gain any sense of something tangible, would attempt to calculate how long before I collapsed, died, someone found me. Would they find me before I died? And how would they react.

Long, warm baths, infused with determining how long I would need to hold my head under before I drowned, and whether my body, in an attempt to survive, would force me back up, or if my mind would override this instinct were a regular occurrence.

Under this blackness, underlying these thoughts and feelings, I had retained, although I didn’t know it, an ability to see the funny in all situations. I did see a GP who diagnosed me, at 10 months post partum, with depression. I’d gone for a routine pap smear, and burst into tears. She immediately had me referred to a psychologist, where I contemplated a frivolous discussion about my stressful life, but when she came back to me, coffee in hand, I confessed.

I was prescribed anti-depressants and weekly counselling. The combination dulled the black; the suicidal thoughts stopped, and I found humor in my life again. I could see my inability to muddle together a cup of instant coffee was no reflection on my ability to parent. My birthing experience had also shown me that things happen, and everyone has their own story, experiences and beliefs. None of them are wrong, they just are.

A miscarriage, another baby boy, a degree, a business and yet another baby boy later, I still can’t manage some mornings to make a proper coffee, but I can laugh at it. Just as I can laugh at the ridiculousness of the situations I sometimes find myself in.

The Dementors do attempt a visit sometimes, but Mad Cow (so named by my husband) has the ability to laugh them off.

My motto: If you don’t laugh, you’ll probably slit your wrists.

It’s true for some, and was for me. However, as dark and humorless as those times were, I am thankful for them, because they have made me a more resourceful, compassionate and empowering person. Not just to my family, but to many.

If you are feeling anything like this please see your G.P or go to
Beyond Blue.

If you feel like you just want to have a Wah Wah and not get judged then I HIGHLY RECOMMEND you go to Real Mums. It's a place you can go and be free to talk about whatever you want too. Have a whine about your kids or whoever, you don't have to feel like your are a shit parent because you let your kids sit in front of a TV or you don't play with them enough.


K.Line said...

I had pretty extreme PPD and anxiety - after a very traumatic birth. Took years to work through and I can relate to how terrible it is. Hopelessness is an awful state - too awful to put into words. I didn't have the nerve (or interest, to be honest) to have another child. It's very brave of you to have given it 2 more goes. I think another kid would have done me in.

Marnie B said...

Thanks for your honesty, Amanda. I've never had PND (I have no children), but have 'experienced' depression and anxiety since I was a child - I can remember being anxious in kindergarten. I'm only now just realising that it's not a dark secret that I need to be ashamed of. I haven't found the courage to tell people quite the way you have above, but your post sure is encouraging.

MadCow said...

Thanks, K. I did have a hard time putting it into words, and to get the impact across.

I think what helped me to overcome it (for want of a better word) and to beat it off the second time, was my study at uni, where I did a heap of research into PND. It gave me a deeper understanding of it at so many levels and directions.

I am now using my experience to help others. Thank you for your comment, and, mostly your honesty.

Bra Queen said...

K. Line, I couldn't agree more! Cheers to even going back! It's a hard slog without PND let alone with it!
As a Mother of 2 under 3 I long for the days where I just had to worry about myself sleep, eat, work out, work whenever I wanted too.
Especially today when Milly is teething and hasn't stopped crying for hours and a 7 hour sleep that was interrupted 4 times!

Well done for telling your story! You are so real and inspirational, and yes maybe a little mad ;-)But WE LOVE MAD! Crazy mad, not mad mad!Hehe xxxx

Chantal Fleming said...

Beautifully written MC, I think you really got the message across so clearly and so well.

K.Line - I'm similar to you in that we only have the one child, and don't know that I could put myself, or my relationship with my husband through another pregnancy. There's just too much going on in my mind to take that leap of faith and the fear of stuffing it up is still too great.

For me personally, I still remember sitting in the Dr's office in tears, telling him that I have no legitimate reason to be sad - I had a loving husband, a beautiful child that was healthy and was behavioural perfect, we lived in a lovely house and I was lucky enough to work from home - what on earth could I be depressed about? I also remember telling him that I had longed to drive my car into a tree - not to end it all but to just stop the world for a day or two.

This is another issue that is really close to home for me as I'm, at least, 3rd generation family member who has suffered from mental illness and my concerns that my daughter will also suffer are extreme. But that is a fear that I will have to release to the universe or it really will do me in.

I also started a local craft group to give other women in my rural area and outlet - surely I'm wasn't the only person feeling this way. I think it's terribly important to not only put your hand up when you're in need, but keep an eye/ear out for loved ones and friends, to make sure that they're doing ok also.

Oh, and Real Mums is a fantastic place to help you feel grounded and real, and confirm that you're not alone. Hugs to all who are going through it now or are on the up and up.

Bra Queen said...

Marnie B- You'll have to stay tunes for my Guest Post next week and Depression and Anxiety!
Isn't it amazing how it just takes 1 person to open up and you find that so many others are or have experienced the same thing, so no one is alone.
Chantal- I hear what you're saying about your worries with your daughter however you will have the knowledge to help guide her thru so she will be very lucky to have you in her corner, you'll know what to look out for!

Anonymous said...

WOWSA! Amanda what a horrific time for you and your loved ones. I have family member that suffer depression and I often find myself saying (to myself) why can't they just snap out of it. As I have never suffered any form of depression. I know I dont understand it at all but your words have given me a pretty clear picture of what they might be feeling. Well written and you have changed the way that I now look at people with depression.

I've gone from thinking...just try to be happy to having more compassion. I say that but I do have compassion what I havent gotten is why it takes so long for them to feel happy again. Even though I've always know why I still find myself asking the question. Maybe its frustration for them to feel good again?

I wouldn't wish depression on anyone I have seen loved ones suffer and a few end their own suffering. It is a cruel and unjust illness. So thank you for your words they have given me a new insight into how my loved ones just might feel.

Thanks and I wish you well on your journey!

Jodi said...

Beautifully written Amanda. That was such an honest piece of writing.
I have not experienced PND but have been depressed - you put my feelings into words.
I'm a Real Mum, thanks to you, & it is the best parenting step I think I've taken.

moonchild said...

Thank you for sharing your story Amanda. It's a dreadful experience that you have weathered and come out the other side. I've never had PND but the two years before my marriage broke up were the worst of my life. I used to just sit and will myself out of existence. I couldn't kill myself because of my family and what it would do to them but I used to wake each morning and think "oh god I'm still here, have to get through another day". Each day I felt that I was tiptoeing around a giant abyss and in danger of falling in at any time. I don't know how I kept hold of sanity! I will never forget that time. It was depression brought on by circumstances but depresssion nonetheless. Now many years later, I have never experienced anything like that again, but it has given me great compassion for sufferers of depression. Discussions like this are a great way to reach to share stories and offer support!

MadCow said...

Thanks for your comments, and for sharing your stories, too.

Shell, I really apprecaite your honesty, too. Many people feel the same, but never express it like you did.

I guess a thing to remember with it - and certainly what I experienced - was the "logical"? side of me saying "What are you on about?" and it just being so uncontrollable. I just felt like I did, there's no rationalising it, no understanding it, and in lucid moments, just not being able to get a grasp on it.

It controls you, controls your mind almost. There's no use rationalising with someone who is depressed, just be there for them, listen to them and support them in the way they need. Ask them what they need - they may not be able to articulate, but please don't give up on them.

Support, especially emotional support, not rationalisation, is what many need.

Again, thank you everyone ... you have inspired me to share more, and knowing I have made a difference warms me.

Bra Queen said...

Well said Amanda! I really appreciate your time and honesty! xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Vegemite Vix said...

Pefectly expressed. I was first diagnosed with depression after the birth of my second child 13 years ago. I still suffer from time to time and realise now that it is a part of my human condition that I need to work through and monitor. Like you I experienced vivid imaginings of death (mainly my own) and (perhaps unlike you) strange paranoia about what was in my food or what posions were in the baby's milk. I went on to have a third (and final!) child but was able to cope because at the merest hint of depression I sought help. One thing I did think was that I didn't deserve to be depressed because I was a strong intelligent woman who ran my own consulting business - surely only weak-spirited down and out women are the only ones who suffer!? How wrong I was and how grateful I am that there are people talking honestly about depression and how it affects women, and men right across social stratas and life experiences. Whenever anyone criticises about my taking medication I reply that at least I am brave enough to take the pills so that my family doesn't have to suffer with the misery depression inflicts on me.

Bra Queen said...

Well said Vegemite vix! It does take a stronger person to voice it and do something about.

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