I have struggled with depression, anxiety and panic attacks since my son died in 2007 when my daughters were 6 and 3. My grief was all consuming, as was the need to keep going for my daughters – despite the pain I was in I was still able to do normal life, work resumed again and so did life, until I crashed in 2011 because I had been doing too much to keep busy, to pretend I was well. Medication and therapy helped me enormously and since then I have been very open about my struggles with mental health. It has been a tough journey, which has left me fearful of another mental crash, because when anxiety and panic takes over, I can feel like I am losing my sanity.
This year I am well, happy, strong – I have been off my medication since January and I feel better than ever. Last year I decided to work on fixing my head, to focus on getting well again, to focus on the triggers, to focus on the weak spots and to learn how to deal with them – I set the pace at work, I reduced stress, I did what felt right. I was still at work, I was still parenting, I was still living and loving and laughing but I was also healing.
My experience of depression was not really about periods of great unhappiness or even sadness but more about ongoing pain, about a lack of hope, about periods of going through the motions of life. The pain of grief and depression has been very physical – it actually hurts – and I have experienced phases of illness. At my worse, I wasn’t able to leave the house but day-to-day I often had to take life day by day – some days were great but I was often tired and struggling. On bleak days I just had to cling – cling to whatever kept me safe, while I waited for it to pass.
This can often makes no sense to anyone else because I am a busy businesswoman, mother, friend and wife but somewhere deep within me has been pain and periods where I have experienced a lack of desire to live, a lack of hope and a lack of worth. And then feelings of guilt because I felt like I was failing my family, and they had to keep me alive.
I worked hard last year to heal and to face up to my inner demons, to those all consuming feelings of hopelessness and I decided I wanted to live, I decided that I couldn’t live the rest of my life feeling this despair and hopeless. I can’t truly describe what happened to me at the beginning of this year but I found myself with greater clarity and strength, the black dog had gone and the fog had lifted.
My black dog may well come barking again – I still have normal low periods and the occasional panic wobble but I have been able to give myself the skills to know myself better and to handle the low points.
Parenting with depression and anxiety has been very tough at times. I have sometimes needed to stay close to home – where I feel safest – I have experienced periods of no energy where I have been more shouty and grumpy, where I have needed to be in bed. I have eaten too much. I have felt like I couldn’t cope and I have cried alot.
I have also been very hard on myself because I do feel guilty and I do wonder if my children have been affected but I have lived and worked and parented – my daughters have been well looked after, they have been safe, they have been fed, they have been cuddled, they have been nurtured and they have been well loved. Still feel shit about it though.