Hesitant to say ‘better’ or ‘healed’, the post natal depression, or depression (at what point do we switch and drop the post natal?) I suffered is very much off the boil, not even on a lower heat left to simmer. The pot is still in the kitchen, nestled at the back of the cupboard, but there all the same. I’m unsure if we ever really remove mental illness from our mind after we experience it. It’s been 11 months since the last ‘episode’ requiring me to call in sick to life and remove myself from society for a week. Intruding thoughts are less in range now, this is to say I have them, but they are less frequent and tend to be centered around one topic. The last hurdle that I cannot make my peace with, a very intimate section of my mind that floats around the relationship with my partner. It creeps extremely close to feeling secure and loved – entirely a manifestation of my own mind. It’s like a stubborn, burnt on stain, that no matter how hard I try, I can’t work out how to remove it just yet.
There’s still frustrations and mental reminders that prompt me to think of what I’ve learned – to be self kind and self love. To delve deep into gratitude and be truly grateful for my life and everything in it. Which, is my source of content, a genuine feeling of ‘nothing else matters’. Probably what some may call peace. I’m there and I’m happy with it. But life has taught me one thing, nothing lasts, life changes without notice and depression still exerts tremendous power over me, even from the idle pot gathering dust in the cupboard.
Maybe to be frightened of depression is a part of dealing with it. Very much a ‘lets deal with it IF and WHEN it happens’ kind of person, I do tend to focus only on things within my control. There’s little use in worrying over things that may or may not come to pass. It costs too much precious mind energy, something I was quick to learn when anger and frustrations began to manifest in my attitude after my mind was placed under too much stress. I’ve sailed along successfully with this attitude for a while, that was until I found out I was pregnant.
To be pregnant was a choice, made by both of us. We know what may be ahead, better or worse. All of it taken into months of consideration and prolonging of what we really wanted. We couldn’t be happier at being pregnant. But I didn’t think that being pregnant would be a trigger for an influx of memories and emotions. I didn’t think I associated pregnancy with depression, I had a great and happy pregnancy with Jess. I didn’t consider myself to be depressed while I grew Jess. So I was shocked and mentally floored when my mind went from excited to terrified in a matter of weeks of our news.
Pregnancy equals newborn baby, and for me, newborn baby equals nothing good. I mean that sincerely. All my memories, more so the emotions that flood my mind, are painful. Four years on, they still fill my eyes with tears. I cannot bypass them and see the beautiful baby and happy life, because it was not there for me. I don’t have that memory, and I can’t just create one to mask my reality. As I think back, my perception is now one of a bystander, a person in the room watching my memories. I cannot relate to some of them, depression is hard to understand or feel when you are not in that place. Instead I look on and see a very ill mother struggling. I see her prison and the mask she wears. I see her pretending to play the perfect, loving mother role. I see her oblivious to the destruction of herself, relationship and mental health, while depression takes it place. I see the isolation locking her in, into a warped world her mind has created. I see the roots of resentment digging deep into her relationship with everyone.
I feel for her. And it’s this emotion that reminds me of where I was, how dark it was, the pain, the even more painful aftermath of things I said and believed, and that I do not want to endure this path again. Depression isn’t a choice, isn’t something we can ward off using pills, not an illness we can complete a course of exercise of drugs to prevent. Things can help your mind, keep it healthy and aware. But when it comes to it, mental health can be triggered or be a slope and there is nothing we can really do to prevent or foresee it. And it would seem, for me, pregnancy is a trigger for depression, enough to take me back there, relive and feel every painful moment that I have worked so hard at accepting and making peace with.
Each memory I have of being a new mother has a sting. Memories ingrained for wrong, emotive reasons. Screaming at my non sleeping 6 week old. Pushing her away from me. Crying in pain during feeds. Having no sense of love, only robotically doing my mothering duties. Wanting my baby to be asleep so there was one last ‘chore’ I had to deal with. Hating and feeling like a fraud when I seen other mothers playing and hugging their baby. Pre 7am arguments and relationship ending fights with my partner. Breaking down, sobbing, asking him to leave me. Becoming increasingly agitated and crying when the baby was sick on upwards of 3 outfits when trying to leave the house. Attending playgroups for company, yet hating every fucking second.
Being a new mother means conversations with my partner as he suggests I might be ill and begs me to seek help. Conversations I don’t entertain, as I am not verging on ‘psychotic’, conversations that ultimately cause me to breakdown after dinner and through sobs agree to call the doctor. Newborn memories lead on to medication and therapy. Months of digging really fucking deep and emptying my workings for someone to help me rearrange and love again. A newborn means answering the therapists question ‘do you like yourself?’ with strength and brutal honesty and bursting into tears after muttering ‘no’.
These memories aren’t cherry picked for effect. These are my real thoughts when I try to think back on my newborn baby. I cannot find one that is happy. Those come 18 months later. I was, and do feel, robbed of my newborn, years of my life. But there is no hate there. This was the card I was dealt, my journey, however painful, I’m okay with it. I don’t wish to change it. No matter how hard this is for me to recall, it happened and like some sick plot twist, I would edge towards not wanting to change my journey. But this is not to say I, by any means, want this to be my reality for newborn number two.
Each one of those memories frighten me. The destruction of depression is very powerful. It’s not like an aliment you know or can see coming. Sure, the warning signs will be easier to spot after being through it once. But I’m under no illusion that I’m a new player in depression. Even battling through it, I couldn’t see myself sinking and peaking. Like a cancer cell changes it’s biology to evade the immune system, depression is quick to outwit our mind. Creating false realities and perceptions. Pushing every negative thought to the forefront of your mind. Having a counter balance to every ‘nice’ act or thought. It seeks to infest and destroy who you are and what you are worth. With the ability to mentally isolate you from everyone you know and the strength to entirely remove love, it’s easy to see why this illness demands respect and does frighten the shit out of me.
The fear and impact of this fear, I never considered when thinking of having another child. I knew post natal depression and the fear of it occurring again was enough to prevent couples from having another child. But I didn’t appreciate the risk of post natal depression would consume my mind and send me down a dark hole, just like the one I am so very scared of. I didn’t think I had a ‘trigger’ for depression and my past. I didn’t think the fear of depression would be enough to tip the mind scales and really test out all the self help techniques I know.
Lots of people give the advice that this time it will be different, this time you know more, this time you see the signs. But they fail to see that it’s right now that I’m already mentally fighting. Questioning every single fucking thought and frustration. What is justified and what is darkness seeping in. That constant questioning alone is tiring never mind growing a human. I’m not sure what is real, tired snapping from pregnancy, or what is the snap frustration of a heavy mind. All I can do is hope that tomorrow is a better day. It usually is. But I’m always on edge. I can’t just chill, relax, not worry until I’m hit in the face with depression. The price of that is far too high and the outcome is always unknown. Honestly, it’s fucking belittling to suggest that I chill and not worry about it, as depression ripped me apart the first time.
This pregnancy is tiring and draining. Probably more so for physical reasons of having a child to raise while I grow this one. There is huge excitement to meet this little one, see his features, hold him after birth, bring him home and let the insanity of going from 1 to 2 kids begin. Each excited thought is always, always, finished with a niggle. A niggle of what may happen, yet I know I shouldn’t worry, I can’t control the future. Like a dark shadow that oversees everything, it’s impossible for me to shake off the lure of depression. Even if it’s just to remember to be kind to myself, I know why I’m saying it. A reminded to rest and feel free to be in bed at 8pm, it’s as if my mind adds in a little ‘you get your rest, or else’. Depression is everywhere, like the consuming illness it is, even during my ‘better’ times, like now, it’s always present. The thought of not wanting to be depressed is stressing me out so much it will make me depressed. It’s a really vicious circle, one that as a pregnant, tired and frightened human, it’s very hard just to settle and find the strength to be at peace.