Updated: Sep 4, 2020
(A personal one I wrote a while ago, but which will always feel relevant.)
It is difficult to describe depression. Some people speak of it as suffocating; Winston Churchill famously conjured a black dog that followed him around. For me it was like a fat, grey raincloud that hovered above my head, casting a monochrome sadness filter across the world. Like a really rubbish version of Olaf's snow flurry. Kind, worried faces would insist on the rich colour of life, but I couldn’t see or feel it. I was numb.
When I first became a mum, it hit me like a train. People smugly say "you have no idea" - and irritatingly, people are right. I am not just talking about the envisaged (and sometimes absent), overwhelming instincts of love and protection. I am talking about the sudden loss of your life as you know it. Your time, your freedom, your body, your identity. The immense pressure to be a 'good' parent, to do the best by them, to get it ‘right’. The complete and utter lack of control over a tiny creature who relentlessly sucks up every drop of your attention and energy, to survive. The brutal sleep deprivation doesn’t help obviously; especially when you are a lifelong bed-worshipping slumber addict.
I became angry, nerves jangling, permanently on the verge of tears. I dropped a lot of things. A stubborn and crippling sadness descended as soon as I opened my eyes in the morning. I became obsessed with sleep, to the point of ironic insomnia. I was scared to leave the house with the children in case I couldn’t cope. So I stayed inside a lot, in my unwashed pyjamas. At the lowest points I pragmatically assessed whether things might be better for everyone if I wasn’t there.
I also did quite a lot of booze-drinking, midnight Amazon-bingeing and chocolate-eating. Nothing wrong with any those things, as short-term pleasure fixes. A good dopamine hit, then back to where you started - probably with a nice added dose of guilt. It was a trip to the GP and a year of antidepressants which got me out of the hole. The slight numbing of my emotions was exactly what I needed for a while. The pressure, the dread, the sadness, all became less intense. I floated along for a bit, relieved to be getting through the motions of the day.
It is too easy to dismiss depression as self-indulgent wallowing, but you do need to take control to beat it. All part of the fun, I mean, struggle...a victim mindset opens the door for depression to stroll on in and make itself cosy. You need to sharpen your tools against the black cloud and gather them around you on the bad days. They are usually small, simple things; my weapons of choice are running, eating veg, writing and reading. Time to myself. Old murder mysteries on ITV3. A hug from my mum. I religiously write down three good things about every day, even if it‘s just ‘the sun came out’.
I am working on my low self-esteem, perfectionism and fear of failure. It is a work in progress. But I am learning to see life in colour again.