With the worst, comes the best

I’ve written something for a freelance journalist about Post Natal Depression and what helped me to recover. Through my tear-stained recollections, I came to the end of writing it, full of gratitude for all the things I woke up one day and found I had and how pivotal the people in my life and writing this blog were for me. Like the blog, writing this helped me let it go. It’s a bit share-y, but hey, if you don’t know me by now…:

I was 38 when my my daughter was born. Old enough, you would think to know myself and be ready for motherhood. Looking back, becoming a parent and living how I had been living were incompatible – I had post-natal depression candidate written all over me.

I love my family deeply, but my childhood was complicated and unhappy. I grew up confused and alone with a poor sense of self-worth and a high degree of sensitivity towards how I was perceived. Before I had my child, I had had some small episodes of depression and had tried different styles of counselling with varying success.

When my daughter was born, I fell instantly headlong in love with her. The first six weeks were idyllic. My husband, who is a warm and tender man, was fantastic. I couldn’t have asked for a better husband and father. Aside from a C Section and being unable to breast-feed, motherhood seemed a breeze. My daughter slept really well. I didn’t know, that I had just six weeks of this before things changed forever.
I determined to go back to work after a short maternity leave of four months, partly driven through financial necessity despite being a high-earner and partly because I felt I had to, to support who I thought I was.
Work was how I proved to myself that I was worthy – it was how I managed the constant abusive voice in my head. Of course, I thought that what I was doing was striving to achieve at work and I knew that would remain important to me. There’s nothing wrong with either of those things. What I didn’t realize is that what was actually happening was that I wasn’t coping at all with who I was and what had happened in my past and that a sheer volume of energy and work was what it took to drown out that voice. I wasn’t aware of just how much I was over-compensating to sate that voice, just how much energy and focus that took. It was a very tall, precarious house of cards with a very thin-shelled egg of my self-esteem at the top. What I didn’t know was that having my daughter was going to put a bomb at its very base.
When my daughter was six weeks old, I received some devastating news and the bottom fell out of my world. Things had been changing consistently at work in the previous two years and I eventually learned I was to be made redundant. I had to simultaneously work a long notice period, manage a full-time workload from when my daughter was 4 months old, battle sleeplessness as she started teething as soon as I returned to work as well as find time to look for a new role. That I had little remaining self-esteem bought everything I had struggled to keep at arm’s reach all of these years tumbling down on my head. I was blind to the realities of what I had actually achieved, what I continued to achieve, and to who I was.

My memory of the remainder of the first year of my daughter’s life is extremely blurry. What little time I had to myself was spent sightlessly on the sofa, consumed by panic, often completely unable to do anything but watch my own vile film of my short-comings. I couldn’t make sense of things. I lost words which was a cruel blow. I’d always been considered articulate, but I would find that I couldn’t construct sentences and would forget simple words, almost like a mental stutter. It made me feel all the more stupid and clumsy. When I wasn’t sinking under the weight of what I had to achieve at work or at home, I obsessed that my mental absence was damaging my daughter which added to the pressure I was putting myself under. I told myself that other women worked without feeling this way, why was I proving so weak under the pressure? I had always been the person who could the impossible, produce enormous volumes of work. Now I was consumed by guilt and inadequacy. I felt I had completely lost who I was.

I spent whole months like this. I wasn’t sleeping, I was trying to baby-led wean, coming home after a long working day and cooking a meal from scratch only for my daughter to throw it on the floor. She had reflux and would sometimes vomit twice a day. I had never known laundry levels or the dispiriting levels of cleaning required. Some days she’d been sick so much I could barely find anything clean or dry to wear to work. I had no local family therefore no break and the threat of financial hardship hovered over us all when I was at my most vulnerable and exhausted.

I ended up at the GP, unable to read a magazine in the waiting room without having a panic attack. My brain just couldn’t take anything else in. My stress levels were so high that I had extremely high blood pressure during that visit which upset me still further. I felt my own incompetence was going to cause me to drop dead and leave everyone else to clear up my mess. He ordered immediate rest and prescribed anti-depressants. I have no recollection to this day if I actually took them. I just got by and somehow got the things I need to get done, done. I don’t remember how.

At my worst, I hoped I actually might die, I am lucky that I never felt that I might harm my daughter, but I didn’t really care what might happen to me. I felt the worst failure I have ever felt in my life. I hated myself. I careered between rage that my reactions were robbing me of the first year of my daughter’s life and self-hatred that my own uselessness had caused all of this to happen. I had no idea who I was any more, where I was going or what I was capable of doing. I could see no end.

When I finally left work, the week before my daughter’s first birthday, I felt complete relief. But there followed six months of finding a role that would fit my new life. I’d always been offered every job I wanted, but my mental exhaustion was probably obvious. I felt transparent, but really I was just exhausted.

When the time was right, I found a contract role that I fell in love with. The work was fulfilling but the pace crippling. I was back to working 15-hour days and unexpectely travelling across Europe. The team were fantastic, astonishingly competent people, many of whom I still consider dear friends and the camaraderie put me back together, I will remember their kindness and generosity forever. I felt valued and respected. I started to believe in myself.

Meantime, however, home and child were being neglected and everything was run by my husband and mother, who was travelling the hundred miles from her home to stay for weeks on end in order to help us keep everything going. I was functioning again but I still hadn’t really dealt with my own self-worth.

In the early days of my daughter’s life, a small group of NCT friends were kind, non-judgmental and always supportive. They were life-support. Once things got really bad however, I was out of reach of everyone. I’ve always been the person who would never stop talking but I found I didn’t know where to start articulating what I was actually feeling.

That’s when my mother and husband’s unflagging practical and unquestioning support when I most needed it kept me upright. They couldn’t have got much back from me for about 2 years. My husband never once blamed me for my mental state or the precariousness of our situation when the pressure heaped upon his shoulders must have been intolerable. He recently told me that he would sit and wonder what on earth he would need to do practically if I had had a nervous breakdown. He had begun to feel that this was inevitable. I think they both hoped and stoically believed that I would come back to them. I can never thank them enough for their loyalty and steadfastness.

One day, I went to lunch with a contact who mentioned how funny I was and how I should write, which I had been told repeatedly. Despite numerous years of intention, I’d never started and during another night lying awake staring at the ceiling panicking, I got up and decided to do something instead. I began blogging. Something about that creative outlet and self-expression helped me untangle what I was feeling. Over time, I began to feel better and make sense of my feelings. I felt strong enough to start talking. Eventually, I decided I was strong enough to talk to someone other than my long-suffering family. I went back to the GP and started seeing a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist who opened my eyes to how I had been living. It helped enormously. I also read a book recommended to me on Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy and started doing the exercises within it that changed how I saw my thoughts had pulled me all over the place.

At around this time, after another stint of working long days and travelling, I heard a voice ask me when I was going to fight back. In that moment I decided that I’d gone as low as I was going and it was time to claim myself back. That I needed to be able to show my daughter how to live – did I want her confidence to be built upon what other people saw and to fall apart the second anyone challenged her? I realized I had to learn how to accept myself and how to manage my new life so that I could show her what I had never learned as a child.

For the first time ever, I started to believe in the quality of what I did and my value – I realized I didn’t have to prove myself any more and didn’t want to be around people who didn’t have my best interests at heart. I was starting to feel mentally if not physically stronger again

Even though I loved the job that had turned me around, I realized it wasn’t going to work long term and I left having been fortunate enough to find another role where my work was valued without detriment to my home life. I felt like everything had led me to this point.

My daughter is now the centre of my life and I feel that my own sense of worth is healthy enough to allow that to be the case, as it should be. I’m still writing my blog. I’d always wanted to write but had never allowed time for it or for anything else to distract me from my work. Now, however small my output, having been driven to the edge has given me that creative outlet which was always so important to me. It helps me process my thoughts and feelings in a timely, healthy way, and keeps me focused on family life and all we’re achieving together.

The last three years have been the most challenging and painful of my life, but I see them as having been completely necessary and instructive and I am so grateful for all of the things that helped me recover and become something like the parent I think I hoped to be. I’m the most fulfilled, confident and grateful I’ve ever been in my life, in part because I know who I am and mostly because I’ve seen what I’ve got in my life and that actually, I’m not only good enough but like everyone else I have gifts. Blogging makes me feel that I’m using one of them. I started writing not only to help me clarify but also because I realised, at some time in our lives, everyone feels like I have. My problem wasn’t that I was useless, but that I had always been too competent. I had always pushed myself to my limits and when I found them, couldn’t ask for help. I thought this was weakness, but my insistence on always being strong was my undoing and now I am glad. I blog because I wish I had understood it wasn’t me, it was everybody and because I want everyone to know that things do get better if you can only accept that we all have limits.

I wouldn’t, actually, change any of it. I definitely wouldn’t change this because my life is now so much richer for all of the things I have realised.

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