I sat on the couch in silence. The increasingly anxious voices in my head droned on.
I thought, since I’m obviously not going to do any work today, I may as well watch TV. But I couldn’t find the energy to reach across and pick up the remote.
I just sat on the couch in silence.
My anxiety, low blood pressure and morning sickness were so intertwined I couldn’t tell them apart.
It was enough to know that I felt awful, all the time.
When the shadows had moved, I stirred. I had to go and collect my daughter from child care soon. She would need feeding, washing, putting to bed. She had been fretful and clingy lately and I was not looking forward to her tired whinging. But I had not yet lost sight of my primary function. I was a mother. I could do this. I could.
Naming the demon
I went to a regular check up with my obstetrician. I had begun to dread these, as the instant I walked in, all I wanted to do was cry. But I couldn’t bear to be one of those mothers. I was strong, capable, holding down a full time job, building a business from home, paying off a mortgage and raising my daughter on my own. I wasn’t a tearful, needy, mess.
I kept it together throughout the appointment. As I was putting yet another prescription for morning sickness in my bag, something made me say, “I’ve been feeling so tired lately. Just – not doing anything, just sitting.”
I still don’t know what made me say it. And he asked me to elaborate. I mumbled something I can’t now recall, but whatever I said made him look at me again.
“You might be close to perinatal depression,” he said, as he escorted me out. “You should pay more attention to how you’re feeling.”
He wasn’t worried, and fair enough. I had never shown any signs of depression before. I never cried at his appointments, I always knew what to say. He knew me from my first pregnancy. And I had barely scratched the surface of how I was feeling or what I was going through in that brief conversation.
But I went out to my car and started crying.
I didn’t really stop for days.
There was a name for what was wrong with me. Pre-natal depression, AKA perinatal or antenatal depression. I didn’t even know it was a thing. But suddenly things made sense.
I am a researcher. I ask questions, I analyse my actions and thoughts, and those around me. All of that spirit of inquiry had been gone for some time from my life.
Now it was back and I could see, laid out in front of me, the depth of my depression. I wasn’t eating. I wasn’t sleeping. Nagging, stressed-out voices in my head were my constant companions: You have so much work to do! Your boss thinks you’re useless. Why are you reading/sleeping/watching TV? You should be building your business. You can’t afford your mortgage. You never spend time with your daughter. You’re not taking care of your unborn child.
I was so paralysed with anxiety and denial that I was quite literally spending entire days sitting on a couch in silence.
My daughter had been clingy and miserable – I had forgotten that children are barometers for their family’s moods. That made me cry even harder. My depression was hurting the person I loved most in the world.
For anyone who has felt the full force of depression, they will know that I was merely skating around the edges of it. I was close to falling, but still holding on. I could think about my situation, even if I couldn’t find a way to act. Fortunately, this was enough.
When my sister and housemate returned home from work that day I told her everything. We both wondered together at our collective blindness – we had seen depression in family members before, how could we have missed the signs?
I could see my family looking to me to act, to get myself out of the hole, to take charge as I always did.
But I couldn’t. I just sat, no longer in silence, crying, but not moving. I wanted to open the door and walk away, just keep walking.
My family stepped up. With their help I quit my job – my boss (who didn’t think I was useless at all) was more than understanding. My house was sold – I needed the money. My things were packed up, some sold, some transported along with me as I was sent home to my mother’s house.
Suddenly I was released. My anxieties about work, finance, care of my daughter, were fading. I had guilt – a whole lot of it – but I also had time. Time to rest, to take care of myself and my unborn son. Time to simply be with my daughter. I knew it was only a reprieve; one day I would have to stand on my own two feet again. But I knew that I would be supported and loved, that I did not need to struggle on alone.
I learned four things:
- That neediness is not a bad thing, and I don’t need to fear it.
- That I have it in me to walk out on my life and my precious children, shut the door and never look back. I will NEVER let that happen. Knowledge is power.
- That putting a name to a demon and drawing attention to it diminishes it.
- That having someone there to care about you, to help you when you can’t help yourself, is worth more than a billion dollars in the bank.
If any of this sounds familiar to you…
Get help. Do it now. Speak about it, force the words out of your throat and keep talking about it until someone listens and acts. You are not alone.
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Listed below are some organisations that can offer help.