It’s a Monday lunchtime in June and I am sat on my kitchen floor crying. My back is pressed against the cupboard that houses my vases, and my knees are tucked tightly into my chest. I have those kind of all-consuming sobs that launch your entire body with each breath. And in that moment, right there on the terracotta tiles, I felt as though I didn’t want to exist anymore. As though to continue on with the deafening pain that had been ricocheting through my brain for months on end, was non-negotiable.
I had tried to ignore it, to convince myself that it would eventually dissolve away if I just kept pushing forward. But instead of quietening, the pain roared with a growing ferocity that took away my hope and my joy and my ability to see things clearly.
That snapshot in time was my rock bottom, the instant I realised I couldn’t save myself on my own. I pulled my phone off the kitchen counter and started a Google search for my GP’s telephone number.
It feels full of shame, full of silliness, full of attention seeking, to have felt that way and to write about it. It feels big and overwhelming and hard to look back on and I feel to blame for allowing myself to slide so far into an unrecognisable state of depression.
I had a telephone consultation with my GP the next day. I was ready to argue my case, to stand up for having some kind of treatment, but there was no fight to be had: three minutes in and she was already prescribing me anti-depressants. It was almost seven years to the day since I’d taken my last dose of the same medication, and I had mixed emotions about returning to a journey I thought I’d left behind.
You see, I was diagnosed with a combination of depression, anxiety and stress back in 2012. I had just come through a tough period that combined unemployment, a parent being severely ill and a break-up, and although life was looking up in every way imaginable, I couldn’t shake this all-consuming sense of numbness that seemed to be pulsing through my veins. Whenever I wasn’t at work I wanted to just lie on the floor and stare at the walls, I wanted to sit at the beach and stare at the sea, I wanted to sit in the car and stare at the trees. I felt small and silent and hurting. And I knew that shape of depression, I’d lived with it, remembered it and felt like I could easily recognise it. So when it came knocking again, wearing a different disguise, I felt completely fooled.
Because I’ve come to learn that depression comes in all shapes and sizes. There is, as with most things in life, no one-size fits all. And one bout of depression on you may, in fact, look different to another bout – much like how a cold can come with varying symptoms.
Depression round two manifested itself in surprise rage, daily tears, insomnia, and a frantic attempt to do everything all the time. To leap from 6am to 6pm childcare and still fit in a gym class and two hours of work. I felt as though if I kept fighting against the cloud hovering in my way, that it would eventually pass. That if I just kept running and running and running, maybe I would eventually leave it behind. Spoiler: I did not.
My GP confirmed that depressive episodes can look very different, even on the same person. They can change depending on your life situation. For me, I was unable to slow down and feel that same numbness as before because I had to show up every day to care for my kids, so I fell into the bracket of high-functioning depression.
I don’t know how long it’s been going on, because anyone who’s ever suffered from any kind of mental illness will tell you it comes in waves and it ebbs and flows. You are always in a kind of recovery, whether you realise it or not. I feel like maybe depression has been sneaking up on me for a long time and I’ve been pushing it away, unwilling to acknowledge its haunting presence.
My depression likely counts as the post-natal type, because my baby is under a year old. But it feels as though him and his birth and the early days are unconnected to how my mind has been lately, as though they ran parallel to each other, without entwining. I feel as though who I am as a mother, and who I am as a depressed person are two separate entities.
My anti-depressants took five days to work. I had no side-effects. I just woke up one morning and felt, quite simply, that life was good. Everything felt shinier, sounded easier, and I felt like not only could I manage but that I might even at some point begin to thrive. I have had almost only good days since, and whilst I am thrilled to re-discover myself and to begin to re-connect with a world that brings me such joy and passion and contentment, it only adds to the regret that I couldn’t acknowledge my mental state sooner. I felt so sure that everything in my head was situational and as soon as life started to return to normal, my mind would too. It took me a long time to grasp the idea that medication could help me this time round, the same way it had before.
I took the first of my pills nearly seven years to the day since I finished my last prescribed course. And whilst there is part of me that nervously feels as though she’s let herself down by returning to the mind of a twenty four-year-old instead of growing older and wiser (and more mentally stable), I’m also now feeling better connected and more self-aware of my mental health than ever before. And surely, that can only ever be a good thing?
Lockdown has left so many of our minds in tangled states. Or maybe tangled them up more. Even those of us lucky enough to have stayed safe at home throughout the pandemic, to have been sheltered from the worst of it. It is a strange kind of grief to live with and to try and navigate as we come through the other side. I feel like the majority of us have changed in some way, perhaps for the better, but a little rattled and bruised all the same, as though we are shell-shocked.
I’m still processing: life, the pandemic, my depression, my emotions, all of it. But I truly believe there is magic up ahead. I feel as though I have shed a layer and I am coming back to me again, and honestly, it feels like everything.