All it takes is a beautiful fake smile to hide an injured soul and they will never notice how broken you really are. – Robin Williams
Hi. My name is Claire and I am a 37 year old woman, wife, mother, daughter, sister, granddaughter, friend, colleague and many other things. I am also a bit broken. Well that’s not strictly true. I feel a bit broken but that’s not the same as actually being broken. All my bones are in one piece, it’s just my brain that can be tricky!
It is so hard to explain what depression feels like to someone who hasn’t experienced it. For me it is the paralysis which comes with knowing you have to get up and deal with the day. It’s the sitting staring into the wardrobe completely unable to make a decision about what to wear. It’s being unable to believe that anyone would want you as a wife, mother, friend. It’s feeling like you are dead inside. It’s sadness and pain. It’s nothingness. It’s complete apathy. It’s terrorising yourself about all the things you are failing to do. It’s contradictions and lies. It’s made up of shoulds and could when all you feel is can’t. It’s feeling that you will never feel joy again. It’s the absence of hope. It’s feeling that you don’t deserve anything good. It’s not being good enough. It’s not being strong enough. It’s personal. It’s failure. It’s physical. It’s constantly questioning everything. It’s searching for something, anything that might help. It’s the voice inside your head shouting just get up, just do it, just sort yourself out. It’s the hole inside that sucks all the good away so you can’t feel it any more. It’s the brain fog. It’s the memory loss. It’s the crappy immune system. It’s knowing that drinking is not a good idea but doing it anyway. It’s the panic. It’s fear. It’s feeling so tired that sleeping all day wouldn’t be enough. It’s isolation and loneliness.
It’s also my body’s way of letting me know that I’ve been overdoing it. My depression arrives, sometimes for a few days, sometimes a bit longer, sometimes with it’s friend, anxiety, and I know I need to make a change. So this time I’m going to try writing. I’ve never been brave enough before but here I am. I’m going to try to make sense of my mental health.
The first time I remember struggling with my mental health was when I was about 13. Of course I didn’t know what was happening and had no idea that mental health was a thing. I went to the library and got out books on relaxation to try to help and would sit in my room all evening and try to feel better. I was lonely and sad and worried and I did the only thing that made sense to me. Work harder and be better.
I was lonely and felt very separate from everyone around me. I have always felt different, like I didn’t belong. It was like I saw a different world to everyone else around me. I was on a different path and as you can probably imagine, as a teenager that was not a comfortable place to be. I have always had a very strong sense of myself, and I’ve never been one to follow the crowd. But that is lonely. I remember one year at school we were fundraising, probably for children in need. I didn’t to miss out on non uniform day on the Friday so I decided to wear fancy dress on the Thursday when no one else was and be sponsored. Part of me looks back on that girl and celebrates that independent spirit. (she is still very much around!) but part of me also feels very sad because I know how sad I was was and how weird, different and alone I felt.
I don’t think anyone really recognised what was happening for me. Mainly because I continued to function. And well. I did brilliantly in my exams, had a part time job and had big plans for my future. I have a nice family and nothing particularly bad has every happened so why would anyone have known anything was wrong. Here we are 20 years later and its still the same. I cope reasonably well in my life, work, look after the children, manage a home, see friends and family and generally am a positive person to be around. What is hidden is the depression that can crush me with no real warning and the anxiety that delivers an internal conversation that drives me crazy.
I was first diagnosed with depression just before my 30th birthday. I had gone to the GP again as I was having lots of migraines and having time off work. He was a training GP and therefore had longer appointments and I will be forever grateful that he gave me time. He suggested that I might be stressed and gave me a questionnaire which suggested I was depressed. I went home and cried for a few days then went back and said that he might be right. I genuinely didn’t know that’s what it was. At that point I was signed off work and took to my bed. Well almost, the sofa saw most of the action! So medication, six sessions with a counsellor and a herculean physical effort saw me wanting to go back to work a month later. I was newly qualified child protection social worker and after some ineffective occupational health support and appalling treatment from the council I was working for, I went back to work as a receptionist. I will save talking about work for another post but suffice to say, I moved on pretty quickly, started work in a primary school and spent the next couple of years getting better.
Fast forward to now. After 7 years of undiagnosed depression, here I am another 7 years later. I still have recurrent episodes of depression. I also recognise the part anxiety has to play (also for another post). I am currently taking an antidepressant and have just left my job after a year as it was hurting me. So that brings me back to this blog. I am tired of depression. I want to feel better. I want to be able to live without worrying that my mental health is going to get in the way. So here goes…