“Depression for me, wasn’t a dulling, but a sharpening, an intensifying, as though I had been living my life in a shell and now the shell wasn’t there. It was total exposure… What I didn’t realise at the time, what would have seemed incomprehensible to me, was that this state of mind would end up having positive effects as well as negative effects”*
When I was first diagnosed with post-natal depression towards the end of 2009 I had no idea of what was to come. But a door had been pushed ajar. A portal to another place, or perhaps, a portal to the true place had opened, where I would find myself once and for all complete with all my contradictions and complexities.
This is what pain does, if you let it. Pain reveals the truth.
Pre-diagnosis I spent a lot of time pretending. I anaesthetised myself from reality wherever possible. I dulled my senses with routine. I kept myself numb to the vibrancy of life, for fear that it would catch me off guard and make me feel out of control. I hid in my shell.
Whenever I had a panic attack or felt I was slipping out of control, I believed I was weak and stupid, that I didn’t have enough faith or couldn’t control my behaviour and thoughts like everyone else, that I lacked self-control.
When I wasn’t suffering, I existed in blissful ignorance. I buried my head in the sand. ‘That was a one-off’ I would tell myself, ‘I won’t let that happen again’, ‘I just need a good nights sleep and then I will be able to maintain control’.
Once I had a diagnosis, there was no pretending. I was suddenly aware.
The freedom that comes with a diagnosis, with therapy and medication – for it is freedom – is multi-faceted. Yes, I know now I am not alone, that I am and have been ill, and it is not my fault. But I also know that it is real. I didn’t dream it, or make it up. And it might happen again.
I can no longer pretend I am able to control everything.
At my most weary, after a long day of battle, the desire to go back to the me that didn’t know about this stuff, the person who didn’t have the ability to articulate, or the awareness to admit, what was happening, is very desirable. To be ignorant, sometimes seems like bliss.
But it is also true that if you were to medically remove my mental illness and the events of the past 6+ years, I would not be myself. I would be a different person. And, despite the pain, the fear and the anguish, I wouldn’t go back.
Despite the fact that small things that never used to concern me can now take a huge amount of energy to manage – a work meeting, or an evening at a restaurant -, despite the loss I have felt and the difficulty this suffering has caused my family, despite the worry that I may always be like this, I wouldn’t go back.
The negative effects are bad, and well documented, but the positive effects are also huge. It is liberating to not have to hold it all together and pretend. It is a relief to be honest about how hard life can be.
And I like the me I have started to become.
Because I know stuff now I could never have known otherwise and it has made me kinder.
Because I have found being vulnerable and open about my struggles with friends and family connects us in a deeper way.
Because I can see the good in the world so vividly now. I don’t take joy for granted.
Because I am getting to know myself, remembering to accept myself and realising that I like myself (quite a lot).
And because, I am not hiding anymore, I am learning how to really live, and, scary as that is, it feels good.
*From Reasons to Stay Alive, by Matt Haig.