Truth

“The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life flow no longer in our souls.”

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (November 12, 1815 – October 26, 1902) in her speech to the National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1890.

Truth. This word means a lot to me. I’m having to face a lot of truths at the moment. Truth can be painful. Speaking truth can leave you feeling vulnerable. Vulnerability is frightening. Truth can be terrifying.

But fearless truth telling can heal. Not only myself, but others who hear (or in this case read) it.

The truth of the matter is, my depression has been back and there has been absolutely nothing that I could do to stop it. No amount of late night over-thinking, crying, pretending, talking or remaining silent has managed to keep the Black Dog from my door.

So I am going to share my truth here. It might be painful to read and to write, but if nobody talks openly about taboo subjects like this, more and more people will suffer in silence. If one person reads this, and in doing so feels less alone, or seeks help it will be worth the emotional effort that writing a post like this involves.

Each time it returns, my depression seems to have mutated. Like a germ that’s become immune to antibiotics. Like something from a zombie film, lurking where you least expect it.

Seven months ago my biggest problem was anxiety. Crippling, physical, exhausting anxiety. Talk-based CBT helped this, as did medication, and now it’s not such an issue. This time around the relapse has involved a lot more paranoia and the darkest of thoughts. Feelings of being worthless, a burden, a disappointment.

Depression is a very cruel illness. It robs you of the ability to take on board any rational advice or listen to logic. You just can’t believe anything good about yourself at all. You seem to feel too much of everything and at the same time, not enough. Nothing makes sense in my experience, when it comes to depression. Thoughts which to any other person are ridiculous, horrifying or absurd seem perfectly acceptable. During a conversation with a friend who was once sectioned for her own safety, for example, I felt that perhaps that wasn’t such a bad thing to happen. At least there would be rest. And quiet. And help.

Last week I had a long conversation with my doctor. He increased my medication and referred me for more Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. During my assessment I answered several questions which gave a picture of where I am on a depression scale. Despite all of the feelings I’d been battling I was still crushed to hear that based on the answers I gave, I’m considered to be seriously depressed. The fact that I felt surprised by this news is ridiculous as I’ve been living with this for weeks now. But the truth is, I keep expecting someone to tell me that this has all been a mistake, I’m just a bit tired and no, I haven’t actually got a mental illness after-all.

One of the doctor’s questions covered suicidal feelings. Not a conversation I ever expected to have. But I answered truthfully. My truth is that whilst I would never, ever put my family through it, I can, at this point in my life, understand why people do choose to end their lives as a result of depression. I’m sorry if this is painful and shocking to read, but this post is about truth.

I am speaking my truth here, in the hope that saying this things aloud (or on screen, as it were) will banish them away. In my darkest moments, I truly believed that the world would be better off without me, and that my husband and children would be better off with a different wife and mother. I feel I should stress again, before anyone calls an ambulance, that at no point did I ever plan to act on these dark thoughts. There are too many people whom I love for me to ever do that. But what I am saying is when I read news stories about women who’ve ended their lives, I can understand the feelings of desperate desolation that must have driven them.

After leaving the doctor’s, feeling very fragile indeed, I messaged a good friend who has personal experience of depression herself. I explained my feelings to her. Her response contained the following wise words:

“Please try not to be heartbroken- we both know depression is always there in the background and it’s inevitable that there will be relapses throughout our lives. What’s important it how we deal with them”.

She went on to commend me for getting help. Her message was of great comfort to me at a time where I just wanted to take to my bed and howl.

But here’s the thing. Each time my depression comes under control again, I think it’s gone forever. When it returns, it comes as a massive shock to me. In writing this I realise how ridiculous this sounds, but it’s the truth. I can’t seem to accept the fact that this may in all likeliness be something that comes back again and again throughout my life. The thought terrifies me. I can’t really even bear to think about it.

As I write this, I am thinking about the people who I know, who may read this. What on earth is possessing me to write down my very darkest thoughts and share them on the internet? What will people think? Will it look as it I’m attention-seeking? But then I re-examine my reasons for this post. I am writing not only to help myself, but to try to help others. Not just those suffering from depression themselves, but those trying to support loved ones going through it.

20130316-223452.jpg
I “came out’ about my depression through this blog. Before doing so, only a couple of people knew about it. My closest friends weren’t even aware. They sent me incredible messages of support once they’d read my first post. But I admit, and so will they, that after that it became somewhat of an elephant in the room. No-one liked to broach the subject and I couldn’t seem to bring it up. I began to feel paranoid that I’d alienated myself from my friends, who were becoming used to reading my inner thoughts rather than hearing them in person.

I find the subject far easier to write about than to speak about and I’m very good at putting on a brave face to the outside world. But last week, on the insistence of a close friend, my friends and I finally had the conversation. I struggled not to fall to pieces in a busy restaurant whilst discussing it. They offered support and suggestions. They were relieved and so was I. I hope that next time (and I really hope there is never a next time) I’ll be able to reach out to them more and let them in.

20130316-223603.jpg
I sometimes wonder whether I actually feel too much. Too much of other people’s pain as well as my own. At the moment I have close friends going through horrendous divorce, serious ill-health and parental cancer. I spend so much time worrying about them whilst feeling incredible guilt for not being a supportive enough friend. Because at some point, like this past few weeks or so, I can only focus on myself and my family. I have to put our needs first but that feels so selfish. I have to concentrate on myself more and stop worrying so much about others.

Yesterday my friend’s one year old daughter broke her ankle for no apparent reason. The photo of her in her cast was enough to have me feeling low for an entire morning today. Other people would of course worry about a baby in distress. But for me, it seems to consume me. I internalise it and find it hard to switch off the worry. I suppose this is something for me to address once the therapy resumes again.

I’m really struggling with whether or not to publish this post. It still feels to raw and I’m worried about upsetting my family and friends. I’m also worried about what acquaintances will think.

So I’ll share this quote, to give myself a bit more courage:
“Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind”
Bernard Baruch (Often incorrectly attributed to Dr. Seuss, apparently).

So, if you’re a friend or acquaintance of mine and you’re reading this, don’t feel awkward when you see me next. I’m determined to get through this again and raising awareness is part of the process for me, it seems. In writing this I can feel a few subtle sparks of positivity somewhere deep inside, some flickering enthusiasm building slowly. It will be OK again. I will get through this again, bit by bit with the support of my loved ones. I have asked for help, and of that I am proud.

Before I hit publish, I’m going to take a deep breath and remind myself once again of my reasons for sharing this. To help myself to heal, and to help heal others.

If you’re reading this and you’re suffering, please do get help. Speak to someone. If you’re worried about someone, please offer support. Only by being supportive to one another can we break the stigma and help one another. And that’s the Truth.

20130316-223721.jpg
All pictures credited to the Brave Girls Club

Advertisements

Complimentary Thinking

I think there is something about sharing your darkest secrets with the wider world that makes people trust you and feel comfortable sharing their own stories with you. As a result my head is spinning a bit. I have already learned so much in the two short weeks since I started this blog. I’ve received messages from people I’ve not seen for years, telling me about their struggles with depression, and messages of encouragement from mental health professionals congratulating me for my honesty and advocacy. This means more to me than I can articulate.

It’s been a scary, scary process so far. Two weeks ago not even my dad knew about my depression and neither did some of my very closest friends. Everyone has been incredibly supportive, but still I admit I’ve questioned myself. I have a terrible habit of reading in to things that people say and imagining hidden messages that usually aren’t there.

For example, one very dear friend asked me via text message how I felt about my story being “out there in the wider facebook world”. Her message was of genuine concern for me, having recently found out things about me that had previously been unknown to her. She was worried that I was feeling regretful. However, my mind started racing and my imagination went in to overdrive. Does she think I’m over-sharing? Are people talking about me or criticising me for putting so much “out there”? Does she think I’m doing the wrong thing? Am I doing the wrong thing? What have I done? This was absolutely my own self-doubt rearing it’s ugly head.

The point I’m making is this: Even though written and statistical evidence support the fact that lots of people have been helped by this blog (it’s now had over three thousand views in under two weeks), this is still a very scary thing to do. Particularly for someone prone to anxiety. I don’t take compliments well and I have a hard time in believing nice things people say about me. There is a technical term for this that I learned during my Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and it’s called Mind Reading, or assuming you know what people think without having sufficient evidence of their thoughts.

For me, it’s not enough to just share my story in the hope that other mums like me will know that they’re not alone. Reminding mums that they’re not the only ones feeling like proverbial swans on a lake, seemingly gliding along on the surface whilst underneath kicking and thrashing about to stay afloat is all well and good. There must be something I can do to encourage other mums, above and beyond sharing my own (mis)adventures in parenting.

I’ve given this a lot of thought and there will be more than one post on this topic. But first I’d like to cast my mind back four years. In my old life, I used to have a pretty high profile job negotiating advertising contracts for a national newspaper. I was responsible for bringing in tens of millions of pounds a year in revenue. It was a big responsibility. But I had a manager, she had a manger, he had a manager and his manager reported in to the City. Everyone was accountable to someone. We had regular one-to-one meetings and appraisals and knew in no uncertain terms whether or not our performance was up to scratch.

Move on four years, and I find myself doing the most important job in the world, raising two small children. But I have no boss (well, actually, my son often feels very much like the Boss of Me but that’s not the point!). I don’t have regular appraisals (I know the health visitors are there if you need them but I stopped paying attention to them when they told me to limit my son’s carbohydrate intake when he was seven months old).

As mums, we’re only really answerable to ourselves, and we’re our own worst critics.

Rightly or wrongly, other mums are the benchmark for how well I feel I’m doing as a parent. My husband or mum may tell me they think I’m doing a good job, but in my mind they’re obligated to say that. It’s in their job description. (There’s a CBT term for this, too actually. It’s called Discounting Positives, or dismissing positive things as trivial).

Now luckily for me, and as I’ve said before, I have a very supportive group of friends. We are usually pretty honest when it comes to the highs and lows of raising babies and toddlers and we don’t feel the need to compete with one another. With this in mind many of them seemed hurt that I hadn’t told them about my PND at the time I was going through it. The reason I held back wasn’t that I didn’t trust them, far from it. I didn’t tell them because I knew them well enough to know the words of comfort they would offer, I knew what they’d say and I knew they were right. It just wouldn’t have made any difference to me at that very low point in my life. I couldn’t really believe anything complimentary that my friends might have said to me. I discounted their positives without even hearing them.

My point is this: We may believe we know someone, but deep down, we never really know what’s going on behind the scenes. The mum who you think has it all together may well be falling apart at the seams and feel completely unable to discuss it with anyone. But what can we do? How can we make a difference?

The best bosses I ever had in my media career were those who asked for input from their teams and gave feedback on a job well done. And yet, the majority of comments I’ve had so far on this blogging adventure have been from mums who feel inferior to other mums, who feel in competition, who feel they are judged by their peers on every parenting choice they make.

Only this morning, one of the mums at nursery said to me “I never really had many female friends before having children, but I thought this would change once I became a mum. In actual fact, it’s even worse. Women can be so bitchy and competitive, especially when it comes to child-rearing. I can’t be bothered with it all! Where’s the solidarity and sisterhood?”

Now this? This we can do something about. This is where we can affect change.

If you see a mum who’s managed to make it out of Tesco’s with shopping done and sanity seemingly intact, what’s to stop you saying “Nice work there, sister! Last time I tried to do the shopping with my kids in tow I aborted the mission and contemplated abandoning my children along with the shopping trolley. I take my hat off to you. Well done!” ?

Conversely, when the mama with the screaming kids in the supermarket is, for once, not you, a friendly smile or words to the effect of “we’ve all been there, love, don’t worry” could well go such a long way in helping her to survive her ordeal. I’d argue that random words or encouragement from strangers are just as valuable as praise from those who know you well. And remember, we don’t know what’s going on under the surface of even the most immaculately made-up face.

I genuinely believe that if we were more confident in our abilities as mothers and less focussed on our insecurities we’d be able to brush off some of the more tactless comments we’re regularly bombarded with. I think it’s our lack of confidence in ourselves that cause us to find hidden meanings in otherwise harmless comments from our peers.

I think if we focus on praising our fellow mums by giving credit where it’s due we can go a long way in remembering that we’re all in this together. We’re all fighting our own individual battles and we could be lightening each other’s loads. I bet you can think of countless mums that you admire for different reasons. But do they know this? Could it be that whilst you’re comparing your insides with her outsides, she’s doing the same and finding herself to be lacking?

Here is an excerpt of an email I received from a friend after she read my blog. I’m nervous about sharing it as it feels a bit like blowing my own trumpet but I think it proves my point:

“To use the not-so-random example of you, who was never anything other than friendly and supportive to me, I enjoyed seeing you but it was always mixed with envy/insecurity that Monkey* was advanced in crawling, walking etc, that you had family close by, a routine, less night waking, a spotless child-friendly but stylish house and that you always looked great! It’s not that I was unaware you had a horrible birth experience and were upset that breast feeding hadn’t worked but in my mind, the things you could control, you excelled at. I don’t know how relevant that is but thought you might be interested to hear it.”

This whole paragraph was a revelation to me. It had never occurred to me during those early days that anyone would look at me and see anything worth looking up to. But there it is, in black and white. Who knew? I wonder if having this knowledge would have made a difference to me when depression hit two years later with the birth of my second daughter? Impossible to say.

But we’re not just talking about me here. I genuinely think that almost every mum could benefit from a bit of encouragement now and then from her peers. That by consciously making the effort to support one another with kind words, we can help culture an environment of solidarity rather than competition.

I asked an online group of mums to tell me if they’ve ever received a lovely compliment and how it made them feel:

“My autistic sons paediatrician said to me ‘you clearly have a great understanding of his needs and are so in tune with him, he is lucky to have you as a Mum’ she may have said that to everyone, but I don’t care! it helped.”

” A friend recently told me ‘You are incredible. You’ve had so much to deal with lately and you just get on with it; you are a wonderful mum and a fantastic friend and your children are a credit to you.”

” I was on my way home from the school run with my three year old twins in the pram. A lady stopped me and asked me if I didn’t mind her telling me something!! She went on to say what lovely children I had, how they were always well dressed and polite, that my daughter was always on time for school and how calm I was all the time!! I was gobsmacked!! And I felt very emotional as I had been struggling so much. I told her how much it meant to me! It made me feel like the best mum in the world! My friends often compliment me on how well behaved my children are! I have struggled with PND since having my twins so compliments mean a lot to me.”

“An older lady stopped me in the hospital toilets to tell me that my son (age 6) was a lovely spoken, polite little boy. It feels lovely when it’s a stranger telling you rather than somebody you know (although that’s still nice too)”.

I hope you’ve got examples of lovely compliments that you’ve been paid. I hope that you’re able to accept genuine words of support and encouragement and not discount them. I hope more than anything, that in reading this article, you’re formulating a mental list of women you know who deserve a pat on the back and some recognition for the incredibly important and often hard job we’re all doing our best at. A psychological pay-rise, if you will.

So with this post I’m setting you some homework. Please go out in the world and practice some Mummy Kindness today, and come back here to the comments section to tell me and your fellow readers how it felt to make someone else’s day.

20130125-121106.jpg