Depression Beyond Blue Monday

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Today is (according to some media) blue Monday – reported to be the most depressing day of the year.

Whether this is true or not it got me thinking as I have some experience of depression.

In fact, I have an on-going relationship with it.

I wasn’t diagnosed until I went back to work after having my first baby.  I knew I hadn’t felt normal for a long time (understatement I know, but I find it impossible to articulate what being depressed feels like).  A stressful period at work was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  With hindsight, I’d had postnatal depression, but I was too overwhelmed to ask for help.

I now look back on difficult periods in my life when I felt as though I was regularly either sinking or unbelievably anxious.  At the time, it never occurred to me to consider my mental health could be causing this state.  It was only at the age of 35 when I could no longer cope day to day that a skeptical visit to my GP (after my husband insisted) changed my life.

I was incredibly lucky.

The GP I saw that day recognised what was going on and said all the right things.  He explained that medication could help.  I was worried about taking that step, but it was the best thing I could have done.  It gave me the breathing space to think clearly for the first time in a long time.  It lifted the black cloud that had been following me around for what felt like forever.

I’ve tried life without medication since, and while it t was ok for a while, there were soon signs I was slipping back, so I went back to the GP.  I may well take these tablets forever.  In the same way that anyone with an on-going condition often does – thyroid problem, digestive issues, you name it – there are people everywhere taking daily medication for something that needs treatment.

I’m not a doctor or any sort of medical expert.  I’m not writing this blog to tell you that people who are depressed should take medication.  I’m writing it in a hope that it might help someone who just can’t see the woods for the trees.  To say that no matter what your circumstances, there is no shame in asking for help.

In my experience, postnatal depression is very cruel.

Just at a time in your life when society expects you to be overjoyed with your new little bundle, your mental health doesn’t play ball.  There’s no shortage of people – many well-meaning – who tell you it’s just the baby blues. Have a bath, go out shopping, get more sleep, nap when the baby naps.  In my case, I knew lots of Mums who had given birth around the same time and no-one else seemed to be having any difficulties at all.  I wonder now with hindsight if the reality is that many people are simply keeping up appearances because they feel they have to.  It’s not exactly a socially acceptable thing to say, “actually, no, when the baby falls asleep in my arms it doesn’t make it all worth it.  It makes me weep with relief”.

Then there’s the guilt I feel about not enjoying such a lot of those precious early moments and not seeking help sooner.  Even now, 5 years later, every time my eldest boy asks for Daddy instead of Mummy I worry it’s because there was some lost connection caused by my state of depression during his first 12 months.

However, when I was pregnant for a second time, my Midwife and GP were incredible and put a care plan in place that meant I didn’t have a repeat of the first time.  My second son was born without drama and with me feeling mentally in a much more positive frame of mind.

So what else have I learned about depression?

That everyone’s experience is different, that not all treatments are equal and that everyone has their coping mechanisms.  For me it is important that I can recognise when my mood takes a dip and try to articulate it to my husband to avoid internalising it.  Exercise and being around people is also important – even if both of these things are just about the last things you feel like doing when you’re feeling low – they are definitely the things that help me to keep my head above water.

You could even say that my willingness to exercise to support my mental wellbeing (note I said willingness not enthusiasm) has led me to where I am today – working on an exciting business that might just help someone else to escape to the land of the physical when they need a mental break.

Take care and be kind to yourself.

Sarah x