Tag Archives: depression

Letting go and finding new

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scary dudes Arch Sept 2012

 

Coming home from China, after three years as an expat resident in Suzhou, was one of the most difficult periods in my life. If I thought I experienced culture shock going over, it was nothing compared to coming back. China is a vibrant, noisy, exciting, boisterous, energetic world where life is lived out on the footpath and in large groups of extended family and friends. Suburban Brisbane couldn’t be more different. When we are out on the streets here, we are alone or in nuclear family groups, quickly attending to the busyness of our day. Come sunset, we close our gates and lock our doors. We eat behind closed doors, we love, argue and raise our children in the privacy of our own homes. We have space, lots of it, and we prickle when someone enters ours uninvited. Coming home was hard. The silence was one of the hardest things to get used to. Quiet evenings, no incessant beeping of bike and car horns, quiet, civilised supermarkets where everyone waits patiently in line. And no nightly fireworks outside my bedroom window.

I had to let go of so many things during that time, and it was a pruning that left me bare and raw; a sad little twig trying to come back to life after a dry winter. If I’m honest, there was a material shock in coming from a place where I was a relative affluent with disposable income up to my eyeballs, to Australia, a regular on the highest cost of living in the world lists. On one salary. We went from two international holidays a year to budgeting to the last twenty bucks in our fortnightly coffers. It was humbling and necessary, and it forced me to reflect on what happiness really was and what my family really needed.

I had to let go of a concept that I had of myself that I was competent, educated, valued and skilled. I came out of the best professional experience of my career, to staying at home with my toddler, failing at the job day after day and wondering who the hell I was. Suddenly I couldn’t do anything well. It was a new experience of hating myself and how badly I thought I was at mothering. It was a dangerous cycle that escalated over the next few years. So much of my identity had ben wrapped up in my profession, that when that was gone, I was lost.

Possibly the hardest part though, was letting go of friends. Not the friends I left behind in China, for those, despite the distance, stuck close by (electronically) and are close still. It was the friends I returned to. After a while, I realised it was time to loosen my grip. I knew that being the returning traveller was nothing special to those who hung around. We have all been away, come home, gone again, returned. It’s the job of the returnee to reconnect, I get that. So, despite being an introvert to the core, I committed myself to making the effort to reconnect with my friends. I phoned, I emailed, I Facebooked, I called again. It was an incredible shock to me to find that a few of my long term friends had simply moved on. I had to, for my own sanity, just give up.

I should add that this was all during the worst phase of my depression, when I was sad but didn’t realise, I just thought I was failing. So everything was sadder, more black and white, less logical and more tragic. I was just desperately looking for a safety net and found it not in old friends, but in new ones. I vividly recall one very very sad day, I was walking around with my toddler, six months pregnant with twins and just killing time as I seemed to do day after day. Heading toward home I considered stopping at the park for a while, to kill another half hour or so. I almost didn’t, but did. I was sad to the point of holding back tears. A woman came along, newborn in pram and toddler on foot. We talked. I found that I hadn’t totally given up because I had the courage to suggest we swap phone numbers. A little over a year later, I ran my first half marathon with her. We now babysit each other’s kids. She cooked for me when I moved house. She saved me. She never even knew it.

It was a painful pruning, but the spring came, as it always does, and the new has replaced the old. It took a really long time, several years in fact, to recover from reverse culture shock. I feel like China was a juncture in my life. There is before-China and after-China. My life BC after couldn’t be more different to my life AC. My work life, home life, social life, all of them are totally not what they were before. Many spring buds have blossomed into full bouquets that have brought me such happiness. Too much with the spring metaphor? I’m thinking too much. Yep, much too much…I feel a little ill….just threw up a bit in my mouth.

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Gratitude

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My last post was too long ago and I meant to raise the tone much earlier than this. The whole point of HOPE was to talk about recovery, not to wallow in pain. Yes I have started taking medication, yes I am “seeing someone” again (not in the dating sense), but those two things make up about 10% of who I am and what I am doing with my life right now. It’s a thing, just a small thing among many other things. Here are some other things I’d like to talk about.

As of May 27, 2013, 124 people have died on Queensland roads. I drive 30 minutes to and from work every day and there is a lot of driving though my workday. Not once this year have I died in a car accident. Not once have I lost the use of my legs forever, nor have I ever had a catastrophic brain injury from a car accident, not even once. In fact, I have been driving for 23 years and I did not lose my life even one time with all of that driving. What a gift.

In this past week, Adam Goodes, AFL legend, double Brownlow Medal winner, two time premiership player and all round total gentleman had not one but two utterly stupid comments thrown at him by ignorant, unthinking, insensitive people completely lacking in a clue. He responded with grace, and social media went nuts. I thought, you know what? Not once in my life have I ever been a part of a minority such that I have had to overcome prejudice, ignorance or discrimination. I do not know what it is like to be in the receiving end of racist comments. Again and again and again. I do not know what it is like to have to fight for my right to walk in certain streets, sit in a certain place, vote, drink in a pub or be considered a human. How freakin lucky am I and what the hell did I ever do to get such a privileged position. Hardly seems fair really.

Another thing. I have said this one before and it never ceases to amaze me. I woke up this morning and you’ll never believe it, I didn’t have cancer! Again! I know, isn’t it amazing? This happens to me every day! It’s utterly joyous. No cancer. I am being dead set serious. Every day that I wake up with no serious illness is a day to be filled with gratitude. Every. Single. Day. In addition to not having cancer, as if that wasn’t blessing enough, I did not have Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, psychosis, AIDS or even arthritis.

My kids. Wow. Pregnancy and childbirth is a minefield. So much can go wrong and for me, nothing did. Unbelievable. Aside from a few emotional teething problems on my part, we have a happy, healthy family. Even having kids in the first place is amazing. I know plenty of people who would cut off a limb to have just one beautiful, healthy baby. I got three. I am falling head over heels in love with them. Again. I can hardly believe my luck. Maybe I should buy a lottery ticket.

And here’s another thing. When I go to bed tonight, it will be in a warm, comfortable bed. My tummy will be full and I will not be afraid of anything, except maybe the rabid possums playing rugby on the roof. The incredible thing about this is that every night of my life, the same thing has happened. That’s 14 714 times I have had a warm bed to sleep in. But even better than this is that, when I wake up in the morning, I have a job to go to. A good one. One that gives me great satisfaction and even a bit of decent coin for my efforts. I’m a bit overwhelmed.

If I go on too much I will start getting emotional, but I cannot write about gratitude without saying something about my husband. You know, I could easily have made the wrong decision about who to marry. Easy. I was an insecure twenty-something year old. But I didn’t. I married for all the right reasons and I married totally the right guy. Oh, and I was LEGALLY ALLOWED to marry him. How awesome is that? Imagine not being LEGALLY ALLOWED to marry the perfect person. How painful that would be, if marriage was what you wanted and you couldn’t have it. But I can have it. And I am so lucky.

So here I am. My gratitude is profound.

Do you have Post Natal Depression?

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Here’s my own personal checklist. A layperson’s Edinburgh Scale if you will. If you tick off anything on this list, see your family doctor, or another doctor you like and trust, and talk. Please. It’s not supposed to be like this. I’m not a doctor or psychologist or a mental health professional of any kind. This list just comes from my own experience and I think a lot of women, like me, miss what’s really going on because they put themselves last all the time and they think well, parenting is just hard that’s all. Well, yeah it’s hard. But it’s also joyful and brilliant. Life is supposed to be a mix of both, not all one or the other.

1. Are you sad? Like really sad? If you are awfully, awfully sad, for no particular reason, 80% of the time and the sadness is like a great big hole that stretches into a dark tunnel that has no end? This is not normal sadness. 

2. Do you look at your newborn/baby/toddler/child and feel…..nothing much? It takes lots of women a while to bond with their newborn babies, but if you just aren’t getting there and all it feels like is duty, it might be your chemicals out of whack, not your heart.

3. Is going out too much of a chore? Like obviously going out with a baby/toddler/kid is always a chore but if you are actively avoiding your social life, your friends and your family (where you didn’t used to) you may be experiencing a symptom of depression.

4. Is parenting absolutely no fun at all? Does the idea that it could actually be fun seem ridiculous to you? Is it all just duty and work and sadness and surviving? Call your doctor.

5. Do you feel like you missed something when you watch TV ads for baby products? Like, hang on, aren’t I supposed to be wearing a white bathrobe (with no stains) while gazing adoringly into my baby’s face while standing by a window overlooking paradise? Should I shake my head with good natured humour as my baby wakes for a feed in the night for the eleventh time but adore the bonding time such a feeding session affords me as a mother? Why don’t I quiver with motherly thrill as I softly caress my baby’s skin which is as soft as, um, a baby’s? Should I perhaps be taking more time to lovingly rub that expensive baby lotion into my baby’s post bath skin, as seen on TV? Actually no. If you relate to this one you’re actually pretty normal. Note to self: TV representations of motherhood are pretty much without exception, bullshit.

And while I’m at it, TV representations of motherhood do not help those of us who think we are failing miserably because we don’t measure up to some unattainable image. It’s like thinking that the airbrushed images on magazine covers are actually of real people. It’s the stupid idea of the yummy mummy. What? I have to be an organic, earth mothering, homeschooler AND sexy too?

Depressed or not, stop looking at crap about mothers and reading crap about motherhood. Love yourself and your imperfect bumbling attempts at raising your child. Laugh when you screw it up. Laugh at others who reckon they don’t. Cry if you need to. Say sorry to your kids and forgive yourself. Know that you are the only person who is qualified to be the mother to your child. And rock your stained and slightly grey used-to-be-white bathrobe. All day if you want.

 

Remember her pain

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I was brought to tears by the story of a 37 year old woman in America who drowned her 4 year old autistic son in the bath in late December last year. There is very little information available online about this case, other than the newsworthy facts. She held him underwater in the bath until he died, she may or may not have tried to kill herself, she got in her car and drove to the police station.

There are disturbingly insidious statements to be found in most online articles. She wanted more time to herself. She was sick of caring for her autistic son. Her husband saw no signs of mental illness. All her time was taken up with this high needs boy. All of this to suggest that she was selfish, a monster, heartless.

When she appeared in court for her sentencing, it was reported that she was so emotionally distraught that court proceedings had to be stopped so that she could compose herself enough to hear the judgement. I’m quite sure that this is not the first time she has been a complete emotional wreck.

I wanted to know so much more about her. I wanted to know her family history, her education level, her support networks (or lack of). I wanted to know what she knew about parenting and who taught her. I wanted to know what she knew about autism and who taught her. I wanted to know who, out of her and the father of the child, shouldered the lion’s share of the work. I wanted to know how much time in a day, a week, a month did she have just for herself. There is so much more I want to know about her.

I can’t even begin to imagine the pain that this woman will live every moment of every day for the rest of her life. I don’t hate her, blame her, pity her or judge her. I’m not her but I too have had dark thoughts in very dark moments. It’s only a matter of degrees. It’s only a matter of one or two slight differences in circumstance, support, resilience…who knows which? I’m not her because I have something she didn’t, a resource of some kind, material, personal, spiritual, environmental, something that held me back from the awful black that she slipped hopelessly into. Another mother, in pain, afraid to talk about her true feelings. Another festering secret of not coping with being a mother. It is an unspeakable tragedy.

Read the story here.

The Black Dog Returns

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Two weeks ago I thought I was getting depressed again. Caught in that cycle of negative thinking, I was why why why ing myself round the bend. That old feeling of being trapped in a cage and wanting to break something, anything just to make some noise and have a head turn my way. Then suddenly, unexpectedly, I entered the twilight zone (note to GenY types, twilight zone meaning weird place, not vampire love nest). I had about two days in a row where somebody kidnapped my kids and replaced them with exact replicas, only compliant, peaceful, smiley, happy ones. I had enough space to think wow, this really IS getting easier, these kids are FUN! I can DO this!!

And then the kidnappers returned my real kids. Phases phases phases. It is all indeed, a passing phase. The I will not eat anything but air phase seems to have faded and may pass sort of maybe one day soon. I don’t know what the name of the current phase is but it’s not my favourite. I think it’s just the one that has been going since they hit 18 months. It’s the toddler phase. I’m sorry but I have to be un-politically correct here and say that I really just can’t stand toddlers. OK maybe that’s a bit strong. Let’s put it like this. At the end of a run of the mill Saturday, I feel like I have worked a day’s hard yakka on a farm. It’s hard physical work. My body aches and if I’ve had 5 minutes to sit down and chill it would have been with boys crawling all over me like an ant hill.

Toddlers. Are they freaking insane? In the interest of getting inside their crazy little heads, I have compiled a list of things I know about them.

  1. Toddlers never stop. Toddlers move always. Toddlers move therefore toddlers are.
  2. Toddlers touch stuff. All stuff. Any stuff within reach. If it’s not within reach toddlers will drag a chair over and climb on top of something to get it. And then toddlers will break it.
  3. Toddlers love sound. Lots of it. All the time. Nice and loud. Especially sound of own making. Yeah!
  4. Toddlers will not eat dinner. Toddlers will climb on you to eat whatever you are eating.
  5. Toddlers will mess stuff up. Toddlers do not think things should be in drawers or cupboards. Things should always be on the floor when you are a toddler.
  6. Toddlers will play nicely for five minutes only. After that, toddlers will hit each other, break things, throw things and scream until you come.
  7. If there is a drain, pipe, toilet, hole or receptacle of any description, toddlers will fill it with stuff. Stuff may include rocks, lego, shoes, bits of dinner, ripped book pages and your car keys.
  8. When in the car, toddlers will say Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas until you play the Thomas theme song one thousand and fifty times.
  9. When at home, toddlers will say Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas until you put the Thomas DVD on, whereupon they will watch it for three and a half minutes before they will hit each other, break things, throw things and scream until you come.
  10. Toddlers will do whatever is most inconvenient for you. If you want them to sleep, toddlers will not sleep. If you want them to stay awake, toddlers will sleep.