Yesterday I cried on stage. I have been speaking now for two years to audiences and never have I felt the wave of emotion that swept over me yesterday.
I had the pleasure of speaking the Women's Wellness Expo in Rockhampton. Before my turn to hop up on stage and talk about hormonal health in women, I had the most amazing privilege to listen to a panel of indigenous women share their honest thoughts and feelings during question time on what it is like to be a woman. They spoke of the highs, lows, their fears and their achievements. They also mentioned the word shame. It struck a chord and obviously stayed in my head as I walked up on stage.
Most talks I give detail our health journey and I touch on the financial, physical and emotional impact our time dealing with the obvious stressors of illness. However out of my mouth yesterday came words I never imagined. Feelings suppressed for some time bubbled up and came out and they were around shame. For the first time I spoke honestly about my personal struggle with ante-natal and post-natal depression which I think the depth of my struggles were only known by my husband.
During my second pregnancy I developed ante-natal depression. I didn't even realise this was possible until well after the birth of my child. I spent days curled up on a bed with my toddler bringing puzzles and books to me. I didn't want to speak, I didn't want to lift my head. My toddler learnt how to find food for herself as I couldn't face the walk down stairs to feed her. I would put on a "normal" face as I went to mum's group or obligatory appointments which took every ounce of energy out of me and would see me curling back up in a ball with my toddler when we returned home. I didn't feel how you were "meant" to when pregnant. There was no excitement, I had this feeling of impending doom. I certainly wasn't the smiling glowing mum-to-be on the front of all the pregnancy magazines. I was so ashamed of how I was feeling that I never shared this with anyone although my husband could see I was not quite right.
After the birth of my beautiful second baby I had a couple of weeks of switching into "new mother" mode with a quiet confidence because I had done all this before! It would be so much easier! For those two weeks all those feelings I had experienced in pregnancy were replaced with joy and love for this new little person. But then it came back. It not only came back but it returned with interest... I had terrible troubles feeding my child and she screamed almost all day as she was suffering reflux. Sleep went out the window along with any sanity I had left. I started experiencing manic episodes of ironing in the early hours of the morning in that snippet where she had shut eyes. I had to be a perfect mum and wife because that could distract all eyes from seeing how poorly I was coping. Yet feeding became more difficult and my struggles worsened. It wasn't until one overcast day when I set out to drive to a nearby town (for whatever reason) when I reached my emotional boiling point. I was driving along a windy coastal road with many cliffs. All of a sudden the thought of my family being so much better off without me became overwhelming. So I pulled over on the side of the road and went to unbuckle my children. But as I leaned in with my toddler asking what I was doing, I had a flash image of them being hit by a car if I was to leave them on the side of the road. This haunted me so much that I returned to my seat feeling completely empty and useless and I sat in the front seat and cried my heart out. I wasn't worthy to be a mother, a daughter, a wife or a friend. The shame I felt for not enjoying motherhood or being able to even breastfeed my child anymore was unbearable. In my eyes I didn't deserve children or the husband I had. But even worse was this overwhelming feeling that I was "weak" for falling into this trap and it was all in my mind.
I knew I needed help. I rang my husband telling him I needed help; not disclosing what I had almost done until weeks later. Fortunately for me I had a child health nurse who had a very strong suspicion that I was putting on a very good front and when she was called she organised a fast track trip to my GP. The sadness and the feelings of uselessness abated over the coming months but anxiety became gripping. My husband worked 35 minutes away via a highway. Every night I would run through every worst case scenario of what could happen on the way home. He would have to ring before leaving work and if he was 3 minutes later than I expected I was beside myself and many nights I would be preparing to call the police when he would just pull in around the corner. I started to pull away from mothers group as I sat in the corner of the room feeling so so incompetent and unworthy of being there. This all went on for about 9 months. It coincided with the horrendous sleep patterns of my daughter and finally when she started sleeping in 3 hour blocks over night, I started to improve. I didn't want to remain on medication and by 12 months I had weaned off them and was feeling so much better with the added excitement of a planned house move.
I thought the black dog had left me until 6 months after my third daughter's birth it appeared again. It coincided with the most horrendous hormonal symptoms and outbursts of intense anger that came seemingly from nowhere. I discovered that the best addition we could have added to our house was our walk in wardrobe which became my padded cell where I could go in and scream so so loud and no-one could hear me through the insulation of clothes!!! I had perfected masking this depression. I now had kinder drop offs and many more places to go so I learnt how to hold it together whenever I was out but there was a constant voice talking so loud to me all the time reinforcing what a phony I was and that I wasn't worthy of anything I had. This worsened over 12 months until I experienced the darkest day of my life. This was the day I had three kids in the back of my car and drove 350kms in a state of hysteria from one end of the state to the other in a feeling of shame and inadequacy. I was screwing up my kids life and my family and husband all deserved so much better. I wanted it all over then and there. I prayed on the trip home. I prayed for the police to pull me over and take my kids off me and either let me drive off the road or lock me up away from them. They deserved to be home with their dad well away from me. I will never forget this feeling and it wasn't until I was standing on stage that I felt the emotion of what had happened hit me like a lightning bolt.
I share this image as it is one of the only photos taken around the time of my darkest days.
I was also struck by the incredible gratitude I have for coming out of the clouds. This happened when I completely changed my diet and re-nourished my body of the gazillion nutrients that I was deficient in (especially after building and feeding three children in 3 1/2 years). To this day I still have dips but I don't spend long at all in there anymore and I look at the emotion and energy attached to what caused the dip and almost always now it is when I am doing something that I deep down don't want to do!
I was overwhelmed with emotion. Perhaps by standing with tears in my eyes on that stage, just perhaps, I may have given one woman in that room hope; perhaps it could be that beautiful 16 year old girl who only minutes earlier bravely shared her admission of struggling with depression for so long.. Maybe I could have helped one of the older women who nodded back at me with tears in their eyes; words unspoken yet words not needed.
What I realised from the tears that certainly bubbled over during the car journey home is that depression in any form, ante-natal, post-natal or at any stage in your life is NOT something to be ashamed of or to attach guilt to. It is not a weakness. It is not something to keep from family or friends and you are certainly not unworthy of happiness or a fulfilling life.
There is so much help available and so many different ways to look at overcoming depression that may appear a little "outside the box" yet can make such a difference. Seeking help with nutrition is certainly such a high priority as nutrients are essential and healthy neurotransmitter production are vital both which are often completely out of whack in depression and mood disorders. An integrative physician can assist with important tests which can go a long way in looking at underlying biomedical reasons for depression (for further information go to http://www.walshinstitute.org/). Also consultation with a psychologist or counsellor can help look into the psychological and emotional hurdles. Something that also goes a very long way in helping is looking at complementary supports such as yoga, meditation, essential oils and numerous other healing modalities which can help shift the fog.
Why am I sharing this? I have started writing this and then I have deleted it numerous times over the past 24 hours. So much of me wanted to continue to keep this locked up with the key thrown away forever. But obviously so much more of me wants to share this with others on similar journey (if I press the post button!!). I realise the more I talk openly each day, the more other women and young girls are opening up (I spend most of my time seeing women which is why my focus is on them). A problem shared is a problem halved and I think I need to share this, let go and heal.
My beautiful family worth living every minute for.