One of the many things I didn’t know about post-natal depression before I suffered from it was how it affects your memory. I can remember, in crystal clear detail, so many things from the early days of my oldest daughter’s life. Not just the big things – the first time I held her, the first time we took her out in the pushchair, her first tooth – but the tiny day-to-day details like her expressions and the cute noises she used to make.
I remember the birth of my second daughter and the days I spent in the hospital immediately afterwards, but then … almost nothing. For months and months. I don’t remember when she first rolled over, or crawled, or what her first word was. I don’t remember her smiles or her giggles, just a hazy mist of anger and misery and frustration. Depression not only robbed me of the love I should have felt for her in her first year; it even robbed me of the memory of that first year.
We went to Corfu, to my husband’s family’s village, when she was three months old for what should have been a wonderful summer. OK, my husband was working (in a job he never got paid for) in Athens, but I was with my girls and my husband’s grandparents who, by the way, were two of the greatest people I ever met. But it wasn’t a wonderful summer at all.
I spent my days angry at my children, feeling more lonely than I had ever felt, incapable of seeing the beauty all around me, or enjoying a single moment. My baby couldn’t feed properly, wouldn’t sleep soundly, and my husband’s grandparents’ condition had deteriorated greatly. I found myself washing and dressing them, changing their soiled sheets, washing and ironing their clothes, cooking and cleaning. I loved them dearly and I didn’t begrudge looking after them – it would have been my pleasure – but I couldn’t cope. There were other family members around – much closer relatives than me – but they were more concerned with enjoying their holiday. After all, I was on ‘holiday’ (maternity leave – FYI not a holiday!) for six months. And of course they had no idea I was depressed.
What baffles me is that they didn’t notice. I think I covered it up quite well, but you can’t hide something like that. People I see twice a year realised there was something wrong with me, but the people I see every day just thought I was moody and tired. Granted, they don’t really know what depression is and definitely don’t understand it, so I can’t blame them. I mean, I could have tried to tell them, to explain, but I thought they would just think I was complaining. So I carried on, barely, alone with my misery and anger. Feeling like I was drowning right in front of them … and no one had noticed.
Image is my own work.