I suppose that everyone’s experience of post-natal depression is different. The same goes for the recovery process. I’ve tried to describe in other posts how the illness affected my mental state, and what recovering from post-natal depression was like for me. This post is about where I am now, how I feel now that it’s all behind me – the days of darkness, the long journey back to myself, my unexpected pregnancy and the birth of my third daughter. And the realisation that I had avoided getting PND a second time, that I would never feel that way again, and that I was finally free.
In a way, this is the most difficult post to write. It’s impossible to communicate how I feel now without sounding like the distilled essence of the final scene in a rom com movie. And how annoying are rom com movies?! So I just want to say, before I begin, that I still get mad at my kids when they drive me round the bend. I still get frustrated when I have to deal with Greek public services. I still walked round for weeks feeling empty and confused when we lost our wonderful, smart, funny cousin to cancer at the age of 37.
You can never shut out the bad, because we live in an imperfect world. There will always be pain and illness, loss and injustice. I’m not forgetting the fact that there are innocent children dying in war zones, young people sick with incurable diseases, families living in poverty, nonsensical terror attacks … I’m not talking about that. I’m trying to describe, day-to-day, how I feel now that I’ve been given what I see as a second chance.
1. I see beauty everywhere. Not just in the sunrise over the mountains or the faces of my sleeping children. I see it in the bedroom curtain fluttering in the breeze on a hot day, in the drink I order at the coffee shop, the graffiti on the slide at the playground. And I feel it, too.
2. I feel gratitude for all I’ve got, like a ball of happiness inside me – I can’t describe it any other way. Down in my stomach, where that constant ache of anxiety and misery used to be, is this feeling of joy and love. (See? I told you it was going to get corny).
3. I take joy in simple, routine tasks that I have to do, like hanging out the washing, ironing, even cleaning the bathroom. Yes, I know it sounds nuts, but I’m grateful to have a house to clean, in the country I always dreamed of living in. I’m grateful my kids have nice clothes to wear – almost all of them gifts from our lovely family and friends. I’m grateful for the chance to take care of my family, to do the things they’d never even notice I was doing – unless I wasn’t here to do them. And I came so close to not being here, by my own hand … I could have lost all this, and that’s what makes even mopping the damn floor beautiful.
4. I can’t get enough of people. Not just the ones I genuinely love. It’s like being drunk – I feel like I love everybody! Even the grumpy ones, even the ones who are mean to me – they don’t get to me any more. If someone treats me badly, I don’t dwell on it like I used to, I just let it pass on by. I identify with what Martin Luther King said, “I love everybody. I’m every man’s brother. You may not love me, but that’s your issue, not mine.”
I feel sad for my friends who aren’t speaking to each other because of some small differences, for my extended family screaming at each other in the apartment downstairs, for the miserable women in the medical centre trying to make everyone’s day more difficult. I want to shake them all, to yell at them to WAKE UP because life is too short for this crap. There is too much hate, too much fear, too much loss in the world – and that is out of our control. But adding to all this negativity? That we CAN control.
Living through post-natal depression was an awful experience and the things I felt and thought will always haunt me. But even the darkest clouds can have silver linings. Walking through the darkness of those miserable months has taught me the value of the light. The life I have is not ‘mundane’ or ‘mediocre’ – it is fricking awesome. I am so fortunate to have three healthy kids, a husband that loves me, a job, a place to live … but most of all, I am fortunate because I have learnt to appreciate all that.
To an outsider, I guess my life looks almost the same as it did before these events took place. OK, my husband changed his career and we have more kids now … but basically the same. But the things you can’t see – they’re so different now. I said that before all this, I was living my life in greyscale. Depression made everything duller and darker still … but the long road back to myself took me somewhere better, brighter. Now, I’m living in Technicolor.
And that is where you find me today – living and loving life fully. I wish that everyone could feel the way I do now, but everyone’s story is different and, sadly, not all stories are happy ones. I’m not qualified to give advice, but there is a lot to be said for sharing our experiences: not just the look-how-great-my-life-is social media posts, but the sadness and the pain. You don’t have to start a blog (!) – find someone you can talk to, someone you can trust, someone who believes in you even when you don’t believe in yourself.
And try to believe in yourself. Whatever you think you are worth (me, 2014: nothing), whatever you think your life is worth (me, 2014: nothing) you ARE worth fighting for. It’s true that the only person who can face your demons – whatever they may be – is you, but you don’t have to do it alone. There are over seven billion people on this planet and we’re interconnected like never before: NO ONE has to be alone.
I’m rooting for you, wherever you are on your journey right now. I know you are stronger than you realise and you have a beautiful soul, underneath the layers of pain and sadness and anxiety that you’ve experienced. You can’t erase it, but you can get through it – with time and support. Never stop believing in yourself. Fight your way through the darkness and come up and stand beside me in the light.
Listen to Bob, because he tells it like it is – every little thing gonna be all right.
Images are my own work.