At the beginning of November, following numerous, increasingly distressed, emails from me, E had paid off the big loan I’d taken out for us the previous year and cleared most of the other debts (caused by the cost of the Singapore holiday and various things I’d had to pay out for on for the house and kids) that had been worrying me stupid since he’d left. He’d also agreed to contribute a substantial amount towards getting the kids’ Christmas presents. This left me with an overdraft, and a small personal loan, both of which would be cleared over the next year or so, and so, for the first time since E had left, I began to see a light at the end of the financial tunnel.
With the money now all but sorted, I felt I *should* be ok, that I *should* be relaxed and happy. However, for some reason I was feeling worse and worse. The anxiety I’d been feeling continued flaring up and I was increasingly overwhelmed by feelings of helplessness and complete and utter numbness. Every morning it became more of a challenge just to get out of bed in the morning and, when I wasn’t at work (where I had no choice but to be out in ‘public’), I retreated to my home, where I felt safe and where I didn’t have to speak to or see anybody except the kids. I didn’t go out at all, and I made excuses to avoid any and all invitations to see friends or go anywhere at weekends.
E had cleared the debt a week or so after I had given up drinking and I think the two had combined to expose both the rawness of the feelings I hadn’t yet dealt with yet and to reveal that, underneath my focus on money, a deep depression was developing, from which I would need professional help to recover
I put off making a Doctor’s appointment for weeks, hoping that the way I was feeling would ‘pick up’ and that I’d gradually start feeling more myself. I tried and tried to talk myself better, I tried to think my way out of it, I tried herbal tablets, I tried mindfulness mediations, I tried aromatherapy and herbal teas, I tried long walks, I even went to see the nurse, where I burst into tears and asked for sleeping pills, hoping that just being knocked out and getting a few uninterrupted nights’ sleep might help. The nurse did prescribe me some pills, but, with an experienced look, she told me that if these didn’t help, that I really should see my doctor to discuss other options.
So, in December I finally sought help from my Doctor from what I finally admitted to myself was a problem I couldn’t deal with on my own.
I was really surprised at how ashamed and embarrassed I felt. I’d spent the last six months telling my daughters that it was ok to not be ok and that having counselling and needing support with their mental health was nothing to be ashamed of. I’d supported friends when they were suffering from depression. I understood that depression can affect anyone and everyone and that, medically, it was just an illness and yet, despite knowing all the theory, I hated the fact that I was suffering from anxiety and depression. I felt that I had failed somehow. I felt that I had allowed everything with E to get to me. I’d prided on myself on the fact that I’d coped and got on with things, I’d used being able to cope as a sort of badge of honour, a two-fingered salute to E. I’d redefined myself in those terms after he’d left; I’d built myself a defensive wall based on this. There I was battling against everything, a ‘strong women’ – a woman who was better off without her cheating ex-partner. I didn’t want what he had done to affect my mental health. I didn’t want him to be able to affect me emotionally at all any more. So many people had told me what a ‘strong woman’ they thought I was, and yet, here I was – unable to cope, unable to keep battling on, defeated – a weak woman after all…
Realising I needed medical help felt like another body-blow, another personal failure that I had to cope with. Obviously, I know this is bollocks, I know that it takes as much in the way of guts to admit you’re struggling as it does to battle on. But, I was heavily reliant on my new, self-defined, ‘strong woman’ status, and the image I’d created for myself of myself coping with everything and smiling through. Creating this version of me and living up to it (and in it) had allowed me to cope for the last eleven months, but, I guess because in the wake of the money issue being resolved and the alcohol not numbing everything, I now had time to think about things and process everything. As I did this, the strong woman wall I’d built around myself began to crumble away.
My doctor was incredibly supportive. The decision to try anti-depressants and/or CBT was discussed (he was very much of the opinion that it was my body and I didn’t have to take medication if I didn’t feel comfortable with it) and, for the first time, when telling someone what had happened, I didn’t cry. In the end I decided to try the anti-depressant route first, because I just didn’t feel able to talk to anyone about my feelings, emotions and what had happened at that stage. I knew counselling was a brilliantly helpful thing for some, but given how long it had taken for me to even see the doctor, for the time being I felt more comfortable taking medication in the privacy of my own home.
It was amazing how much better I felt almost immediately after seeing the doctor. It was as if admitting I was struggling and being taken seriously (and treated like a grown up) had relieved some of the pressure I’d been putting on myself. As I headed home, clutching my prescription, the first few flakes of that winter’s snow began to fall and I felt so much lighter – I almost felt like a fraud for telling the doctor I was struggling, because, at that moment, watching the snowflakes swirl in the streetlamp light and getting excited texts from Youngest Son about “the SNOW” I felt like maybe everything could be ok for the first time in months.
Taking my first anti-depressant felt like a milestone moment – it felt like both a massive admission of failure and a courageous first step. I’ve always avoided medicines, so committing to take something long-term like this was a big thing for me. I was expecting to feel disappointment in myself, for failing, or perhaps (even though I knew this would be a slow process) a fleeting euphoria, but what I felt was sadness that things had finally ‘got to me’ mixed with relief.
Obviously, in the early weeks there was no immediate improvement in my mood, or in my reaction to E-related grenades and stupid things would still send me into a panic (for example, E ordered Youngest Daughter and Oldest Son’s presents very late which meant that (typically) Youngest Daughter’s present would arrive after Christmas. Youngest Daughter was actually ok with this, but, given the state of her relationship with E, the delay really upset me, and prompted a round of anxious/angry texts to E). I was still overreacting to things, but I began to recognise when and where I was overreacting and felt reassured that the anti-depressants would eventually help. They weren’t physically making things any better yet, but psychologically, they were definitely reassuring.
As the weeks turned into months I gradually began to feel like I was on a more even keel and whilst I still have a long way to go, I have begun to feel more able to face the world. I’ve recently accepted a couple of invitations to go out and see friends and whilst I was really nervous, and almost cancelled both events, I made myself go, and on both occasions I had a lovely time and realised anew what gorgeous friends I have. Anti-depressants aren’t about making huge changes (which is frustrating for someone like me, who likes to make a decision and see a change happen immediately) and I’m taking lots of small steps but, when I’m frustrated with the fact that I still have days where I struggle to get out of bed and anxiety clenches at my stomach, I remind myself that every small step I take is another step further away from where I was in December.
This is the first time I’ve admitted publicly that I’m suffering with depression, and it feels like a big step and, annoyingly, still slightly like an admission of failure. If anyone I knew was struggling with their mental health, the first thing I’d tell them was that it wasn’t a sign of weakness, and that it takes guts to admit you have a problem. But I’m rubbish at taking my own advice. I feel vulnerable because the wall I’d constructed around myself, the wall that protected me, has begun to crumble and I have to admit that I’m not infallible and that the hurt and pain caused by E has had a serious impact on my mental health. However, when I feel this way, I tell myself that maybe it wasn’t a wall I’d built after all – maybe it was a cocoon and maybe, just maybe, I’ll eventually emerge from it a healthier, much happier, version of me.