Down The Rabbit Hole
Depression is a sneaky bastard. Deployed by stealth and aided and abetted by dismissal and diminution. Camouflaged by excuses and practicalities and the ability to hold it together. But, nonetheless there it is, underneath it all.
I’m depressed at the moment.
I’ve been struggling. But it was only a couple of days ago that I truly realised what was going on. And honestly, I’m still somewhat flabbergasted that it’s taken me so long to figure it out, not least because I’ve had several bouts of depression before – I mean, how could I not have known?…
Well, I’ve come to realise that this weird propensity for camouflaging mental health problems is a unique skill, which many Mums excel at. Depression can sneak up on you when you’re a Mum.
And here’s why:
“I’m absolutely fine”
My really good friends – the ones who have known me for years – know that I have always had international espionage level skills when it comes to appearing ok. Generally known as a bubbly, upbeat sort of a girl, I tend to give off “I’m fine” vibes even when I’m pretty broken inside.
I have no idea how I manage it, but it kicks in whenever I find myself in a social situation. I can hold it together, all smiles and one-liners, despite the gargantuan effort required to do so. What my good friends will tell you is that I simply start withdrawing from social situations when I’m feeling really low, mainly because it’s just so fucking exhausting pretending to be fine when I’m not.
But when you’re a Mum you’ve got an ever-present audience for whom you must maintain the act of fine-ness. After a while the act of being “fine” becomes the norm, and you keep on trucking, hoping things will even out over time.
Well she seems fine…
The other big problem with being really good at pretending you’re ok is that people will believe your hype. If you come across as capable and happy and handling everything (even if it’s in my kind of laissez-faire, flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants style) people will, quite reasonably, assume that you are indeed ok and not in need of any help or support.
It’s quite hard to actively come forward and say “Hey, you know what, I’m not doing so well at the moment“ when you’re already stuck in your own headspace. Moreover, as Mums we’re so busy making sure everyone else is ok we just don’t want to make a fuss. It’s hard to speak up and admit we’re not doing so well.
All the Mum things
It’s fair to say that over time most Mums develop a greater level of acceptance of not feeling great. We are often physically below par courtesy of the tiredness, being ill and being run down which is often part and parcel of Motherhood, especially in the early years.
But we are also mentally and emotionally rundown too. Mums often have to deal with issues of self esteem, stress, and loss of identity. All these things feed into a general acceptance of not feeling ‘on form’. It becomes the norm, and we don’t question it until it becomes something much bigger and more insurmountable.
Not being self-aware
Now the penny has dropped it seems obvious that I am depressed. Just browsing through my past few posts it’s plain to see that I’ve clearly been feeling anxious and overwhelmed for a while.
There were other clues too. I’ve been struggling to write much over the past month. I feel blank. I’m tired a lot, even when I’ve had enough sleep. I’ve been tearful on and off every day for the past few weeks and I’m finding it nearly impossible to actually get up and do anything.
This feeling has been creeping up on me and I’ve been batting it away, telling myself I’m “just tired”, “just stressed”, and “just feeling a bit run down”.
Then, over the past week I’ve been having crazy mood swings. I’ve felt angry and resentful, and then sad and lonely and isolated – my mental barometer has gone haywire, no doubt due to overload and the effort of trying to tamp down and override the depression looming on the horizon.
Better out than in…
Ultimately it was a fairly low key event that brought things to light. A fleeting quarrel with my husband, and our overtired 5 year old having a minor tantrum. I found myself sobbing in the bathroom having retreated from the apparent too-muchness of the morning.
Upon returning to the living room, Pete – somewhat perturbed by my puffy eyed and even-more-dishevelled-than-usual appearance – asked me what was wrong. I went to answer him struggled to find the words… Mainly because I wasn’t sure.
And then later on that morning, as he drew me in for a cuddle the words spilled out of my mouth before my brain had processed their meaning.
“I think I’m depressed.”
“You’re probably just a bit run down…“ he began, but I found myself cutting him off – “No. It’s not just that. I’m depressed.”
“You’ve been really tired lately, and you’ve been ill…“ he started again.
“No. I’m not just tired“ As it started to sink in, the words became more solid as I spoke them. “I’m depressed.“
And there it was. Plain as the nose on my face.
The only thing that surprised me more than my admission, was how much admitting it seemed to help.
Obviously I am not now magically cured having said it out loud, but understanding how I was feeling brought an unexpected feeling of relief.
Because I feel that now I understand what’s going on I can take action: I can put things in place. I can ask for help, and I can get the support I need to start feeling better again.
It also brought with it a real light-bulb moment, when I realised all the things I had missed, which could have helped me get to this point quicker. And it’s that light-bulb moment which spurred me on to write this post.
So, What If You’re Not ‘Just A Bit Tired and Stressed Out’?
Still with me? Great, well done for sticking with it – Here’s the bit where I come to the moral of the story.
If you’re feeling low, stressed, anxious, or defeated I want you to do a mental check-in with yourself.
How are you?
I mean… How are you really, honestly feeling lately?
I want you to take the time to really give your well-being the once-over. Because I think that as Mums we assume it’s ok to feel fairly shit for extended periods of time. We assume it’s the norm. But whilst long sleep deprivation, stress, and emotional turmoil can be part and parcel of this whole parenting lark, it doesn’t mean you should accept feeling perpetually low, or helpless, or empty and demotivated, for extended periods of time.
And if – when you take the time to think a bit about yourself, how you feel, and whether you’re really ok or just plodding on – you find that you’re not that ok after all, then you can start to think about why you feel the way you feel. And you can do something about it.
Talk about your feelings, think about what you need, and how you can find a better way to make the every-day problems less so.
I promise you, having been through this whole process a few times now I can confirm – it will get better. It just might take a bit of work first.
look after yourselves Motherlovers,