Today I spent a lovely day with my mother in law and my 5 month old son in the centre of the city. The occasional bit of rain was the only thing that we had to worry about. We had a meal and took a tour round some shops. We smiled together as my new son’s eyes grew wide, taking in all the new sensations. This is my last month of maternity leave- next month I begin a new job as a researcher in the psychology department of a major university. The pay is good and the project is an extremely worthwhile one and, although raising a family is a financial challenge for my husband and I (as it is for many), I am looking forward to our future together and all the new experiences this will bring.
Seven short months ago I would have never thought this possible. Pregnant with my first child I was in the grip of the most terrifying episode of depression and anxiety I had ever experienced. I had had depression and anxiety in the past but, as I was unfortunate enough to discover, those episodes had been relatively short and mild. The symptoms I had during this episode were horrifying beyond belief. I was constantly tense- I would get tension at the bottom of my back which would then rise upwards, building to a pitch that could only be released by screaming, crying and shouting, sometimes for several hours, until I was exhausted enough to get some fitful sleep. When I awoke the cycle would begin again, usually happening several times in a single day. They say there is no such thing as a constant panic attack but, if not, I was certainly in a state of high anxiety the whole time.
Psychologically I was stuck in a loop, worrying intensely about things that I would later realise were really not worth worrying about at all. At the time however, no amount of reassurance would convince me that things were OK. At the peak of the waves of anxiety I would feel such a strong urge to run away and do away with myself that my family would often have to physically restrain me to stop me from running out the door.
I always retained an awareness that this was all somehow ridiculous, but at the same time could not do anything about it – my mind was working against me and my usual self-help techniques did not work- I once did mindfulness three times for 30 minutes and used a panic app about 20 times in one day and still could not prevent the onset of the panic. Needless to say, with all this going on, I could rarely leave the house. I was unable to co-ordinate my actions and concentrate long enough to perform even the simplest of tasks; I was completely dependent on those around me. The lowest point was when I was nearly admitted to a psychiatric ward - somewhere I would have recruited participants to my research several years before.
This horrendous nightmare continued unabated for 3 months. At first the suicidal thoughts had been related to the problems I saw myself as having- that I was a failure in my career and had let down my family and friends by getting into difficulties with money. Later they were related to me not feeling able to withstand the physical and psychological pain I was going through every day. I begged my family and friends just to let me die. I saw no hope, no future.
However, after I had my son, things slowly began to improve. There was no ‘turning point’ or ‘epiphany’- It took a long time but nevertheless felt like a miracle to me. Gradually I started to be able to do more and more and the physical tension started to ease. Eventually I started to feel like my old self again. My moods became more settled and, amazingly to me at the time, I actually began to enjoy things again. I was able to establish the now very strong bond I have with my son, and, in the act of parenting, found a resourcefulness and resilience in myself that I did not know I possessed.
What I hope all this can illustrate to you is that, although the pain you are experiencing may be intense and unrelenting, it is so, so important that you do not give up. You may not be able to see it now, but there is a whole world of wonderful experiences waiting for you in your future that you need to be around to experience. And, even though a person, or people, in your life may have treated you badly, you do have value, and a contribution to make, just like every other person on this planet. So you’ve made mistakes? That’s ok too. It’s called being human. And the people that love you will forgive you. And if they don’t then you can leave them behind. Please take it from me- there is more potential and possibility in your life than you can see right now. And when you get better, your life will be better than it was before, and you in a better position to enjoy it, because, although the pain is most probably disproportional to the benefits, the experience will have taught you something valuable. I used to be very rigid- thinking I could only cope if things were the way I needed them to be, which was very specific – I’m now a lot more easygoing and flexible. I used to focus a lot on the negative- but now I am thankful every day for the many things I do have.
So, in conclusion, I want to ask you to please be gentle and kind to yourself, you will get there. You may not feel like you have the strength but you do. And when you make it a better future is waiting for you.