Depression made me stronger and, in an odd way, I am grateful
Depression stole away hours, memories, happiness and any control I felt over my life
Geraldine Walsh: ‘Walking with a flamingo or black dog lends itself as a beneficial life experience, but possibly only when you let it fly away or let it off the leash’
Everything happens for a reason. A mantra I always believed during my teens and 20s. But I was lucky enough to avoid any disasters, hardships or major heartaches during those years.
It was a mantra easy to trust. It wasn’t until my 30s hit and motherhood changed my perspective on life that I started to question why “everything” had to happen in the first place. Why can’t we avoid or run away from the everything which breaks our hearts and minds? Why do we have to experience the difficulties in life which can so very easily shatter us?
It turns out everything may possibly happen for a reason, but we may need to find that reason ourselves once the dust clouds settle on an unpleasant experience. Because not everything can live on the positivity spectrum.
Three years ago, saw the beginning of my spellbinding heartache with depression and anxiety. It took over every instant of the long days of pregnancy and then, the even longer days with a toddler and newborn. It was one of those things which follows you around, pecking at your ankles so you know it’s always there. I had a flamingo on my back. Not a pretty pink bird, but what I called what others often refer to as the “black dog”. Depression and anxiety mingled in with feelings of excruciating vulnerability. This was my flamingo, stealing hours, memories, happiness and any control I felt over my life. Where was the reason in this “everything”?
It’s a long, painful story of recovery at a time in my life when they say I should have been happy. There’s nothing more amazing than having a baby. I learned there’s nothing more amazing than recognising how strong you are when having a newborn, postnatal depression and making it through the day. I no longer walk with this flamingo pecking at my heels, but she has most certainly left her mark. There are scars. And perhaps those scars are now there for a reason because coming through the worst period of my life has changed me. For the better.
Looking outside the box
For a long time, I was angry and bitter towards those scars which stole the precious first moments of my baby, of watching my two children bond and grow together and made me question whether I was a good enough mother. There are times, even today, when I feel as though I’m still in recovery as blips bounce me back into the middle of anxiety, blended with a feeling of desperateness. But that’s okay, because I’ve learned it’s momentary as I find my way back.
The difference is, I understand more about myself now and how I’ve grown because of the flamingo. Managing, overcoming and fighting anxiety and depression made me look outside the box I felt suffocated in. I plucked my petite self out of the mental health box, the box of motherhood, the box I sometimes felt safer in. I stood on top of the world so I could watch it go by and find my place in it. Sometimes, I jumped back into the box because it was easier to be overwhelmed and hurting than fight my way through it. And that’s okay too, because I was learning.
Battling a downward turn in our mental health is an “everything” which changes your life. For me, I’ve found a way to avoid being labelled and targeted as a mental health sufferer. I’ve turned this experience around to recognise how strong, determined, passionate and brave I am. A mental health warrior. We don’t wear our scars, our hurt, our fears like a badge of honour or let it define us. But we can recognise how powerful we are to have fought through the clouds and stand up to breathe the fresh air. I’ve learned certain aspects of my personality, which I used to feel were weaknesses, are not a bad thing. They give me perspective, help me to stand up to challenges I would have run away from before. I’ve learned to listen to the internal conversations in my head, tease those thoughts out and balance them without fear or judgement from myself or others. I battled and won with internal scars which remind me how far I’ve come.
Today, I still feel fear, self-doubt and have an urge to run when things get hard. I am still vulnerable. And while being vulnerable is not necessarily comfortable, I am not afraid of it. I will share my past pain, recognise the “everything” which changed me and happily say it’s no longer a part of my life. But I also recognise it had a profound effect on me. I’ve regained a pattern of good mental health because of the depression and anxiety I had succumbed to. I cope better with stressful situations because my priorities have changed. I allow myself to feel the scratchy tension of unbearable emotions. Because life is not all roses. And that’s okay.
Understanding life is not a linear line but rather a bumpy timeline, means we can change and grow with it, making life a little more comfortable in the uncomfortable. Walking with a flamingo or black dog lends itself as a beneficial life experience, but possibly only when you let it fly away or let it off the leash. Everything may happen for a reason, but only if you look at the life lesson that “everything” is trying to teach us. Life is about resilience. Understanding the challenges which make us stronger and more daring amongst the flaws and insecurities we believed were failures.
Depression is hardly useful. I could have survived and lived without it. But having gone through it and come out the other side feeling more like me than ever, in an odd way, I’m grateful I had this experience.
Not that I would like to relive it.
Postnatal Depression Ireland, Cuidíu, Nurture Health and Aware all offer help and support for postnatal and perinatal depression. The HSE has advice here. You can also call Samaritans on 116123, which is free from any phone, or email email@example.com; and call Pieta House on its free helpline, 1800-247247, or text HELP to 51444