Today I woke up and for a moment I lay still, staring at the ceiling. I lay there and felt my chest rise and fall as I breathed. It took all my will power to keep my focus on my breath, a mindfulness technique I have been taught. I did this for 30 seconds, maybe a minute, as my husband got up for the baby.
I was lying there, trying to keep my focus off the one thing that has dominated my thoughts recently. The dark, dismal feelings that have clawed their way into my life and that bring with them the thoughts that I just can’t go on anymore. These thoughts bring with them tears and heartbreak and they make living a normal life more and more difficult.
My bipolar disorder has made me prone to depression. It is a lifelong battle, but as my husband carries my beautiful son into our room, that battle must be put on hold. Despite my turmoil, my son is not going to see me cry.
I take a deep breath and put my mask on for the day; as so many people do who suffer with mental illness. It is not hard to smile when my little boy is around. To the outside world it would be hard to know that my life is blackened with depression - and that is how it must be!
But the problem is that truces are temporary and each momentary stand-off is just building for a bigger battle! I can keep this battle going for a while, but not forever. Ultimately there will be a point when all my defenses will fail and I will face that demon again. The one who brings me to my knees and gives me a choice to live and fight or to give in to those thoughts.
So many people read stories like this and will never understand. They may think: “pull yourself together”, or “how selfish to feel so low when you have so much”. It’s not materialistic, depression! It doesn’t just go away by shrugging it off. It’s an illness, the same as the flu. Annoying, lingering, debilitating and unwelcome!
Depression has never been easy, but it somehow felt easier when there wasn’t a little human who needed me so completely! Before motherhood I could keep the mask on while I worked, sob on the way home in the car and have a hot bath and curl up on the sofa. Even when I could no longer work there were no problems with me taking to my bed for days at a time. But not anymore!
Having a baby was the single most wonderful thing I have ever done. He is my world, my entire world, I adore him and he brings me more joy than I ever thought possible! But that joy does not protect me from depression!
What it does mean is that I have a huge reason to keep living, to keep fighting, and that is a beacon of light in the darkness. I have always found hope to be the best weapon to fight depression and my son gives me all the hope I could ever need!
But it doesn’t make it easy when depression comes knocking. That is sometimes the cruelest thing about depression. It doesn't care whether your life is full of love and joy, it still comes, to darken your days.
Having a baby has made self-care even harder. Not only do I have to keep going for him, I need to keep that mask on for a whole lot longer. The need to rest and recover is slipping down the list of priorities.
Not getting enough sleep has always been a trigger, and all new mums will agree that getting sleep becomes like hunting for the holy grail! My baby is 14 months old and still wakes most nights. This prolonged sleep deprivation is certainly making me feel more exhausted and less able to cope.
It also makes my other coping methods a lot less appealing. Walking and running require energy, which is something I just don’t have at the moment! My books have become dust magnets as I spend my time playing, singing and entertaining my little boy!
It also is a lot harder to hold myself together once that little ray of light has gone to sleep for the night. That’s often when I quietly sob to myself. I feel at my weakest and the battle seems at its most futile.
It’s in these moments when the facade slips and those emotions I suppressed flood to the surface. My rational brain tries to find logic in my sadness and battles to restore order to my emotionally ravaged heart. I fall apart briefly.
That is the way wars go. Somedays progress is made, other days it looks hopeless. Nobody knows who has won until it’s over. Somedays I don't think it will ever be over.
It doesn't matter whether I am winning or losing, it’s the fact I am still fighting that really matters. My little boy comes first, that is why I get up every day. And by continuing to fight there is hope.
I may never defeat depression but I will find a way to keep it in its place. Beneath me, in the dirt where it belongs. From there I will stop surviving and start living. That is the hope; maybe that is all I need.