Depression. Go on, say it. It's such a.... depressing word. It conjures up pictures of a person sitting on a dingy sofa, clutching their head and looking anguished. I have depression. I also have a family, dogs and a cat. There are packed lunches to make, teeth to brush, faces to wash, the school run. Then there are the dogs to walk, housework to do, dinner to cook, school run again, entertaining my son, bath time, bed time, an hour or so of doing other stuff then my bed time (sleep is hard to find). How then do I find the time to be depressed? I wear a mask. I smile, chat with the pre-school teachers and other mums and inside, on a bad day, I'm whispering to myself, "I just want to die".
I suspect lots of other busy parents wear the same mask, juggling more than me with work and childcare and homework and bills... It can't just be me. But nobody talks about it.
I'm really fed up with living behind a mask all the time
It's an awkward subject to bring up, isn't it? Depression and other mental health illnesses are a bit of a conversation stopper at the school gates. But you know what? I'm really fed up with living behind a mask all the time. "Yeah, I'm fine, how are you?" That's a response that means nothing and denies friendship and intimacy. I've started owning up to feeling really rubbish, just with a couple of really close friends. They have amazed me with their kindness. They haven't made a big deal but have just offered a coffee, an ear, distraction and the chance to feel connected to life if only for a moment. To those friends I want to say: “thank you”. The kindness you show reminds me that depression is not everything that defines me. Depression makes me feel useless, a waste of space, a failure, like I've let everyone down. I get angry over the smallest things and I shout, then I tell myself how awful I am because I shouted at my husband or my little boy. I should just pull my socks up, count my blessings.
Depression is a real illness
Depression isn't catching. I'm not mad. I'm not about to hurt anyone, or anything else the tabloid press would have us believe. I'm ill and I'm doing all I can to get better. If I had a broken leg, people could sign my cast, give me a hand to open doors and carry the shopping. People would sympathise, encourage me to do my physio exercises once the cast was off. People would understand that it would take a while for my leg to build up strength; that I might limp; that it might ache on cold, damp days.
Do I need a cast for my head? If I had one, maybe everyone would understand. There is no big sign, no cast, no flashing light on my head. I don't look ill. Maybe that's what scares some people; if I'm experiencing mental illness then maybe they might do, too, some day. It's just too close to home. Or maybe I'm too unreliable? Some days I'm really chatty, others I might say a quick hello then scuttle off, head down. Please - don't judge, don't stigmatise, don't assume I'm unfriendly or snobbish. It's just the depression. Depression is a real illness and it's not my fault, it's just the depression that tells me so.