My favorite quote as a teenager was “Laugh and the world laughs at you. Cry, and you wet your face.” I didn’t really know why, but it made sense to me. I thought it was hilarious.
It turns out that Depression runs in the women in my family, and unlike the big boobs and tiny waists that also run rampant in our X genes, this time I did not miss out. I didn’t learn that my mum and nan had had depression until I admitted I was taking anti-depressants at 32 – still very raw and uncomfortable about it. Hearing I was not alone, at least in our crazy family, was a huge relief but I felt guilty for having such depression when, really, all was fine and dandy. Nan had lived in a real Depression and had depression, and my mum had been a child when she had three children too close together in the Valium soaked 70’s.
To say that I was shocked and appalled when the Doctor diagnosed me in his office would be an understatement. I burst into stereotypical tears even while my three children (all under 6 at the time) chortled madly from the play corner because I ‘looked so silly’. Even the Doctor was smirking (turns out he has an inappropriate response syndrome, he told me later – yeah, sure). I had beautiful, busy, healthy kids, I was doing well at Uni, had lost alot of weight, deliberately, with EasySlim and was fabulously thin – I didn’t have problems and certainly no reason to feel like shit. But I couldn’t sleep really well, and while everyone around told me how great my weight loss was, one honest acquaintance told me that whatever I was doing I needed to stop it immediately because I looked sick. She was right. I was sick. I was miserable.
The anti-depressants helped and I stayed on them for quite some time until, midway through my degree, I suddenly felt like it was time to stop. And I did. And I was fine.
Until the next time. This time, I raged at my Doctor, he didn’t laugh and I told him I was NOT taking anti-depressants. He considered that, asked me to take a look into St John’s Wort and exercise and come back and see him in a month no matter what. I got online and answered a survey by the fledgeling Beyond Blue and ended up being a guinea pig for their depression self-help website.
A month later I visited my weird doctor – things were still tricky, I was juggling a couple of part time jobs and part time Uni, and the kids – but somehow I was in a better place. At that stage, the Beyond Blue website had already taught me two things – not to feel ashamed or guilty about my depression and to try to change my self-talk. Instead of telling myself how stupid I was, I went easy on myself. Shock. Horror. I laughed more. I was kinder to myself. And it really, really helped. And doing these things grew me a thicker skin for when other people threw barbs at me….Instead of thinking I was shit when someone was rude to me, I tried hard to change my thinking, to wonder instead “Poor them…I wonder what’s up their nose?”
In accepting my depression, I was able to closely inspect it – I now know I had depression as early as 6th Grade and as a result I can remember casting it off in my first year of highschool by reinventing myself and, funnily enough, using much the same techniques as I learned later through Beyond Blue. I also know that severe weight loss, along with insomnia will bring it on at a cracking rate and that if my Iron levels are low, and as I get older, my Vitamin D levels drop I will likewise feel low.
That’s not to say I have it under control – far from it. After a tricky two years with the challenging child, I returned to the doctor last year and spilled it out. Things were hard and I couldn’t see the bright side anymore. I still felt stupid and guilty with my bourgeois first world problems. Depression still carries a stigma, I don’t care what anyone says. I was trying hard, too hard to be strong and I needed a little help. I went back on anti-depressants. And they helped. But after 6 months, I felt ready and I cautiously weaned myself off.
That was 6 months ago.
It’s tricky writing this post because I am essentially admitting to mental ill-health, how embarrassment, and at the same time, there are things that having depression has taught me and I want to share them with anyone who might be worried, or sad, or ashamed…I’m ok, I look for the funny, I work hard at positive and, yes, this does make me somewhat immature – I admit I still have the toilet humor of a 13 year old boy. I am as thick skinned as a rhino (except for when I have PMT) and I can be as honest as I think you can take. I can empathise without pity because, Heaven knows, I know I could be there next week. I actually am crazy – but I’m pretty sure that has nothing to do with depression – it’s a family thing. Why laugh? At 42, I think I finally accept who I am and the crazies that live inside me; I laugh in the sun, because it works for me – and because even if it doesn’t always work, I reckon it’s always worth a try.