Sitting in the cold, dark depths of a very deep pit, the walls slick, not a glimmer of light from above – that’s how I described depression when I finally climbed out into the light.
[Disclaimer: I’m no clinical psychologist or other registered professional. The words that follow are based on my experience of depression and learning to climb out of the hole. If in doubt – seek help.]
I’m pretty certain I’ve courted depression for many years. As a teenager it danced the tango with me, creating temper tantrums and many of the mood swings often associated with a hormonal teen.
Reading back over my diary I found a number of occasions when I’d been feeling darkly glum for no apparent reason, sometimes for weeks on end. I never entertained thoughts of suicide – it’s just not in my nature. But I sat under this very dark rain cloud that just didn’t seem to want to budge.
I’ve long since suspected a link between depressive thoughts/episodes and hormones – or more accurately, hormonal imbalance. As a young adult in her early 20’s I was feeling displaced; living in a city I didn’t enjoy and trying, unsuccessfully to become pregnant. My hormones were a mess (more on that in a separate blog), I was overweight and despite being in a loving relationship, completely unhappy.
On a waiting list three years long and frantically losing weight so I would be allowed to undergo fertility treatment when we reached the top of that list, depression sat playfully on my shoulder. I was working full-time, milking cows for a living by this time, so long hours and physical work kept me occupied. I described it at the time in my journal as depressive bouts broken by intermittent periods of happiness.
After two unsuccessful courses of fertility treatment, which played havoc with already out of balance hormones, depression stopped playing and got serious. I was briefly pregnant with our final embryos and when I lost those, I sank into that deep, dark pit.
One of the worst decisions I made was to stop working full-time and move to part-time; so I milked the cows night and morning, helped with the calves in the season and spent the remainder of my days at home, on my own, researching and writing.
Being on your own and with ample opportunity to wallow in your pit is not a great idea. Ask any self-respecting pig and it’ll tell you that wallowing makes the hole deeper! And deeper it got.
At one point I was so deeply into the hole that I’d barely have the strength to pull myself out of bed to milk the cows and then drag myself home to curl up in bed or on the sofa all day, eating to fill the void, and drag myself out again to the afternoon milking before going home and falling exhausted into bed again.
Anyone who knows my husband will be well aware of his eternal patience. He understood and if it weren’t for his love and support I doubt I’d have found the strength to make the changes needed to get myself out of that hole.
I was grieving. I grieved the loss of the babies and the life I couldn’t have. I don’t know exactly what prompted me, possibly an Oprah show, but I sat down one day and wrote a long letter to my unborn child. I forgave that child for everything I’d attached to the poor soul. Afterwards I sent the letter to my best friend and decided it was time to make some changes.
While I was still depressed, I made the decision to get out of the house and change my life. I associated milking cows with the life I was going to have with children – working on the farm and home-schooling our kids. So I decided to resign from my job and go find something else to do.
Step 1: get out of your own way.
It’s easy when you’re stuck in a rut, or wallowing in your little pit, to be your own worst enemy. Get out. Walk. Make changes. Do something that interests you. MOVE.
Changing my thinking about infertility, coming to love the life I have, that all happened many years later. In the first instance all I did was decide that I needed to make a change and got out. I walked into a new café in town as it happened, got talking to the owner and long story short, ended up a co-owner of a café and catering company and then owner of my own catering company.
Step 2: talk to someone.
As I got out of my own way and started communicating with the world again, I found other people who had experienced similar things to me. I talked to people. I wrote in my ever-present journal and I kept moving forward.
I was still depressed – I never went to a doctor for a ‘formal’ diagnosis because frankly, who needs the label. I had good days and bad days. I still felt like I was walking through a world filled with cotton wool and so many days were just a case of dragging my sorry ass out of bed and going because someone else was depending on me, but I was moving.
Step 3: unpeel the onion.
Depression is many-layered. For every person it’s different. There are different triggers – from major life events like a death or job loss – and I still say hormones and heredity play a role. My father, I think, went through depressive episodes. He yelled as a vent and covered it with bluster, but I felt his depression as a child and recognised it as an adult.
Sorting out the physical from the many psychological triggers is a good place to start. I had a hormonal system that was so out of whack, and had been since I was a child, that I had no hope of balancing my moods without first fixing it. I had to heal myself.
The hormones fed the weight issues, fed the psychological issues, fed the hormonal imbalance and so it went, like a grotesque carousel. Underlying the depression were layers of life experience – and I say lives as a firm believer in past lives – and responses to these; truths that I’d fabricated to protect me as a child and maintained into adulthood. I uncovered these very slowly, using NLP timeline regression therapy, journaling, hypnosis – a whole raft of different tools.
There are many tools out there to help cope with depression. Yoga has helped me immensely and continues to provide greater insight with every passing day. Writing, talking to people, movement, healing the physical – they’re all steps in the right direction. I never took any medication because I don’t believe in it and my system was already so stewed from cocktails of fertility drugs that adding to those with antidepressants was not going to help.
I still have ‘grey’ days. I ate several pieces of raw chocolate crackle while writing this because it’s just a ‘grey’ day! But I’ve learnt to recognise them for what they are, treat myself with kindness and compassion, get some exercise, meditate, be gentle with the day and it passes. Like a rain cloud shifting over, the sun comes out so strongly again that I know I just have to enjoy the quiet grey moment and it will pass.
There is sunshine after the rain. One blessing I’ve discovered is that the darkness of depression ensures the lighter moments are so much brighter. Living in the moment, counting each day and each moment as a blessing, being grateful for everything in my life – that’s the sunshine.
For more information check out the New Zealand Ministry of Health website: www.depression.org.nz It’s one thing our health system has done really well. There are some great links, tools, advice and assistance available free on the site.