Three years ago I had a depressive episode. That’s the official diagnosis my doctor wrote on my sick certificate. An episode sounds like something fairly short, doesn’t it? But my time off extended to two periods of several months and it was nearly two years before I came off the antidepressants.
I have looked back on that time with regret and worried about the effect it had on my family: the burden I was to my husband and what example it set to my children to have a mother who couldn’t cope with all that life threw at her, retreating to the corner of a sofa for much of her time.
The events of the past 6 months or so have had several echoes of three years ago: a child leaving for university, a parent hospitalised and eventually moving into a care home, increased demands at work. I have felt myself on a muddy slope being pulled back towards being overwhelmed again. But I didn’t want to go there again. I didn’t want to fall into the failure of depression once more.
However, I got help earlier this time and it’s been making me review that depressive episode in a different light.
If you know me or have been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know I’m a perfectionist, a glass half empty kind of girl, who concentrates automatically on the errors in the detail rather than seeing the whole picture. So here’s where my new thinking is leading me and perhaps you’ll get a glimpse of what a revelation this is for me:
What if my depression wasn’t a mistake? What if it was a time of preparation for something else (like a better understanding of others) or a time to learn utter dependence on God? What if the issue isn’t about the example I set my children by having depression but of how I coped with having depression? What if that’s the more important thing: that trouble and illness will affect all of us but what I can pass on to my boys is how to face it?
And now I’m coming out of the current darkness what if I’m focussing on the wrong thing altogether? What if it’s not a matter of figuring out how to maintain my progress (e.g. continuing to do things that look after me as well as others), worrying about how I am likely to fall down, but instead remember all the times I keep going, concentrate on all the times I do look after myself? What if I just accept that there will be times when I don’t garden/exercise/do something creative/eat healthily etc.? What if I see those times as a part of the rhythm and pattern of life as much as the successes rather than aberrations? What if life is meant to be like a piece of music made up of light and shade, adagio and allegro, consonance and dissonance?
And what if I start to view my depression in terms of all the things I did right? How I took time out to look after myself, how I prioritised family over work, how I used my creativity (making a scrapbook for a friend) as therapy, how I went to the doctor for much needed medication, how I asked for counselling to help me see clearer. What if I think about all the things I was able to do whilst depressed? Like looking after Mum and Dad (staying up all night with them, finding a care home, sorting care packages and meal deliveries, organising visits and transport), taking one son to university, supporting another in his school musical, Grease (including learning to style his hair a la John Travolta). When I look at that period in those terms, I realise the girl done good – or rather that God done good in me.
And I have to link it to recent times. Look at what I learned and applied from then – how I took action earlier, got signed up for counselling sooner, cut my work hours rather than going off sick, used past experience to help choose a care home, communicated better and got more support with the practical tasks. How would I have been able to do all those things if I hadn’t gone through that terrible time 3 years ago?
And so it brings me back – what if my depression wasn’t a failure? What if it was a blessing?