After 4 months on anti-depressants and 2 months seeing a psychologist, the other night I turned to my husband and said, “I have depression.”
To which he said something like, “Um…yes.”
What I meant was that I finally discovered what depression looks like for me. It can look different for everybody.
Because I was diagnosed with PND (post-natal depression, aka post-partum depression), I believed that once things with my children settled down, I would go back to feeling better, to feeling like myself. Just automatically.
Things settled down – my youngest child started walking, being able to do things independently, and with some gentle encouragement (and I do mean gentle, as he’s a sensitive little one) started sleeping better. But feeling better didn’t happen. And when it didn’t happen, I couldn’t put my finger on why. I couldn’t name it. All I could say was, “I just don’t feel like myself”. And I’m still not there yet.
But jump to a couple of days ago. I’m on medication, which is going really well. I’ve been seeing a psychologist and she’s been helping me deal with some of the issues contributing to the depression, which has been fantastic. (If you’re in Logan and need someone, look up Rebecca Cockerton at Capability Psychology – shout out to you if you’re reading this, Rebecca!) I’ve had some good conversations, made a few changes, and am feeling in a much better place. Until…
I was driving home from work, not doing anything, but suddenly felt this onslaught of thoughts telling me that my attempts to do new things in my life (e.g. work on creative projects, change careers, bring in money to help provide for my family) were not going to work out. It wouldn’t matter what I did, I wasn’t going to be able to find a job or bring in money. And with those thoughts come feelings of self-doubt, desperation, and a desire to just curl up and sit quietly by myself away from other people. I don’t want to put in any more effort. I’m exhausted. And if things won’t work out anyway, why bother?
I tried to use my mindfulness skills and just sit with those thoughts and feelings without trying to push them away, and without trying to interpret them as meaningful either. But in that moment I realised that these were the thoughts that had been frequently visiting me – not constantly, but often enough that they were sapping my motivation.
When I spoke to my psychologist, she offered me two techniques to start managing these thoughts. The first was CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) which is about evaluating thoughts to see if they are truthful or helpful. She asked me what I felt it meant about me if I couldn’t achieve the goals I wanted. I said that it made me feel like I wasn’t good enough, I was a failure. Then I realised that I am kind of writing off everything successful I’ve ever done, like it doesn’t count. And in the grand scheme of things, that seems pretty out of balance.
The second technique she suggested was visualisation. She said, “I think you have been visualising negative outcomes. Let’s try visualising positive outcomes.” And she gave me a few examples. So I started tonight, and I will be doing this for awhile. Probably throughout my life. This is all about retraining my brain to move away from thoughts that have a negative affect on my mood, and more naturally move into thoughts that have a positive affect.
The reason these thoughts have made me feel not “like myself” is because in the past, my attitude to doing something new was, “Well other people have done it, obviously it’s learnable, therefore I can learn it.” But when I had a baby that often I couldn’t settle or couldn’t get to sleep despite my very best efforts, it wore me down and I think that has spread to other areas of life. And that’s why I’m not fully recovered (yet!) even though circumstances are waaaaaaaay better.
So here’s to recovery. Daily recovery. And if you have helpful techniques that you use to combat depression or anxiety, I’d love to hear them in the comments below, or email me: mytwocompanions(at)gmail.com