I was prompted to write this post after I read Ricky Gervais’ post on Facebook, quoted –
“I am shocked and deeply saddened by the news of Robin’s death. He was a lovely man. Even when he wasn’t feeling good he would still be doing his thing and keeping everyone laughing. There will never be another quite like him. RIP”
And there is was. Staring right out at me. Can’t you see it? Its the Brave Face.
“even when he wasn’t feeling good he would still be doing his thing and keeping everyone laughing” – that’s it right there. The Brave Face.
This Brave Face is worn by thousands of people every day. I might even venture to say millions of people, although I’m not statistically informed. It’s the face that says, ‘sure I’m grand’, or ‘ I’m not worried about money’, ‘I don’t care what people think of me, I know I’m a good person’, ‘nobody wants to hear my problems anyway’, ‘ if I say anything they’ll think I’m mad’, ‘ I don’t want everyone knowing I’m on happy tablets’, ‘this mothering thing is easy’. It’s the face that says ‘I’m not depressed”. And it’s time to remove the mask.
In 2005 I went through an extraordinarily stressful time in my job. In hindsight, a lot could have been avoided by just facing up to some issues instead of trying to be everything to everyone. But hindsight is twenty twenty as they say. I’d come home from work and go into my bedroom and collapse onto my bed. I was staying in my mam and dads at that stage. I’d fall asleep. Then I’d get woken by my sister, telling me to get up and have something to eat because it was 8 o’clock in the evening. I’d get up, annoyed usually, because I was so tired, eat something then sit and watch television until it seemed a reasonable time to go to bed.I didn’t want to talk to anyone, and would rudely answer any attempt at polite chit chat. And then I would lie awake in bed, the pit of my stomach raw with worry and pain, my brain feeling like it was going to explode, churning over sequences of events, mostly work related and money related, until eventually my body would overcome my brain and fall into a deep sleep at around 4am, only to be woken abruptly by the alarm a few hours later to get me up for work. I’d go back into work and act like everything was fine, I was going to be grand, I’d work it all out before anyone could notice. The fear of getting into trouble, or of people thinking I couldn’t cope or that I was incompetent was enough to get me through the day until I came home and repeated the cycle all over again.
I went to the doctor. I told her I wasn’t sleeping, I was getting anxiety attacks, crying a lot, couldn’t catch my breath, tired and moody all the time and that I was getting rapid blackouts across my eyes and spells of brain ‘jumping’ that made me suspect and almost fully convince myself that I had a brain tumour. She was lovely. She said that It seemed I was suffering with anxiety related depression. ‘I’m sure I absolutely am not’ – I thought to myself at the time. She explained it all. Serotonin inhibitors and the like. She gave me different options, but maintained that the best was a combination of tablets and counselling.
All of a sudden, I was a person with depression, and on tablets. Did that make me broken? Was I less of a person because of it? Would people think I was mental, and never trust my judgement again? Well I thought I was all of the above, so explained to people close to me that I was taking tablets to alleviate stress and anxiety – it just sounded better to me. But I did what the doctor ordered. I spoke to a counsellor through work, I took my tablets and over a short space of time I was able to look at my work situation for what it was – a situation….at work… not a life or death scenario, just a shit time, and I dealt with the fallout of that, hard as it was, I stuck it out, I stood my ground, I took responsibility and I slept at night. I have to add that it was in this period that I met TQM, so the weekends we spent together on Inis Oirr were incredibly healing – nothing like stepping away from something to see what it truly is. Inis Oirr has my heart. After about nine months (I hasten to add that I was reviewed by my doctor every three months) I started to actually forget to take my tablets. I took that as my body not needing to remind me to take them, that I’d actually come out the other side. The doctor concurred and I came off them slowly over a couple of weeks. It was done I was no longer ‘depressed”.
Roll on four years ago, and six months after I had my second little man, I went to my doctor in Dublin, (same one as before thankfully – I have to note at this point, it will always be in your best interests to find yourself a good doctor and a good dentist!) I told her that I my brain was working overtime, I was snapping all the time, I was roaring at my toddler out of frustration, then falling into a heap crying afterwards because I was bursting with so much love for my boys, and so much guilt for not being perfect.I was breastfeeding and I was sleep deprived. She said that I was being too hard on myself, that I had an almost 3 year old and a breastfeeding 6 month old, and I was living on an island away from family and friends – without any support, if you would. She said I was superwoman. I laughed. She said I had post natal depression. I gasped slightly, because I was sure whatever it was I was feeling had nothing to do with my boys. I adored them. She said my stores of my happy hormone were depleted. It was tablet time again. I stopped breastfeeding, started taking my tablets, and started writing EVERYTHING down along the lines of ‘The Morning Pages’ from Julia Camerons book, The Artists Way
. It was my alternative to counselling when you live on an island. After six months, I started forgetting the tablets again, and slowly and surelyI was off them and I was not depressed anymore.
Last year, I was not pleasant to live with. I was on tablets for 4 months.
A few special people know all this. But I wonder did anyone else guess that I was going through something, or was my Brave Face really that good.
So here is the point to all of this. I’m not ashamed of who I am. I know who I am. People I love, and who love me know who I am. I am not broken. I cannot be fixed. I adore my children, and my family and friends. I need help sometimes. I yell quite a lot, but don’t need tablets. I know my body and I know my mind. I’m lucky. I can read my own signals, even when putting on my brave face. I am the same as anyone else out there that suffers with mental health – whether it’s mild, chronic, post-natal, bi-polar. I will never not be free of depression, it’s in my make-up, but I’m blessed to be supported in my life that I never have to deal with things alone, even if sometimes I bring out the mask.
You are never alone. Reach out and you will find your light.
Hope you all have a bright tomorrow!
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