How This Ageing Ball of Fluff Has Helped Me Fight Depression

Taking part in family life has been a significant challenge for me during the last year, having experienced a major depressive episode for the first time in my life. In an effort to get me out of bed every day my husband, who has been extremely supportive, insists I still make our daughters’ packed lunches. It works. I manage to drag myself from under the warm duvet to make their lunch and even exchange a few words first thing in the morning. It gives me some sense of achievement, of purpose; and momentarily, some optimism about the day ahead.
That is, until the usual last-minute mad rush is over, and the front door closes when they all head off to school and work. This moment has frequently been a crucial one for me. Will I crawl back into bed and hide from the world? Will I sob into the silence as I’m unable to accept that I still can’t go back to the teaching job I love? Or will I go into complete crisis mode?
Well, had it not been for Bruno, our black, fluffy, grumpy, old family dog, I probably would have done one of those things every single day for a year. Yet his needs have ensured that I haven’t, helping me on my slow road to recovery.
His early morning walk has meant so much more than just taking the dog out: A vital change of scene. Deep breaths of fresh air. A gentle stretch or an angry stomp of my legs. Unexpected, brief chats with friendly neighbours. The company of quacking ducks or squawking seagulls. Plus, over time, realisation that each season has changed even though I feel that time has frozen.
Often, arriving home would then be a harsh reminder of my reality. No job to rush off to, no important tasks to do, just an empty day ahead that I need to fill. And that silence. That silence returns as I too shut the front door behind me.
Yet Bruno steps in again. His impatient bark reminds me he is waiting for his post walk biscuit; and his empty bowl points out that he needs to be fed. With both ‘jobs’ done, I’d normally crash on the sofa, tired out by those tiny efforts. The silence would threaten me once again. Silence can be dangerous. It can lead my thoughts to race and my nerves to jangle. But as Bruno pitter patters around on the wooden flooring or decides to ‘dig’ ferociously into his cushion, I am reminded that I am not alone. When in need of comfort, I’d often call him and he’d snuggle up next to me on the sofa. His body would warm mine and stroking his fur would bring me calm once again.
Seven hours are a challenge to fill in this frame of mind but, inevitably each day drew to a close. I would suddenly go from deafening silence to family chaos: two daughters competing to share the news of their days; Bruno barking for attention; dinner to prepare; homework help; vital Face-Time calls with friends the girls haven’t spoken to for forty minutes; and anything else that might come up.
Post dinner, I am frequently shattered. Having craved company all day, I now crave silence and being alone. I’ve held it together through noisy chatter, homework and a family dinner and now I just want to crawl away and hide. Once again though, Bruno’s hopeful look catches my eye. I know that my husband will take him out on his own if I ask him to. Yet I also know that this is the only time of day that we get the chance for decent, uninterrupted conversation. I also know that it will get me out of the house again. Fresh air, movement. Those things I guiltily realise I haven’t had since Bruno’s last walk. So, we chat as we stroll around the neighbourhood, keeping a close eye on Bruno who is going blind and deaf in his old age. We both dissect our days. I am reminded of the outside world that is moving on beyond despite my bubble. My husband gently probes to find out how my day has been.
Sometimes there is little for me to say. Mentioning the fact that I have walked, fed, stroked and cared for Bruno seems so obvious and insignificant that I’m embarrassed to do it. Yet when I finally fall into bed and remember how I felt as my family closed the front door behind them, I am reminded that actually those achievements are actually something to be proud of…and something I can thank my black, fluffy, grumpy companion for. Without him I may well have gone back to bed, sobbed or dived straight into crisis mode; but, what I have done instead is taken one more small step towards recovery.

From a Lost Wife to a Lost Husband

 

To my husband,
This is incredibly hard to write but I am doing it because I understand that it’s easier for you to know what’s going on in my head than not to know. I will be completely honest and I am sorry if that makes it difficult reading.
I am going to explain how my day went from beginning to end yesterday as that will give you an idea of how I have been feeling over the last week.
I woke up with the feeling I have every day: my stomach feeling cramped and hollow, my mind feeling overwhelmed at the thought of a day ahead to fill. Determined to distract myself, I tried really hard to focus on the girls and their early morning chatter and demands – including a last minute change of lunch. Although it’s always good to be with them, their noise is hard to bear. Whether it’s the scraping of a chair or the slamming of a door, or a never-ending description of a dream they have had, I have to work really hard on not getting irritated with them. When they left, it felt like an achievement that I had managed to stay tuned into their conversations and not get visibly annoyed with them.
You all left the house and the silence I had been longing for was suddenly deafening. I sorted Bruno out straight away for a walk, knowing that I needed to distract myself. At the start of the walk, I tried hard to focus on the small things around me rather than think about the day, weeks and months ahead that loomed threateningly in front of me. I listened to the chirping of the birds, the splashing of the ducks and Bruno’s paws pattering behind or in front of me. As the walk progressed, I reached the part of the path where a canal is on either side and you can see the windmill in the distance. The path suddenly looked never-ending. Perhaps that reflected how I felt about this whole nightmare. I could feel my legs weaken and tears started to pour down my face. Within seconds I was sobbing uncontrollably and I had to pause on the bridge to try and pull myself together. At that moment, the only thing I could feel was that this was never going to end. That I would never feel normal again. That I would never get pleasure in even the simplest things. Had I had a box of painkillers in my bag, I would have taken them and curled up in a corner waiting for them to take effect. I just wanted to forget, for the pain to end, for it all to be over. And when I feel like that I lose all sense of who I am, of you, of the girls, of the unbearable consequences of what that would do to everyone. I just want it to be over and I am not me anymore. I really need you to understand that. Please don’t ever feel that I could act on these thoughts because I don’t care about you all.
After maybe ten minutes of standing there in that state, Bruno actually barked at me, bringing me back to where I was. I put him on the lead and slowly walked back to house. Every step was hard and I just wanted to come home and curl up on the sofa. But hearing your voice as I came in through the front door made me realise that I couldn’t. I had to get myself moving and distract myself until I was feeling better. I went to the chemist to collect my prescription. That wasn’t such a good move. I wasn’t ready for that at that point and, for the first time, I was strongly tempted to buy some painkillers and to take them. The chemist was busy and that, bizarrely, stopped me. Perhaps having people around me is a reminder that life goes on and that I need to be a part of it.
Coming home again was agony. I so wanted to curl up and try to block it out with sleep. But I knew you’d never leave me to do that in the morning which is why I proposed gardening. The sun was shining and I knew it would do me good to get outside and enjoy it. It worked. For an hour I pottered in the garden. Every time I began to feel overwhelmed, I forced myself to focus on the specific task I was doing: to feel the soil in my hands, to enjoy the warmth of the sun on my back. When we sat down to lunch together, I was feeling a lot better than I had been all morning.
Lunch over, you started to work again. That sense of hopelessness welled up inside me again and this time I didn’t have the strength to fight it. I curled up on the sofa for a couple of hours, trying to sleep but battling butterflies for every second of it. Leaving the house to collect Sofia, gave me a lift again. I was looking forward to spending twenty minutes with her and was pleased that I had managed to give them both some nice things for their orange day at school. Our argument flattened me within seconds. By the time I dropped her off, I felt like I was a complete waste of space. She’d been argumentative and difficult but ultimately she was right. I could have popped home to get her hoverboard on the way, we weren’t going to be late as I feared.
During my session with Katy, for the first time I was able to explain how I had felt throughout the day. It was incredibly hard. It actually felt physically painful to say the words out loud when I described how I felt on the bridge; and it was only with her gentle questioning that I managed to do it. The only reason I can speak to her more easily than to you is that I know she won’t be emotionally affected by what I say. It breaks my heart to have to tell you all of this and I can’t imagine how it makes you feel. She made the point, however, that it must be harder for you to have to guess what is going on in my head than to know it exactly. That is why I opened up to you last night and why I am writing this now. But you must let me know if it’s too hard for you to hear.
For the last week, every day has been similar. I have good moments but I also have moments of extreme crisis. I would like to promise you that I will never take an overdose again but I can’t do that. When I am completely absorbed in how I feel, like I was on Bruno’s walk, I lose all sense of rationality and it’s at those moments when I could potentially do it. What I can promise is that I will try harder to open up to you. As I find this so difficult, here are a few points that would help:
• If I seem distant or distressed, ask me specifically if it is a ‘butterfly moment’
• Don’t expect more than a ‘yes’ if it is because I find it hard to speak
• Gently try to distract me and please don’t leave me on my own
• Remember that my energy levels are low so don’t choose an active option for distracting me
• If you can’t distract me or if I just want to lie down, hug me and let me cry it out
• When you need to leave me on my own, ask me if I’m ready
I’m sorry if this has been a tough read babe; and I hope it’s been helpful in some way. I will do my best to be more open with you but gentle questioning from you will help. I find it very hard to start any conversation about this.
Lots of love,

Your Lost Wife

My Raw Truth

Until a year ago, mental illness was something that happened to somebody else. Something that happened to people who’d had a really tough life or who were weak in some way. Something that didn’t happen to people like me. People who are strong, active, energetic and full of purpose. Something that could be avoided or resisted; or, if all else failed, fought against with pure determination.

Then, from nowhere, in this great forest of life, I was bulldozered over by PTSD and severe depression. Bulldozered, flattened, trampled on and then trampled on again and again if I ever dared to try to get up. There was no avoidance or resistance; and determination…well I didn’t even know what determination was anymore.

It has been Hideous. Horrible. Horrendous. And I’m still in that forest, gradually finding my way, but still aware of the bulldozer rumbling in the distance.

My Raw Truth will not strive to share a journey in a chronological and ordered way. That’s simply because mental illness doesn’t happen in a chronological and ordered way. There have been many times when writing has been my saviour. A thought has occurred and it has evolved into a piece of writing that has exposed one tiny element of the Raw Truth of my personal experience. The writing process has helped me understand myself  and has helped those around me understand what I am going through too.

I would never dare to suggest that my stories will explain the true nature of mental illness. There is no true nature of mental illness. It is different for every person it affects and, actually, it has been different for me too…day to day or even minute to minute.

But what I do hope is that through my raw, honest and candid stories, I will contribute towards lifting the stigma, the fear and the mystery that surrounds mental illness. Those who suffer from it, and we are many*, are just normal people who are unable to avoid, to resist or to fight it with determination and who simply need our care, compassion and support.

* 1 in 4 people will experience a depressive episode in their lifetime.