Cathartic writing

After my interview with the editor of the Country Living section of the Weekly Times, I emailed her to request that she put something in the article about me now being back to full health.

I started thinking about why that was important to me and stayed at the keyboard to find out why. This is what I wrote:

I am not ashamed that I had depression.

That’s what I thought. But I must be because that was hard to write.

It’s now I realise that when I’d joke to my family about having “the nerves”, it wasn’t because I found the term used in my grandparents’ era so funny, it was because I couldn’t say the other words.

“My name is Larissa and I’ve had depression.”

I don’t have trouble saying I had pneumonia last year. That I needed medication to help me get well. How are the two illnesses different and why is needing medication for one any more embarrassing than for the other?

When I was pregnant with our second child, I was worried. At the six-week mark, I should have been relieved; our first pregnancy lasted just six weeks.

At the 12-week scan, I tried to stop worrying; we’d made it past the point of our second pregnancy loss.

I wanted to breathe easier after our 18-week scan. They didn’t direct me straight to the maternity ward to induce the delivery of a little dead foetus curled up in a tear-shaped sac like they did in our third pregnancy.

But by 24-weeks, I knew exactly what our little baby in the womb would like. I’d given birth to a 24-weeker two years earlier and knew nothing but ventilation, resuscitation and bleeds on the brain.

At 26-weeks, I woke up crying.

“I’m not sure I want this baby,” I whispered to Anthony.

It sounded irrational (even coming from my mouth that day) but it felt inevitable. With every trip to the bathroom, I expected blood. With every movement of the baby, I expected labour. I was sick and tired from the pregnancy, sick and tired from the drugs that were keeping me pregnant, and sick and tired of being sick and tired. If we lost this baby now, I wasn’t sure I’d be disappointed, maybe just annoyed that I’d wasted 26 weeks of my life.

“It’s not that you don’t want the baby. It’s that you don’t want to cope with the grief should anything go wrong,” our obstetrician told me that day. “Have you heard of post-traumatic stress disorder?”

I thought about returned soldiers reliving what they’d seen at war. Here I was reliving our early deliveries and pregnancy losses.

We’d learnt that it was very hard to get pregnant. And that pregnancies end before you want them to and never with the delivery of a big, fat full-term baby. It seemed unbelievable that this pregnancy would be any different.

I sat in the waiting room at the psychiatrist’s office a week later. As far as I knew, really crazy people needed a psychiatrist. Half crazy people saw a psychologist. People needing a bit of help talked to a counsellor. I wanted the receptionist to see that I was normal. I talked too much signing the forms.

The psychiatrist said the trauma of our previous pregnancies had made me so anxious all of the time that it had turned into depression.

I gladly took his antidepressants. I needed them. I had tools I’d used to pull myself out of past bad moods, but I needed help to rise to a point where I was strong enough to use them.

Some days I got out of bed. Mostly I had no interest in daily life. Anthony would bring a bowl of cereal and a cup of tea and place it on the bedside table. I’d hear the washing machine and he and our two-year-old, Elsie, talking. They probably wondered why I couldn’t get up. So did I.

If Anthony spoke about grain prices or the farm, it was like adding an eleventh person to an elevator made for ten. It was too much to bear. Even Elsie’s needs were too much on the days I was out of bed.

My obstetrician told me I was “salvageable”. I knew that. But I was desperate to know when I would feel better. I couldn’t imagine being happy again.

It seemed my life became just hours ticking by on the clock. I saw most of them do so at night, and during the day they simply indicated what was on telly for Elsie to watch next. I couldn’t think about meals, housework, or seeing or talking to people. And I was afraid any exercise would bring on an early labour.

By 30-weeks, I was out and about more. I wanted that baby in my belly more than anything and a sibling for Elsie just as much.

By 40-weeks, we had our own beautiful fat, full-term newborn. I was on top of the world and tried my own experiment to see if it was real or fake; I stopped taking the antidepressants.

I couldn’t stop smiling. With our second daughter’s healthy arrival, the trigger for my anxiety was gone. And so too were “the nerves”.

I’ve had depression. It was part of our journey to create a family. What’s there to be ashamed of?

7 thoughts on “Cathartic writing

  1. Your such a great person! You know you are never alone in these crazy life things! My story is similar, but not as dramatic. I lost my first baby just at the end of 3 mths, I was 21. 3 long yrs later, with my mother having a baby in the meantime, I fell pregnant…and fell apart. I gladly took the drugs. I have used them again since, over 3 yrs I cared for my mother with breast cancer, father in law with bowel cancer and lost him and my husband had a stroke, all on top of working and having 3 lovely children. Hello funny farm! Pass the drugs!

    xoxo LOL Jacq

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  2. thanks for sharing your moving story Larissa- your courage and and commitment to your family shines through your beautiful writing

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  3. The first time I read your entry, it moved me to tears – yes, because of what you went through, but also because it made me realise that I have been in denial about suffering depression as well. It is not something that I have wanted to admit – as you said other diseases are fine, but depression is not something I wanted to admit to. Maybe I see it as a sign of weakness or failure on my part.

    After Em died a friend told me not to take antidepressants as they will just put off the grieving process – I listened to her and haven’t taken them. Some times I wonder if she was right as I have ‘gone through the motions’ of daily life trying to be a good wife and a good mother to my remaining children, but at times, not wanting to touch them or have them touch me – not wanting to be too ‘close’ to them in case they died too. So many irrational thoughts and feelings.

    Hi, my name is Rhonda and I had/have depression too.

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    1. Rhonda, your response has moved me to tears – thank you so much for your words and for sharing. I can’t imagine the grief that followed the loss of little baby Emma, but I can imagine the irrational thoughts and feelings. Let’s not see it as a sign of weakness or something we can’t admit. How would the loss of a child NOT cause all of those frightened thoughts to occur and to lead to a depressed state? For me, antidepressants helped enormously, and if there’s help available, let’s use it. As Jacq says above, pass the drugs! Sending all of the healing, positive, encouraging thoughts, best wishes and love that I can to you, A, J, T & C xx

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  4. Tara read this and cried and commented, and I had no idea what she was on about…so I have finally found the article she was referring to, and I too have cried. She too understands.
    I have suffered with depression too Larissa…from childhood. Not as debilitating as what you have been through, but probably debilitating in other ways. And I would assume I would be told it came about because of being “anxious all of the time that it had turned into depression”. (Quote from your psychiatrist). How did I get there? Watching my parents unhappiness with each other day after day for 13 years until Mum finally got up and left (while I was at boarding school…not that I blamed her), and the many other things I couldn’t talk about (like the thoughts and “plans” of suicide from the age of about 5…although I loved life, there were many situations in my childhood that I couldn’t see any way out of) that stayed hidden in my heart for years, never really knowing how to deal with it all. Then the mistakes I made along the way, and the guilt and shame that built up layer upon layer. It made me think about my own children, and so many others that I am aware of, who have probably suffered with depression because of the anxiety in their young lives…and like myself, all undiagnosed. It wasn’t until I was a grandmother that I learned the name of the feelings I had…”anxiety”. I thought it was normal. And pain was something I just grew up with…emotional and physical. My attitude to it all was “big deal..get over it!”
    How did I come through it? Well, you know my story…I know when I handed my life over to God, I changed. But am I totally free of this condition? Probably not, as there are times when I get anxious about some things,(usually about my kids), but I know how to deal with it differently now (and one of those things is to admit how I feel, and just have a good old cry..once I do that, I don’t feel so paralysed..lol), and the depression doesn’t stay as long. And I am learning (until the day I die) to lean on the Word of God for my freedom. If I had realised all those years ago what was going on, I might have taken antidepressants, but it was the 60’s and 70’s…I drank, and did other things (no drugs though), and talked, and laughed a lot at myself and everyone else, which probably helped..haha. For a long time, I would have said don’t take the antidepressants too, but I believe people need to be well to be able to do all their lives require of them, and if that is what is needed to help them through times like you have described, then, just take them. Good on you love. And Larissa, your blog and your writing are tools that are helping you…just look at how much you have discovered about yourself by staying in front of that keyboard! The pen and paper helped me over the years. Love Bev.

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