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?