I desperately do not want to be one of those writers who uses the name of someone in order to gain readers, but I have actually been so impacted by what I have learnt about this incredible woman, Carrie Fisher, to not mention her would be keeping far too much credit for myself.
I was struck by her mission to be honest and open about her mental health issues, primarily the diagnosis of bipolar disorder at the age of 24. It is something I have often done with my own history of depression and anxiety, and praised others for, but what I realised is that my honesty was always in hindsight, always something mostly described from a place of survival.
I hope that this was useful to those who read it, I truly did want to help. Now, I must do better which means being honest about my own current journey with mental health.
Last week I was told in some pretty clear terms that I am experiencing Post-Natal Depression.
My gorgeous daughter is six weeks old, the second child I have received into my life so far, and as far as I’m concerned the last pregnancy I will ever experience. Unlike my first, the anxiety and low moods that occurred during pregnancy did not disperse with the burst of happy hormones. The adrenaline which allows me to vaguely cope with 2am feeds is useful but it also has the unwanted side effect of keeping my brain ticking over more than usual, over lines that I would not tread in a healthier state.
Here’s a few things you should know:
- I am not telling you all this for sympathy, pity, or as a kind cry for help exactly. Don’t get me wrong, help would be lovely, but it’s a complex thing for me to ask for help, because right now I don’t know what help even looks like. I have no clue, and trying to make decisions about what I need is incredibly difficult and takes a huge amount of energy. As you can probably imagine, energy isn’t something new mothers have a lot of at the best of times.
- Although drama is getting much better at representing cases of mental health, I want to be super clear that as far as I know I’m not about to kill my children, plan some dark and twisted goodbye plot, or go on a massive alcohol and drug fuelled suicide mission. Sometimes drama is exactly that – dramatic, and although there are clearly horrible cases that professionals look out for, in my experience the majority of mental health cases are… quieter than that. For me there’s a lot of suffering in silence, or making a joke out of pain, or speaking in highly medical terminology as if describing someone else. For those of you old enough to remember Friends, I am the Chandler type of personality.
- It is mainly frustrating. I am frustrated that for all sorts of reasons I should be happy. I have recently moved into a beautiful house that I am incredibly fortunate to live in. I have a second beautiful daughter and my eldest is so loving, so clever, and becoming such a wonderful little person in her own right. Financially we have been blessed by generosity. I have a number of wonderful people in my life. I have just graduated, and enjoyed some great events this year. Despite this, the facts that my brain decides to focus on are the negatives; without cause or control what I will see are not the reasons to be happy, but the reasons I am not doing well enough, the problems I don’t have solutions for, the bitter moments rather than the sweet ones. I have started to correct people, mostly in my head but sometimes half-jokingly out loud, when they compliment or praise something.
“The house is beautiful!” “We’re working out the kinks…” “You’re looking great! “I’m eating so badly at the moment, I can’t be healthy…” “So many people love you.” “I’m so alone… no-one is here… I’m not worth bothering with…” ad infinitum
Part of me restarting this blog again is a coping mechanism: the part of me that needs to be productive, needs to reach out if only to cyber space (should that be vacuum), needs to be honest with myself and others in a way that isn’t a conversation I will spin into dark humour or brush off what is hurting me. Being online is an unfortunate coping mechanism because social media is a vicious cycle. On the one hand, when you are physically, geographically in a place of frequent isolation using social media is a way to keep vaguely connected with those who are further afield. I have often felt bitter tears at the fact that so many of the people I love so much are just so far away. On the other hand, social media (for me Facebook predominantly) rarely shows the reality of life, it shows the filtered version, the posed picture, the glimpses of occasional events rather than repetitive activities of daily chores and work and struggle. So I have often debated the choice between giving up social media and being free of the bubble of negativity, sad news stories, and bursts of jealousy-inducing fragments of friends lives, and being alone to such an extent that I would have no contact with adults other than my husband for often days at a time, my brain melting into children’s TV and nursery rhymes and desperately trying to be a great mother when feeling like I still have no clue what I’m doing after almost 3 years of practice. I’ve just seen a Facebook advert for the Live feature, which finished with something close to “you won’t be alone.” It’s such a lie.
This is also why I couldn’t become a “Mommy blogger” or even one of those (highly amusing) writers who laughs at their own struggles. It would be dishonest. I do not have it all together and the majority of the time I do not think my failure is funny. Most of the time my failure makes me want to crawl into luxurious isolation and wait for old age to take me away, safe in the knowledge that at least the world won’t have to deal with everything that is wrong with me.
I’m sorry this is not a happier read. This is the difference between writing about mental health struggles in hindsight and as a current reality. In hindsight I knew that my depressed and anxious character had a light at the end of the tunnel, that they survived, that they had again learnt to do what most find normal. In my current state I struggle to see the light at the end because I’ve only just entered it, because despite looking desperately for keys to the locks that are my problems – I can’t find any scattered around me. The door is locked, and I am knocking with all my strength but for now I am locked in.
I am sharing this because Carrie Fisher was an inspiration, because she helped people, because if there was ever a role model I needed in my darkest times it was an army general taking no shit from anyone, looking incredible but making sure you knew she would not be forced into anything, funny, intelligent and completely boldly brave about the truth of pain in her life. In an answer to another bipolar sufferer she explained:
I thought I had to like everything – so I would wait to be OK with something and if I didn’t get there it was permission to give up. But if I didn’t have to like it – if I just had to effectively put my head down and move through some uncomfortable feelings till I got to the other side – what a notion! My comfort wasn’t the most important thing – my getting through to the other side of difficult feelings was. However long it might seem to take and however unfair it might seem, it was my job to do it. … You don’t have to like doing a lot of what you do, you just have to do it. You can let it all fall down and feel defeated and hopeless and that you’re done. … Now build on that. Move through those feelings and meet me on the other side.
That is what I am holding onto. This is just something I have to do. I have to be honest. I have to do my best. I have to reach out. I have to make sure my children are safe. I have to make sure I am safe. I have to push through these feelings, this tunnel, pushing through that locked door, and meet others on the other side. Hopefully I’ll also meet myself again too.
Rest in peace Carrie Fisher (1956-2016)
She drowned in moonlight, strangled by her own bra.
One of my targets this year is to offer practical guidance, something to do. Here is my best effort at just that:
- If any of this sounds familiar, talk to your doctor, health visitor, or midwife. Be honest. They can and will help as much as possible. Apparently counselling waiting lists get skipped if you are suffering from PND because there are children involved.
- Home Start is recommended by so many people and offers help in a number of ways depending on your need. If it’s available near you it might be worth getting in touch.
- If you are concerned about someone you know simply making yourself available, and maybe if you are able to raise a few questions about whether they are coping. The more honest they can be the better. Mostly they need to know they are not alone. That is hugely important.
- There are also a number of charities that can help people with a vast array of mental health concerns but could also do with your help, raising money and awareness to help more people like you and me, for example:
- You can also find more of my own writing on my experience with depression here.