My name is Fran, I’m 41 and I run my own business. I have 5 kids. I have had depression and post- natal depression three times. Depression sucks. People don’t get it. They don’t understand why, when you seem to have so much to be thankful for, that you’re not.
When I had my first child, I was 24. I was working, had an excellent job, and had just celebrated major success in my first project. I was married, my husband had a great job. We had our first mortgage, and we were renovating our first home, a perfect cottage in a beautiful village. I went on maternity leave, showered with gifts and with a lot of love from family and friends, especially two sets of grandparents, desperate to meet their first grandson.
I developed pre-eclampsia, high blood pressure, and ended up in hospital for a week before my baby was born at 38 weeks. He was healthy and beautiful. Perfect little boy, who has become an amazing young man. In the following weeks, I lost all my pregnancy weight, walked lots, had visits from family, showed him off, and made some new friends amongst mums who lived nearby. Feeding wasn’t straightforward – breastfeeding frankly is hard work, and despite the fine words of many my milk supply was never adequate, but I ditched the guilt of not breastfeeding and bottle fed my boy, watching him thrive and grow. I felt glowing. I felt successful. My little house was immaculate, we had lots of friends. We were in love and enjoying parenthood, I had a part-time deal arranged for when I returned to work at 4 months, and we had holidays set up. Things couldn’t have been better.
And then life changed. When my baby was not quite 6 weeks old, we had a phone call. My mother-in-law had had a brain haemorrhage and we literally packed a bag, drove 150 miles and waited. Sadly she passed away a week later, after an op, a stroke and a coma. It was heart-breaking and there was nothing we could do about it. She was relatively young, she’d just become a grandma and she was a lovely lady. For only the third time in my life, I watched the people I loved most grieve, and that’s when it started.
During that first week, before she died, I was helping out, making meals, cleaning and running the home my mother-in-law had loved and made. I was out of my nest, like a robin, trying to be the perfect mum to my new baby, wanting the perfect experience. And I could do nothing about it. A wave of helplessness swept over me. Every time we had a bit of news, I felt like I couldn’t help. I felt useless. And I felt numb. There were moments when I was alone when I was cleaning or feeding Luke with tears running down my cheeks, crying silently, tears hitting his little head, with him completely unaware of what was going on. He stopped sleeping, which was OK – I wasn’t sleeping either, and I was desperate to stop him from waking others who were having precious snatched moments of sleep in a difficult situation. For two weeks I felt nothing. I couldn’t let myself feel anything. In the few moments I was alone and let myself feel anything I knew that I would happily have run away.
That numbness lasted a few weeks, and then we went home after the funeral. My husband went back to work, and seemed to be OK. I carried on where we’d left off, walking and looking after the house and baby. But everything felt wrong. It felt like nothing was going to be OK again, and I was helpless to change anything. At a routine check for baby, my health visitor said she thought I had post-natal depression and suggested I see a doctor. But I ignored her.
I cried myself to sleep many nights. I cried over my baby thinking I was a failure, but never when anyone was watching. My mum knew. But no one else did, until a friend came for coffee one day, and she came into the kitchen behind me, and found me crying these silent tears into the coffee.
These silent tears? Where do they come from? If someone hurts they cry out loud. If a child bangs their knee, they wail. You hear grieving people sobbing. You hear it. Why were my tears silent? Why couldn’t I ever say I hurt inside but it’s so deep it’s too painful to let it out. I buried it, deep inside, and this bubble grew around that hurt. A bubble like a cushion. It was like that bubble was made up of numbing gel, like anaesthetic. It was inside me but it was numbed. I learnt the art of smiling lots, chatting happily again, so that no one would know what a real failure I was. A failure as a wife, a mum. And that’s how I went back to work. Still crying silently when no one but my baby saw. Or just sitting trying to make sense of life.
Many women with PND talk about disinterest in their baby. I wasn’t disinterested, but I didn’t let myself feel anything. I could pretend to the outside world, but I couldn’t feel properly inside. I couldn’t let myself. If I felt then this hurt and pain that was inside me was going to come out. I was going to lose control and have to admit I was ill, and that felt like a sign of weakness. A real sign of failure. I was successful. I couldn’t let it happen.
So I worked for 8 months, part-time, with my baby cared for by the most amazing childminder. He turned into a happy little man, crawling and moving and chattering. And one day, just before his first birthday, my baby walked. He took his first step at the childminder. I was devastated. I went into work the next day, a whirl of emotions. Angry, hurt, like a boiling pan about to boil over. After everything I missed that important step. But I carried on for a day like that, silently screaming inside you failure, you can’t change the things that matter. You’re a rubbish mum. You haven’t put the things first that you should have done. And at the end of the day, a good work friend said to me ‘out with it’. Because whilst you’re depressed you think you’re covering it ok, those who know and love you know different. And she persuaded me to say a GP, and they made do a questionnaire. It came back extremely depressed. I had to be honest and I had to burst my bubble and say I hurt and it hurts inside me and I can’t feel happy anymore. And when they asked me the question if I’d thought about taking my own life, I had to be honest and say I’d thought about it, I knew how I’d do it and the thought of never feeling again was an utter relief.
And that’s when I started to get better. I didn’t want to feel like that anymore. The embarrassment of telling my family that I was depressed was acute. And some didn’t get it. But some did. They didn’t look at me like I was a monster. They talked to me normally about normal things. Life went on. But if I wanted to talk about how I had felt some allowed me that time. My GP prescribed medication and a series of appointments. I was encouraged to tell my friend at work, and she went with me to HR. HR ‘got it’. They asked how I wanted them to help. I said just that you know is enough. The HR Manager had coffee with me a few times. The Director of the Department told me he was being treated with medication for depression. I started to laugh from inside again. The smile hit my eyes, and little by little, I started to feel again. That feeling of being completely alone, numbed, started to go – some days were better than others. But little by little I started to feel like me again.
But who I was had changed and I’d seen a side of me that I’d never seen before. My head and my insides had been in a dark place, and that never leaves you. Feelings are deeper and more intense than ever. But my depression is something that helps me feel. It’s part of who I am. I can’t pretend it’s not there, but I can’t imagine living without it. Knowing that there is the capacity to feel but also hide how you feel is a realisation that you never lose. And nor should you.