When I was 29 I thought I had my life in order: I was a home owner, I had a settled relationship and I had a job I loved.
Also when I was 29, I found myself single and looking for somewhere to live. It was after viewing yet another dingy bedsit (sorry, ‘studio flat’) in East London that I found myself on Mile End station, standing at the end of the platform where the wall went all the way to the edge and the driver wouldn’t have time to see me. I stood there for a long, long time, staring at the track, and eventually a kind person came and talked to me and put me on a train instead of under one. Without the kindness of that stranger I would, in all probability, not be here.
That moment should have been the one where I recognised I needed some help, but as I had always seen myself as a bit of a Tigger – when I hit the ground I bounced. I put it down to viewing dingy bedsits, decided to stay in Epping, and carried on. I found a flat and moved in. The day after I moved in, someone phoned to check in on me. I opened my mouth and started to cry, and couldn’t stop. Even then, I didn’t go and get help.
I decided I would be brave and grown up and do Christmas on my own, as it felt like an admission of failure to go home. It wasn’t until I met my best friend for lunch in London and she went straight home and phoned my mother that things started to move: my dad came and got me and took me home for Christmas. My mum found me sobbing over the sellotape, phoned the doctor I’d known for many years and marched me off to see her. I was diagnosed with depression. 2003 is known to me and my friends as ‘Kirsty’s lost year’: I made very questionable decisions, I cooked a lot but ate nothing, I drank far too much (not a good idea with anti-depressants), I slept little. My beloved Grandad Bill died that year, which is one of the few things I remember. I made some new friends, who took me under their collective wing and put up with the fact that I was so far away with the fairies that Tinkerbell was my next door neighbour. My best friend had a baby and made me godmother, despite me being so patently unsuitable for the job at the time. It was a year of feeling like a ghost in my own life
In late 2003 I started to pull myself back together: I got a second job, in a pub, which meant I wasn’t drinking or staying home alone. I moved to another flat and met the man who would become my beloved, and slowly I started to feel ‘normal’ again. I came off the antidepressants after a couple of false starts, and a couple of years later Thing One arrived. I was terrified: labour had been frightening, long and painful as she was lying on my sciatic nerve. An aggressive healthcare assistant kept telling me I was breastfeeding wrong: I was failing at parenting after less than a day! They took my baby away as she kept breathing too fast and brought her back several hours later without a lot of explanation. The expectation is that your baby will arrive, you will fall instantly in love and motherhood will kick in instinctively – but it doesn’t. It wasn’t too long before that I hadn’t been able to take care of myself, and now there was a baby?
I went back to work when she was five and a half months old, to find I had a new line manager who I barely knew (he was lovely, but that shouldn’t have happened while I was on mat leave: this was before ‘keeping in touch’ days). I worked full time and I was exhausted. I felt guilty for going back to work but we had to eat and pay rent, didn’t we? She had terrible colic, so evenings were horrendous and for six nights out of seven I was on my own with her till 8pm as my beloved was either working or with the older children at his mother’s. At a couple of months old she stopped putting on weight, which was another worry.
I was desperately afraid I’d hurt her, but I had no one to talk to about whether this feeling was normal or not (it wasn’t). I loved my baby so much that sometimes just looking at her made me cry, but I was terrified of what I might do because I couldn’t cope. I couldn’t tell anyone though, in case they thought there was something wrong with me and took her away.
“Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: It is easier to say ‘My tooth is aching’ than to say ‘My heart is broken.’C.S. Lewis, author
There was a baby boom that year, so her nine month check was delayed. When it eventually came round the health visitor took one look at me, said we’d deal with the baby next time, and made a doctor’s appointment for me on the spot. I was diagnosed with post-natal depression, signed off work, and put back on the tablets – this time with some counselling support, which took the form of cognitive behaviour therapy and which helped me see that I wasn’t a total failure. My London sister became my lifeline, as she was close enough to help – my parents were settled in France by then. Luckily her work brought her to the east side of London regularly. I don’t know what I would have done without her appearing and doing the aunty thing.
When the PND kicked in with Thing 2 I recognised what was happening and marched myself off to the doctor as soon as I started feeling odd. With Thing 3, I took up exercise and tried to prevent the slide, which mostly worked as long as I kept running.
This time round, I have been on the anti-depressants since 2014: a friend was killed in an accident, and I was heartbroken. Grieving so far away from their family and our mutual friends was hard. I went to Cornwall to scatter their ashes, foolishly thinking that that would give me ‘closure’ and I’d be fine afterwards, and…I wasn’t.
I don’t see the tablets as a cure, but they give me the time and the headspace to be able to see a way through each day. There are bad days still, when I feel as if I am wading through treacle and the world is a long way away. They are becoming further and further apart, which is a blessing, and I have to say that having six months on furlough last year made a huge difference to my mental state. I keep walking, and I keep making things, and I have friends who also have varying forms of depression and anxiety. We support each other and stage the odd intervention when we see things aren’t right.
On Thursday I took Thing One to the Emotional Health and Wellbeing Service for an assessment. We have been there before, when her anxiety first started in primary school after being bullied. We self-referred last September and pressure on the service is so high that it took this long to be seen, but the keyworker she’s been assigned was wonderful, and will be putting a care plan in place for her. She told me before half term that she just wants to go back to school: the routine, her friends, clear expectations. It’s hard enough being a 14 year old girl without a global pandemic preventing you from seeing your friends.
It’s a shame that this service stops when they are in their early twenties. Getting help after that becomes much more difficult, only really kicking in after a crisis and then anti-psychotics seem to be the default setting rather than care. This service is so underfunded, and a lot of responsibility is devolved to the schools who are also not equipped to cope with the levels of mental health issues being seen in pre-teens and teenagers at the moment. I’m pleased that Thing One feels she can tell me anything, and I hope that all my children (both natural and the timeshare teenagers) feel the same. I hope that my adult friends can too.
I’m going to break out into cliche here: if your leg was broken no one would tell you to pull yourself together, and it’s past time we had the same attitude to your heart and your mind. I was lucky to have friends who saw through the fragile bravado and the manic socialising, but not everyone – especially in this time of isolation – has support like that.
I started writing this on Friday, while I was reflecting on Thing One’s visit to EHWS, and over the past couple of days I’ve thought several times about deleting it. Is it too much? Have I been too honest? Do my friends, family and colleagues need to know this about me? There are things here that I have never spoken aloud, for example. Then I re-read the last paragraph above and realised that to delete it would be to become guilty of hiding my own mental health issues, when the point of the post was to talk about depression and anxiety openly.
So, the post will stand and I will stand by it. This is me: not brave, because it should not take courage to speak when you’re ill, it should be normal.
The fun stuff
I finished my sock at last! Now to do the other one. I do love crocheting socks, and as I’ll be back in the office and on trains twice a week for a while these are a great portable project. In one of my magazines there was a supplement about Tunisian crochet and it had a sock pattern, so I’ll give that a go soon too.
There’s been a lot of cross stitch: here’s the temperature tree update, and I have been working on a Happy Sloth design of a galaxy in a bottle. I’ve also been frankenpatterning (combining two patterns to make a new one) as I wanted something particular but couldn’t find it. More on that later!
On Friday we had a family Zoom call: my lovely dad was 80 and we couldn’t be with him. Obviously as a teenager I was convinced both my parents were trying to ruin my life, but they were pretty cool really. Without my dad I wouldn’t still be able to say the formula for solving quadratic equations on demand or my times tables. I would have no clue about the need for balance and options in my life. I wouldn’t know how to annoy my kids by standing in front of the TV, and as I get older I appreciate his afternoon nap habit more and more – even at 47 he’s a role model! I blame my parents for my love of books, and Dad specifically for the science fiction and fantasy habit. Happy birthday Dad – I love you!
So that’s been my week! Normal service (well, as far as that goes) will resume next week.
What I’ve been reading:
Inspector Hobbes and the Blood/Inspector Hobbes and the Curse – Wilkie Martin
A Capitol Death (Flavia Albia) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)