The other day, after struggling for a while with my mental health for all of the reasons, something happened that sent me crashing to the depths of despair. I had already been under intense pressure; caring for my family, my own health, juggling some heavy freelance work with tight deadlines and my creative writing, trying to find grants and opportunities for my fiction work, dealing with the general horror of things in the world…and continually trying to hold onto the patience and resilience required when trying to achieve a traditionally published book.
After this particular email, I sat in my car outside the school uniform shop, (where I was waiting to go in first, before all of the unmasked people arrived…), crying… and for a few hours of the day, I succumbed to the irrational thought that there was no point in going on, no point in following my dreams, no point in anything…
A short time later, after allowing myself to wallow, I picked myself up and decided that I could tackle the tasks ahead of me. That I could keep going. That I would never give up on my dreams. I took my kelpie for a second walk in the whispering autumn winds, beneath gum trees and through local streets. I spent time meditating on my passions, on my gifts, on all of the wonderful things in my life, on nature. And I sat at my desk to write.
This time, I opened my email to receive some good news. News that made me incredibly happy and excited. Suddenly, my motivation for all of the responsibilities and commitments in my life, returned. I was filled with thoughts of what might lie ahead and how I would tackle these things head on, as is my usual way. And I pondered on the fact that it’s fascinating how quickly your mood can change. When I picked up my 13 year old from school, I told him about these two emails.
He said, ‘Well, you always get the bad and the good, Mum.’
I smiled and agreed, and inside of me, I was filled with the joy of this wonderful human being I have been helping to grow. How wise our young people are. He also lives with anxiety and is already very skilled at noticing it, managing it, and working out how to move through it, around it, or with it – whichever is best.
If you have lived with depression and anxiety, you will know how hard it can be to pull yourself from the hole. My periods of depression in the past were very specific to situations; firstly as a teen due to my type 1 diabetes diagnosis, later exacerbated by being stuck in a violent relationship, still later exploding in post-natal depression…followed by PTSD from my work in child protection, severe clinical depression, panic attacks and a time of being very unwell.
Later, I experienced PND again with my second child and reactive depression after caring for my mother-in-law who died from motor neurone disease. Since then, I have not had any prolonged periods of serious depression, but it can creep around the edges of my days and cast shadows across my thoughts.
Anxiety is a different beast. It lives with me at all times; sitting on my shoulder, telling me all sorts of terrible disasters await, telling me to be afraid, telling me I am worthless. In some ways, the Anxiety can be a positive thing – it motivates and protects me, it can prevent me from doing things that I really don’t want to do. On the other hand it can imprison me, isolate me and keep me awake at night. It makes me question everything and coupled with the dysphoria of ADHD, diagnosed only in 2020, (what a relief it was to finally understand myself!), can cripple me with indecision and self-doubt.
I can remember Anxiety being with me wayyyy back as a small child, when I didn’t want to be left at child care, and later, kindergarten. I had a series of recurring dreams that I remember to this day. Despite this, I have had a wonderful and successful life.
Living with mental illness does not mean that you are sitting in the corner, rocking back and forth like a baby. It does not mean you are incapable. It does not make you worthless. Often, it heightens your understanding of other people and it provides you with insight into yourself that many others never achieve.
Some of the things I find helpful during times of depression and high anxiety, include listening to music, reading, walks in nature, gardening, writing, laughing and talking with my family, watching movies and streaming shows, keeping off social media more, especially in times of higher stress, staying off the news, pacing myself with tasks, pottering around my home and nesting, good chocolate and pots of tea, day naps/rests, mindfulness practices, reaching out and talking with a loved one, and the support network of my fellow writers. I find action – doing something, such as rearranging a room in the house, or tackling a garden project, really help to lift my mood.
I also tell myself that things will get easier, they will get better, they always do – and as my son said, there is always the good and the bad, Mum.
And that is life.