Coping with depression
Coming from a large family with four siblings, we were left to fend for ourselves a lot of the time. There was never really a chance for one-on-one time with Mum or Dad and generally things were pretty chaotic. The easiest thing to do was keep your head down and try not to annoy anyone too much. We weren’t a family who spoke openly about our feelings or emotions.
When I was a teenager, our father was very distant. He never had the energy or inclination to spend time with us and he rarely had anything to do with the regular activities of the household. My mother was really left to cope on her own. He just didn’t seem interested in what we were doing so we started to plan things without bothering to include him. Later, when he was diagnosed with severe depression, his behaviour started to make more sense, but it was still really hard on all of us.
I met my husband Paul and within a year we had Cassie. The thought of having children always excited me. I hoped I would be a wonderful mother but things started to get really difficult when Paul went back to work. Everyday stresses became harder to cope with. I had someone who needed all of my attention, all of the time. I had someone who depended on me and it made me nervous. I had never been the center of anyone’s universe – and now I had a daughter who looked at me with so much love - I was scared I couldn’t give her what she needed.
I started to feel anxious all of the time. I never knew if what I was doing was right and I was just so desperate to be a great mum. Before Cassie started school, I decided it was best if I didn’t return to work. I thought that maybe if I was at home and spent more time with her I would become more comfortable as a mother. I had started questioning whether work was something I wanted to go back to. The house had become my place of refuge and I rarely ventured outside if I didn’t need to.
I was lethargic, foggy and quick to snap at Paul when he walked in the door. I’d stopped spending time with Cassie when she was home and spent most of my time sitting on the couch or agonising over unpaid bills. Paul was the sole income earner and he felt pressure to provide for us financially, so when I had a go at him about the family expenses, it wore us both down. I felt it was my responsibility to support Cassie emotionally, but I struggled to even get her dressed and ready for school most mornings. When she did make it out the door I usually hadn’t packed a lunch for her.
I used to enjoy going out for a jog, and I loved to paint, but I didn’t have any desire to do those things anymore. I actually felt paralysed – there was so much I wanted to do for Cassie and for myself, but I felt so overwhelmed, I just couldn’t move. Even getting off the couch to take a shower felt too hard some days. I felt like I was weighed down.
The house was a mess and I struggled to get dinner on the table most nights. I used to be so in control and now I just couldn’t seem to get it together. Finally, a friend suggested I should go and see somebody. Then I found out why I was struggling so much. I was diagnosed with severe depression. I hadn’t really taken the time to understand what my dad was going through when I was a teenager. I just thought it was an excuse to get out of weekend activities. But I suddenly understood exactly how he must have felt.
Paul was supportive in the beginning, and I thought Cassie was too young to really understand what was happening so I didn’t realise how much how much everything was affecting her. She was used to playing by herself and painting in her room, so I assumed she didn’t know what was happening.
The depression medication was strong, it made my head foggy. I couldn’t focus. Some days were better than others, but mostly I was in a daze. I felt isolated and alone when Paul would leave the house and I started to resent the fact that he left me and Cassie on our own so much. He started leaving earlier and coming home later and when he was at home we fought constantly. We fought about everything – about Cassie missing school, my moodiness, the cleanliness of the house and the fact that he was never there for me. It was exhausting.
Cassie’s teacher started noticing that she was falling behind in school. When I did manage to get her out of the house, she struggled to pay attention during class and her homework was rarely completed. We were hanging on by a thread. Cassie’s teacher contacted FACs and that’s when Michelle came into our lives.
One of the first things she helped me with was getting my medication reviewed. She started driving me to the doctor, where she would sit and wait with me. Just having the additional support meant the world. I didn’t feel alone anymore and leaving the house wasn’t an unachievable mission. Over the course of a few weeks my anti-depression medication was tweaked and I started feeling less foggy.
Michelle set up counseling sessions for me, at first in our house and then later at her office. We sat and spoke through the barriers in communication Paul and I were having, without feeling that anyone blamed us. Michelle explained about coping techniques that stopped arguments escalating into screaming matches and I learnt to recognise tell-tale signs of stress and anxiety before I was too overwhelmed. It was during these sessions that Paul and I realised how traumatic our fighting must have been for Cassie. We were emotional and it was so much easier to get swept up in it all than seek a resolution calmly.
A major turning point in my progress was an introduction to a mothers’ group run by The Benevolent Society. Michelle attended with me a few times, driving me to the group meetings, ensuring I felt safe, comfortable and contributed to the sessions. To be around other mothers was such a wonderful experience. It helped me understand that everyone struggles with certain things and that I wasn’t alone - and also that I wasn’t a bad mother. There were some other mums with children close to Cassie’s age and I hoped that we would become friends and introduce our children to one another. I started recognising the importance of surrounding myself with other people and why I couldn’t lock myself away in the house anymore.
I’d gone from feeling drastically isolated and alone to having a caring support network in my life.
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