For almost 20 years, I didn’t know I had depression.
If you’re reading this, you know that life has a habit of throwing us curveballs. Mine came when I was 25 and became a mother to my first child, a son later diagnosed with autism. My daughter arrived 15 months later and she was born with Down’s Syndrome.
My excitement and plans for motherhood crumbled. I had pictured baking cookies in the kitchen but instead I faced two children with profound special needs and challenging communication difficulties.
I slipped from being an extremely positive and strong-willed young woman, to suffering from unrelenting anxiety and moderate to severe depression.
Depression comes in different forms. I suffered with it for 17 years and didn’t even know it, reasoning that I was too highly functional: I had three more children including twins, wrote two books and set up a nationally award-winning project where I educated mainstream children about special needs.
In reality, all of this was just my way of avoiding the pain I was feeling.
Part of what makes anxiety and depression so insidious is their ability to go undetected. We can become proficient at hiding them from not only other people, but ourselves too. We get dressed, put our make-up on and host friends. We bake cakes for the birthday parties and generally do everything expected of us because we have to look like we’re okay.
We push away the feeling and subconsciously choose specific behaviours to keep us away from negative feelings - even though in doing so we imprison ourselves and expand our avoidance until we can’t even remember how we got to where we are.
Let me highlight this with a hypothetical example of a man afraid of dogs:
One day, he goes for a walk and sees a large dog walking towards him with his owner. Afraid, the man crosses the road, and his relief teaches him that’s how he should react next time. But on his next walk, there happen to be dogs being walked on both sides of the street, and he turns around to walk a different way, extending his journey by ten minutes. Eventually he decides walking isn’t safe, and he will only travel by driving. That, too, proves unsuccessful when he arrives at his destination and sees a dog walking. It feels like the walls are closing in; no matter what he does, he can’t avoid dogs. He decides going out is too risky and it’s far safer to stay at home.
The eventual outcome feels a long way from what started it all. This is the danger of hiding the truth of how we’re feeling.
This is my story. Yours will be different, but we will share the same symptoms. I know what it’s like to wake up feeling helpless each morning. I know how depression drains, exhausts and debilitates. And, as with the man afraid of dogs, I know how negative self-talk reinforces the problems.
There is no need to suffer in silence. I have overcome, and so can you.
Your story matters to me, and I’ll help you get into the driving seat and take control of your life,
to let go of what’s been holding you back,
and own who you are.
Just one step at a time.