One of the worst things you can hear when you’re experiencing Anxiety or Depression is that these conditions can be a lifelong battle. Even typing those words triggers a wave of fear and hopelessness – even now, after everything.
When I was first diagnosed with Postnatal Depression & Anxiety it was an enormous blow. Most people say that diagnosis gave them a kind of relief or, at least, an explanation. But I didn’t need that because deep down I already suspected that what was wrong with me was a mental illness. I didn’t necessarily realise it was PND as I didn’t have many “traditional” clinical depression symptoms (mostly anxiety symptoms instead) but I was lucid enough to know that this wasn’t just insomnia any more, it wasn’t just “the baby blues” – it was something more serious. And, my God, that was terrifying. So to have that fear confirmed was one of the most difficult moments of my journey. It was also the beginning of my recovery, of course, but I can only see that in hindsight.
However, I did get some much needed comfort from the fact that this was “postnatal.” This implied it was separate to more ‘garden variety’ depressive illnesses. It was hormone-based, right? This awful experience was completely exclusive to being pregnant, giving birth and the year that follows. After a year I’d be cured, and it wouldn’t happen again until I chose to have another child. This was the silver-lining at least.
If someone had told me I would go on to have two further relapses or recurrences of severe Anxiety during the next four years I would have completely collapsed. In the fragile state I was in that day I wouldn’t have been able to handle that information.
But recurrences have occurred. And starting to accept that fact has been one of the most helpful things I’ve ever done.
The first recurrence came in May 2015 but honestly I’m not sure I can even call it a recurrence as it could easily be a continuation of the initial illness. You can see from this really early blog post – Am I Recovered? – that I still had some lingering symptoms and difficulties which ultimately sucked me back down for a second time.
The most recent recurrence came at the beginning of this year – triggered, I think, by a new pregnancy and subsequent miscarriage but there were lots of other contributing factors. I’d gotten lazy. And cocky. I felt so well and so strong that I’d convinced myself that it wasn’t possible to fall down that rabbit hole again, and because of this I didn’t see the hole that was right in front of me.
When I did fall down it that false confidence and desperate disappointment in myself kept me down there. I had so many tools at my disposal – that episode should really have only lasted a couple of weeks. But my rage and self-loathing strung it out for three months. I was completely and utterly furious. How could this possibly happen to me again? I’ve been here before, I’ve lived it, I’ve learned the techniques. I know exactly what to do. So why did this happen? Why am I back in this place? I must not be strong, I must be useless, I must not have learnt anything. It’s not fair.
This attitude, although perfectly understandable, made it all the more tricky to pull myself out. During darker moments I convinced myself that I was back where I started.
This was completely untrue. There are so many differences to how I felt this year compared to how I felt after Caterpillar was born.
Firstly, I wasn’t suicidal. I wasn’t completely desperate or helpless. I had cold, hard evidence that this feeling lifts, that there is a way out and that I held the key to it in my own hand. It was crushing, and close to unbearable some days. I needed a to do list and a series of carefully planned activities to force me through the day. But I did them, I got through each day and, very deep down, I knew it would be over soon.
Secondly, I still felt joy. Even on my worst days this time around I managed to experience brighter, sweeter moments. These were missing for a long time when I was first unwell. The first time I was blindsided by Anxiety symptoms that I didn’t understand. This time I had an entire blog full of my own words to draw on. It took a while to find the courage and strength to do this but when I did it was there.
Thirdly, I got comfort from Caterpillar. My relationship with Caterpillar during those early months of his life was a huge catalyst for my Anxiety. My belief that I didn’t love him enough and didn’t enjoy being a parent was a big part of what started this. This time though it was completely different. He was my comfort, my source of love and strength. My reason for getting better. There are no words for how grateful I am that Anxiety didn’t take our bond away this time.
There are many other factors that all contribute to the undeniable truth that this relapse was nowhere near as brutal, as painful or as long as the initial illness.
Plus, I’ve learned something. Every single time I experience Anxiety I learn something new about how it works, what it does to me, what is real and what isn’t (spoiler: none of it is real). I have a whole host of techniques to manage it and I was able to use this latest experience to hone down what ones work best for me and release some of the others a little.
Most importantly, I’ve found some acceptance. Not completely, I hasten to add. There is still fear and bitterness inside me and maybe one day that will lead to another episode. But when it does I will handle it again, I will learn more and narrow my techniques to an even more powerful armour.
For a long time I felt unable to type these words. Unable to say them out loud. Unable to even think them in my head. I’m still not happy or comfortable about it but it’s the truth. And here it is:
I struggle with Anxiety.
I didn’t struggle in the past. It’s not just part of my history and now I can look back from my happy life of flowers and rainbows. The tense is everything – I struggle. Currently. Maybe always.
And that’s okay.
It doesn’t mean life isn’t worth living. It doesn’t mean I can’t have a huge, wonderful, fulfilling life. It doesn’t mean I’m useless or worthless or broken.
And maybe after this latest episode I’m stronger and it won’t ever happen again. Of course, when I’m well it’s easy to say that. But plenty of people do only experience PND and recover and never have to worry about it again. And maybe that will be me now. Maybe it’s over.
But if it’s not, I’ll find the strength to beat it again. And again. And again, if I need to. Because life, real life that it is unclouded from the excess of adrenaline and unhelpful thinking that is the lifeblood of Anxiety, is too bloody beautiful and awesome to give up on.
And the best way to live? Live for right now. That’s all there is. And it’s pretty damn good.