One thing I’ve learned this year is that nobody knows introspection more than a woman who has lived through post-natal depression. And I know this because now I’m almost 365 days out the other side of my experience – a year clean – I search inside for answers more than ever before. I analyse my thoughts and feelings, probably more than I should, but it’s because of this I’m able to interpret and vocalise the way I’m feeling which means I can stop any dark days before they happen. I am able to pinpoint and label feelings and emotions before I let them affect me which means I am literally my own walking self-help guru.
It’s by talking to friends about what I’ve been through that I learned how common post-natal depression actually is. As many of my friends have been through a post-natal struggle than haven’t, for crying out loud! And I’m so passionate in talking about my experiences to anyone who’ll listen because I really want everyone to learn how common it is and how temporary, too. Your life won’t be this way forever, you are not a terrible mother and you will smile again. Call it my own little public service or something.
Post-natal depression can really take it out of you. In my experience, I completely lost the will or want to take pleasure in anything in my life – nothing made me happy, not my children, my family or my friends. I was living each day minimally, not experiencing it. I was surviving and the babies were surviving but that was it. Fun was a foreign concept.
I wanted to sleep all the time and I would, struggling to get out of bed in the morning and heading right back there as soon as I was able. Work was something that had to get done, at some point, but I resented it. I didn’t care what I looked like, rarely blow dried my hair, painted my nails or wore make-up. I didn’t like myself and felt like a failure in every aspect of my life: work, parenting, being a wife.
From this time one of my over-arching memories is that I just never wanted to leave the house. Every time I went to the shop I would make sure I bought enough milk for three days, because three days seemed like an OK amount of time to spend in the house before leaving it again to buy more. I didn’t see anyone, I didn’t really make plans to, and that was because I didn’t want to. I was happy isolating myself from everything and anyone and didn’t know much different.
I developed weird anxieties; I was living alone with the kids most of the week at this point and I became obsessed with the idea I was going to get burgled. We lived in a big house with five sets of doors open to the outside world and I was terrified that we were an easy target. Before I’d go to bed every night I would set up boobie traps: a clothes airer, a pram, an ironing board… anything to make it harder for an intruder to break in. Every single tiny noise outside would jolt me awake and I could spend hours lying in bed, convinced someone was trying to get into my house.
This is how it feels to be post-natally depressed, and you know what? It really fucking sucked (sorry mum), it did. It took a long time for me to come out the other side of this, out of the fug of hormone-induced loneliness and depression, and sometimes I can’t believe I was ever that person. But I’m not that person any more because I have learned to find my own happiness.
I have recently realised that all the way through my late teens and twenties I have been looking for my happiness in the wrong places. How annoying is it that, ten years into my adult life, I’ve only just recognised this fact? I have spent a long time staying up late in dark bars and nightclubs, acting superficial and hanging around with the in crowd and all this has taught me is: it’s exhausting.
It’s exhausting to pretend to be cool. It’s wonderful to be a member of a private club but it’s exhausting to be visibly appraised by each and every other person in a room you step in to. It’s exhausting when you feel too fat, too pale, too frizzy and it’s exhausting to wonder if the girl in the corner’s lip sneer was meant for you. It’s shallow, it’s fun on the occasions you seem to ‘fit in’ (“No lip sneer! I’ve made it!), but it’s exhausting.
Staying up all night isn’t great, it’s stupid. It makes you feel tired and all that booze makes you feel ill. Plus the loud music in nightclubs, it’s not good for your ears. If sounds were meant to be that loud then they would be, but they aren’t. Again, STUPID.
It is always nice to have beautiful clothes but they won’t make me happy. I can have as many pairs of heels and slinky dresses as I want, but you know what’s valuable? Jeans that don’t show your arse when you bend down to say goodbye to your three year old at pre-school. Flat shoes that aren’t Converse but are still comfy. Tshirts that hide the bad bits and flatter the good. It’s ridiculous I spent so much of my twenties in pursuit of silk dresses from Reiss and vintage handbags – they don’t make me happy.
Looking back I almost feel ashamed at how shallow my life was, I can’t believe I placed so much value on things that really don’t matter at all. If we spend all our time chasing others’ ideas of what should make us happy rather than following our hearts, how will we ever survive?
I now know that I feel happy from the simple things in life. I feel happy watching my children play, tasting the air outside, having a lovely salad for lunch. The feeling I get after exercising, an evening putting the worlds to rights with a friend, a genuine compliment from another happy person.
So here it is, here’s my list of happiness. It is ever changing and evolving, but these are the things I want more of in my life:
– Seeing my children learn, grow and develop their little minds. Hearing them laugh.
– The sunshine, even on a freezing cold day
– Having good friends who listen to me and support me
– A really decent burger
– Eating the best food I possibly can and doing the same for my children
– Succeeding at work, which means being creative and productive
– Spending time with other people who are happy and positive, who see the good in me and themselves
– Exercising and knowing I’m in the best shape possible
– Seeing the world, even if that’s just different parts of the UK
– Knowing I get the best out of every day
I challenge you: what makes you happy, really truly happy? Think about the things that warm your heart, not the things that you think other people believe should make you happy. Tell me, and maybe that will make you feel that little bit more content.