Tuesday, 30 August 2011

On depression etc

2011 has not been the best of years for the Webster family. Aside from my one huge highlight, the birth of my lovely daughter Martha, the universe has dealt us plenty of kicks up the karmic arse. One sister has been dealing with a family break-up; another with serious medical issues during pregnancy, and is now awaiting her baby’s birth and subsequent surgery. My dad died. At her six week check up we found Martha has a defect on her brain; we took to hospital yesterday for an MRI. Another scan found I have a (most likely benign) kidney tumour that needs investigating. What can one say to all this except ‘bollocks’. Suffice to say, it hasn’t been a good run.

Paradoxically, I am feeling quite good about the fact that I am not depressed. After the birth of my first child, the lovely Elliot, I developed postnatal depression. Most women who have experienced this would agree with my assessment that it is, to use a technical term, fucking awful. Many people who haven't experienced depression use the word to describe sadness, or a temporary phase or mood. Those who’ve been there know it’s more like being stuck in a giant dark chasm. Despite the regular fits of sobbing, for me it was not so much about feeling awful but a lack of hope. I really did feel that things would never get better, and would never be different. I didn’t just struggle to smile, I struggled to do anything; from a simple load of dishes to cooking a meal, to interacting with people like a normal human being. I wonder now how I managed to go back to work when I was still finding it a gargantuan task to change the cat litter.

Having been there, it feels pretty darn wonderful to not be there. Hey, the grass really is greener on this side! Smells a bit better too, what with the clean litter and all. I was very anxious about having PND a second time with Martha, to the extent that this was the major reason I had hesitated so long about a second child. I saw a psychologist during pregnancy and talked to my doctor about strategies. I also increased my meds the fortnight before she was born. Bless those little sanity pills. Despite my worries, my self assessment on the mood-o-meter currently reads, “You’re doing remarkably well, all things considered”.

I give this background not to dwell on what was a particularly horrible time or to ellicit sympathy for current shittyness, but to set some context for what I’m about to say about positivity and the 40 list.  I have to tell you I have always been leery of people who say all you need in life is a positive attitude. If you want to thrust a biro into the eyes of those who suggest you “make lemonade” you might well be on the same page. I can tell you that while depressed I could have cheerfully punched anyone who suggested that you can will yourself to look at situations in a more positive light. Depression just doesn’t work like that.

Nothing I’m saying here is meant to make light of mental illness or to suggest that you can pull yourself up by the bootstraps if you only try hard enough. But now that I’m not depressed (some years and some therapy and some good drugs later) I find it appealing to think that I can actively influence the way I react to the challenges life is throwing me, and be a positive creative force able to generate activities and outcomes that I find rewarding. Not by developing a pathologically annoying Pollyanna approach to life and repeating banalities about turning sour citrus into sweet beverage, but accepting that I can choose to spend less time bitching about the bucket loads of lemons coming my way and instead maybe use that time to sit on a blanket in the sun watching my three year-old enthusiastically blowing bubbles, giggling and chasing them around the backyard like this is the best thing God ever invented.

If this positivity affects anyone else, well, that’s a nice side effect, but it isn’t the goal. This is a selfish list. It’s my 40th after all. Because it seems to me right now, at this point in 2011, that the shit is going to keep on coming, and all I can do is choose whether to whimper pathetically for respite or just get better at distracting myself by doing stuff. I choose stuff. Anxious about turning 40? Bah! Bring it on.

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