There’s no shame

I’ve been meaning to write about mental health for a little while and I’m delighted that it’s taking more of the airspace just at the moment. Whilst many of us have had occasion to face our demons, I’ll bet that few of us have admitted so. I’m guilty as charged, your honour.

After the birth of my son, I felt that I couldn’t cope at all. I remember a visit back to the hospital and whilst the nurses temporarily left the room to attend to a woman in labour, I broke down sobbing with a feeling of utter despair that wouldn’t lift. This wasn’t just a hormonal moment. Oh no, this was just another day in the weeks of depression that had crept in to my life. I couldn’t tell my husband as he was still getting his head around the responsibilities of being a first-time parent, and my mother wasn’t the kind to give me the nurturing I needed. So I struggled along alone, surviving hour to hour, day to day. Luckily, through all of this, I was able to bond with my young son but I dread to think what might have happened if I couldn’t.

Life has thrown a few curved balls my way in the years since that time, including becoming a single mother, being bullied at work and then being diagnosed with cancer. (And do I wonder whether there’s a link between those various life events?). But back to the theme of the moment.

Going through cancer treatment wasn’t easy but as tough as it was, it had a structure and a set of hurdles that just had to be jumped through – or crawled under, as it felt at times. There was always the next milestone in the treatment plan to complete and a new target on which to focus.

But once the treatment was finished, the structure gone, and the activities of a full-time patient that had filled the day were removed, the void that was left carried its own challenges. I had been warned that as treatment finishes, many cancer patients return to the fear of imminent death that accompanied their initial diagnosis. I was ready for that and either by luck or as a result of my mindfulness practice, that didn’t happen.

But instead of the fear came a more generalised feeling of hopelessness. A feeling that I couldn’t do anything, achieve anything, anymore. A loss of confidence and a tendency to feel tearful at the slightest cause. Was this depression, the result of a major transition or even the physical manifestation of my changing hormones and menopause. I’d like to blame it on the redundancy that happened at the same time but how knows. Whilst the effect of yet another life transition can’t be ignored, it would be irresponsible of me to point to this as the cause of my low mood.

You would have thought that I might have learned since the post-natal depression I suffered in silence. But no, such is the stigma of mental health, that I didn’t say anything to anyone and instead cried into my piano keyboard during the day when the house was empty aside from my ever sympathetic cats.

So I’m glad that we’re talking about mental health now. I celebrate the ‘it’s good to talk’ campaign. Because there’s no shame in depression or anxiety or not being able to cope.

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