Living with depression has never been easy but even on the most difficult days the only person that I had to look after was myself. The only thing the Northern One ever asked me to do was still be there when he got home from work and so as much as I beat myself up for not showering or getting dressed, not being able to do any housework or spending most of the day on bed with a book, as far as the Northern One was concerned I’d done everything that he’d asked.
Then Squidge arrived and suddenly I was responsible for a tiny person who relied on me for everything, even on the days when I didn’t even feel able to look after myself.
Not every day is difficult but it is rare that I wake up full of energy and ready to face the day. I have good days and bad days with very little idea as to why some days are better or worse than others and no warning as to what each day will be like. I love Squidge and I love spending time with him but there are some days when I feel so tired and ill that I just don’t know what to do with him all day and even simple tasks such as getting him dressed or making his lunch seem inconceivably difficult.
This is what my day of looking after Squidge and trying to fight depression is like.
I’m woken in the morning by the sound of Squidge crying to let me know that he’s awake. He’s still too little to use words properly and so crying is his way of attracting attention when he can’t see anyone, the same as any small child who can’t yet talk. I know this and yet every time I’m jolted awake and back to reality my heart sinks a little and I have to talk myself into getting out of bed.
“You just need to get to the end of the day and then Squidge will go to bed.”
“You’ve only got to get through today and then Squidge is in nursery tomorrow.”
“You just need to get to the end of the week and then the Northern One will be home all weekend.”
Sometimes even after trying to convince myself that everything is going to be ok, that help will arrive soon, the thought of actually having to make it through the day is just too much. On these days I force myself up, fetch Squidge from his cot and get back into bed whilst cuddling him and begging him to go back to sleep. There are mornings when I’ve lain there with my eyes closed while Squidge pulls my hair, drops toys on my head and does whatever he can to persuade me to get up and play because I just can’t bear to face the day.
On some mornings Squidge goes back to sleep after about half an hour and I almost weep with relief before sinking back into unconsciousness. We both wake up again a few hours later and this time I get Squidge dressed and carry him downstairs, jumping off the bottom step to make him giggle. I turn on the television and make Squidge’s brunch while he sits on the floor and watches an episode of the Octonauts. The program gives me a few minutes to try and collect my thoughts and work out how we’re actually going to get through the day.
The fact that I physically can’t get out of bed until forced to do so by Squidge, work or another equally compelling force means that by the time he wakes up I’m not showered or dressed and so spend a large part of the day in my pajamas. I also spend a large part of my day sat on the sofa; partly due to the seemingly endless fatigue that comes with depression but also because the sofa feels safe and so wedging myself in the corner helps to keep the panic at bay.
While Squidge plays with his toys, sometimes bringing me and book to read or asking to sit on my lap and have a cuddle I watch him and endlessly berate myself for not being a better mother. I want to romp around on the floor with him, sing songs and take him to the park and all sorts of other things that I just don’t feel able to do on my own.
We do have fun together, Squidge and I; I pretend to be a monster chasing him whilst he runs away giggling madly, I help him to walk up and down the stairs while he beams with pride at his new skill. We read stories, play with his cars and trains and he follows me around as I do chores, learning about how to be a grown up and sometimes helping me. We have kisses and cuddles and tickles and I do everything in my power to show him that, despite my malfunctioning brain, I love him more than anything else.
When Squidge has a nap I watch the same films and television programs over and over again; comforted by the familiarity, the sounds of certain actors voices and the personality traits of certain characters. Sometimes I may only need to watch for a few minutes before I feel calm enough to go for a shower and get dressed, other times it may take several hours. Television is easy; all I have to do is sit there and watch and while it is hardly the best use of my time it usually prevents me from turning into a sobbing, hyperventilating wreck.
Throughout the day, unless someone else is there to stop me I consume huge amounts of sugary food, yet another crutch to try and get me through the day. The sugar rush lifts me temporarily but soon drops me again, leaving me desperate for another sugar hit. One more the one occasion I’ve eaten chocolate until I’ve felt sick but still carried on, hoping that the next mouthful or the one after that will fix the faulty connections in my mind and make me feel better. I know that my awful diet is doing my mental health no favours but I’m stuck in a cycle of trying to battle my emotions with food that I just don’t have the will power to break.
The longer I’m awake, the more able I feel to do things and so fun activities, such as going to the park or painting tend to happen in the afternoon. Once I’ve managed to persuade myself to have a shower and get dressed I’m usually feeling fairly normal and by the time the Northern One gets home from work I tend to feel quite motivated and wanting to get things done. Laundry, ironing, dusting, writing; these are all things that I tend to do in the evening while the Northern One gets Squidge ready for bed because it’s the one time I actually feel able to do anything productive.
The flip side to late mornings and productive evenings is that I find it really difficult to switch off and go to sleep. Although I’m usually mentally exhausted by the end of the day my body isn’t physically tired and so it usually takes several hours for me to fall asleep. As a result I find it difficult to get up in the morning because by the time Squidge wakes up I’ve usually only been asleep for a few hours and so the whole cycle begins again.
Louise is a full time mum, a part time neonatal nurse and award nominated blogger who has battled depression for many years but was particularly ill during her pregnancy. She lives with her husband (the Northern One) their little boy (Squidge) and their three guinea pigs who live in the kitchen.
Louise blogs at 23weeksocks (http://23weeksocks.com) about lots of different (and seemingly unconnected) topics that she’s passionate about, including mental health, antenatal depression, neonatal care and baby loss. She’s also involved in #MatExp (https://www.facebook.com/groups/MatExp/); an online maternity experience campaign that was formed to help improve maternity services in the UK. As part of this she hosts the #MatExpHour Twitter chat every Friday and would love to see you there.