It's not everyday that you compare yourself to Brooke Shields. Now, granted I am the fatter, slightly less bushy-eyebrowed, a lot less famous actress version but when it comes to battling (post-partum) depression I'm right up there alongside her.
Now, it's an ongoing battle and I've been at war for a number of years. However, it is only in the past year since becoming a mother that I have taken the fight a lot more seriously.
You see there was something almost bohemian about being an actress in New York city that battled depression. You say crazy, I say genius. I could write tortured entries in my battered journal whilst sipping dollar coffee from the street carts. I was brilliant but misunderstood. I could lie for days unable to get out of bed, only able to text or email people to make excuses for my inability to appear at scheduled functions, work, auditions. I would let time slip away and a mantra would run through my head telling me that I would be 'better off gone'. I would eventually come out of it, rejoin the real world, and wait in fear for the next time.
When you are a mother, you don't get to hit the self destruct button. You have to function. After giving birth, I was dizzy with joy. In fact, I think they must have slipped something into my IV because as my doctor was stitching me I was telling Tom that I couldn't wait to have another baby...but after a few weeks the familiar anxiety and fear crept in. I knew that I couldn't wait for the inevitable to cripple me. I couldn't wallow. Because I wouldn't be 'better off gone' - I now had a role and a purpose in this world.
Of course, that's easy for me to say when I am healthy or not in the throngs of an attack but when it happens for the first time or comes out of nowhere it can be very difficult to accept that you have an illness to fight and you are not crazy. For friends and family around you it can be hard for them to understand that it is not 'just the baby blues', you are not 'just tired', 'not lazy', and not 'having a bad day'. Yes, we all have days that we don't want to get out of bed but our difference is we can't. We are paralyzed by our sadness, our fear, our anger and anxiety and utterly overwhelmed and confused as to what caused it. Living in the depths of depression is to experience a hell on earth. It's irrational, unexpected and unexplained. Often we know we have no reason to feel this way. This only makes us feel worse.
I had two friends this week share with me their struggle with depression and with an almost painfully embarrassed admission that they had gone on medication. They were terribly ashamed, which in turn made me terribly sad. Now, not 'depressed sad', just 'sad sad'. Still with me?
I'm not going to spout on about how depression is like having a cold and just like having a cold you take medicine - I don't know nor do I pretend to understand the best course of action, be it medication, prayer, vitamins or exercise. However, I will tell you that gobbling a lot of St. John's Wort didn't help so much...thank you anyway for that suggestion Tom Cruise.
I have taken medication off and on for a number of years. Don't feel sorry for me. This is not a cry for help. I promise you that I am not wearing a mask of happiness silently singing "Send In The Clowns". People that have this disease are not miseries (at least not all of the time), unless of course they are just plain old miserable people in the first place. We are still the fun loving people you once thought we were. We are just like nurses, lawyers and perverts - we could live next door to you and you wouldn't necessarily know it.
I'm not advocating anything here nor am I preaching to the choir. I know that depression was once so taboo that mention a peep and they'll have you tied to a gurney getting electric shock treatment faster than you can sign up for Scientology. I don't think it is as much taboo now as it is misunderstood. Our parents generation was told to 'get on with it' and if you opened a dialogue with them about it now, they might tell you to cheer up and count your blessings. They might also reveal that they too have struggled for years.
I am not an expert but I am more than prepared to say that this is my illness, my disease in life and when I take care of myself, I live a happy and optimal existence. I function. And as a mother and a wife I need to. I am neither proud nor ashamed. I am however, medicated and happy.
Finally, I wanted to share a letter that the brilliant actor/writer/comedian Stephen Fry had written to a woman in response to a letter that she had sent him about depression. I find his words honest and refreshing. In turn I am forced to laugh at my recent move to the pacific northwest...roll on summer... ;)