Give me fifteen seconds of bravery. Fifteen seconds of reaching into your weariness and bringing out the strength that has always been yours.
It’s the three month check up for my third baby. The doctor has checked her reflexes, her weight. She’s healthy, my darling girl. By all appearances, we’re doing well.
He turns to me and asks how I’m doing. Like clockwork, I give the answer I’ve meticulously formulated over the years – sleep-deprived, but good. Touch of honesty, but not so much to raise alarm. It’s been mostly true in the past. This time though, the words are hollow, my laugh stilted.
Actually, doctor. I don’t think I’m okay.
Almost six years before that morning, I made a similar admission to a university counsellor. I’d been directed there by concerned tutors, citing my inability to hand in essays – not because I didn’t understand what was expected of me, but because the uncertainty of not getting an outstanding grade was debilitating, more frightening than the certainty of failing for not having submitted anything. Anxiety and I failed many units, took a semester off, and life stood still for over a year.
That was not an option this time.
Psychologist Kirsten Bouse talks to Holly Wainwright and Christie Hayes about what post-natal depression really looks like, and strategies for coping.
I’m so tired, I tell the doctor. So tired, all the time. He nods empathetically, but I don’t think he understands – not the tired that comes from years of interrupted sleep, but a tired deep in my bones, from the building and sustaining of a life I’m not sure I want.
I’m not sure I want.
Those words stay buried in me during my first session with a psychiatrist, I can’t yet say them aloud. It doesn’t matter though – they’re emblazoned on the knife I tell him about, the one I stared at whilst my children cried and tormented each other in the background. They left water marks on my shower screen, where I finally emptied myself of the pain in my chest, crying until I felt there could not be a drop of moisture left in me.
I tell him that when my mind wanders, it walks to thoughts of my death – depression and anxiety are always seducing me down darkened corridors. How my husband would be sad, maybe even devastated – but ultimately would love again. He was always meant to be someone’s husband. He’d make sure she was a good mother to our children. Stronger, more resilient than me.
What I didn’t know then was my experiences were making me into that woman – that every day I ensured my children were cared for, even when not by me, I was being the mother my children needed; that the nights of body-wracking sobs were emptying me of doubt that I could survive the worst my mind could inflict on me. Until one day I was able to answer truthfully when someone asked me how I was doing.
I hope when the moment comes that someone asks you how you are – because it will – you tell someone of the pain in your heart. Even if you feel it’s an acquaintance asking to respond, not to listen; if it’s a doctor going through motions – tell them. The pain might transform you for the stronger, but it was never meant to stay with you. If the moment passes, there will always be another.
If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner or in Australia, contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue 1300 22 4636.