butterflies are the symbol for mental health
I have suffered from depression for about 14 years. During the last year it has progressed to the stage where I have been hospitalised on numerous occasions for my own safety. I don't know how my story will end.
I am the third child in a family of four. Both of my parents were only children and so growing up meant no uncles, no aunties and no cousins. We really only had each other. My parents decided to separate when I was 14 after 20 years of marriage. During the latter part of their marriage, they had stayed together for the sake of the children'. I lived with my father and younger brother. My older sister and brother lived with my mother.
When I was 15 my older brother, Michael, committed suicide. His is a tragic story, he suffered depression and suicide was his way of not having to spend a life fighting it. I was always close to my brother so his death hit me hard. We were so alike. My mother later told me it was his plan to kill me first and then himself because I was the only one he knew understood. To this day I wish he had. Michael had tried before to commit suicide before he finally succeeded. He shot himself on the same night that we had brought him home from hospital from a previous suicide attempt. He was 19. I was home with him when he did it. My younger brother was already asleep. My father was driving my sister over to our mother's house, so I was virtually alone. It was the worst night of my life.
After my brother's death, I was cosseted by many people. People would never mention suicide in front of me or talk of death for fear that I might crack. I was shipped off to psychiatrists to make sure I was ok. I soon learned to tell them what they wanted to hear. My father turned to alcohol to deaden the pain of Michael's death. Watching him do this was agony, so I decided to join him. I spent about four years drinking heavily.
Some people say that time heals all wounds. I'm not so sure. Some days it is as if yesterday was the day Michael died. We were Catholics and so his death was seen as a big sin.
In my early twenties, I met a man, we set up house together and for a while, life was good. Or so I thought. By then I had come to crave my own company and avoid people when I could. Eventually, after 8 years, this relationship ended. I was devastated. This was my first diagnosed episode of depression, as I couldn't cope with the loss. I had no home and no job. I was a mess and didn't think that life was worth living.
My mother gave me a job as her assistant at her work she is an academic at a University. It was pure nepotism but it was her decision. She also let me move in with her. It was while I was working at University that I met a man who is now my husband. I couldn't believe my luck to find someone who was so kind, generous and didn't have baggage. At the time I was seeing a psychiatrist and I told him of my past. He was very accepting. We married and two years later, our first child, a son, arrived. Yet again I thought life was good. A year later, I had a miscarriage. I was inconsolable that I had lost a baby that I so desperately wanted.
I became pregnant again and we had a beautiful daughter. Then another year later I had another miscarriage. I couldn't believe that yet another baby had been stolen from me. I sank into a deep depression again. By this time, I was on antidepressant medication. Another pregnancy a year later, which I threatened to miscarry for the first three months. This birth was an emergency caesarean, which I was fairly upset about, but we did have another beautiful, healthy child. Of a period of 6 years, I had 9 curettes, 3 laparoscopies, and eventually a hysterectomy when our youngest child was only 11 months old. This floored me as I tried to come to grips with the fact that it would then be impossible for me to have any more children. Being a mother was natural for me. I loved it. I was in charge and in control. But on the inside there was always an underlying feeling of something not being right.
I motored along for a while and became involved in the children's kindergarten and school. The older my children became, the less secure I felt. I couldn't get used to this idea of letting go. I wanted my children all to myself. I didn't work outside the home and so I was always there for my children. I didn't like the idea of someone else being their caregivers and educators. By the time our youngest child started school I sank into the deepest depression. I was detained in a psychiatric hospital for 3 weeks after becoming very suicidal. A psychiatric hospital is different to other hospitals. They are for those with a mental illness. You aren't physically ill and so are expected to dress each morning and get out of bed. There is a dining room for meals no meals are eaten in your room. You are checked on every hour, 24 hours per day, sometimes more often depending on your mental status at the time. You attend counselling if it is available which it often isn't in the public hospital system.
I found hospital a type of time-out for myself. I wasn't responsible for many decisions. I was given 8 sessions of Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) during this stay in hospital because my depression was so severe. I didn't care what happened to me. All I really wanted to do was die so I agreed to anything. ECT isn't the horrible experience that some people may believe it is. It is done under a general anaesthetic and the only side effects I suffered were rotten headaches and memory loss. I don't know if it worked because I don't know what I would have been like if I hadn't had it.
I would later have another session of ECT when I was admitted again for another 3 weeks, six months after my first admission. I also spent time in general hospitals, under detention orders (these mean that you are legally bound to remain in the hospital, even against your will for your own safety). These hospitalisations are totally inadequate as the staff are not trained to deal with psychiatric patients.
I have been discriminated against because I sometimes display unusual behaviours' as someone once told me. I have been told to pull myself together' if only it were that simple. I have a beautiful home, 3 gorgeous children and a wonderful husband why should I be depressed? The stigma surrounding mental illness is still around and so many people don't talk about it to me sometimes they make you feel like it is something that you did which made you this way, which, believe me, is so untrue. I have been given labels by the health system. These are all well and good but what do you do with them? It is not an attention seeking exercise. I surely wouldn't choose to be like this.
I have been seeing the same counsellor now for nearly 3 years. He has been my saving grace on many occasions. It has taken me this long to get to the stage where I can totally trust him. We are finally getting somewhere even if he is frustrated with me at times. I tend to not let people too close to me. I know that this is because I am scared that if I do, something dreadful might happen and I might lose them and that thought scares the hell out of me. I also see my GP on a weekly basis and she is just the best very supportive and a great listener.
Some people use different ways of coping with stress. I still haven't found a way that is useful for me. I do use food for comfort. I know others smoke, drink alcohol, use drugs or other things. I have been unhappy for so long that I can't remember ever being happy. It is a search that I don't know if I will ever find the answer. Meanwhile, I live a life where I appear bright and happy on the outside and this is the side that most people know. On the inside I fell numb, dead and in constant turmoil. Most of the time, I find it hard to find a reason for living. That is what being depressed feels like.
- Christina Bruce
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