Thursday, 14 August 2014

Finding My Way Back

This post is going to be (a lot?) longer than the previous one. I can’t remember anything about my slide into depression. My memory of that time starts with the moment I looked at my tablets and realised how easy it would be to stop the pain. My recollection of being depressed is painfully clear though. I know what it felt like, I know what prevented me from sliding further than I did and I remember every single step of my slow climb back to the light. Please bear with me.

It was dark for what felt like a long time. I didn’t want to live in that gloom. I tried to put a smile on my face whenever my husband and daughter were at home. The relief I felt whenever they went out together - leaving me alone - filled me with guilt. And of course the guilt made me feel even worse than I already did.

I went to see my doctor who wrote a letter to the hospital I attended because, not unreasonably, she thought it would be better to keep all my treatments and files together. Weeks went by and nothing happened.

Talking to my husband was never an option in my eyes. He had a full time job and with me being worse than useless, also full time responsibility for our daughter, the house, the laundry, the groceries and everything else. I knew he was worried sick about me and couldn’t bring myself to make that worse by telling him all my dark thoughts.

The only point of light in those weeks was my husband’s cousin. She came to visit us about once a week and would listen to me. She patiently sat through my litany of complaints about my life and my health. Week after week she sat on the couch with me and allowed me to spew my misery. It helped. I got to talk for so long that even I got bored listening to my complaints.

Once I’d talked myself out she’d talk about her own life and because I had emptied myself I could listen and almost empathize. Thanks to her I never completely forgot there were other issues in the world besides mine. That idea would get vaguer over the days I didn’t see her, but I never completely lost it.

This continued until the night I developed a blood clot in my lung and was rushed to hospital. I can’t go into the whole hospital experience here. I was kept in for three months and too much happened. Suffice to say that during my first month I only got sicker and my world got darker. It took me that long to remember that my doctor had written to the hospital and for me to ask about talking to someone. I was expecting a counsellor. What I got was a psychiatrist who sat down next to my bed and listened for at least an hour while I told him everything. He didn’t interrupt, didn’t ask questions, just allowed me to let it all out. When I finished he told me he didn’t think I was clinically depressed, although it was, in his words, a close call and that he didn’t want to put me on medication considering the amount of chemicals I was already taking. He left me with his card and the instruction to have somebody contact him if I felt worse or just the need to see him again.

I never did see or talk to him again. I guess he’d given me the validation I needed while he was there. I had diagnosed myself correctly. Help was available if I needed it. And I certainly did not want more medication. But far more importantly, my regular doctors gave me a reason to fight not long after.

I was very sick and getting sicker so my specialist decided I needed a complicated and potentially dangerous operation. The chances he gave me of surviving the procedure were 50/50. I had no doubt he was being optimistic. I knew with absolute certainty I wouldn’t survive the operation if I allowed them to perform it. I was also certain that they’d misdiagnosed me. So I flat out refused to undergo the operation and told them in no uncertain terms that I would not sign the consent form they needed.

I think it took me 48 hours to realize how strange that decision had been. For months all I’d wanted to do was die. Being presented with an easy way out I turned it down. Not because I suddenly wanted to live but because I wanted to die on my own terms, not somebody else’s. What can I say? I wasn’t at my most rational at the time.

Every single day doctors would stand by my bedside trying to convince me that I did need the operation. Every single day I told them I didn’t and wouldn’t. Eventually I told them that I would have their bloody operation if they could prove to me I really needed it, volunteering for endless amounts of very unpleasant procedures in the process.

In the end it turned out I was right. I did not need the operation the doctors had been wrong and I had been right. But that is not what this piece is about. What I’m trying to say is that it was that fight against the doctors, that absolute certainty that I knew my body and mind better than anyone else – regardless of their years of study and experience – and my determination not to give anybody else the right to decide whether I would live or die that forced me out of my depression. You can’t be depressed and fight for your life at the same time. Both depression and that fight, take all you have and then some. I never took the decision to not be depressed; the depression had to slowly give way to my determination to prove my doctors wrong. It wasn’t even that I suddenly found the will to live; I just didn’t want to die for the wrong reasons.

It wasn’t easy. I was sick enough that the doctors advised my husband to fly my father in from Holland because they weren’t sure I would live. I was at least 15 kilo underweight. My feet were so swollen I couldn’t walk and my world was still a very dark place. I cried more in those three months than I’ve ever done before or since. But somewhere inside me was a spark that refused to go out. Something drove me on and gave me the strength to fight against what appeared to be insurmountable odds. I fought and I won. It took months before I could look at life and think it might be worth living again. But the seed was planted by one cousin who listened, one psychiatrist who took me seriously and two doctors who gave me a fight. The fuel came from my husband and daughter who visited me every single day of those three months and reminded me that they believed in me, loved me and wanted me in their lives. I will forever be grateful to all of them.

Before I go and leave this subject behind me, I want to say the following. My story is not typical and not meant as an example for anyone to follow. My depression was caused by the circumstances I was facing. It was the first time I dealt with depression and I haven’t faced the issue since. If there is a moral to this story it is that depression is something that can happen to all of us. And if I’ve learned anything from that episode in my life it is that I should listen to my body and work harder to find the help I need when I need it.

That’s all. Thank you for listening.


  1. Wow, love. I knew a lot of this from bits and pieces of our conversations over these past few months, but it's a whole different thing to see it all strung together. You look back on stuff like this and wonder how you ever got through it. The human mind and spirit are powerful things, as is love. It makes you realize how truly bereft someone must be to finally give in and give up the fight. I love you, sweetie and I'm always here for you, but I'm glad that, for today anyway, you don't need me. <3

  2. Actually, that is only the tip of the iceberg. There was a whole lot of other shit going on at the same time, but none of that was directly relevant to what I was trying to say. Besides, it is a post, not a book :) It is hard to imagine despair beyond what I felt back then but it must exist. I'm not under any illusion that I'm stronger than others.
    Thank you for your support. I bless the day we found each other.

  3. Again what a wonderfully written piece. A privilege and a gift to read. I eternally grateful for faith for inner strength for my belief that there is more to us than body and mind x thank you x much love x

    1. Love you too Mel. And if you see Gail in the near future give her a huge hug for me. That girl is one in a million and literally a life-saver.

  4. Good for you! Glad you hung around, or I would never have met you.

    1. Thank you. Grateful every single day that I won that particular battle. Would have hated to have missed out on everything that followed, including meeting you.