I mentioned on Instagram recently that I had suffered a bout of depression. I’m fortunate in that I seem to have nipped it in the bud. I’m managing it, but it’s a work in progress. Why was I down? What did a lucky person like me have to feel depressed about? After all, didn’t I have a lovely home, 3 gorgeous kids, a supportive and loving husband?
Well, yes to all of the above. But I still felt down. This was more than just feeling a bit sad. I was persistently sad and tearful, and wanted to shut the door on everyone and watch TV – that was all I wanted to do actually. When I was with the kids I was increasingly snappy and angry, and then tearful afterwards as i beat myself up for being too hard on them. So what led up to this feeling of hopelessness and despair?
After I had my third child I felt euphoric for months. I actually had that third child I had been longing for. YIPPPEEEEE! Here you are you lovely bundle of scrumptiousness! He didn’t sleep that well, and my naturally routine loving ways were scuppered by the sheer workload of 3 kids. It’s impossible to stick rigidly to a routine when you have pick ups, drops offs, clubs and so on to get to. So, gradually, his sleep suffered. I got used to having a few hours’ sleep a night, too exhausted to ‘fix’ it by employing sleep training and too tired to do anything other than the bare minimum in the day – dog walk, tidy up, pick up kids, cook, clean, sleep (a bit), repeat…
My world shrunk and I isolated myself, barely doing anything or seeing anyone – my only point of reference was Real Housewives of Beverly Hills! (Ideal telly for someone who felt increasingly isolated, I could live vicariously through their exciting and glamorous lives instead of attempting to get a life of my own!)
How the hell did I get here, shutting my own reality out in favour of watching reality TV?
Unable to do pretty much anything without a child or 3 by my side, I started to resent everyone else’s freedom. Oh look, my relative went to a class last night and then again this morning, how great… Ah, there’s my best friend on another holiday without kids, lovely… look, there’s my school mum friend off on her way to work, good for her…. Where was I off to? Home, that’s where.
I felt trapped. Once home I would Google jobs, and career options, but come to the same conclusion: it’s not going to work. My husband has a ‘big’ job which means often travelling, working late or going that extra mile. I need to be here to run the home. It’s what we agreed and until recently I had loved it.
I support my husband in his career so we can have things, go places and live in a nice house. And I want to do that, but right at that moment in time I resented it too.
As I approached my 40th birthday I felt increasingly that I couldn’t cope – by this point I had grown so overwhelmed by sadness that I didn’t even feel able to do the school run. I admitted I was in a bad place, and asked for help.
I’m lucky to have amazing friends and family and I got the help I requested. My husband – and his employer – were amazing and for a couple of weeks he helped out more. My mum, mum in law and sis in law stepped in and had the kids when I needed them to. Everyone rallied around. I felt truly supported and loved.
I saw a doctor who said she thought I had depression. It made me feel even worse! Oh God it’s confirmed, I’m mental!! My 40th birthday came and went in a blur of tears and a disastrous restaurant attempt where the baby screamed and I stood outside in the street sobbing.
Things had got bad. This was a low. I was due to go on a short break in Spain with my best friends the next day – I sobbed and told Adam I couldn’t do it. I was too sad. I was broken. The thought of the trip terrified me. I’d lost my zest for life and in its place was just fear and sadness.
He did the night shift and forced me to go on the trip. Over the course of a few days, I sunbathed, chatted non stop about their problems and mine. I drove – abroad – which was a huge confidence boost. I slept. I drank tea and ate chocolate. One evening we ran out of milk. I offered to go fetch some from the shop a mile up the winding country road. As the sun was setting, I drove the rental Fiat 500 in the Spanish mountains with Tame Impala blasting out the window and a tear of pure joy rolled down my cheeks. Fucking hell, I felt like me again!
THIS was what I’d needed. TIME to breathe without someone asking for something. SPACE to read a book (or enjoy a drive on my own in the evening sun). CONNECTION with old friends who knew me well. REST and recuperation without a ticking clock telling me I had someone to pick up in 15 minutes so better get moving!
I had enslaved myself at home. I was a stay at home mum so I allowed myself to be consumed by caregiving without caring for myself. When your job is being the primary caregiver it’s very easy to give too much so that you actually resent the people you are caring for. You become an angry martyr, mumbling under your breath and seething with unfulfilled ambitions. You snap at everyone and then regret it, feeling ashamed – I’m rubbish at being a mum, you think to yourself. They’d be better off without me. And the cycle of shame and sadness begins again.
People say ‘how lucky you are to be able to stay at home’ and even if they don’t say those exact words, the subtext is always there. YES I am lucky. YES I want to do this. But, YES, it’s not always a bed of roses.
If you’re not careful, it comes at a price. That price can be your career, your confidence, your mental health.
It doesn’t make it not worthwhile and it doesn’t make it a bad choice. But you need to put the work in to keep yourself fit for purpose. It’s very important to have some things just for you, whether it’s a blog, exercise, coffee mornings and girly weekends, a monthly massage or a weekly nails appointment, a fortnightly book club, a therapy session – whatever. These aren’t indulgences, they are essential time for you to refuel.
My husband couldn’t do his job without knowing I am here – to drop off, pick up, dog walk, cook meals, clean and tidy. These can feel meaningless but they are the things that keep our life on track. Once the person who does them goes down, the whole thing goes to pieces. It’s in everyone’s interests that the main caregiver is looked after!
I came home from Spain to a messy house, a stressed husband and a big dose of reality. But I could cope – because I had recharged.
Was I depressed? Or was it just a blip? I don’t know, but since coming home I put in practical changes that make me feel I can cope going forward. I got a cleaner to come once a fortnight; I committed to an annual girls’ trip; I make sure I exercise every day, even if it’s just a dog walk; I meet a girlfriend once a week for coffee or lunch; I try to get a day’s childcare for the baby once a week when possible; and perhaps most importantly of all, we sleep trained the baby and now I get a good night’s sleep – most of the time. These things have made a real difference.
Being a mum is hard; working part time or full time, or being at home full time. We each make decisions that best suit our family. If your choice is to be the main person at home, then put in place a system whereby you are getting what you need to do your job properly. You wouldn’t expect the director of a company to be able to do their job with no support, barely any rest, and without holidays, would you? Being a full time mum is no different.