I have this old friend.
She occasionally turns up at my door, totally out of the blue. I don't see much of her any more but when she is here, it's like she has never been away.
We met shortly after the birth of my eldest child. She came into my life and managed to get her feet firmly under the table.
It was only after a year of cognitive behavioural therapy that she left. I thought she had gone for good but I was wrong. She was simply waiting for an opportunity to sneak her way back into my life.
I call her a 'friend' but she is a bit of a dick. She criticises everything I do and has this knack of making me feel bad about myself. Maybe she means well. Maybe she only tells me I am not good enough because she wants me to try harder. Perhaps she convinces me that I am a failure to stop me from setting myself up for a fall. But when she points out these things, it upsets me. Then she calls me ungrateful. 'You have wonderful kids, a loving family, a roof over your heads and food on your plate- so why aren't you smiling?'
I know she is right. But the thing is, I do smile when she is not around. My life isn't perfect. We don't have a lot of money, I am yet to reach all of my career goals, my house is a mess, I have a list of things to do that never get done and I probably feed my kids too many fish fingers but I am happy. I adore my family, I am in love with my children and I like my life. At least, I do until my old friend arrives and reminds me that this it NOT enough. I am not enough. She tells me that I need to up my game. Do everything. Finish ALL the stuff. Clean the house, wash the clothes, work more, achieve more, be a perfect parent - do it all and have it all and do it all now...
'But I am exhausted', I explain. 'I'm doing my best to work, be a good mum and keep the house tidy. I can't DO any more.'
She says I need to stop making excuses. 'Other people DO IT ALL. Better people have it all. But you are not good enough, not clever enough, not capable enough.'
She repeats it over and over and over again until eventually her words worm their way into my mind and I stop making excuses and believe that she is right.
Nobody knows when she is here. To the rest of the world, nothing has changed. I get up and get dressed. I take my daughter to school. I look the same but I do not feel the same. I may be smiling on the outside but I can't feel the smile inside. I laugh, but I feel numb. My heart becomes so heavy it hurts my chest. My mind is a jumble of thoughts. It is like living under a dark cloud that drains my world of light and colour.
When I am around people, I feel like a robot version of myself, programmed to function as a human, mother, wife, daughter, friend. When I am alone I am sad and tired, so tired.
My old friend drains me. Her constant disapproval zaps my energy and I feel lethargic and listless. Even simple tasks seem like hard work and just the effort of being ME becomes exhausting.
My old friend is sneaky. She tells me that I will never achieve anything, yet she takes away my motivation TO achieve anything. She tells me I should feel bad about my life, but then she makes me feel bad for feeling bad about my life. She turn my life into a vicious, hopeless circle of crap.
When I ask her to leave, she refuses to go, so I have to throw her out. It takes all my strength to do it. I have to challenge her at every turn. I know what to do. I ask her to prove all her claims against me.
'Prove it.' I yell at her. 'Prove that I am a bad mother and terrible at my job. Prove that I am weak and a waste of space!'
'Easy,' she smiles. 'Your children watched two hours of TV yesterday. You can't afford to take them on holidays abroad or to send them to swimming lessons because you do not earn enough money. You don't earn enough money because you are rubbish at your job. You are weak because you let yourself get depressed and all of this makes you a waste of space.'
Her words begin to fill me with self-doubt but I know I must fight her. I open my laptop. My screen saver shows a picture of my happy, healthy, bright children. Children that I have made happy and kept healthy. Evidence that I am not a bad mother.
I log on to the Internet and click on the NHS website.
"Depression is a real illness with real symptoms, and it's not a sign of weakness or something you can "snap out of" by "pulling yourself together".
Evidence that I am not weak.
Finally, I type my name into Google. The search results show that I have written articles for lots of online newspapers and magazines. People have paid me to do work for them. I may not have fulfilled all my ambitions just yet, but I am getting there. I have a job. Evidence that I am not rubbish.
This shuts her up but I know I have to act quickly before she comes up with a rebuttal. I know that if I keep busy, I will not hear her. So I force myself out of the house and go somewhere where there are people and coffee. I make an appointment to see my GP or therapist. I tell people close to me that my old friend is here. This all helps me to see the truth; that my old friend Depression is full of shit.
As I grow stronger, she grows weaker. She hangs around for a bit. Sulking in the corner like an insolent schoolgirl. Waiting for a crack in my armour, a way back in. Then finally, she gives up and leaves.
Thankfully, I haven't seen her for a while now. When she is in the area, I keep busy. I take care of my well-being. So I go for walks, slow down, see friends, take a break, spend quality time with family, talk to people and do everything I can to avoid her.
So next time she turns upon my doorstep , maybe I'll be strong enough not to invite her in.