On paper it all sounds great, right? Secure job, married to a lovely man, two kids, own my home (well, we'll be sharing it with the bank for the foreseeable but at least I can paint it whatever way I want), a great circle of friends, supportive family - perfect really. Ok, I could do with a little more disposable income, but other than that, things are good. So, as someone asked me recently - why did I get depressed? What could I possibly have to be depressed about?
Here's another question. Or a few in fact. I wonder would a cancer patient ever be asked why they got cancer? Or a diabetic? How about an asthmatic? Certainly, lifestyle can contribute, but it would be rare to hear someone berating a patient succumbing to any of the illnesses I've mentioned. So why is it ok to ask the same of someone with depression, or any other mental illness for that matter?
For sure, at the time that things initially got bad for me (severe postnatal depression after the birth of my son back in 2008) there were mitigating circumstances. I was a new mother, had little family support, and knew very few people where I lived. Not ideal, but not a deal breaker either. And yet somehow, depression took over, as it did again two years later after the birth of my daughter. Curiously, pnd does seem to be slightly more socially acceptable than plain ordinary depression, because it coincides with a huge life change, and such changes can be triggering for those with a predisposition.
But what of the episode after that, the one that saw me on sick leave for four months? Or the one after that? A further four months on sick leave, and a five week stay in a psychiatric unit. Or earlier this year, when a trial period without medication left me suicidal? Depression isn't a choice. It's an illness. It can hit anyone, anyone at all. It's a real equal opportunity illness. What's more, it can strike out of the blue, at a time when things seem to be drifting along quite happily.
So why did I get depressed? I just did. Over, and over, and over. It was hardship, pain, misery, self loathing and a constant uphill struggle. It's not gone away either. Right now, at the time of writing this, I'm well. But bad days still happen. Bad weeks still happen. Since the drama of earlier this year, I've managed to keep myself on the straight and narrow, sometimes clinging on by my fingernails. There are things that I can do that will help (I'm reasonably confident everyone knows them at this stage - eat well, sleep well, exercise, engage with other people etc etc etc) but there are times when I simply cannot do those things. Not won't. Can't. Does that make it my fault? If I wasn't responding to chemo would it be perceived that I wasn't trying hard enough?
I'm tired of being asked why I got depressed. I have no problem talking about how it has impacted on my life, and that of my family and friends, I think people need to know exactly how much mental illness can take over and infiltrate every aspect of life. But I have a very big problem with the perception that this could somehow be my own fault, something that I've chosen. I didn't, and I wouldn't, but I do everything within my power to keep it under control. Sometimes it works. Other times? Dig in, hang on, and ride it out, again.