By Trish Beaver

There is an old song from the ’70s with the lyrics… “I’ve been to paradise but I’ve never been to me”

For twenty years I felt as if I was in a state of emotional hibernation. That all changed when I decided to go off my anti-depression medication. It’s not for sissies. And certainly not for everyone.

Some days I can weep at the faintest whiff of an implied insult, or a glance that seems askance. This is enough to trigger an avalanche of slippery tears. But I am finally in touch with the depths of my feelings and even if at times it feels like despair… I’m happy about it.

How very ironic that somewhere in the very depths of my heart, I recognise that to feel so utterly wretched is to begin to come alive

For years (actually two or more decades), I have been swallowing anti-depressants for a vague and yet common malaise known commonly as depression.

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It began when I was diagnosed with post-partum depression, and soon after the birth of my son I fled to the rooms of the local GP demanding a tablet to fix me.

How could I not be like those commercials that show contented women, crooning at their dewy offspring with a smile on their faces. Motherhood for me was like surviving a train wreck. I was so tired I could barely open my eyes, my body was strange and unfamiliar. The cry of my newborn’s screams assaulted my eardrums. I felt trapped and unhinged.

I am finally in touch with the depths of my feelings and even if at times it feels like despair… I’m happy about it

I felt like a failure. I had no idea where this natural mothering was supposed to come from

I cancelled most of my maternity leave to go back to the office where I felt in control of my life. I could deal with deadlines and crises of any variety, but I could not handle cracked nipples and colic.

A few months later, wracked by guilt, I resigned from my job feeling so guilty that I was avoiding my motherly duties. I was caught between a rock and a hard place. No-one told me that becoming a mother was hard and no-one prepared me for the neediness of this small human that demanded of me my sanity and total commitment.

Inside I raged at the picture-postcard mothers who arrived at the baby clinic in clean clothes and ready for inane chit-chat. I loathed them and their smug wholesome version of motherhood. I felt like an alien and a fake among them.

Perhaps being jettisoned into motherhood naïve and unprepared, was the start of my depression – but on reflection it probably began many years ago in my own childhood

I was a sensitive child and my mother – herself a young and frustrated mother – was ill prepared for nurturing. I know she did the best she could, but she wasn’t ready to be a fully fledged mother at 20.

Her husband (my Dad) was away a lot, fighting a war. She was bored, and saddled with a child. As a child I felt guilty and unwanted. I know it is popular to blame your parents for your hurts and wounds. I admit for years I harboured resentment, but as the years passed to my chagrin and embarrassment, I started becoming my mother.

I had adopted her own coping mechanisms to avoid dealing with my issues. Nurturing did not come easily to me and avoidance was so much easier. While mothering was not my forte, I did grow into the role. I am an imperfect mother, but I love my children hugely. Today they are my sun and moon.

I am an imperfect mother, but I love my children hugely. Today they are my sun and moon

I was taught to be invisible, to make as little fuss as possible and do be a “good girl”. Feelings of anger, rage, jealousy and sadness were just not allowed. We were raised in a typically British style – the stiff upper lip style, of repressing feelings and coping.

The perfect antidote to uncomfortable feelings are anti-depressants

It is so much easier to pop a pill and experience the numbness of existence.

Anti-depressants are for millions of us – a life saver. For years I believed they were the only answer. But in reality they were merely the wallpaper covering over the deep cracks in my soul. I learned to live a half existence – numb and yet coping. I believed that my ability to sail through life untouched by joy, pain and grief was a kind of super power.

Anti-depressants were my mainstay and I added to this sleeping pills and pain medication. I was becoming my mother’s carbon copy. I remember that as a child if I cried, she would tell me to “Sshh and behave”. “Don’t make a scene” and if I was physically hurting, she would immediately offer me a tablet to make the pain go away. She simply did not know how to cope with another person’s pain or even her own.

I had no idea how to deal with pain and emotions – they were so unfamiliar. I managed so well that no-one ever suspected that I could be screaming inside at the empty shell of my life. My career faded into the background dulled by numbness and lethargy.

My marriage crumbled, and if it weren’t for my children I could have easily bought a ticket into Neverland. I toyed with suicidal thoughts occasionally – sometimes often.

A few weeks ago I did something… I went cold turkey

I just stopped taking the anti-depression pills. I realised that it was time to try something different. I was missing out on my life.

Like another of those pithy memes on Instagram – I realised life is not a dress rehearsal. It is the real thing. Time was ticking… and where others were experiencing life in many shades of colours like a techni-coloured movie, I was seeing things in black and white and shades of grey.

There is a growing debate about the efficacy of anti-depression medication and with more and more people reaching out for a quick fix and the popularity of the ‘pop-a-pill’ mentality, it is easy to see why they are becoming a mainstay of society.

Only a few decades earlier, depression and psychotherapy were a very taboo subject but today people bandy these words around liberally. They trade the names of psychotherapists and discuss the merits of various anti-depression medications.

But it is the ability to feel pain and live with it, that is the real beauty of life

I used to be so proud of myself, my iron will and my emotional control. I would never cry… I would only allow myself to cry when watching sad movies. It was a release, but even then I never felt the raw pain, the real connection. I was a poster girl for denial.

I used my own brand of self-deprecating humour to deflect any real emotional prying. I was the comic relief of tragedy. My persona had become the proverbial clown with the smile; who was dying inside.

Depression comes in many guises, and for everyone the root of the illness may be hard to pinpoint. The textbooks say depression is a chemical imbalance, plus a cocktail of genetic traits and a sprinkle of trauma. Some experience reactive depression after a traumatic event like a death. Mine was a gradual build-up of events.

My story is not unique – I was sexually abused as a child by a family friend.  I was date raped by a male colleague at my first office party at my first job.

I was so ashamed. I embarked on a horrible rollercoaster relationship with a man who was probably a narcissistic sociopath. My self esteem was battered into non-existence.

Naïvely I thought marriage would be the perfect escape into a domestic life of stability and tranquillity but then came the post-partum depression, and later I found out that my husband was also living his own form of self-denial.

He was fighting his own demons from a challenging childhood full of expectations and disappointments, his own carefully constructed lies about who he should be.

I thought that if I got divorced that my life would be fine. I upped the dosage of my anti-depressants and roared into singlehood with fury and determination. I would find someone else who would rescue me from myself.

I do not tell you this litany of woes to elicit sympathy

I know of many people who have survived worse tragedies and experienced unspeakable horrors. Some find their own coping strategies. But for me it was impossible to deal with these issues, so anti-depressants were my salvation.

I did see a few psychologists who tried digging beneath the surface. I am not sure if they were ineffective or I was an expert at masking the truth. I remember going to see one therapist shortly after the birth of my son. In my mind I called her “the bitch”. In the second session I cried throughout the hour, snivelling through a box of Kleenex.

She said I should probably ditch my marriage and she said that hanging onto the marriage was futile as it was destined to fail. I was furious with her. How could she suggest that I leave my husband and venture out into the world with a small baby. I never went back to see her.

Years later I have to give her credit for daring to say it. Many psychologists may see the obvious but they wait for their patients to have an epiphany. For someone like me it takes many years to be able to toss aside years of carefully constructed excuses and lies. If you live the lie long enough, then it becomes your reality. My reality was simple – I’m fine!

After getting divorced I threw myself into the dating scene, and in the next few years I found some men willing to date me. In retrospect I was so grateful they had chosen me. But predictably, these brief attempts to fix my life were totally futile.

I wanted them to love me – to be more precise, I wanted them to love me… instead of me loving myself

A very tall order.

When they failed to measure up to my impossible standards I ditched them.

My ex-husband used to tell me, “No-one is good enough for you”. But I think it’s more complicated than that. The real truth is that I felt that I was not good enough for anyone. I felt damaged and broken.

Now, a few weeks into my life without anti-depressants, I finally feel REAL

I would be lying if I suddenly said I am happy and my life is a bed of roses. In fact I am broke, still alone and I often feel miserable and overcome with sadness.

My children are nearly all grown up, and on the brink of leaving the nest. I am terrified that without them I may no longer have a reason to procrastinate; to put their needs before my own. This is actually just another avoidance tactic.

But now the waves of sadness are just a strange reminder that I can once again feel something. With that comes the promise that perhaps one day I will be able to fully experience joy. It will be amazing to laugh from the depths of my heart without restraint. I hope to be giddy with the absolute thrill of being alive.

I do not expect this journey to be easy and I have been warned that I may eat my words and go charging back to the doctor’s room banging on the door demanding a script.

I have looked at various natural options and supplements, and I am swallowing vitamins and supplements. I have also embarked on a daily ritual of meditation and mindfulness.

In looking at the swathes of literature on depression and its growing occurrence, I have come to the conclusion that we also need to re-think the way our western culture deals with pain and trauma.

There is a growing belief among alternative medicine practitioners that our bodies store trauma and if left trapped it can manifest in disease – depression being the most common symptom. I personally believe this to be true.

So many Eastern medicines and cultures do not have the same obscene rates of depression and this is primarily because their practice of medicine is more holistic and integrated. Their cultures are also more community-oriented and less materialistic.

But I hesitate to advise anyone with depression to go this route. I am not the poster girl for great mental health. I made a choice that felt right for me.

I have also learned to abandon judgement… and this means I do not feel I can judge others for their choices and decisions

My best friend since my teens, has survived a few suicide attempts and daily she still battles chronic debilitating depression. She relies on anti-depression medication to survive. To wake up and face the world.

For her, numbness is okay. This friend, more than any other, has perhaps always been perceptive and able to see the real me – struggling and battling, silently screaming for help. She has always been unwaveringly sympathetic and understanding. I do not stand in judgement of her choices. I believe we each have our own journey.

A lesson I have realised, is that I am worthy of love and my most important task is to love myself

I realise that my past does not define me. It is a part of who I am, and who I was, but I also look forward to discovering who I can be.

My life is like a jigsaw puzzle and I am still putting together all the bits and pieces. I hope one day to finish the big picture and feel a sense of accomplishment, but it is also okay if I look in the mirror and think. I am enough.

Copyright – Trish Beaver

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