Friday, 25 May 2012

It will be sunny one day

I have always loved Stephen Fry, never more than when I read this beautifully composed letter on the very wonderful site, Letters of Note. He kindly replied to a fan who was suffering from depression, and his response could not have been more wonderful. Go and have a look to see what I mean.

It's Mental Health Awareness Week this week. I've been toying with writing this post for a while now, and the Week has given me the nudge to finally put fingers to keyboard. Ted is nearly two now, but back when he was small - around six months or so - I did not feel good. I think there comes a point for all mums of small babies, where the initial euphoria has worn off, said baby is no longer a novelty for you or those around you, and the reality of the day-to-day drudgery hits home hard. Looking after small people is hard work, and around 4, 5, 6 months in, the routine of feed, change, dress, laundry, nap etc, on repeat drives everyone slightly mad.

After two kids (neither of whom slept for 9 months) I have come the conclusion that I do not fare well without sleep. A bit of very ad hoc research among my friends and family seems to suggest lack of sleep affects us all in different ways. My mum claims fatigue just slows her down physically, that everything is more laboured, takes longer, requires more effort when she is sleep deprived. In a way, I wish this were the case for me. Instead, lack of sleep puts me on a fast-track to the brink. I find myself on the precipice of a very dark cliff, not able to see things for what they really are. The clearest way to describe how I felt was, in the words of Sarah Silverman, I felt homesick but I was home. 

When I was mulling the idea of writing this, I doubted myself - doubted that my experience was valid or real or bad enough to make for a post about mental health. I suspect I occupied a murky no-mans-land between extreme fatigue and post-natal depression. Friends have suffered a great deal more than I have, and I'd sympathised without (I realise now) ever having empathised. But the way I felt was enough to result in a visit to my GP. My GP was good: she listened, talked through options, helped me see a little more clearly that the way I felt was not a product of bad parenting, being a bad person, or indeed anything for which I was responsible. And gradually I felt better. Partly as a result of acknowledging how I felt, and also with a lot of love and support from my family, who allowed me pockets of time just to rest, recover.

I think there's a tendency to assume any foray into the realms of mental health issues involves crossing a line from which it's hard to return. Having had my experience, I no longer think that's true. Stephen is right: there are shades of grey, many, many shades of grey, that vary from day to day, hour to hour, even minute to minute. Much like the British weather. And, like the weather, I am in a sunnier state of mind these days. That's not to say it won't return, but I'll be ready for it this time - brolly and boots at the ready, safe in the knowledge that the forecast says it will be sunny one day.
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