This week I thought I’d develop the theme of why depression was the best thing that has happened to me. Because of the depression and anxiety, I had therapy for a long time during which I learned so much about myself, it was like I was reborn. However, I just want to make clear from the beginning of this post that this is not a linear process; I still have moments of struggle and days when I feel like a fraud and that everything I have to do requires the same amount of energy to launch a rocket into space. Lately though, most of the time I’m good.
My childhood was different from that of the other children I knew, including my siblings, as being the eldest more was required from me. My parents had a business and I had to help out from an early age, before school, after school and during the school holidays. So when most children were happy for school holidays, I always preferred the time spent in school, which for me was the equivalent to play time. My father always expected me to work in the business like an adult, he criticised every single action and every single mistake I made; nothing was ever good enough for him and he was never pleased with whatever I was doing. If all that wasn’t enough to make a little girl feel inadequate, he also loved to humiliate me in front of the customers and the other children that lived on our street and were always playing out. When I was growing up in the 70’s, my parents did things to me that make me cringe now that I had therapy and learned it wasn’t right, but all my life – although I didn’t feel good about it – I carried the weight of shame and guilt as if I could have changed things. For example one Summer my family went out for a day in Spain and I stayed at home alone because there was no room for me in the car, I was 10 years old. Can you imagine how a little 10-year-old girl would feel being left home alone waiting for her family to come back home? My parents, my brother, my sister, my auntie, my uncle and my cousin; they all went and I was left at home. What I remember most of that day was that I was at the window all day waiting for them to come back, it must have been one of the longest days of my life. I knew that I was the least worth person in the family because I was the one they left behind without a second thought, or apology, or any kind of bribe, there was no need I just had to accept the fact that there was no room for me. Today this would have been classed as child cruelty, I’m sure. Not only I worked for my parents business without any pay or recognition, I was also the least worth child in the family. This was one of many identical situations. In my parents’ mind, because I was the eldest I was almost classed as an adult, every issue between myself and any of my siblings was undeniably my fault for the simple fact that I was the eldest and therefore should know better. What they forgot was that I was only 18 months older than my brother, so also a child. My brother was good and it wasn’t his fault that he was the only one allowed to play out while I had to work or the one that got a bike while I never had one. I never got given toys for Christmas or birthdays, while the other girls exhibited their dolls on Christmas day, what I got was pajamas and chocolates from our cafe. I always felt in disadvantage and turned into an adult with an immense need for love and acceptance, but with very low standards, which lead me to very bad decisions – but I won’t go anymore into that for now.
What I want to focus now on this post is that due to the depression and anxiety, for the first time in my life I had to face all these ghosts from the past in therapy and learned that my parents were abusive towards me, not physically abusive but emotionally and mentally, which leaves long-term marks that we don’t see. I learned that it wasn’t my fault that my parents didn’t know how to love me and how to appreciate me or make me feel like a worthy human being. I love them, but I hated how they made me feel and that is ok. I learned that I did the best I could with what I had and there is nothing to be ashamed of. I did really well actually and I have raised three beautiful children who I always made sure to feel loved. After the depression, I learned my worth and I know that I deserve to be loved and respected and that allowed me to find the person that treats me the way I deserve, my lovely husband. All my relationships improved after the depression, but most importantly my relationship with myself had a massive boost. It’s still a work in progress, but everything changed for the better.
In 2010 I was diagnosed with clinical depression and I thought my life was over. I lost track of time, stopped enjoying all the things I used to enjoy, lost interest in everything and the smallest event would cause me terrible anxiety. After months of struggle, I ended up losing my job, which eventually resulted in the loss of my house, making me and my three children homeless for eleven months during which we lived in a high-security hostel. So, why do I think that this was the best thing that has happened to me?
I lived all my life being scared, feeling wrong and inadequate, most of my actions were driven by either fear or seek for approval. I made so many mistakes, from trusting the wrong people to getting into debt and everything else in between that only added to my low self-esteem and lack of self-worth. I will leave the details of those for another post. What I want to focus on today is the benefits of therapy – it is fair to say that I owe my life to CBT. Through hours of therapy, I learned to make peace with my past and consequently, I started being kinder to myself. My most valuable lessons were:
- It’s ok not to be ok.
- I deserve to be loved for just being me.
- I can love my parents and still hate some of the things they did to me.
- I am a good mother.
- I didn’t deserve the horrible things that were done to me.
- I am not a failure.
- Self-love is not selfishness.
- I’m only responsible for my actions.
- Grieving is a process.
- Guilt is bad and serves no purpose.
- I am not responsible for other people’s happiness.
- I cannot change the past.
- The past cannot hurt me.
- The future doesn’t matter.
- The power is in the now.
As a result of all these lessons, I became more self-confident and my self-esteem improved massively. I became aware of my self-worth and I am not afraid of asking for what I believe I deserve. When I think about my past mistakes and bad choices, I accept responsibility without judgment; I am now more accepting of myself and of others. Before the depression, I used to get terrible anxiety about how other people felt and wanted to fix everything. I used to live under a hard mask, but now I am just me. And although I am not always over the moon, that is ok. I know when I am not ok and when a low mood is approaching and how to act unless I haven’t the energy, which is also quite alright.
“Adjacent” was my 50th post on this blog! Yey! Well done me!!!
I had my first panic attack when I was seven years old. My primary school teacher lived on the same street where I lived and I used to walk to school with her. We would go to school in the morning, come home for lunch and go back to school for the afternoon. One day, I took a bit longer to finish my lunch and she had already gone, but I didn’t know and waited for ages outside her door, after a while and went back home and told my mum she didn’t come. When she saw me, my mum made a big deal out of it and told me to go to school fast because she would have gone already. I don’t think my mum meant to scare me, but I just got so worried for being late, I cried my way to school running and by the time I got there, I was hyperventilating unable to produce a word. I was in such a state that everyone thought I had been attacked on my way to school. When I calmed down later on and managed an explanation of my worry for being late, the teacher – maybe out of relief – and all the class laughed at me. I didn’t understand why was that so funny at the time, although I have used the episode to illustrate my innate sense of punctuality.
I can see why for an adult, at the time, that seemed like a very silly reaction on my part. I agree that it was indeed. But unfortunately, it doesn’t illustrate only my sense of punctuality; this is also a proof that I am a born worrier. And in the years to come, I have become really good at it, an expert I would say. I have been so good at it that I have suffered from insomnia for years, maybe most of my life. Even though I don’t worry as much now, I still see a whole night of sleep without interruptions as a luxury. The problem with worry is that it is the most useless waste of time; the Cambridge Dictionary online defines worry as ” to think about problems or unpleasant things that might happen in a way that makes you feel unhappy and frightened“. The key word here is might; when we worry, we think about things that haven’t happened and may never happen. There is no purpose whatsoever in worrying. While we worry we don’t make anything better and we just get consumed by anxiety; worrying is one the habits that I blame for my anxiety and depression. Sometimes the silliest things would consume hours of my time in useless worry; like for example this one time when I had to travel for a job interview and spend the three hours of my journey worrying about the ring I was wearing – ‘will they think this is too bold?’, ‘will I miss this opportunity if I’m wearing this ring?’, and so on. In the end, I decided, well this is who I am and I am not going to hide it. It turns out I got the job and the interviewer even complimented the ring and even said that it showed my individuality. So, while I could have enjoyed the journey reading a good book or even relaxing, I was just feeling sick to my stomach for nothing.
Some people cry when watching a film, reading a book, seeing someone else crying or even watching cute cat videos. Not me. I don’t cry easily. At times, I have wondered if I’m just an insensitive so and so as I have been in situations where everyone around me is crying and I am just there with my dignity intact. I might appear to be in control of such moments, but in fact, I’m in so much pain that my emotions just get bloated inside. Yes, I meant bloated because that’s what it feels like. With my parents’ illnesses and the loss of my mother, I have been constipated with my emotions for a long time. And that is the worst feeling; when you cry, you release the suffering and feel lighter afterward. For a year I have been so heavy with all the emotions and pain inside me, an immense sadness that I can not put into words.
Until last week I had not cried for my mother’s loss and I have felt weird about it, maybe even guilty. I see other people crying – my daughter, my sisters, cousins and friends – and I think, “what’s wrong with me?”. Let me tell you, there is nothing wrong with me – I know that now! After much writing, reading, therapy and self-search, I realised that I have been in a grieving process for a long time. It started when I found out about my father’s cancer, continued with seeing my parents becoming old and frail and the realisation that they wouldn’t be here forever. While my mother was in the hospital, I was consumed with worry about their future or my father’s future without my mother to care for him. I am a worrier and that is one of the biggest enemies of staying in the moment. I don’t think I was ‘in the moment’ when my mother died or even while she was in intensive care. All that time I was in the near future, anticipating my father’s difficulty in coping on his own and the burden that it all would be for my younger sister, plus feeling guilty for not being able to be there to help due to living in a different country.
I went through the funeral preparation, funeral, packing up my mother’s belongings with my brain somewhere else all the time, a deep sadness was there constantly but I was too busy to deal with it – this is called denial. My worry was my way of postponing my grief. While I was worrying, I didn’t have to accept the fact that my mother wasn’t here and that I was never going to hear the sound of her voice or her wise advice and her long and very detailed account of events. I still find myself thinking of things I want to tell her next time I speak to her as if the phone is going to ring and it’ll be my mother.
Although there were positives in all of this, my mother had a beautiful send-off. She was very religious and part of the Neocatecumenal Way for over thirty years, so her mass and funeral were truly beautiful and I got great comfort in knowing that it made her soul very happy. This is the importance of rituals during bereavement and grieving, a theme that deserves another blog post of its own. My mother was a good Christian in the real sense of Christianity and she was very well loved and seeing so many people praying with us and offering help and support during that time was such a warm comfort. I will never forget that we had lunch and dinner cared for every day during that time. And there is always someone to look out for my father and help my sister. I know it is not always easy, but my father is coping better than I anticipated and my sister is doing better than well. So all my worry was nothing but a waste of time and energy, what a surprise!
Every time I look at one of the various photos of my mother I have around the house, I feel deep sadness; but last week I look at one of these and I missed her so much. For the first time, I cried the loss of my mother. I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. I miss her so much and there is so much I want to share with her and so much that I relied on her for. This is the hardest part for me, learning to live without the person you lost when that person has been there for you for the most part of your life.
I started writing this post a week ago, but I was then too tired and maybe too confused to complete it. So I’m going to do it now because I have been thinking about this problem for a while. When I talk about the beginning of my depression, I never know when the first signs began and I always talk about the time when I was diagnosed. So instead of saying that I have suffered from depression since 2010, I say that I was diagnosed in 2010. February 2010 was when I started to break down at work and my manager suggested that I went to see my GP, he said that he’d been observing me and noticed a change; he suspected that I had depression and that my GP would sign me off work for a while. I confess that at that moment, I had no idea what depression was, I had heard about it, but the concept was very abstract in my mind. I don’t think anyone who has suffered from depression can accurately say when it exactly started. We don’t know because we don’t know the signs and more often than not, we don’t even know what depression is in fact. Depression is one of those things that is very difficult to understand when we haven’t experienced it. And despite all the efforts to bring awareness to the general public these days, there is still a lot of stigma to it.
Lately, I have been trying to draw a picture of my early stage of depression, I look back on time and try to find the first symptoms. I can’t say if it was the permanent tiredness, frequent insomnia, lack of pleasure in activities that I used to enjoy, the feeling that there was no point in going to the gym or in wearing make up – just to mention two examples – the thoughts that I was a failure and a burden and so on. I don’t know what started first or when it started. All I can say is one minute I have a job I love doing and feel very grateful for, I go to the gym every morning before work, enjoy the journey to work listening to the radio, and my life seems to be going better than it has ever been. Everything seems to be working ok, my daughter is in college and has a job, my boys are doing well in school and I have friends with whom I share good times; my life is good for the first time in a very long time. Next minute, I feel tired all the time, can’t sleep, stop going to the gym, start to isolate myself, nothing gives me pleasure anymore and I think no one wants my company, I feel like a failure, a bad mother, a bad friend, I am making mistakes at work and I feel inadequate.
One of the things I remember just before the diagnosis was the disconnection between body and mind. Your mind knows what you should be doing, but the body just doesn’t follow. Like when you know you need a shower, but your body refuses to follow instructions. Sometimes you might be having a conversation and say something really stupid, that you know doesn’t make sense, but you just can’t help it. I was making mistakes at work and I knew it, but I couldn’t help it. To this day, I still can’t explain it. And this still happens when I have my low moments, the difference is now I know why it happens and I am not so hard on myself – most times.
Thanks for reading and let me know in the comments if you ever felt this way xxx
The story behind the poem I posted this week ‘Grief’, refers to the worst type of grief – or one of the worst – the loss of a child. No human being is programmed to outlive a child and this kind of loss is against nature. When I got pregnant, it wasn’t planned and the timing was so wrong; the relationship I had with her father was wrong, everything was wrong and at first, I was terribly disappointed in myself, angry even. It was a dark period of my life. Besides, I had a daughter and a son that was enough for me, they were all I ever wanted and I felt complete in our little family.
However, as the pregnancy progressed I started to love the baby very much and I was really looking forward to meeting her. She was a girl and I called her Sara. Everyone was looking forward to meeting her. At week twenty-two I woke up in the morning covered in blood and when I went to the hospital, they took me in and put me on bed rest, I was losing risk and the baby was at risk of being born prematurely; which wasn’t good at that stage of the pregnancy.
But after two weeks the liquid was very little for the baby and she had to come out only at twenty-three weeks and a half. She was so tiny but so perfect and still so vulnerable. She only lived three days, she would have been sixteen years old now and I think of her every single day.
This week I shared a poem I wrote about ‘Guilt’ and its relation to my depression and so I decided to explore the theme a bit further. Since an early age, I grew up with a strong sense of guilt. I am the first child of my parents, in any fight with my younger siblings, my parents always said that as the eldest, I had to be the most reasonable. And whenever my father upset me and I went to my mum for sympathy, she would always tell me to try and understand his point of view because he had a terrible childhood and a hard life. In every situation I was put on, the responsibility was mine; not only for my own actions but also for others – those younger than me as well as those older than me.
The worst thing I that I grew up oblivious of this exaggerated feeling of guilt, and the truth is that I always felt responsible for anything bad that would happen to me and to those around me. And this feeling contributed to the strong sense of worthlessness and the low self-esteem I experienced most of my life. I didn’t like me because I failed in everything and let everyone down, but at one thing I excelled brilliantly – at faking it. I was the best at pretending to be self-confident and happy with myself. Looking back, I don’t even know how I did it. I lived that lie for almost forty years of my life and only when I was in therapy for depression did I learn that when my parents induced that sense of guilt in me as a little girl, they were abusing me. I never look at myself as a victim of parental abuse, because I didn’t know any different, but I was. They abused my innocence when they should have taught me self-love and unconditional love. A few years ago I would have thought this statement to be a bit tragic and exaggerated but now I know better, only because I have hit rock bottom, being in so much emotional pain that I believed my life was over. Yes, there were moments when my depression was so dark, that I believed I would never be able to go back to employment and to be independent ever again – and to be honest, I couldn’t care less.
But thank God for Private Medical Insurance, CBT, group therapy and the few brave individuals who have shared their experiences with me and made me gradually believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I am also hugely lucky to have a group of friends and family who have supported me and been so patient with me helping me to be hopeful and keep going. I have forgiven my parents because despite not liking the way they made me feel I love them and I know they didn’t mean any bad, they simply did what they knew best. They also did good things to me and loved me the best they could.
I will revisit this issue again, I’m sure of that as there are so much more to guilt in the story of myself, there is also the guilt of not being well and being a burden to others, but that is a whole new post. I remember during therapy being very surprised with the role guilt played in my mental health – who would have thought? If you would like to find out more, follow the links below: