I am a mother and I have depression.
Those eight words are difficult to write. It's difficult because when I imagined how I'd be as a mother, my mental images didn't have the black dog stalking in the background; difficult because one day, I'm going to have to explain to my daughter how she could bring me so much joy, but I could still feel so bad.
Though I was diagnosed with depression long before I was a mother, motherhood has complicated the way I experience and deal with my depression.
Before I fell pregnant, I was never entirely sure whether being a parent would be part of my life. To some degree, it was because I had limited fertility, so I wasn't sure if it was even going to be an option. But I also wasn't sure if being a mother would be a good idea. I was scared that my depression and motherhood just wouldn't mix well and that I wouldn't be able to manage my mental health and be a good parent at the same time.
I was diagnosed in 2010 when, after months of struggling with the most basic life functions, I went to see my GP. In tears in her office, I explained how I was feeling. She had me do a K10 test and after I got a high score, she prepared a mental health plan and I booked in to see a psychologist for the first time.
Over the next six years, together with my GP and my psychologist, we managed my mental health. Eventually, we found a combination of strategies that worked: medication, regular sessions with my psychologist, and a self-care regime that included lots of sleep, exercise and time for reading. There were good periods and some not-great periods, but for the most part, things were under control.
And then I fell pregnant.
As I was at high risk of developing post-natal depression, I received special care throughout my pregnancy and childbirth. I saw an on-site hospital psychologist to develop a care plan, and was offered a longer hospital stay after my daughter's birth so I could have help adjusting. The psychologist also checked in with me before I left the hospital. But even with all that support, my depression flared up a few months into motherhood.
When you are a parent, you experience the best and worst feelings simultaneously. It's not so much that parenthood broadens your emotional range, but that you must play three different octaves at once. That emotional load is a lot for anyone to bear, but when you are already struggling, it can feel insurmountable. Add in the difficulty with finding the time to do the things I needed to feel okay (an hour to read a book? I barely had a chance to shower twice a week), and I was a ticking time bomb.
When my daughter was four months old, I once again found myself crying to my GP. Once again, we did a K10. The score was the highest I'd ever had. I was diagnosed with post-natal depression.
So we got to work addressing it. I told my friends and family that I was struggling and they rallied to help us. Everything from buying us a new fridge to make meal planning easier, to looking after my daughter while I had a sleep, to bringing us food. My mum tribe offered practical advice and sympathetic ears. I kept taking my medication. I read a book and went for a walk and took the time to look after myself. Slowly, I started to recover.
I can't say things are perfect now, but they're a lot better. When we plan our weeks, I make sure there is time allocated for me to actively manage my illness. I regularly see my GP and my psychologist. Looking after myself isn't just important for my own wellbeing: it's crucial for my partner and my daughter, too.
My worst fears have not come to fruition. With love and support, having depression has not stopped me from being a good parent. My daughter is clothed and fed, she is happy and, most importantly of all, she is showered in love.
I still feel guilt sometimes (even though I know I shouldn't) that I can feel so awful despite being lucky enough to be the mum of the sweetest, cutest, funniest child I've ever met. But motherhood was never going to be a Band-Aid that fixed my depression. Real treatment and management, though, make it a whole lot better.
If you're in need of support, you can call:
PANDA on 1300 726 306 (Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 7.30 p.m. AEST);
Lifeline on 13 11 14 (24 hours, Monday to Sunday); or
Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 (24 hours, Monday to Sunday).