Just six weeks after the birth of my second child I was diagnosed with acute depression.
One day I was fine and the next day I wasn’t. While sitting at the traffic lights, I asked myself whether I wanted to be here anymore. How fast it came on. In a blink, it was all over me, with no explanation, no forewarning.
In those very dark days, I was all nihilism, hopelessness and panic. I would constantly ask: “What’s the point in life when we are all going to die.” Death was everywhere. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stop thinking of it.
I couldn’t be alone either. From independent woman to chronic dependent. I was plagued by panic attacks and anxiety.
And then came the flood of dark thoughts: “What’s the point of life?”
“Are we all just here to die?”
“Are we just bodies made of chemicals, with no soul, waiting to dissolve.”
Never once in my life had I experienced any mental health issues. I was carefree, outgoing, focused and optimistic.
But that woman was gone. Something had hit me, leaving me desperately seeking the help of the perinatal care unit of the Royal Hospital for Women. And help they did.
For over a year the Royal Hospital for Women and their practitioners have been working with me to find a solution to my depression.
At the six month mark they resolved that my depression was not your “garden variety post-natal depression” but rather a much more acute biological (genetic) depression that would likely require lifelong treatment.
From then until my son was one they were there for me – working with me to find the right mix of drugs and talking therapies to turn things around.
It is crazy to think that what started out as generalised anxiety over my children’s health contorted itself into a deep depression that only started to lift at my son’s first birthday (he is now nearly four and I am still on medication).
And now 18 months on I am able to reflect on how lucky I was.
I was lucky that throughout the depression I went from strength to strength in my career – not something everyone with mental illness has the opportunity to do.
I was lucky to have the tremendous support of an expert perinatal care team who met with me every week to turn things around.
I was and am lucky to have the most supportive husband and family one could hope for. They are my raison d'etre.
I am lucky that my beautiful son and gorgeous daughter are healthy and happy.
And now that I am recovering, I feel strong enough to reach out to others to say: You will get through it. You are stronger than you think.
Get support. You deserve it. What you are experiencing is not normal and nobody should go through it alone. Things will return to normal. There is a solution. This will lift. I thought I would never smile again, but I was wrong. I smile everyday now.
And finally, you will learn to be happy with your own thoughts again. Things will normalise. The craziness will leave.
My experience of depression has also changed me as a leader. Growing up in the political world I thought the "rough and tumble" of that vocation was normal but now I realise it is far from it. I now approach my team with considerable more empathy and understanding than I ever did, imploring them to put their physical and mental health first no matter what. To me this is the silver lining of my experience.
I hope my story helps those out there struggling with any form of anxiety, depression or mental illness – remember, you are not alone.
Prue Gusmerini is an executive at the department of planning and environment.
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