I put on extra make-up that day: I was entering the hell that is a suburban shopping centre, where not only fresh air ceases to exist but the harsh lights would add an extra dimension to my self-criticism.
There would be mirrors everywhere – in change rooms, on the sides of escalators; the reflections visible behind scantily-clad mannequins in shop windows, around corners – and it would give me the opportunity to pick out more flaws. Putting in the effort to cover the flaws that were visible in the bathroom light would be worth it; there would be fewer to pick up under the shopping centre spotlights.
To the backdrop of easy-listening music and the white noise of shoppers' chatter, I wandered. The pusher was in my hands, a safety strap responsibly clasped around my wrist so I couldn't lose control of it down an escalator. I did the jobs I needed to do. First, some new socks for the little one who was growing faster than weeds in spring. Then the odd combination of milk and men's deodorant in Coles. And, after a search, I settled on a book as a birthday gift for a friend's son.
The baby was asleep in her pusher by the time the shopping tasks were finished, so there were two choices: go to the car and risk waking her as I moved her limp body into the seat, or stay at the shops while she slept. Like any mum, I rated waking the baby a 10 on the scale of fearful things – stepping off a sky-high cliff and landing in a pit of crocodiles that would crush me to death with their teeth, then feed the crushed pieces to piranhas rated a nine – so I kept wandering, feeling a little daring at the possibility of looking at some clothes and shoes.
This is when my mean inner voice – which had been birthed alongside my beautiful baby – saw another opportunity to get at me.
This is just what you'd always feared; 10 minutes of shopping is what you mums call "me time", it said.
You have no life.
It was in one, just one, of the many clothes shops that it happened.
I looked through the jewellery; wood, colourful, designed to perfectly complement the overpriced tops. A green, single strand was a possibility, and it was around my neck before I realised there were no mirrors close by. I'd have to go to the change room. But manoeuvring the pusher into that maze of walls and sharp corners wasn't going to work; instead, I pushed it around the shop to search for a mirror elsewhere.
I couldn't help but notice that the shop's workers were distracted. They had no idea this mum was wandering around with their necklace dangling so perfectly down her engorged chest.
"They'd never notice if I just kept walking," I thought absently.
Go on, show you've got some spirit left, urged the feeling inside that yearned to find something of my old self.
I thought I might give it a try. But what if I got caught? That was the question that had stopped me from stealing anything before: the fallout from being found out would be terrible. And then the idea popped into my head: if I got caught, I'd just say I forgot I was still wearing it. It'd look innocent enough if I played the game just right; I mean, I was just a mum distracted with her baby, right?
Just a mum.
I walked towards the doorway. Then I walked out of the shop, without event. I kept walking, listening for a racket behind me, people chasing me down, shouting: "Stop! Thief!" Nothing. Nothing but the same easy-listening music and chattering shoppers carrying bags filled with legitimate purchases.
The world was continuing in the way it does whenever it wants to show you how insignificant your little life is. It felt like it should be a momentous moment: I should feel elated, or guilty, or something. I should feel something.
I mean, I'd done it. I'd stolen my first ever thing. But there was nothing going on inside me as I wandered. It was the same nothingness that had been there (or not there) after having my first baby, and it didn't feel right.
There should be something.
I'd thought I was keeping my suspected depression at bay. Going through it a second time? Not me. But this lack of feeling made me wonder an uncomfortable wondering: things weren't right. Whether it was newly emerging, or whether I'd never really recovered from the first occasion – well, I couldn't face the depth of that reality yet. I told myself over and over, "I don't have depression. I don't."
Around the corner I dared to stop and gave the adrenalin another chance to rush around my body; for the thrill to hit. I waited for months for some kinds of feelings to reach me.
But they never came.
Edited extract from I'm Fine (and Other Lies): Postnatal Depression, Motherhood and Trying to Actually Be Fine (Wild Dingo Press) by Megan Blandford, on sale now.
This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale March 31.