If I went back a few years ago and told you about what a ‘good’ day for me looked like it would have included a run, yoga, mopping the floors, playing with the kids and cooking a balanced meal. These days I don’t even dream of being able to do all that, it is so completely removed from my current life and I have finally found peace with that.
In this post today I would like to show you what it is like living with depression and anxiety on a ‘good’ day. So I’m not talking about those horrible days where you can’t get out of bed, but the type of days you have when you feel a little in control and a little positive about life. When you get down to it my point is that although those of us with a mental illness look like we are normal functioning adults, some of the smallest daily tasks are immensely difficult. At times the fear of being judged as lazy or selfish for not achieving as those around me did, resulted in me sinking deeper into the drowning feelings of depression. But for now at least, this is my reality and I choose not to compare myself to those around me anymore as we all walk a different path in life. During my difficult times I spent so long trying to just survive that I am now proud of myself on my ‘good’ days as they are far superior to my ‘bad’ days.
Maybe you will finish reading this and look differently at the people in your life that are going through a tough time. Maybe you will offer to pick up some milk for them if they are struggling (huge shout out to my ‘Cootra Crew’ who have kept our pantry and fridge stocked on those weeks where I couldn’t bring myself to leave the house). Maybe you will decide not to chat to your friend about how busy you are and how you are getting so much achieved at home and work. And just maybe you will recognise the days that your friend seems to have that little sparkle back in their eyes and you will let them know that you see it and you see how hard it has been for them to get to where they are today.
Firstly let me clarify my ‘good’ day for you. I was officially diagnosed 8 and a half years ago with post natal depression (PND) 18 months after the birth of our first child. I most definatly had PND from 2 or so months after her birth and looking back I have had anxiety issues my whole life. Once I got the help and medicine I needed I improved greatly and as long as I took my medicine life floated through what I would call pretty normal ups and downs. With the exception of the occassional low period (that improved once my medication was modified) I continued this way through two more babies and would have considered my depression under control.
Unfortunately, at the end of 2016 I suffered a complete breakdown which hit my family and I really hard. For the first part of 2017 I spent some time hospitalised and the rest of the time extremely medicated. I really wanted to be able to stay at home on the farm in regional South Australia, however there were not services available to support me. Because of this our children and I had to move to Adelaide for a school term ( I will go into this in more detail in another post). After a term of school the children and I missed Simon way too much to stay in Adelaide, so returned to the farm where I made very small improvements for the remainder of the year.
Sometime in late 2017 or early 2018 I turned a corner and found a reason to keep going again. This is what I will write about now. This is my new normal on a ‘good’ day. Who knows what my future holds and hopefully I will be writing in a few months to say how much more I am achieving on a normal day. For now though this is a ‘good’ day living in the life of me, a mother and wife and passionate mental wellness advocate who unfortunately also suffers depression and anxiety.
My ‘Good’ day
7 am – Wake up
I have worked out that mornings are the best time for me. Even though I wake up tired I know that once I get going for the day this is my peak performance time. So whatever is the most important task to achieve for that day I do before 11am.
7:30am – Breakfast
Simon get’s the kids breakfast and I get my breakfast. A trigger for me is preparing food. I used to love cooking and baking, but that totally left me when I got really unwell and it has only been in the last few months that I have done any cooking at all again.
Setting boundaries are huge for me now. I know what I can cope with and what I can’t, and have learnt over time it is much easier to stick to some regularity. I really enjoy sitting down with my breakfast and coffee in peace, no children asking me for things, no climbing on me and no devices interfering with the blissful silence. By blissful silence I mean the repeated chatter of three kids and a husband, two dogs and now a kitten that I have learnt to ignore for a good 7 mins every morning.
7:45am – Getting kids out the door
I help make sure all lunch boxes, drinks, folders etc are packed for the kids and do everyone’s hair.
7:55am – Drive kids to School Bus
Simon will take the kids to the bus stop and leave for work. I wave Simon and the big kids off ( and Daisy if it’s a Kindy day) and do a tidy up and house work.
My mornings are then spent doing house chores, catching up on emails and in the garden. A lot of this gardening time seems to be wandering around and weeding, but boy do I adore getting out in the sunshine and getting my hands dirty.
Without warning every few days when 11am hits I am drained of energy and struggle to achieve anything else for the day. So I now make school lunches for the next day along with preparing and/or cooking the evening meal before lunch. This removes a lot of stress for me as I absolutely freak out at the thought of feeding the kids, so find it much easier to do in my own time before they come home.
Daisy and I will eat and then have a play. When it is possible Simon will be home and he will help me prepare lunch.
I don’t like to sit down or go near my bedroom for fear that I will fall asleep. So I spend the rest of the afternoon trying to stay awake as the anxiety of the night time routine starts to creep up on me. I HATE bedtime.
I will then usually give in to the tiredness and have a lie down with Daisy.
Depending on the day either Simon will pick the kids up from the school bus and drop them home or I will go and get them. Simon will then keep working. I love our kids to bits but I get extreme anxiety with all the noise and demands on me when I am home alone with them. It’s as if I feel that I am failing before I even start spending time with them. Am I giving them enough attention? Am I disciplining them enough and fairly? Will they turn into good adults? These thoughts usually spiral in all directions. But underpinning all of this is the fact I really want to curl up on the lounge and fall asleep. So after the kids have had a snack and a play we will do spelling words and readers and I will finish off whatever I had started for dinner in the morning.
5pm – Bath before dinner
Now this is the part of the day that I get really particular about. Daisy and Oscar start their bath and PJ routine and I like them all dressed and ready for bed before dinner. Bella is getting older and independent now so she does all this herself after dinner. Whilst all this is happening I refuse to get into a discussion about what is for dinner, I will tell them what it is but that is the end of the conversation. In the past I would include them all in discussions about dinner and before I knew it we were all arguing and upset and I was cooking three different meals. So no more.
Simon tries to come home around now and we then commence as a team to get all of the parenting and house jobs done. The extra pair of hands and another adult to talk to is a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. I know many parents feel the same when they have someone coming in to the house after a day of no adult interactions. It is mentally draining knowing you are responsible for every aspect of your children’s lives and over the years this had become a huge point of anxiety for me. I realise that I am extremely lucky that Simon is a very hands on Dad. I have always felt and stated that we chose to have kids together and parent together, I am not a single mother and don’t want to live like one (I have a huge amount of respect to those of you that do parent alone, it must be totally exhausting).
PLEASE READ BEFORE GOING ON
Before you judge that I am a terrible Mum for needing my husbands help or such a lazy person for expecting him to be involved in the raising of our children (and sadly this is a common stereotype I have faced) our life on the farm has not always been like this. Simon, like many farmers (and men in general) worked such long hours 6 and a half days a week. In the early days when I would need help he would occasionally take 24hrs off, help me around the house and then think all was good in my world again. Which it wasn’t. So before you think the grass is greener over here (and OMG it is not, looking quite yuck at the moment lol) you need to know that I struggled with a busy husband for the first 8 years of our parenting journey. I was lucky to have my parents live close by for 3 or so years in the middle and my Mum helped so much with parenting life, which allowed my husband to work even more.
Despite Simon trying his absolute best to understand my anxiety and depression, I would say it was not until my breakdown that he has really ‘realised’ what we are dealing with. When the kids and I came back home last year to live on the farm again Simon and I discussed all the options we could think of to be able to stay together as a family and look after my mental health. Together we chose to stay on the farm, but with changes. For us as Simon always explains to me now ‘it is much easier for me to help you and be with you and the kids here at home than for things to fall apart again and try to rebuild our lives with a sick wife and three dependent kids to look after’.
So jobs around the house don’t get done as quickly and we will not be the biggest, best farmers. However we have slowed down the pace of our lives, are spending more time with our kids and hopefully they will realise they have two parents that adore them and are equally here for them. We are constantly evolving our family life and making changes, who knows what will happen in the future.
Years ago I am pretty sure the pressure of what other people would think of him for being home earlier and not spending sundays working would have prevented us from making these changes. It is unfortunate that it takes a very challenging time to teach us what matters most, but this is usually how it works. Life is full of ups and downs, but I know I can rely on the love and support of Simon, just maybe not so much money in the bank :).
So back to explaining a ‘good’ day……
6pm – Dinner is served
Dinner is followed by teeth and story.
7:00pm – Bed for Daisy
7:15pm – Bed for Oscar
I HAVE to stick to this! If I drop the ball at this point in the day I am so tired I can’t regain control of the kids. When I am home alone on the nights Simon works if I don’t run a tight ship it all falls apart. I am so buggered at this time of the day that if there is a deviation from routine there is no way I can get them back on track. There is no telling what will happen then.
7:45pm – Bed for me
After Oscar is settled I will go kiss Bella and then I go off to bed. I lay down and watch a show, read or go on the net. Bella’s room is close to mine so I keep an eye on the time and what she is up to. She comes in and I kiss her goodnight when it is time for her to turn the light off.
I am zonked and usually ready for sleep. On a good night I am lucky and will be asleep within half an hour.
So, there you have it, a ‘good’ day in the life of me a, 34 year old with depression and anxiety. Currently the above is an accurate account of my life right now. But in my experience I seem to go through many phases of depression and they slowly change. It is not until I look back and think of my life 3 or so months ago that I realise the changes.
I hope that you have gained a deeper understanding of what a persons life can be like living with a mental health condition. As you can see, even when someone is feeling like they are improving and going strong there are a lot of thoughts swirling in their minds. Even though on the outside we look ‘normal’ (whatever that is) for most of us we have a constant balancing act going on internally to ensure we keep ourselves mentally fit. This is very similar to people with other health conditions. You need to manage them by taking medication (if required), following professional advice and monitoring symptom. Unfortunately it seems that because of the invisible and hard to articulate symptoms, along with the negative stigma surrounding mental health conditions, many suffers are misunderstood.
Everyone who suffers from a mental health condition has their own experience, some will be similar to mine and some vastly different. My story is no worse or more worthy of sharing than any other persons, I am just trying to raise awareness to help squash the stigma and make other sufferers feel less alone. I don’t believe that we are weak because of what we go through and I feel there is a lot of value in sharing our experiences and opening up the the dialogue of what life is like for some of us. I feel the more we share the more we normalise what a prevalent condition mental illness is. By talking to each other and normalising this conversation it will allow people to feel more comfortable seeking help.
So this week please have a think about a few key facts
Mental Illness will affect 1 in 5 of us aged between 16 and 85 in any year.
Almost half of all Australian’s will experience a Mental Illness in their lifetime.
54% of suffers do not seek treatment.
Yet we still act like it is not socially acceptable to acknowledge and talk about, or even get help for. Mental Health Conditions are a health condition like any other that needs to be managed through the good and bad times. Reach out and get yourself help or help a loved one. Lets flip the story around and make it a normal issue to talk about and get help for!
Love and Peace
Please seek help if you are in need
A great place to start is at your local doctor. However, if you are in more urgent need reach out to a friend or family member and together go and seek urgent help.
Numbers to call in South Australia if you are suffering an acute mental health episode
Mental Health Services: 13 14 65
Regional Access: 1300 032 186
Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636
Lifeline: 13 11 14