Well, hello there. It’s been a while.
Quite a long while, in fact. Much longer than I expected it to be, or wanted it to be.
I’ve been missing my little corner of the sewing internet, and wanting to come back. But it’s been hard – surprisingly so. I’ve been making things, getting photos of things, and even started a blog post or two. But publishing them just didn’t feel right. (Although I am looking forward to showing some of the things I’ve been making. There’s a floral halter-neck dress. And another dress, with foxes on. Foxes!!!)
It slowly dawned on me why it wasn’t feeling right to publish posts about pretty dresses and fun outings for photo shoots. Because it only tells part of the story – a carefully curated, positive part of the story. There’s been research done on the impacts of curation of online lives. The result it has of only ever seeing the positive, the fun, the ‘perfect’, and comparing those images and stories to the reality of your own life, in all of it’s messy, chaotic glory. And the result isn’t positive. While we all love looking at pretty things, and reading about fun things, seeing only those can make you feel that you’re not doing as well. Not having as much fun. Not succeeding in living the life everyone else is managing to live. And those are pretty dangerous feelings to have.
So, this post isn’t about pretty dresses. It’s about The Other Stuff.
(And I won’t mind if you don’t want to read it. After all, pretty dresses are much more fun! I’ll be back to regular pretty-dress-posting in a day or so, I promise. So feel free to go away and skip over this single post. 🙂 )
It’s been a rough couple of years, for a variety of reasons. And I’ve decided not to sweep that under the carpet and pretend all has been well, even though that is my natural impulse. Instead, I’m going to talk a little bit about it. To show the not-so-pretty side of things behind the vintage patterns and floral fabrics and bright colours. And I’m doing this in case it helps someone else out there. (And as a small apology to those I’ve lost contact with, or been neglecting. I’m sorry. Truly.)
A good friend of mine did something similar for me. When I was at one of my lowest points, she opened up about her struggles with depression and how she faced up to them. And her openness finally pushed me to go and see someone about mine. You know who you are, lovely lady. And I can honestly say – if you hadn’t talked as you did, when you did, my life would currently be very different.
(I’ll admit – I’ve debated for quite a while about whether to write about this or not. Personally, I may regret it. But I’m putting it out there, in case it helps anyone else. Because if it does, it’s worth writing.)
So, the d-word came up. Depression. In my case – post-natal depression. Pretty bad post-natal depression.
It came on not too long after my second child arrived. He was terrible at sleeping – only one short daytime nap, and waking up 6-12 times a night. That first year after he was born, I was stumbling through life on about 4-5 broken hours of sleep each night. And let’s face it – that sort of sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture for some pretty good reasons. It does not do good things to one’s brain.
It was made worse by feelings of isolation. I was working in a suburb, rather than in the centre of my town, which made it pretty much impossible to catch up with friends during the week. Two young children, no car, and a lack of support in the weekends meant I wasn’t able to see people much during the weekend as well. Add in not wanting to be a burdan to people, so hiding the effects sleep deprivation were having on me, and the sense of isolation built up very fast. My long-term relationship was disintegrating at the same time, which clearly didn’t help (increased isolation, lack of emotional support, etc, etc, etc).
Some of my friends were going through rough patches at the time, and because I love them and care for them, I desparately wanted to be there to help and support them. But I couldn’t be as present as I wanted to. And I felt guilt over that, and as though I was letting them down and being a bad friend. (Let’s be clear – these feelings were all coming from me, not from anyone else.)
I was having trouble with some family members – feeling that I was being judged for working while having small children; that I was being found lacking as a parent; that I generally couldn’t do anything right. I was having to constantly defend my partner to my family, while at the same time disagreeing with my partner, so it felt that I was constantly caught in the middle, unable to be honest and being under attack from both sides.
These factors all built up, and built up. It took some time, I’m not sure how long as time moves strangely when you’re in that head space, but post natal depression sunk it’s claws in deep.
And let me tell you – depression hurts! Emotionally, mentally, and physically.
I felt that I didn’t know who I was anymore. That I didn’t really exist, and was simply a shell of a person, carrying out roles in life but with no substance. Being a mother, a colleague, an employee, but it was all an act, put on for the benefit of others while inside I was devoid of life.
I progressed from feeling isolated, to isolating myself. I felt that how I was feeling would be a burden to others, and so I didn’t speak about it, and I pretended all was well. It was hard to pretend, so very hard, and so I stopped seeing people. I felt that I was bringing down my friends, that they were happier when I wasn’t there, and so I stopped seeing them.
The feelings built, the downward spiral continued.
I would say things to my now-former-partner such as “I don’t exist anymore”. They were ignored, and I didn’t try to talk to anyone else because I never saw anyone else. I’d sit in my sewing room at night once the kids were asleep, staring at nothing, slumped on the floor, with an empty mind. Even though I was absolutely exhausted through lack of sleep, I put off going to bed at night. Because bed meant darkness and quiet, which meant the thoughts and feelings would come out of hiding. I kept busy when I could, throwing myself into things, then feeling like an utter failure when I couldn’t keep up the unrealistic pace I set myself. But business while it lasted was a distraction from the emptiness and the pain. I kept putting on a mask when I was around people I knew, and let it fall away the moment they were gone. One clear memory I have is walking through the railway station and seeing a colleague – they noticed me before I noticed them, and I didn’t get the mask on in time. I still worry a bit about what they saw in that moment of unguardedness.
It kept getting worse.
I was in pain every moment of every day – the emotional pain and emptiness so strong they caused physical pain. I felt so hollow and numb that I understood why people cut themselves – to feel something, to know you are still alive, you still exist. And to try and get some of the pain out of your body, as you feel it’s filling you to the brim and is threatening to overwhelm you and destroy you at any moment.
When I had the mask on around others, I’d laugh sometimes. And when I did, on the inside I wanted to curl up in the corner and cry. Laughing on the outside, dying on the inside – it was all an act.
If I ever bought up even a little bit about how I was feeling, I saw rolled eyes, significant looks passed, subjects changed. I was told to ‘snap out of it’. (Even one time when the pain got so much I found myself sitting on the stairs in my house, with the emotional pain being torn from me in a scream that left my throat sore for days afterwards, I was told to ‘snap out of it’ and ‘get it together’.)
I began to genuinely believe that people would be better off without me around. That I was a liability – no good at work, no good as a friend, no good as a partner. I genuinely believed that my then-partner would be better off without me – that he’d be angry with me for leaving him with all the childcare, but that would pass quickly and he’d be happier than if I was there. I even thought that my children, my amazing wonderful children who I would give up anything for, would be better off without me around.
I worried about what I would do, as I fought the desire to hurt myself in order to feel something, anything. As I was tempted by thoughts of ending it, so that I wouldn’t be a burdan to others anymore. I got nervous walking near balconys, over bridges, for fear of giving in to the temptation to just jump off. When cooking food, I worried about being near knives, as I would find myself staring intently at them and visualising picking them up.
It got so bad, that the only thing that stopped me from acting on any of those impulses was the fear that if I killed myself, my children may get teased about it at school, because children can be extremely cruel to one another. I truly believed they would be better off without me, but I didn’t want to be the source of childhood teasing from their peers. And that was the only reason I didn’t do anything.
And then a friend of mine opened up about how she had been battling depression. And I finally went to get help.
It was hard to get help. I felt like a failure, like it was shameful, that I was weak and pathetic for not coping by myself. I still feel like that – I’m ashamed to be on medication, even though it’s been nearly a year since I started taking it. It’s interesting, isn’t it? I don’t feel like depression is something people should be ashamed of, but I feel shame myself. I felt too weak to go for help, and yet getting help was also a sign of weakness. yay for conflicted emotions.
Anyway, I got help. And things got better.
I got put on medication. (Immediately, in fact – my doctor gave me a script nearly as soon as I started talking to her.) I slept a lot, letting my mind heal. I went on a trip with my youngest, and slept and rested and struggled with the feelings of guilt for not seeing people while I was travelling and letting them down and letting myself down, even though I didn’t have the energy to get off the floor of the Airbnb I was staying in sometimes. But the trip helped – I didn’t have to do anything, I just hung out with my then-nearly-two-year-old, slept, wandered, and healed.
A friend and I went to an art show, and a painting jumped out at me. Four words, bold on canvas: something changes sometimes always. One of my friends at university had a tattoo on his arm – ‘this too shall pass’. It was a reminder when things got bad, that he would get through it. This painting, those four words, they spoke to me. Things change. They always change. Change is constant, and it is positive. And this is good. I found myself looking at that painting in the morning when I woke up, and at night before I went to bed, as a reminder that this would pass and things could, would, get better. I repeated the words to myself regularly, keeping that reminder, that hope, alive.
And I slowly got better. The suicidal thoughts stopped. The self-harm thoughts slowly (far too slowly) left. I was able to laugh again, without feeling like the laughter was tearing me apart on the inside. I went to a music gig, the first one I’d been able to go to in years, and another part of me came back to life and I found myself crying while the music streamed over me and through me and I remembered – I love music. I started walking again – long walks, just for the sake of walking. And I remembered how much I enjoyed that – the feel of wind, the view of stars, the sound of trees. I slowly started playing music at home. And sitting in sunlight, just for the enjoyment of it. I rediscovered how to play with my children, and enjoy their company. I slowly remembered who I was, what I enjoy, the parts that make up me, both good and bad. I’d lost those for a long time, and they took a while to return, but they slowly did, piece by piece, forming out of the grey mist that had clouded everything for so long.
And now, I’m back. I’m not the same person I was before – I don’t think it’s possible to be after going through a journey like that. I now understand depression in a way I never could have before, and I can truly emphasise with people going through that, with people who self-harm, with those who see suicide as the only way to end the pain. I wish I didn’t, as that journey hurt so, so much, but at the same time I am glad to be able to understand. I still struggle with feelings of guilt over dropping out of touch with so many people over that time, and over letting people down. Because of that, I’m still quite bad at getting in touch, or keeping in touch – trying to break the habits I formed. I also feel a lot of guilt over how I was as an employee and a colleague during that time – I did my best in the circumstances, but that was only about 20% of my actual best, and for that I feel I’ve let people down. I’ve nearly come to terms with not being the mother I wanted to be for those years, and my grief over that. Some relationships are forever changed, or gone from my life, as a result of that time, and some of those I still mourn for.
But I am still alive. And the world is here, and it is an amazing place, and I am enjoying it again. There are many people I love and care for, and I enjoy their company. I’m excited about the future, and about showing my children the world in all of it’s beauty. I listen to music, I read books, I play with my kids, I walk in the starlight, and I sew pretty dresses.
I’m glad I’m here. And I’m so very, very grateful to that one friend who reached out a hand when I most needed it and shared her story.
That’s why I am sharing mine. Because if you’re feeling like that – you don’t have to. Things change. Things will get better. And you don’t have to do it all yourself. People do genuinely care for you, and they want you around, even if you don’t believe it, even if you don’t like yourself.
And if you know someone who is feeling like that – just be there. Think of Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh. His friends kept inviting him to things, and showing him they enjoyed his company. But they didn’t force things, and they didn’t shower him with well-meaning advice. (Because well-meaning advice hurts. You already know you should be doing things like exercising, eating well, etc. But you don’t have the energy for it, and you’re already beating yourself up over not doing it, so the reminders hurt.) Even if they keep declining invites, keep on inviting them – being invited to things shows you are wanted, and that you haven’t been forgotten, and those are pretty big things. (Speaking of which – thank you so much to those of you who reached out to say hi, or to check if I was ok. It made a real difference for me.)
Life is a journey. Things are constantly changing around us. And that’s a good thing.