Depression is described as a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. It affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems – interfering with your ability to function and carry on with daily life.
There are many different causes of depression, some of which we don’t fully understand. It is generally believed that depression is caused by a complex interaction and combination of biological, psychological, and social factors.
This is the story of my own personal experience with depression across the different stages of my life. I’ve never revealed it to anyone in this detail before.
The first experience
As a healthy child, teenager and young adult my experience of suffering from depression came soon after the birth of my first child when I was 32 years of age.
I noticed a shift in my mood at times during a period in my life when I should have been feeling at my happiest, especially when looking at this beautiful brown eyed healthy baby which I was responsible for part making.
The regular Health Visitor checks identified a borderline concern for Postpartum depression but as an optimist I wanted to feel in control and able to cope. After all, millions of women have babies.
Anyway, how could I suffer from depression? I was a fun-loving person, full of energy, always with a smile on my face. I had a great life, family, job and baby. What did I need to feel depressed about?
So why was I feeling a sense of hopelessness, sadness and lack of ability to cope with minor setbacks which normally I would take in my stride? Thinking that my child and husband would be better off if I left them to it and disappeared somewhere unknown.
Convincing myself that it was just stupid thoughts in my head, I dealt with it. In most instances I reminded myself of my beautiful baby girl, but the real truth was I was struggling.
My identity and everything I had worked for had been replaced by being a mum and wife. Were these feelings linked to the fact that my husband’s life had not changed at all? He still had his identity and freedom to carry on the way he always had?
I didn’t want to admit I was suffering from symptoms of depression as this was perceived as a word associated with weakness. No one would understand – after all my hormones were all over the place after having my baby. I was sure it would go away and get easier.
Discovering I wasn’t alone
After the birth of my second child 3 years on, things seemed to get worse. Thoughts of my children being better off without me and wanting to leave everything behind and disappear increased. I had to admit to myself I needed some help and guidance as these thoughts were not normal or healthy.
Surprisingly, I started to interact with more individuals who spoke about suffering from varying symptoms of depression as my friends’ circle widened to school parents and work colleagues.
It was like an elite network of individuals sharing a secret and you needed a code to be part of the conversation. Quietly supporting each other through the good days and bad, not feeling judged as those around you had an understanding. Sharing stories and feeling a sense of normality that these were common. Trying to arrange activities and events to help create positive moments and experiences to keep everyone’s spirits up and to keep going as you will get through it.
On the other side, within my close circle of friends and family my depression wasn’t something I could openly talk about. Historically, within my culture, women coped with conforming, following rules, living in a disciplined and regimented environment and not having careers as their primary focus was looking after the family. I lived in a more modern set up with a career, freedom to live my life the way I chose. What did I need to be depressed about?
My friends listened and were supportive but felt helpless as they could not comprehend or relate to what I was suffering from. The hard thing was them seeing the contrast in behaviour from one day to the next. Feeling high, energised, positive and upbeat to feeling withdrawn, overwhelmed, closed and constantly crying.
It was time to consult my Doctor and with his guidance we agreed to take an alternative approach and think of natural herbal remedies. The remedies that have helped me are St. John’s Wort, Pukka Illuminate and also booking regular body massages to help with relaxation.
I found these remedies helped me manage my day to day my moods and unlike medication I could decide if I needed that additional relief or not. I felt in control and comfortable taking them as they were natural and did not have any side effects for me. I was grateful that he recognised I didn’t want to go down a medication route. He helped me to find a solution that would help me when experiencing these shifts in moods with few side effects and reliance.
For me there was still a pride element of not being labelled as suffering from depression and admitting to my friends, family and the workplace. Was this a way of me feeling connected to others suffering from depression without fully admitting to and having the stigma attached to suffering from depression myself?
15 years on
As the girls were growing up, I can’t recall moments of depression as much as I can over the past 5 years. It seems my experiences of depression have elevated to another level with them consuming more of my energy, thoughts, feelings and time. My ability to deal with them becoming somewhat harder to cope with.
When these depressive episodes occur, I want to be away from everyone and everything. It’s easier to go to bed early to avoid conversation, take long walks by myself, cry in the shower, not answer my phone when loved ones are trying to contact me and I have on the odd occasion stayed in bed all day and done nothing just to avoid life.
During these times the smallest of problems are blown out of proportion, making me feel hatred, anger, self-pity, sad and helpless.
Looking back at these desperate times to understand what’s changed, I have realised and believe they have been closely linked to my happiness, health, weight, feeling loved and having peace within myself.
As the children have grown and become beautiful independent individuals, my sense of purpose has changed and the feeling of being needed has drifted. Trying to prove my worth and wanting to be recognised at work has meant working harder and harder and losing sight of my health and wellbeing.
A person who was full of life and energy is now a person filled with anger and sadness, trapped in a world where things look bleak. These feelings and moods have only created further animosity with my husband and at times tension with my children.
Do they know that I suffer from depression and what that means? No, I don’t think they do.
My youngest senses something and for my birthday created a Little Jar of Goodness which has lots of lovely messages which she picks out for me each day. Messages like ‘You are amazing’, ‘Love you lots’, ‘Thank you for everything you do’ You can do it’ there must be over a hundred of these wonderful messages. She has always been very intuitive.
My eldest is a little more black and white and spots if something is wrong and will always ask if I am OK or if I need anything. My general response is ‘yes I am fine don’t worry’ and with that feedback she observes to make sure and carries on. However, my husband feels unsure what to do or say. He asks if I am OK and I always say I am even when I am not. He carries on without really reading the signs.
One thing I have changed more recently is learning to be open and acknowledge the times when I feel the depression coming on. When at home, calling it out when I’m not having the best of days and so if I ask for something just to get on with it. To remind them that if I feel and look down, not to assume its linked to them and that I just need to ride through it.
I have become more vocal and braver among family and friends to admit I suffer from depression, but I am not sure they are ready to hear it or understand how to deal with it. It is really fascinating to see their reactions and how quickly they want to move onto the next subject. But a few more than before are more open to talking about it and empathise. After all do any of us know what to say or do when a person admits to suffering from depression?
I know that I am not alone, it’s not my fault and it doesn’t make me weak.
Being on furlough for a period of time during the COVID-19 pandemic has given me the opportunity to step back and re-evaluate my life, what I have achieved and accomplished, what I love and what I don’t like and how I can change things for the future.
Finding myself a personal coach and leadership coach has allowed me to face into my states of depression, try and see the positive outcomes and my strengths. Giving me back control so I can choose how I feel, place my energy towards those things that really matter and stay focused on what I want from life.
It’s early days but investing in my personal development is the first step to hopefully battling through depression, changing my mindset and believing in myself.
If I could provide you with any advice and guidance it would be to understand that you are not alone, that talking about it makes it easier to accept. Find those things that help you through it and know that there is help our there. Finally, remember that more people suffer from depression than you think.
If you need support and you’re in the UK, you can contact the mental health charity, Mind by calling 0300 123 3393 or by visiting www.mind.org.uk.
If you need support and you’re in the US, you can contact Mental Health America by calling 1-800-985-5990 or by visiting www.mhanational.org.
About the author
Anjna Mistry is a marketing professional with over 25 years experience working for amazing companies; Disney, Heinz, Hallmark and Morrisons. A mum of 2 wonderful children who give her the strength to keep going and belief that she is doing a good job. A recent dog owner and a badminton league player with her eldest daughter. Her purpose in life is to explore as much of this beautiful world and help her children stay happy and be the best versions of themselves. She loves the phrase ‘Say no to the good so you can say yes to the great’.