I was depressed for several months between 1999 and 2000. I tried to see in the new millennium with some optimism for the future, having decided that my best bet was to move to another country to be with my boyfriend. Such a choice wasn’t going to be easy, but I knew it was the right path to find the healing that I needed.
I am now 39 years old – yes, 40 this year! I married my boyfriend in 2001 and I continue to live in Germany, his country of birth. I have come a long way in a relatively short time. I did work as a mental health nurse; I now work as a freelance writer and English language teacher. I was suicidal; I now battle with my depressive downswings from time to time, always winning because I know there is a future that includes me in it.
Growing up, I had always believed myself to be a happy-go-lucky person – my cup was half-full. I can’t complain about my upbringing; I suffered no more knocks than the next person. I learned to be philosophical about life. I believed that negative occurrences were challenges that would only help to strengthen me. For these reasons I thought I would make a good mental health nurse. I think I was good. My empathy evolved through hearing the heart-tugging histories of man- and womankind’s frailties. It felt good to be therapeutic. I had a place in the scheme of things.
It started to go wrong as I approached the age of 34. My life had not been without its hitches: broken engagement; broken marriage; broken hearts a-many! Not to mention all the gynaecological surgery owing to ovarian cysts: three major operations later I was left with one ovary, no fallopian tubes and my only hope of having a child being through IVF. I had already had two failed attempts with my husband. I had coped with my difficulties by realising how lucky I was; trying to look on the bright side. That had been my way. I tried to help people who really had problems by going to work every day. I brushed aside my trivialities. It had worked for a while.
As my birthday beckoned my mood sunk lower and lower. I overslept when off-duty. I had no energy. I berated myself for being a failure: for going through divorce, being childless, unloved – the usual self-flagellation. It took me a week’s annual leave to get out of that downswing. That week I somehow found the strength to pull myself together and return to work. It worked for a while.
A few months later, feeling great psychologically, the old physical problems reappeared – agonising stomach pain – and with it the need for major abdominal surgery number four. I had always returned to my nursing position after a six-week period. Three months’ recuperation was the norm and what was advised. I planned not to do anything too physical, which in my charge nurse position was possible. The trouble was that on my return this fourth time, I had a never-ending backlog of paper work. I had also just moved house. My mood was beginning to wobble again.
I required further sick leave; a month. My boss was supportive and a friend. Despite that, I didn’t feel able to admit to being depressed. I implied my difficulties were more physical, related to the surgery and returning to work too quickly. My GP was happy to support me in this – collusion with my shame? I was a mental health nurse. Surely I could cope? I battered myself with these questions, self-doubt bashing my self-loathing. Rest and determination got me back to work again. I was fine for a while.
Several months later I had a third attempt at IVF with my boyfriend of four years. Same outcome as ever – failure. Added to this, I was now 36 – over the hill, surely? How could a man want to be with empty-old me? He was 12 years younger. How did we stand a chance? How did I stand a chance of existence in this life without my soul’s goal? I was surely doomed. Added to this, my boyfriend was German and had to return home to finish his studies. And added to this, my 55-year-old mother developed early-onset dementia – and she was already suffering from another debilitating condition.
Nursing had always been an impossible equation. The usual ratio of four staff to twenty-five patients didn’t divide well, especially when people were so psychologically needy – not to mention their physical needs, and the needs of their carers, and the paperwork, and the lack of appreciation, and so on. I decided that charity should begin at home. I would make sure that my one mother received the best possible care I could give – from me. I never returned to work and I don’t regret it. This was to become the real beginning of my healing.
I was able to help, support and care for my mother, despite my personal battle with depression. This sad stage in our lives had given me a direction I had lacked. As my mother’s mobility deteriorated and I pushed her in her wheelchair, the irony of the situation struck home. No babies in prams for me! At this point I wouldn’t have wished it any other way. My mainstay at this time was my GP. He had listened to my outpourings with sympathy and understanding. He had offered antidepressants, but I had refused, believing that my depressive reaction was natural under the circumstances. I needed time and space to work things out and to be able to do the right thing by my mother. She was divorced and alone; I was her lifeline. I couldn’t let her down, despite the fact our relationship had not always been so amiable. I was able to work through these difficulties with the help of my GP and my supportive boyfriend and friends. An awakening to a new spiritual dimension began to open up for me.
I read some books, starting with James Redfield’s The Celestine Prophecy.1 It reached me in an amazing way. No drug could have done that, my GP agreed. He also had experienced stress-related problems; ‘burn-out’. Through his self-disclosure I realised that there was no shame in being a mental health professional, suffering from my own personal madness. He referred me to a psychologist. I eventually had an appointment allocated. The psychologist referred me on to a nurse attached to an assisted conception unit, who was a cognitive behavioural therapist. I agreed with the psychologist that my resolution lay in coming to terms with my conception problems. Unfortunately, this cognitive behavioural therapy approach did not work for me. I wasn’t prepared to see my sadness in any way other than how it was affecting me at that time – devastatingly. I was entitled to that!
I moved to stay with my mother, and so I had to register with a new GP. He didn’t think I was depressed. I was too coherent, too able to make sense of my own problems, too active and with no real physical difficulties – I was eating and sleeping fine. Both gave me a great deal of comfort. Why shouldn’t I eat and sleep? He insisted I was fit for work. I consulted another GP and explained that I was going through the motions for my mother’s sake. She seemed to understand. She listened to me as I was able to intellectualise the suicidal feelings that were never very far away. I was a mental health nurse, after all! Thank God I at least could understand myself, even if nobody else did.
Yes, I was able to care for my mum: help to set up a community care package for her, make her laugh, take her shopping, out for lunch. Why not? She needed me; I wouldn’t let her down. I was able to recognise that a seemingly negative situation was somehow going to lead to the best resolution for us both. Everything happens for a reason. I was on a new spiritual path of self-discovery. This path has continued to this day, even as I write these words. My mother died a year-and-a-half after her diagnosis. I know she felt loved and cherished. I did my best job to date in that.
- James Redfield (1993) The Celestine Prophecy: An Adventure, Warner Books.