This article first appeared in 2005 in ‘Among Friends’, the newsletter of Long Sutton Meeting; and was subsequently published in Speak Up Somerset issue 29, September 2005, as ‘Links in the Circle’.
A Quaker’s experience of depressive illness.
Speaking at Meeting is a very brave thing to do; especially for a shy person like myself. So I have stayed safely and securely seated and not dared to speak, even though at times I have replayed in my mind those things my heart has wanted to speak out loud.
I had known about the Society of Friends for a long time, but not necessarily by that name. Nine years ago I sought out the Quakers and Long Sutton Meeting. Since then, life for myself and my family has seen many changes. All but one of our parents and elder relatives has passed on. Steve and I have watched our two eldest sons grow into talented yet challenging young men who will, eventually, eat us out of house and home; and son number three was born and blesses us all with his happy spirit, boundless energy and ability to wake me up at six o’clock every morning. I have been reunited with my biological father, and as a consequence found a lovely sister and brother I had never met. An extended family. I have made a study of my family history and am finding my genealogical roots. My life is full of clutter, noise, crowded rooms and boys’ socks. At the root of all this I struggle to find the stillness and silence; to hold on to my basic beliefs and to live my life accordingly. Hopefully being a good example to my children and treating others with the respect and acceptance I would wish to be treated with myself.
Mental illness. Nervous breakdown. Depression. Whatever name you give it, it’s a tricky thing to deal with. There are no bandages, no bumps or bruises that you can show people and say ‘look, this is what’s happened to me.’ I have found that people tend to react in one of two ways. Some will treat it as an embarrassment; a thing to be ashamed of and not to be spoken about, other than to imply that I should ‘pull myself together’ or ‘snap out of it’. It can be the people you expect to understand who sometimes put up the biggest barriers. Conversely, some people I would expect not to understand have been amazingly kind and supportive. These are usually the ones who have been through a similar experience.
In both my professional life and my home life I have encountered both reactions. I still decide carefully before telling anyone that I take medication, visit the Mental Health Service or see the psychiatrist.
I am deeply grateful that Meeting is one of my few ‘safe’ places. Having said that, I also find it a frightening place; a challenging place. Escape to Meeting is a luxury which has been difficult to afford; not purely from a family point of view, but also because it takes emotional strength. For most of the past nine years this is the thing I have lacked the most. At Meeting my heart, my soul, my spirit, whatever you want to call it, is very near the surface. It is fragile and exposed, and easily damaged or frightened away, deep down inside again.
In this morning’s Meeting a Friend talked about circles of love, understanding, support, accountability and forgiveness. In my own life this has been reflected in my childhood experiences, my ability, or inability, to forgive and the understanding and support of my amazing husband Steve. This links to another circle which is made of our behaviour towards each other and towards our children, who in turn make their own circles. For most of the time I am living surrounded by a dark fog. Sometimes the fog clears and I am able to see where I am and where I am going. The rest of the time I am smothered inside its murky greyness. I take high doses of anti-depressants. I have a lot of migraines. I have little self-confidence; no self-esteem. I weep easily, and often. I am insecure. I am a damaged child. I worry about the links I am forging in the circles. Today my mood has careered from euphoric to intolerant to tearful and back again. It is day four of cutting down on my current medication before introducing another one in the hope that it will be more effective in turning me back from a destructive spirit in to a human being. This process is frightening for me, and it is frightening for Steve. Neither of us knows how I will feel from one day to the next. I might function normally, or I might fall to pieces again. I do not know what effect this will have on my sons. They do not like to talk about it. One of them has little self-confidence; little self-esteem. He weeps easily, and often. He is insecure. He is only a child. He is just like me. Another link in the circle.