My confession is this: that I nearly let the darkness win.
Nobody knows how dark it was. On the outside I’ve always been happy-go-lucky, the life and soul, room-brightening, smiling Emma. The party girl. Someone with loads of energy. Inside, it’s been a different story. And this is my secret.
It came in many forms: anger, self-hatred, self-harm, self-doubt, destructive behaviour; a total lack of self-esteem.
In my fortieth year I finally understood what it was: Depression, an illness that had affected me for over half my life. I knew I had blue days and weeks – darkness would suddenly descend for no reason and cripple me. Usually I hid from the world because when I was down, I couldn’t explain it to anyone. The fear and insomnia and rage made life a constant challenge with a lot of stress. I never stopped pushing myself, to meet people, take on challenges, travel, explore, experience, but inside I was terrified; of people not liking me, of failing, of letting anyone close. I’d meet a new boyfriend and suddenly I’d be teetering on a precipice. I used to have to lock myself in the loo and hug myself and cry and force myself to go back to him, face the thought that I might be rejected. The same happened with friends: at first everything was okay until the friendship moved up a notch and I’d become convinced that they didn’t like me. I’d have a conversation; then later analyse every word, looking for ways I’d screwed up.
I was desperate to get rid of this endlessly critical inner voice. I was desperate not to get so angry at those closest to me. My anger came out regularly and ruined everything. After I’d got angry I’d retreat somewhere and punch myself, hard, in the face, the arms, the legs. I bruised myself to punish myself for hurting other people.
I moved around a lot. I made friends, had lovers, but there was this constant fear, that they would see the ‘real me’ and run a mile. I moved to Malaysia to try and sort myself out and get away from certain things. In Malaysia, I drank a lot.
I continued to fight the darkness but it got harder; the blue periods got longer and it was harder to pull myself out of them. I kept telling myself I could beat it. I still lived fully and had fun in extreme surges of energy; when I look back I see times I was happy. I still hid in the blue times. The underlying stress of hating myself was always there, sapping my strength.
Into this mess walked Hamish, when I was 27. Hamish, a Scottish rock, withstood all the storms – and there were plenty. We left Malaysia and rode 50,000 miles back to Scotland on a motorbike called Bertha. I spent around 1500 hours in my own head, on the back of the bike. The same things came to mind over and over: the anger, the regrets. The darkness was still there, even on this trip of a lifetime – with no routine it was harder to keep it at bay. I made a decision to get proper therapy because I was stuck and sad and scared and I’d had enough. I was exhausted.
We moved to Scotland and I saw a therapist. She helped me and for the first time, I discovered how to like myself.
Hame and I had two children in quick succession. It was amazing, and terrifying. I loved them so much but was convinced I was a terrible mother. The darkness got worse, post-birth. I became quite ill, and was eventually diagnosed with Graves’ Disease, an autoimmune condition that affects the thyroid and therefore the whole body. This was – and still is – treated with medication. I fought against the darkness, but it got harder and harder. I was convinced the children would be better off without me. Some days I wanted to push the double buggy to the harbour, leave it in a safe place and jump in. Other days, alone in the car on the way to pick them up from nursery, my hands twitched – what if I swerved, just a little, into the path of that incoming lorry?
In the end I knew I had to try and get help. I owed it to my young family, to Hamish – and to me. I went to my GP who listened and asked lots of questions, one of which was: What do you see happening in the future? After a pause, I realised I could see no future. At all. He prescribed anti-depressants, and I began to get better. I started sleeping properly for the first time in over 20 years. Physical symptoms I’d never realised were part of depression, disappeared. The anger became manageable.
I’m still on medication. I’m convinced that untreated Depression contributed to my developing Graves’. I’m convinced that my total lack of self-esteem contributed to the Depression. We’ve helped our children (now six and seven) develop as much self-esteem as we can. I’ve been, and am, a good mother. Even in the dark years.
In April this year, I was hanging out the washing with my children, cats and chickens around my feet. I felt completely contented. And then, a feeling: something was coming.
A few days later I found a lump in my breast and on Friday 13th May I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I’ve lost the last few weeks somewhere, but I’m still laughing.
Yesterday, my lovely mum arrived to help look after me.
The darkness hasn’t beaten me. Today, I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I live more fully, love completely and don’t waste a single minute of precious life. I am now, aged 43, that strong positive person that everyone else – except me – could see.
I will beat this. It’s one more battle against the darkness that whispers: How much do you really want to live?
The answer is, very much.