When Lucy Tallon went back to work after her second baby, she got depression. But was it as simple as that?
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I knew what it was like to surrender most of the night to the worry gremlins. To have worked myself up into such a state of anxiety that by dawn I'd be shaking, absolutely terrified of getting out of bed.
But this time it was different. I'd never had a bout of depression as the mother of of two small children, who was trying to make a 'mumback'.
A mumback is when you go back to work after maternity leave. I'd made mine into a big deal (in my head) because we weren't planning on any more children, so this was it. This was how I'd decided life was going to work best for us for the forseeable future, as I wasn't going to have another year 'off' at some point after another baby.
I didn't actually have a job to go back to, as such, because I'd left my previous role just before getting pregnant with my second child, and spent all of my pregnancy working freelance.
This was a new job, that I had sought out, I had interviewed for (wearing a statement necklace, as magazines always advise) and I had landed. In terms of my experience and skills, the role seemed tailormade for me.
My youngest wasn't quite a year old yet, but it seemed like a good option for both my career and the wellbeing of my family. Working three days a week, one of which from home, was the ideal work-life balance. I was sick of nappies and laundry. I had a career to get back to. I had a cleaner. The world's most supportive husband. A good nursery that was open 8am-6:30pm. My own mum, who came to help out almost every week. Not one, but two statement necklaces, in fact.
I also had a history of depression. Which I was able to manage better than most, as I'd found a treatment that worked for me. ECT, commonly known as electric shock therapy, had been my lifesaver for several years. It's nothing like most people imagine it to be. You have a general anaesthetic, you don't convulse, and you're home in time for lunch. The procedure itself is genuinely untraumatic - almost mundane - and, most importantly, it worked really well for me.
That night though, in January 2014, I was panicking. I couldn't cope. Having gone to bed with Sunday-night-itis, which I could at least joke about with my husband, I woke just after 2am, and started fretting about a work meeting later that morning. It was just our regular, Monday morning, team meeting, and all I had to do was give a quick update about what I was working on. But I was convinced I couldn't do it.
By 3am I didn't even think I'd be able to manage to get my 2-year-old dressed. Then I started to beat myself up for not planning a better 3rd birthday party for him in a few weeks' time.
By 4am I was imagining all the things that were going to go wrong with the event I was organising for work next month. In case you're interested in psychology, this is what is known as 'catastrophising' in CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) terms. If you can recognise you're doing it, it can help you break the negative thought pattern.
By 5am I was a wreck. Trembling, crying silently, afraid to do any of the things I knew would help - wake my husband and have a hug, take a valium, make a cup of tea. Our eldest was an early waker, and I always tried to ignore needing a wee after 5am because the slightest noise in the bathroom would alert him, and then he'd be up demanding telly and 'his' pillow (my pillow) and accidentally elbowing us in the eye. So I stayed still.
What was I THINKING? I couldn't do this job - or any job! I couldn't cope with the pressure, the commute, the To Do list; I was a fraud. I was a crap mother too. Just before Christmas my baby and I had spent a couple of nights in hospital because he had bronchiolitis, and possibly pneumonia too, so why the hell wasn't I staying at home and putting him first? But work had already given me compassionate leave for that, so I couldn't now tell them I needed sick leave - all within the first two months of the job, could I?
Worst of all, I had already started ECT. I'd had two treatments. Even though I knew that it usually took at least four sessions before I felt better, and sometimes as many as twelve, logic wasn't getting a look-in. So to top it all off, the treatment that had always worked for me in the past was never going to work again. I had let my kids down, my husband down, and I should never have thought I was up to any of it.
Looking back, I feel so sorry for that person. I advise lots of people about mental health these days, and continue to manage my own, but when that dark night comes it's impossible to be as kind to yourself as you would if it was a friend.
So what happened next? Somehow I got up, delivered the boys to nursery, got through the meeting, then asked for five minutes with my boss and sobbed. She was lovely (as I knew she would be). She sent me home and told me to take the rest of the week off. I had more ECT, I got better, but I wish I could tell you it was as straightforward as that.
For the next year (it was a one-year maternity cover contract) I never really felt I'd got it 'right'. I was never convinced I was doing the job to the best of my abilities, or being a really good mum. Was this because I'd got my work-life balance wrong? How do men cope with a job, small children and a mental health problem that occasionally rears its head? Had the situation made me ill, or would I have become ill anyway? God knows.
There is a great debate amongst medics about whether depression and anxiety are caused by external triggers, or if they can be due to one's own wonky internal wiring. There is a great debate amongst women about when/if you should go back to work, and how to have the ultimate work-life balance. The consensus they all have in common is that everyone is different, every case unique, and what works for one doesn't necessarily work for someone else. You need to give things a try, find out what works best for you, but don't assume it's a solution that'll work forever.
I now work freelance, from home, three days a week. I earn less than I used to. We have an au pair, and my eldest will start reception in September. For now, our set-up seems to be working pretty well, but no doubt in a year we'll have to recalibrate. I'll keep things under review, see what my kids need, what work is out there, and make decisions jointly with my husband. I'm happy, I'm looking after myself too, and I never want to have a dark night like that again.