Exhaustion

A few months ago when I was looking for comfort and company in books about motherhood, I read the story of a woman who went to her doctor to ask why she felt totally exhausted. The answer seemed obvious: she was mother to a young baby and had been deprived of sleep, almost nightly, for more than a year. But when you are in the middle of it, the answer doesn’t seem so obvious. It’s easy to get used to a way of living, even one that you’re not necessarily happy with. A relatively new mother myself, I’d come to regard being woken at 6am as a sleep-in (my son having taken to rising at 5am for several months) and getting close to six hours uninterrupted sleep a “good night”; not to mention doing a demanding, semi-paid job in theatre, as well as a demanding unpaid job as a mother, as working “part-time”. And then my doctor diagnosed me with exhaustion and recommended complete rest, plus vitamin B12 injections and no alcohol. I have a history of depression and lately it’s been coming on quite strongly. The word “depression” suggests to me a slump, a soft blackness, a state of slow, quiet hopelessness. When I am really “down”, I am much more liable to have a pounding heartbeat, racing thoughts, manic movement and violent, self-directed urges. There is a feature film called Little Bits of Light that captures this side of the condition with painful honesty. Anyhow, the idea of being able to take my doctor’s advice to take complete rest was a little unrealistic with an “active” 18 month old to supervise, but I did take another course: I went to see a psychiatrist for a full diagnosis. After a two-hour long discussion, which was lucid, erudite and engaging, my doctor (who I think a truly excellent human being) was forced, by the limitations of his diagnostic guidebook the DSMIV, to give me the informative diagnosis of “mood disorder not otherwise specified”. Whilst this did not provide me with any new information – although it did give me a laugh – there was an upside. After years of denial and attempts to side step, I agreed to go onto a therapeutic dose of anti-depressants. And it was like waking up a whole old person – an earlier version of myself. No less exhausted physically, but a whole lot more alive mentally.

Advertisements