Swimming In Mud
I was thinking recently about how I would describe depression to someone who has never experienced it, and I came up with this ‘swimming through mud’ analogy.
Imagine that you are in a lake and that you are swimming underwater, however, it’s not water that surrounds you, but mud instead. The cold mud weighs heavy on your body and it’s difficult to move – as much as you try to move your arms and legs, you just can’t get anywhere. It’s impossible to breathe and there are no rays of light breaking through the dense darkness.
Hi, I’m Carla.
I have been a financial adviser for almost 20 years and joined a company called Insight Financial Associates in September 2019. Looking back, my depression started shortly after we went into lockdown – which for me, meant 4 months of home-schooling my two sons, working full-time, and being heavily pregnant. I really struggled with the uncertainty surrounding the birth; not knowing if my husband would be allowed to be with me and this led to heightened feelings of anxiety which I hadn’t experienced before. My son’s birth was traumatic; due to ongoing Covid restrictions in hospitals, I was alone during a difficult and long labour. It was possibly the worst experience of my life, which, even weeks post-birth, was one that I was finding difficult to process mentally.
Within a week of the birth, my husband suddenly lost his job. We had gone from a 6-figure household income down to just Statutory Maternity Pay. Our savings were quickly exhausted, and we turned to credit cards and loans, just to be able to pay the bills and live. My husband and I have been together for 20 years and we have both always worked – neither of us had ever had a period of unemployment, so to be in this position was difficult for us to navigate.
It's hard to think back to how I was feeling back then – I was deeply unhappy, and the anxiety caused by our financial situation was causing me to wake up at 3/4AM every morning and just lie there, shallow breathing in this constant state of fear. I would smile and drag myself through the day, but as soon as I got into bed at night, I would lose it; and cry myself to sleep.
I didn’t tell a soul how I felt because they would surely think I was ridiculous and ungrateful. I felt resentful about having to go back to work earlier than I would have liked, and the guilt of feeling so low, despite having been blessed with three beautiful and healthy sons cut deep. I felt like a fraud going to work and talking to clients about how to manage their finances when it felt as though mine were in tatters. I was being mean, sarcastic, and pessimistic when interacting with friends and family – I struggled at work and couldn’t seem to find any reasons to be happy or celebrate, as though all the joy had been sucked out of me. It was when my sister called and asked me “what the F is going on with you?!” that I realised that my cover had blown.
I suddenly felt exposed and very self-aware when speaking with others, and ashamed of how I had been feeling and acting. I was deeply saddened by the fact that the first 18 months of my baby boy’s life had been clouded by this depression, and that I didn’t have the mental capacity to be present and bask in those special moments that had passed by so quickly.
It was in January 2022 that I finally had the headspace to act.
I started waking up earlier so that I could have some time to myself in the morning. I began to meditate for 15-20 minutes before saying positive affirmations and really working on my breathing. I’d then put the baby in the buggy and get out for a long walk in the morning as the sun was coming up – all while I listened to an audiobook.
Before bed, I would read for 20-30 minutes, and then write three things that I am grateful for in my journal and three special things that happened that day.
This period of healing allowed me the mental clarity to be able to write my first eBook – ‘FinanZen: The Foundation’. This is an idea that I’d had for 2-3 years before my youngest was born, but it’s almost as though some greater force wanted me to experience just how much of a link there is between mental health and money and so that I could write from a place of experience and understanding. I know that had we perhaps made better financial choices when we were younger or started saving and investing earlier, we would have been better able to stand firm when uncertainty came knocking, and with FinanZen, it’s my mission to help as many people as I can to be as financially resilient as possible.
Protecting My Peace
This experience has taught me so much about the importance of looking after my mental wellbeing and I now embrace the activities that I know work for me and have incorporated them into my daily routine.
Creating new habits and discipline has been one of the most important factors in this journey for me and I have had to set new boundaries to ‘protect my peace’, as I like to call it. Don’t get me wrong, having a good day isn’t a given, but there are so many more good days than bad now. I feel so grateful to have found my ‘Mental Toolkit’, which comprises of the tools and activities that I know continue to work wonders for my mind. I noticed just a month or so ago that I was starting to feel low again. My little one, who is now 2.5 years, was going through a horrible sleep regression and was waking up 5 or 6 times a night. This had a knock-on effect on my morning routine as I was too tired to wake before the boys and have that time to myself before the day started, and it had a rapid impact on my mood and overall energy levels. I wasn’t getting that time alone to meditate, I wasn’t getting outside in the fresh air as I simply didn’t have the energy, and I certainly wasn’t getting enough rest. Once this passed (thankfully it only lasted a few weeks), I was able to re-incorporate the activities from my Toolkit and within just a few days I felt that fog lifting.
Looking back to when I was at my lowest point, I wish I could have told myself the following:
Don’t be afraid. You are stronger than you think, but take one day at a time and be gentle with yourself. There is nothing to be ashamed of.
It’s normal to feel guilty that you’re not enjoying the early weeks and months post-pregnancy as much as you think you should. You are doing great – you are an amazing mother; you will heal and develop the most amazing bond with your baby.
You are not alone. Talk to someone, anyone – there are so many people who love you and want to help you.
Keep going: believe that the light will come, and you will find joy once again.
FinanZen: The Foundation (e-book)
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