Our nutrition expert Eva Burg - who you might know better as The Healthy Tart - bravely tells the story of her battle with depression.
Disclaimer: this post is not meant to give medical advice, I am not qualified to advise on the treatment of depression and I am solely expressing what I felt was helpful for myself. If you are feeling depressed please seek professional help or if you are living in Ireland call a helpline: Ring SAMARITANS 24/7 on freephone number 116-123
This is who I am and I won’t change
"This is who I am and I won’t change" were the words that made me walk out on my partner of 12 years and led to our divorce. The latest numbers estimate that 1 in 5 people in Ireland will suffer from depression at some stage in their life.
My life got majorly affected by depression at the age of 29. I was living a seemingly perfect life. I had just gotten married to the love of my life, we had bought the house of my dreams and I had a management position in a renowned hairdressing chain. What might have looked like the perfect life to everybody else, unfortunately, wasn’t my reality.
Causes of my depression
In my world, we had been trying to conceive for two years without any luck, I was dealing with an employee who was trying to take over my management position and I was feeling isolated from my friends and husband.
Things started adding up and slowly I got sucked into a downward spiral. The problems at work had been going on for a while and were becoming worse progressively. My husband and I were slowly drifting apart. While he preferred spending most of the evenings in his study I wanted to go and meet friends. Eventually, I stopped going out because he didn’t appreciate it.
Friends started losing interest because I wasn’t fun to be around anymore. I started to feel lonelier and sadder by the day.
Nowadays, I understand that it isn’t easy for friends and family to deal with a depressed person but all I needed was their support at that stage. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like I was getting it and felt lonely instead.
This can’t be it – I want more
My dream has always been to have a family but trying for so long without any result was hard. When I consulted my gynaecologist she ran a series of tests. One month I got told, you might not be able to have children, the next month I was told, you can have children but they might be disabled, just to be told a month later that all was fine.
One night, while we were having dinner with friends I overheard a conversation between my husband and his friend where he was telling him that he was using up all his holiday to do a four-week course for the volunteer firefighters. I couldn’t cope; had he really just given away the only time of the year that we would usually spend together? Had he given away our holidays without even consulting me? We went home and I gave him an ultimatum: if he was taking that course I would be travelling to Scotland by myself.
Half an hour later my trip was booked. A few weeks on I spend the most amazing time travelling through Scotland. But after my return, I felt worse than I had before; I had just been reminded of how great life could actually be. Unfortunately, I felt trapped thinking that I would never experience this again. I started to withdraw myself from the rest of the world until I eventually wasn’t able to leave my bed anymore. Riddled by crying attacks, everyday tasks like getting dressed and going to work became unbearably hard.
One day, a girl I had met in Scotland contacted me and asked if I was interested in travelling to Ireland with her. Fueled by memories of our last trip, I didn’t have to think twice and for a short while, I started functioning again. We had a fantastic time in Ireland and I was overwhelmed by the friendliness of the Irish people. We became friends with our walking tour guide and we stayed in touch - little did I know that he would eventually become my new partner. There is quite a big age gap between us and while I liked him as a person, I would have never thought that we would ever end up as a couple - but I am jumping ahead of myself here.
Hitting rock bottom
So, once more I returned home and felt the emptiness and loneliness. What was wrong with me? I was perfectly fine travelling by myself but I would feel lonely surrounded by the people who were supposed to love me. Shortly after my return, I sought the help of a psychologist who more or less told me that we all have problems and that I would get over it. I couldn’t believe it; I was desperate at this stage and I was asking for help. Next, I contacted multiple psychiatrists who were all too busy to see me. Eventually, I ended up at my GP’s surgery who prescribed me benzodiazepines. Initially, I was very careful about taking them but I increased the dosage quite quickly.
One evening I felt overwhelmed and contacted one of my few remaining friends and asked him to meet up. He was too busy, he promised to come around the next morning - but never did. That day it all became too much. I just couldn’t cope anymore and I wanted to stop feeling that numbing pain inside me. While I never sat down with the intention of ending my life, it didn’t bother me any longer. I sat down, took a blister of benzodiazepines and poured them down with half a bottle of whiskey. It must have knocked me out for a good few hours and the next thing I remember is waking up in hospital.
My husband was holding my hand but his first concern wasn’t my wellbeing - he was concerned about what we were going to tell the people about what had happened. A mentally ill wifey certainly wouldn’t reflect well on the family’s reputation.
The clinic and my first steps to recovery
Fortunately, after doing some research, I found a good clinic six hours away from home and managed to get admitted within six weeks. The waiting time was tough and I got fired from my job because I was inconveniently on sick leave for too long. At this moment in time, it didn’t matter anymore; it actually felt quite liberating.
I can’t be grateful enough for the experience I had in the clinic. Besides getting assigned a fabulous therapist, they also focused on developing a routine including nutrition, exercise, mindfulness and outdoor activity. While this might sound like a walk in the park I can tell you it wasn’t. It required a lot of self-reflection, discipline and open-mindedness. Uncountable times I thought, what are they on about? This is woo woo - but it wasn’t.
Sometimes we just don’t know what we don’t know
Initially, I hated group therapy sessions. My problems were nobody else’s business. But after a while, I realised that even though we were there for different reasons we were all in the same boat. I am still in touch with some of the people I met there and we actually became friends.
Want to learn more about how diet can affect your mood? Read my post about Mood Foods: Food For Depression And Anxiety.
With or without you
But the hardest part was yet to come. What was I going to do about my marriage? There was that man that I truly loved and whom I had dedicated 12 years of my life to but who also had only called me once within six weeks at the clinic. Maybe he didn’t know how to deal with the situation and wanted to give me space, but I felt left alone.
I don’t want to give you a wrong impression of him. He is a good guy and I have nothing bad to say about him but we had drifted apart. Together with my therapist, I was weighing up the possibilities of fixing our marriage or getting a divorce. I truly wanted to go back to what we once had but I knew that it wasn’t just up to myself.
We had spoken about our problems many times but it usually ended with him saying: “That’s how I am and I won’t change.” This is not a blame game and I do understand that I wasn’t easy to be around for the last two years but all I wanted was to spend time with him, talk to him and feel loved. To me, it felt that none of these things were his priorities, therefore, I had to make the decision if I could live with it or not.
My last hope was to have a conversation with him in the presence of my therapist. Before my husband arrived I told my therapist, "If he says 'That’s how I am and I won’t change', I will have to accept it and move on." I didn’t have to wait for long until those very words decided the fate of our marriage. It was painful and my head and my heart struggled to agree.
Until today, it pains me to know that he wasn’t willing to make small changes to save our marriage. It also pains me to ask myself why I wasn’t worth fighting for, but over the years I have accepted that we can’t change another person and that it is okay.
Ironically, we had gotten married to the U2 song With or Without You, and in the end, it turned out to be without you.
Ireland, where the grass is greener
A few days later I returned home and made a decision that was going to change my life forever. Within six weeks, we filed for divorce, sold the house and my car and I bought a one-way ticket to Ireland. I know, we Germans are quite efficient, aren’t we?
There was no fighting, no bad words and we parted with the utmost respect for each other. As sad as it was, I feel like it was for the better. If all of these things hadn’t happened I wouldn’t have moved to Ireland, I wouldn’t have changed career and I wouldn’t have met my Irish partner who has been there all along to support me.
I admire him for his patience and I can tell you that not many men would have listened to me whining about my ex-husband for as long as he did. Most importantly, if it wasn’t for him I might not be sitting here sharing my story with you.
Whenever a door closes another one opens
Even though I still don’t have a child or own a house anymore, I am happy with who I am, who I am with and what I do, that’s what ultimately counts for me.
Sometimes we have to take risks in order to find real happiness and a failure can lead to a much greater success.
If you are in a place where you are struggling, open up to your friends and family, give them the chance to support you.
Seek medical help and put yourself first, find things you love and do them!
Think about what you would tell a friend if they were in your position and follow your advice, often we are much kinder to others than ourselves.
It is okay to be selfish sometimes, you just have that one life so make the most of it!
Let me know if you find this kind of posts helpful, I am looking forward to reading your comments.
Read more of Eva's articles