Michelle Ryan

Dear Joshua,

A year ago, you decided to enter into this world. You weren’t due until the end of March, but you arrived early for a reason. You knew that I was struggling. My anxiety levels were worryingly high. Let me explain why.

I had had a tough six years before your creation. I had succumbed to the Black Dog of Depression, time and time again, culminating with a hospital stay of four months in St Patrick’s Hospital. I had missed six months a year for longer than I could remember, as my Generalised Anxiety Order controlled my thoughts, and ultimately my mood. I have a worry problem, as oft people do, but alas, mine used to get out of control. I would worry about things that were unrealistic, and often, untrue. The mind is a powerful thing, and when I was anxious, my brain would convince me of the most horrendous things. When my worries became so great, and I revelled in catastrophising, I would shut down. I would pull down shutters on the world, and sadly, my family and friends. Communication would become an impossible task, along with daily essentials like showering, eating and even dressing myself. I would consume myself with my worries, and hibernate away for months on end, afraid to face the big bad world, and the apparent normality of the rest of the human population.

During my 2013 hospital admission, I decided enough was enough. I needed to break the vicious cycle I was caught in. A caring psychologist worked daily with me, helping me confront my worries, and realise how unrealistic my thoughts and fears had become. I decided I would put my wellness ahead of everything else, and before I returned to teaching, I participated in a WRAP (Wellness and Recovery Plan) Programme as an out-patient in the hospital. Instead of focusing on my illness, I focused on how to stay well. I learned to identify my wellness tools, how to engage with them, and utilise them in times of need. I felt armed to face my next depressive episode. It was then I decided I would take a career break from teaching.

It was as that point I met your father. I mistakenly thought I had found my happily ever after. I foolishly rushed into an extremely serious relationship, and ignored warning signs that things were all not as they seemed. What I didn’t realise was that, unbeknownst to me at the time, I met your father to be granted the miracle that is you, and you are most certainly my happily ever after.

In the summer of 2014, we found out that you were growing inside me. Paired with the delight of finding out about your existence, I also had other emotions. I was immediately taken off the one tablet I had been taking to ensure I wouldn’t dip low that coming winter. I now faced my danger time of the year, with no medicinal crutch. I tried not to focus on that, and instead focused on staying well. My plans to study were shelved, and instead, staying well became my full time job.

Your father left when I was twelve weeks pregnant. I was too embarrassed to tell anyone and I instantly turned on panic mode. Ironically, as someone who had volunteered with most mental health charities over the years, I was suddenly in dire need of them all. My mind was trying it’s hardest to convince me I couldn’t do this. It was telling me I wouldn’t survive the pregnancy, and I was certain to fail as a single Mum. Thankfully, some tiny part of me saw the warning signs, and I presented myself at the door of Pieta House. It was a crisis point, and I desperately needed help to get out of my hole. I was welcomed to each of my fifteen free counselling sessions by a warm smile, candles and relaxing music. My counsellor worked tirelessly with me over the next few months and ultimately, saved both of our lives. I also participated in The Eden Programme, a Wellness programme run by Suicide and Survive. The same non-judgemental, caring and healing atmosphere was mirrored at that programme too. I had been drowning in a sea of my own terrifying thoughts, and these two charities were literally the life ring that rescued me, and in turn, you.

On the morning of the 6th of February 2014, I felt flutters of pain in my back. I brushed them off until it became apparent that they were becoming stronger and closer together. I presented at Holles Street in the full throws of labour. At 14.44pm that day, your tiny little head made its way out, and your beautiful healthy roar calmed my racing mind and assured me that you were very much alive and well. Despite your prematurity, I miraculously got to keep you for two precious hours on my chest.

That was the turning point for the rest of my life Joshua. You are an absolute miracle, and I will be grateful every day for the rest of my life that I am your Mum. My heart was shattered into a million pieces before your arrival, and you became the glue to piece it all back together. You taught me how to love again.

I faced a terrifying statistic that post natal depression was almost inevitable, given my mental health history. Instead, I grew stronger and stronger. I have been so proactive about my mental health, as I feel I no longer have a choice. Your life literally depends on me, and I made a promise to you when you were only seconds old that I would do everything in my power to stay well for you, and I will.

Financially, things have been really tough. Managing a mortgage, bills, the unbelievable cost of a baby, whilst being a single Mum on social welfare is near impossible. I had to change from the private health service to the Public Health Service, but remarkably, it has been phenomenal. I have built a network of support around me, with our amazing family as a solid foundation, and I am no longer living in fear of the next time I’ll be struck down by Depression. Instead, I am strong in the knowledge that I can fight it, and I am looking forward to our future together.

Someone up there has had a hand in you Joshua. I have never met a little person of your temperament. You are the happiest, most content, placid, good natured little boy. You’ve already been in Temple Street more times than any child should be in a life time. Your underdeveloped lungs may continue to cause difficulty for you, but like everything that we have faced, we will do it together, and we will beat it.

I have to be realistic and admit that the Black Dog might return at some stage in your life. I endeavour to keep him at bay, and I have already put so many things in place to stay well. If the unwelcome visitor does arrive, our family will unite and we will once again get through it. I have a responsibility to you, and I will honour that forever. I look forward to returning to teaching in September after my two year career break, reassured in the knowledge that I have broken the cycle, and our future is safe.

Joshua, thank you. You have given me my life back. You have given me a purpose, a focus; a reason to stay well. You are my world.



This article has 1 Comment

  1. Hello, I saw your post via my friend and fellow mental health ambassador, Fiona Kennedy’s sunny spells blog. I run a mental health/Art page, which Fiona has also contributed to. Would you mind if I shared your beautiful piece of writing alongside your images? The page is a mental health forum, it is relatively new, and I am always looking for personal stories. I am sure many will relate to yours.
    Kind regards,

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