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There are several forms of depression, and with women being more susceptible, we're likely to experience it at least once in our lifetime. Here, three women tell Nandi Ndlovu how it can feel - and what can help. TO BE A PARENT AND DIDN'T TRACY BURGER, 30, ACCOUNT MANAGER HAVING children has always been on the cards for me. I believe that it's in our nature to procreate, and I get broody when I'm around newborns. And so, in 2012, a year after we got married, my husband Mark and I agreed we were ready "We decided to let things happen naturally and, a few months later, I started feeling ill in the mornings. I knew this was it, and the home pregnancy test read positive. I went to my doctor for confirmation and the answer was definite. Mark was just as ecstatic as I was. 'After the morning sickness stopped, I had a pretty normal pregnancy I enjoyed watching my body change, knowing that there was a little person growing inside me. And I went all out, buying baby clothes and preparing the nursery "I was eight months into pregnancy and it was around 3am when I couldn't get to sleep. I got up and felt a trickle of fluid run down my leg. When I went to the bathroom to investigate, I realised that my water had broken. I woke up Mark, grabbed my pre-packed overnight bag and rushed to the hospital. From beauty to despair "I was in labour for six hours, until our baby girl, Lily was finally delivered. I was genuinely and deeply happy when I held her for the first time. It was a beautiful moment that I'll never forget - everything about her was perfect. "It all changed once we got home the next day I had trouble sleeping and began to get very moody I was breastfeeding and tired all the time as well as incredibly down. I wrote it all off as just my body adjusting. After all, this was a new experience. A common condition "But then I started snapping at Mark, and he mentioned that I'd been really off with him for a few weeks. I told him that he was overreacting and that I was just tired and overwhelmed: neither of us had experienced parenthood before now "But this wasn't how I'd expected it to be. I felt miserable and unfit to be a parent. I didn't want to be with Lily because I felt incapable of looking after her, so I was reclusive and resentful towards our baby and I barely spoke to Mark. It was too much. "After three months, Mark had had enough and took me to see a doctor, where I was diagnosed with post-natal depression, being told that it was a common condition. I was relieved to have an explanation, but also so sad about being depressed after giving birth. So I cried and apologised to Mark. "I'd heard of post-natal depression, but didn't know much about it, so I did some research when I got home. What really surprised me was that up to 40 percent of women in SA are affected by it. That made me feel better - I wasn't a bad parent. "I was put on selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, and things started to improve. The medication's side effects were minor: I had stomach problems, but received more medication to help with the acidity brought on by the drug. I worried that it would affect my breast milk, but was assured that it wouldn't be harmful to Lily Within a fortnight I began to feel better. Love, support and healing "I joined a support group I'd found through the South African Depression and Anxiety Group on sadag.org, and it was great to meet with women who knew what I was going through. "We shared our stories, struggles and progress. My recovery was gradual, but these women were an integral part of the healing. "I can't imagine what would've happened if Mark had left me for another few weeks, in the hopes I would improve. "What if I'd neglected Lily or, even worse, what if I'd harmed her? What if I'd harmed myself? These questions keep popping into my head, and I'm so grateful that I received the help I needed, and that I didn't lose any precious moments with my daughter" WITHOUT THE BLANKET OF WORK, I REALISED HOW BAD THINGS REALLY WERE HELEN MOFFETT, 53, AUTHOR AND EDITOR FOR YEARS, I'd been working too hard on too little sleep, and 2013 and 2014 were crazy in this respect. I'm generally quite an optimistic person, so when my friends expressed concern, I'd say things like 'I'll be fine once I take a holiday'. But when I did take that holiday in August 2014, everything fell apart. I went to visit a friend in Shropshire in the UK, and it was another world: slow, sleepy, safe and secure. Finally I had time to think and, without the blanket of work, I realised how bad things really were. "Six weeks later, I was diagnosed not with depression, but with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder because of my severe panic attacks: my heart would race, I'd sweat and shake, and I'd be unable to catch my breath. So I'd hyperventilate until I blacked out. "I'd also be seized by the conviction that I was about to die. This made driving risky and I found myself having to pull my car over to the side of the road when I was in the middle of one of these episodes, until it was all over. "Once this started happening almost hourly normal life became pretty much impossible. I was also burnt out, and grieving a series of losses. "It was only when the antidepressants I'd been prescribed dramatically improved my mood that I realised I'd been slowly sliding into depression for months, and that all the rest (which was bad enough) had been masking it. Darkness and light "I'd noticed that I was tired all the time, but I'd put it down to insomnia and working too hard. I'd lost my zest for life, and was finding it harder and harder to take pleasure in anything. "If I was playing with my cats, for instance, I would think of all the animals that were homeless or experiencing cruelty If I sat down to a nice meal, images of Syrian refugees queueing for food flashed through my mind. When I drove home with groceries in my car, I'd feel sick with guilt when I passed beggars on the side of the road. "I tried medicating myself with exercise, which helped a little, but I still got steadily worse. It all felt like the line from a poem by WH Auden: 'For nothing now can ever come to any good'. "I had been in therapy for several years, and my therapist referred me to a psychiatrist for medication. I trusted her, and she was right. I'd been clinically depressed before, and had done all the research then, but it was so long ago that I didn't recognise the symptoms when they crept up on me this time. "I was put on Cymgen, a selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor, and although I wasn't crazy about the side effects, which included a constant bad taste in my mouth and feeling slightly wired and restless, I was fortunate to have an excellent response to the medication. 'After two weeks, things weren't quite so remorselessly terrible. The doctor had said the meds would be working at full strength within five weeks and, after a month, friends started commenting on the changes - I was much more responsive and beginning to work better. "Four weeks and six days after I'd started taking the pills, it was like the lights coming back on after load shedding! "With an almost audible click, I was back in my head, instead of outside myself, seeing the world through a dark grey filter. I could suddenly taste food again, music sounded good, and work felt exciting as opposed to being an unbearable burden. Grabbing help "My friends and family have been wonderful - I stayed with my sister while waiting for the meds to kick in, so I had lots of support. I'm still aware of the great stigma that's attached to any mental illness, as well as the notion that it's somehow weak to take medication for clinical depression. This is largely the result of ignorance: you can't cure depression with a stiff upper lip any more than you can cure diabetes by thinking positive, and while supportive lifestyle changes are important (I exercise every day), if you need medication, then take it. "Millions of traumatised and depressed people in this country lack access to decent healthcare - if you have the opportunity to get help, grab it with both hands instead of suffering in silence!" WHEN I WENT HOME FOR CHRISTMAS, MY MOM SAID I LOOKED LIKE A GHOS I ASHLEIGH FORBES, 25, STUDENT EPRESSION used to be something I'd only ever seen and heard about on TV and in the movies. Never did I think that the word, which is often so loosely and melodramatically used, would become part of my vocabulary and my selfdescription. "Then, halfway through my third year of studying architecture at the University of Cape Town, one of my friends commented on how skinny I looked. I told her it was just because of my stressful workload and the prospect of final exams. "When she replied that I looked sad too, her comment caught me offguard. But I brushed it off, citing my lack of sleep as the cause. And it was certainly true: I couldn't remember the last time I'd had a good night's sleep. A ghost at the door "That December, I went back home to Joburg, and my mom said it was like seeing a ghost walk through the door. I knew that I'd lost some weight, although I didn't think it was a big deal, but my mom became increasingly worried. 'All I wanted to do was sit by myself in my room, and even though I usually love Christmas, I had no interest in participating in any of the festivities that year. "My mom finally decided that she'd had enough of me moping, and she spoke to her doctor, who asked her to bring me in to see him. She was worried that I had an eating disorder, because I had no appetite and was so thin. "Instead, the doctor explained that I was suffering from major depressive disorder. I was taken aback. Of course I had heard of depression, but I'd always really doubted its existence... and now I had it. I was confused about what that meant. "The doctor explained that my mood, lack of appetite, insomnia and weight loss were all indications that I was suffering from depression brought on by stressful life events, and it all began to make sense. Heartbreak and hiding "It all started at the end of my second year of studying, when I found out that my boyfriend had cheated on me with another girl while he was out with his friends. I was really devastated, as I felt that we had something special we'd even spoken about meeting each other's families. "Trying to study for exams while dealing with a break-up proved to be extremely difficult, and I failed the module that I'd been struggling with. I felt stupid and pathetic for letting a guy have such an effect on me and, at the same time, I was nervous to tell my parents about my marks as I didn't want to let them down. "The news eventually came out when my parents asked about my results. My dad reminded me that it cost a lot of money to put me through university He thought I should be more mature and study harder. "My mom tried to be sympathetic about the break-up and my struggles with the module, but I could tell she was worried. "When I returned to university for my third year, I drowned myself in books and work, and I didn't so much as look at a boy "I worried constantly about failing and disappointing my parents, and I couldn't stop thinking about the cost of my studies. So I kept to myself, lost all interest in parties, socialising and university events, and hung out with my friends only occasionally "My mood started to change and my friends complained about how unpleasant I'd become, which only irritated me more. I decided that they were just being ridiculous, and I started to see them even less. Learning to express "After the doctor's visit, I was put on antidepressants and told that my medication would take a few weeks to kick in. This meant that my mom would be holding me hostage until then, and she suggested that I attend a few therapy sessions. "The first session felt terribly awkward. I'd never shared all the emotions of the past year with my family or friends, and now a stranger was asking me about everything. "We started off with questions about Cape Town, my course, friends I'd made, and eventually we got to the deeper issues: the break-up and how pressured I felt. "It was great to finally let everything out and to express my feelings, and it helped to be able to talk to a stranger: someone I wasn't afraid to hurt or disappoint. A huge weight lifted off my shoulders and there were a lot of tears. "I spent a month at home, before I went back to Cape Town to pursue my master's degree. My therapist gave me a referral and I now continue to have weekly sessions. When I shared my experience with my friends, it became apparent how little is known about the illness or the telltale signs. "I'm so grateful for my mother's support. Without her, I would've slipped deeper into depression. I can only hope that those people who are also suffering from depression can get the support and understanding they deserve." 'If you have the opportunity to get help, grab it with both hands instead of suffering in silence!' This article appears in the February issue of Glamour magazine, on sale now For more information on depression and anxiety, or to join a support group, contact the South African Depression and Anxiety Group on 011 234 4837 or visit sadag.org. For post-natal depression, contact the Post Natal Depression Support Association on 082 882 0072 or visit pndsa.org.za