Depression crept up on me slowly. Incrementally. So gradual that I didn’t notice as the colour slowly faded out of my world.
It started with tummy aches that would begin halfway through 10 and 14 hour shifts. Bending over to pick up bags and treat patients caused discomfort and the cause was elusive. They were fairly mild at first but over the course of 6 months they got so bad that I’d end up driving home from work with my belt and pants undone.
At the same time as this was happening I started to get sick. Every bug that went around had me feeling lethargic, coughing and sneezing for weeks. My previously robust immune system was failing. Multiple trips to my GP provided no answers with serial blood tests revealing that I was perfectly healthy.
I would lie in bed on my days off and try and coax myself to get up and do something, but all the sparks were gone from the world. I let my veggie garden succumb to the ceaseless spread of weeds. Shriveled chillies and capsicums rotting on the ground amongst unruly and now inedible baby spinach and coriander, a constant reminder of my neglect.
I no longer had enough energy to leave the house or entertain guests in the few hours between shifts and sleep. For five days in a row I would cook-eat-clean up, cook-eat-clean up, breakfasts, lunches and dinners alone. Getting my washing done is an accomplishment and a necessity. Its completion becomes the main focus of my days off.
Prior to this I would have been the kind of person described as ‘bubbly’, ‘confident’ or ‘outgoing’. I was always doing something, always full of energy and giving my all to whatever challenge was in front of me.
When I finally broke it was like a dam wall burst. I had been collecting tiny pieces of grief, loneliness and pain from each of my patients over the course of two and a half years and it all poured out of me in a torrent of tears and hopelessness.
The most prominent feeling was an overwhelming sense of failure. When you are a paramedic you are told over and over again that ‘it takes a special person to do what you do’. What happens when you can’t do it any more?