I'm struggling my way up the steep and winding Rapaki track to the top. You're drained just running up the road to the start of the track. You hit the forest and the track opens wide and swallows you. You carefully step across the steel bars across the first animal stop and the sky appears again. Ahead the path is craggy and winding; the destination seems so far away. My breathing is heavier than usual. There's tension throughout my body. I feel like a shell of the runner I know I am. I'm just not there. Eventually the tracks levels off to a flat section and my breathing relaxes. I ease into a short downhill stretch, before the last daunting uphill climb to the top. It never seems to end. It's at this point I think of how this run encapsulates my depression. I acknowledge that life is harder than normal at the moment, but that essentially I'm okay, and if I keep moving forward - step after step - I'll get to where I want to go. I rounded the last bend and moved towards the top spreading my fingers to feel the cold kiss my fingertips. I feel like this moment was a turning point.
I'm reading John Kirwan's book All Blacks Don't Cry, about his struggles with depression and anxiety. I read it years ago and marvelled at how his inner turmoil was tearing him apart when the whole country assumed he had the perfect life. He writes about how he eventually reached out for help and how he has made himself well again - the work that he puts in daily to keep his life in balance. I am now reading it and relating far more to his experience. I see myself in his words. I saw him talk in Wellington years ago about mental health and he was inspirational. He took several years before he sought help. Initially he tried to guts it out, fighting it like it was another opponent to side step. Because of his example I recognised I wasn't okay sooner than he did, before I spiralled down too deep.
It's been a weekend of ups and downs. My wife has started to show signs of the strain that the last week has put on her. She's been unbelievable, taking on so much extra work on top of her busy job to keep the house running and take the pressure off me. Emotionally it's been tough for her. She's worried about the uncertainty that my depression has thrown into our lives. It seems complicated and messy right now. She's worried I'll suffer bouts of depression for the rest of my life. She hates seeing me struggle, the vacant look in my eyes when the clouds close in again. I told her I'll do everything I can to make sure I get well and stay well. I told her I'm worried she's putting too much pressure on herself. I told her I need to keep things simple at the moment, and that all I need at the moment is for her to focus on her work and at the end of the day I just need her arms around my shoulders. I told her that, while it's tough at the moment, this could be the best thing to ever happen to me.
The tide is turning. The anxiety is ebbing away and my mood is lifting by the day. My biggest fear at the moment is that I still feel like I've been turned to stone. I crave for a flash of joy or to feel truly sad. I haven't cried for days. I haven't been able to sleep for more than a week without the help of the sleeping pills I've been prescribed. I was dog tired the two days I decided not to take it and I still couldn't sleep. I just feel a bit numb. Last night I saw my wife's tears trickle down her face and I recognised her sadness, but also wished I could feel it too.
I've had some true moments of tenderness; hugging my daughter tight and telling her how proud I was that she was making decorations for her little sister's birthday party, kissing my wife's hand and in that moment reflecting on our life together and how lucky I am to have met my soulmate, seeing my youngest daughter's face on Skype calling my name, and when I kissed my eldest daughter goodnight and she said: "I love you so, so much Daddy."
I can't believe I'm quoting from Frozen here, but it's my daughters' favourite movie, and I have seen it more than a few times:
"Love will thaw a frozen heart."
I will feel again.