“I’ve got insects. Help me to get rid of the insects!”, Kate whis- pered to me, gradually getting louder. Kate said it over and over again like a mantra. Insects, insects, insects. The first time I heard this, I did not quite understand what it meant.
Brown, hairy, multi-legged creatures protected by a shiny shell. That is how she described them when I asked her. She said that they made her panic. I never thought of other associations for these rather unpleasant crustaceans. For Kate, insects had far more malignant associations. Kate’s feelings of anxiety and depression manifested themselves inside her body as insects. When she was particularly down, she felt a sick sensation of insects crawling up her oesophagus to other parts of her body.
This was a warning bell to the worsening situation. When Kate had suffered previous bouts of depression, she had felt these insects and I knew that the situation was serious.
Kate begged me to get rid of them. How could I eradicate these feelings, which were so real and almost tangible? How were we going to alleviate this acute pain? I felt absolutely helpless and useless. No amount of rationalising these feelings was going to be of use at the time. Kate pleaded with me not to tell anyone about these ‘insects’ for fear that they thought she was really ‘losing it’. She told me that she was scared that people would think she was a lunatic.
When I first heard about these ‘insects’ I too was alarmed. I tried to compare them to what we would call ‘butterflies’. I tried to placate Kate and told her that we all suffered from time to time with insects or butterflies and that this was normal, especially inher current frame of mind. Yet again, I underestimated the importance of this behaviour.
As I returned home from work one day, I saw a sight I will never forget. I came into the bedroom and saw Kate sitting on the bed with her back facing me. As I approached her from behind to give her a hug, I saw that she was scratching her neck area with an increasing intensity. At first I thought she just had an itch, but as I looked close, I saw that her throat was marked with scratches from what had seemingly been a prolonged period of scratching. My gut feeling told me something was definitely wrong.
As I looked at Kate, I saw a combined expression of torment, anxiety and physical pain. Before I could even say anything or ask what was wrong, she said:“The insects can’t get out. They are stuck. They need to get out!”I could not even begin to understand how this must have felt for Kate. My head just raced with thoughts on how torturous this must have been for her. At the same time, I was so scared that she might have seriously hurt herself if I would have come home later. Yet again, I felt hopeless at being able to predict the situation and felt totally ignorant about the symptoms of the depression.
My initial response was my standard one. I simply held her tight and reassured her that I would do my best to help get rid of them.
“Please tell the insects to go away. Please! I cannot stand this anymore!”
What could I say to such a request? This was something that was clearly not within my expertise and I was not equipped to deal with it. We needed further urgent medical help.
We had to ‘up the ante’ and get further medical advice. We made an appointment with the GP. When I explained the incident of the insects, the doctor indicated that this was an indication of a more severe form of depression and that these insects were some form of hallucination. Whilst this was an indication of an escala- tion of the problem, the doctor also reassured me that this was a normal symptom of people in a similar situation to Kate. I was starting to wonder what ‘normal’ really was.
In some ways, this did reassure me, but at the same time left me in more of a panic about what else could possibly be in store for us. Several months later, I shared my feelings with a work colleague who herself suffered from depression. I showed her some of the thoughts I had articulated onto paper.
When she read about the insects, she started crying. I was quite surprised by her response and curious as to what had caused this reaction. She told me that her tears were tears of relief as she had experienced simi- lar symptoms throughout her years of depression. She too had felt it bizarre and did not think there was anyone else who could have experienced something like that.
I felt as if we were on a roller coaster and had no idea of its duration or path and this scared me more than anything. If I could have known beforehand about the possible situations we would face, I might have been better prepared to deal with the problems we had. At no stage before or after the birth was there any mention of what was likely to happen. I felt that the response from the professionals was more reactive than proactive. We always seemed to be one step behind the illness. My insides were screaming for more information and guidance from them. I needed a roadmap to keep me going. Unfortunately, I was left to my own devices.
Excerpt from Epilogue:
We all need hope and optimism to get through life. In the darkest hours, I have always told myself to draw a line under some days and simply acknowledge that they have been unbear- able without too much analysis and dissection of events. Each new day brings a new opportunity for change and this drives me to attempt, as best I can, to wake up with an open, optimistic frame of mind. This is my biggest challenge in life.