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Amelia - Interview 27

Age at interview: 51
Age at diagnosis: 38
Brief Outline: Amelia is married with two sons. She was diagnosed with depression in 1998, although she had experienced it at various times throughout her life. She believes her depression is linked to her hormones. She currently takes antidepressants and uses work, cooking and gardening to distract her, and lives with her husband and one of her children.
Background: Amelia is an academic who is married with two adult children. Ethnic background' Australian.

More about me...

Amelia was close to her brother growing up, but not so much with her parents as they were not supportive about her academic endeavours. She reflects that despite her academic success and career she often feels that her successes are merely luck, rather than attributable to her intellect and hard work.
 
Amelia first experienced depression while studying at university when her grandfather (who moved in with her family) and mother were both ill and she had many caring responsibilities. She felt ‘extremely tired’ all the time and decided to move out of home to focus on her Honours. She did see a university counsellor, which she thinks was helpful and her GP thought the extreme tiredness was perhaps due to a virus. Amelia didn’t tell her parents about her depression because she felt she had to protect them.
 
Amelia experienced postnatal depression after the birth of her first son. She felt ‘exhausted and incompetent’. The birth of her son coincided with her PhD studies, and she felt that both her studies and role as a mother were compromised. She didn’t have a support network or other mothers to talk about this experience because she felt it would be akin to ‘failure’ to admit she was struggling.
 
Amelia’s believes her depression is strongly linked to her hormones. She has always had severe mood changes associated with her menstrual cycle, including irritability followed by exhaustion and guilt. At times this has coincided with uncontrollable thoughts of injuring herself, which Amelia describes as distressing. These thoughts usually only last for a couple of days and she has learned to focus on the thought that they will be over soon. Her distress became more constant when her husband had an affair and considered leaving the marriage. Amelia saw a GP who diagnosed her with depression and prescribed antidepressant medication.
 
Amelia has found the most helpful thing for her depression is antidepressant medication. Recently her current GP has suggested cognitive behavioural therapy. Amelia has considered this but admits that after hearing adverse comments about women and depression from a psychologist she once met, she has not pursued counselling. She instead prefers to continue taking medication, which she says ‘controls depressive episodes’. She finds reading cookbooks, gardening or keeping busy to distract herself from depression.
 

Amelia has confided in a small group of family and friends about her experiences with depression and says her husband and sons are supportive and understanding. Amelia is committed to continuing taking antidepressant medication. She says her hopes for the future include having more confidence, time and energy and working as a volunteer overseas. 

 

Amelia was responsible for housekeeping since the age of 12 as her mother was frequently ill.

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Amelia was responsible for housekeeping since the age of 12 as her mother was frequently ill.

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And, when I was in my teens my mother had been very unwell a lot of the time. And then, my, I had a fair bit of responsibility at home to look after things in the house when my mother wasn't well. So like I can remember - I can't remember exactly how old I would have been the first time she went into hospital, but, I think probably about 12, something like that. And so it was my job to look after the home and the family, and the cooking and the washing and the cleaning, and all of that, when my mother went to hospital.
 
When she came home from hospital - the first day she came home - I can really clearly remember her getting very cross with me because she was resting in bed when my father came home from work. And I was cooking the dinner. And I didn't drop what I was doing to go out and greet him when he came home and offer him a cup of tea. And she was really cross with me because that was my job. If I was the one looking after the house, then my job was to go out and greet the working men. She always called my brother and my father the working men. In fact my brother was at university - oh, he was at school rather, but especially my father; I had to greet him and offer him a cup of tea and, and ask him how his day was, and all the rest of it.
 
And I'd sort of foolishly misinterpreted it and thought my job was to prepare the dinner. So anyway, throughout that time I was in, at high school she was not terribly well. And I was helping out a fair bit and then, when I was at university, particularly in that first year I remember, she was quite unwell. So, I remember like other kids would be going to the refectory and having coffee. I thought that was so cool, to have coffee, but I'd have to say no because I'd have to leave as soon as my lectures had finished and go home to cook the dinner and stuff like that. 
 
 

For Amelia, depression was a 'horrible enemy'.

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For Amelia, depression was a 'horrible enemy'.

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So perhaps that’s sometimes the reason- but it's sort of - but when I'm totally in it - when I'm really, really feeling terrible - it's just an enemy. It's just a horrible, horrible enemy. Like it's not part of me at all; it's just something inside me that makes me really want to - either makes me want to think only about injuring myself, or, makes me just unable to see anything positive, anywhere, in anything. It's all completely black.

 

Amelia talked about why she decided to stop seeing her long-term GP and said she now attends a...

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Amelia talked about why she decided to stop seeing her long-term GP and said she now attends a...

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I stopped going to her, probably about five or six years ago. I think she must have been having some problems of her own. And one time I went and she got very angry with me, for knocking on her door. I went in. It was time for my appointment. And the outside door of the surgery was locked. And I knocked, and there was no answer. 
 
And I thought maybe she'd just gone to the toilet or something like that and locked the door, and she would be back. And so I just waited a little while, and then I thought I'll knock again. And maybe I knocked a little bit louder that time, and she was very angry, and how dare I come and bash on her door [laughs]. And actually it was two minutes til my appointment time; so that was her time. So I figured maybe she was having a very hard time herself. But I figured also that I wasn't in the position of needing to take care of [laughs] somebody who was supposed to be taking care of me. So I stopped going to her.
 
But before that - this particular one, we didn't really talk a lot about it. She would just say look, I think this is suiting you. And she would ask me how it was going and, - but we didn't talk about how I felt in any detail or anything like that. And, and since I stopped going to her I haven’t really quite found a GP I could settle down with. So I, go along to the health clinic, where they write you out a script without any questions asked [laughs]. Just give me my drugs.
 
But yes, I know that I just really want those drugs, so if they don’t - if it, you know - whether or not they're doing what they're supposed to do, I just - gosh, a terrible thing, isn’t it? But yes.
 
 

Amelia talked about her experiences of depression during childhood and adolescence, early...

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Amelia talked about her experiences of depression during childhood and adolescence, early...

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Did you ever talk to your parents about that when you, at that time - how you felt?
 
No, I don’t think so, I did at all. I just told them I felt exhausted and, ah, I think I - I think I might have just said I really feel like I need to get away and [sighs] but I don't know how - I can't even remember how I explained that need. 
 
So didn’t, didn't feel comfortable enough telling them how you felt exactly?
 
No, I didn't feel I could do - I never - and I've never - like I never told them that I was, depressed or on medication or anything. I think, um, my father, also was very, very ill when I was young. He had very, very bad asthma. And, when we were little, we always heard, don’t expect daddy to live beyond the age of 40. The doctor's told us that daddy won't live beyond the age of 40. I had no idea how old he was, so I just thought oh well [laughs]. 
 
But, at the same time, you always had to not upset daddy. You always had to be good and quiet to not upset daddy. And, there was a point to me saying this. What was it? I know it was important. What was the question you just asked? Oh, did I ever talk to them? Yeah.
 
So, I think I really have this feeling still that I have to protect my parents. And now I really do. I mean they're terribly old and frail now. 
 
I really, really do have to protect them [laughs]. But I wouldn't, wouldn’t - I didn't really want to tell them stuff. I did tell them when my husband was planning to leave, because - but I just knew then, as a parent myself, that however horrible what your child is going through, you want to know about it. But the other stuff - it was stuff in my mind, and so I didn't have a right to feel that was horrible enough to [laughs] get help or...
 
And so when you, you talked about – now, looking back - that you think that you were having postnatal depression, were you able to talk to your husband about your feelings? Was he supportive? In ah, was he recognising that you were having a tough time?
 
I don’t think so. I think he's like really grown into that role. I, I think he, now, is very - generally, very understanding when I have, a low time. And I just tell him I'm feeling low, and he puts up with an awful lot of miserability [laughs]. And he, he, he generally can handle it and is very supportive. 
 
But I - I don’t think then - you know, like he could handle it for a few minutes at a time, but then it was too much; because, of course, he would not really understand, and wonder why, and wonder if it was because of him or whatever. And it took me a long time to figure out the pattern too and figure out, that I was feeling low. 
 
Sometimes you're just so busy feeling low, you don’t have that little chance to step back and recognise it's happening, cause you're so busy thinking that the world is in an end and everything's a complete waste of time. And you don’t just have that little way of standing back and saying oh, I'm feeling like the world's at an end and everything's a complete waste of time. I'm too busy thinking it. But no, I didn't find him terribly supportive at those times.
 
There's a very few colleagues and friends I've told – (friend’s name), and one other friend. I got really upset one day and I felt I needed to explain to her why. Friends - this - there's a friend I mentioned to you. I somehow or other we both let each other know that, we were on medication for depression. I've got two cousins and I can really clearly remember, we went - my cousin, who lives here, in (city name) - we went to visit th
 

Amelia had concerns about the benefits of learning more about depression.

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Amelia had concerns about the benefits of learning more about depression.

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If I do that maybe it will make me think about it, and maybe that'll be scary and I might learn something about myself or I have to actually face up to something or do something. And I don’t want to because my, my strategy is avoid and don’t think and get really busy. 
 
Because, with my parents - particularly my Mum - she was always a very, very active health consumer. And so she was constantly - like especially to do with monitoring what she ate and whether that related to whether she was feeling worse, or what exactly she did, or - for example, with her arthritis did she cook in an aluminium saucepan or had she had a different kind of bloody whatever, or this gluten or that whatever.
 
And, with dad's asthma, was it because he had this particular colourful vegetable or that whatever? 
 
And I just have seen their lives become so limited by those things, and I don’t see them getting any better. I don’t see it making a difference. And so it's... kind of like - I wonder, I wonder if maybe that's why I don’t go there looking for information and being an active health consumer and that kind of thing. I wonder if that's - perhaps there is.
 

Amelia was very ambivalent about 'talking therapy', thanks to unsatisfactory counselling...

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Amelia was very ambivalent about 'talking therapy', thanks to unsatisfactory counselling...

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But in the dining room we got to know this, Israeli fellow and his two boys. And he was actually a, - I think he was a psychologist. 
 
But he was on holiday, and of course he didn't have his professional hat on - and he was, saying - we were saying oh, you know, what's your job like and what's it like in [unclear]? He was saying oh, these, these women I have to see, you know. It just - they've got nothing better to do with their time ... they just.. ‘whinge’ [laughs] - which is probably like really therapeutic for him. And here was me sitting thinking well, shit, you know, I might be one of those ones.
 
So I honestly do think I - I mean what a ridiculous person I am. But I think that's one of the reasons I've never really managed to have an extended relationship with a counsellor or go to a counsellor about these kind of problems. One, I think, they're – ah, are so clearly, to a certain extent, tied up with physical things for me, and hormonal things - although I know, clearly, you know, a big upset like having my husband think about leaving or, other, you know, big upsets will clearly just throw me right off balance and I'll get much, much worse.
 
But also because I think probably every counsellor secretly thinks that, you know, every woman who goes is just a complaining, whingeing bitch, and that's all I am. And just that terrible feeling that, you know, God, what right have I got to complain or whinge or feel depressed, you know? What an incredibly privileged life I have; how wonderful a life I've got. How many people out there that have got real problems? How dare I [cries] you know, take up anybody's time or resources to try and help me? 
 
I have been to one or two - I mean along the time, you know, I got desperate and thought maybe it will help to talk to somebody. And, and maybe I did luck out and didn't find somebody who really was particularly good. I do remember - you know I mentioned to you one colleague? I got really upset and I felt I should tell her.
 
Obviously, she felt she should try to support me. So she, gave me a recommendation of a counsellor that somebody had said was good. And I went to that person, and that person just sort of said well, tell me how you're feeling. And then it was just like she just sat completely silently while I said something, and then she didn't say anything - like just like I'm listening kind of thing [laughs]. 
 
You know, I just thought Jesus, you know, you think I don’t sit in the car and tell the car how I'm feeling? I can do - I don’t have to pay 60 bucks an hour to [laughs]. Anyway, there you go. I try and keep my sense of humour with it, as you can see. That's very helpful [laughs].
 
 

Amelia found antidepressants helpful and was dismissive of complementary approaches and talking...

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Amelia found antidepressants helpful and was dismissive of complementary approaches and talking...

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I always have this little imagination that maybe there is somebody who actually understands hormonal depression, and, and can really figure out something other than evening primrose oil and Echinacea and whatever it is - St John's bloody wort or something or other .
 
So you're obviously not very fond about natural alternatives and complementary?
 
Well, look, I really, really feel very happy for people who find that helpful; and maybe they just have a different experience to me. but yeah, somebody who actually, had a particular expertise or understanding of that particular kind of depression and how to handle it and manage it, and if there's something other than – be- yes, other than drug therapy. Not other than - as well as - because I've just got this, sort of feeling that - you know, like the. the kind of, therapy that that GP, more recently that I went to, was suggesting it's cognitive behavioural therapy. And I understand cognitive behavioural therapy, and it's to do with the attitude of mind. 
 
And I just always think that's, of course that's really important and, of course, I try to, control those things. But if you've got an enemy within, you know, you can't have your mind over matter to that extent. I can't do anything about my stupid hormones. So yes, I would really, really like - and because I'm an academic, you know, for me it's all about look have you done the research studies? Have you got a randomised controlled trial of this? Otherwise don’t waste my time.
 
 

Amelia had never thought about 'recovery' from depression, but she constructed a persona of whom...

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Amelia had never thought about 'recovery' from depression, but she constructed a persona of whom...

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God. I think, well, I never exactly have thought of that word, recovery, or recovered from depression. But if I can imagine myself without it - I do have this little image of myself as a retired elderly woman who's like very competent, and she has energy this amazing woman. 
 
And she does things that she's wanted to do all her life, and she's not afraid to do them, and she's not afraid of failure. I quite like that woman. I feel quite fond of her. And who knows? One day I might be her. So I guess, maybe, that's my thought of what it would be like.
 
She would go to a country that I've always wanted to go to.
 
And she would just teach English to children or to adults and help them in the refugee camps - not by doing anything physical, because she's such a hopeless physical person. But she's got a big mind and she's got a kind heart, and so she can help people with those - she wouldn't always not have the energy to do those things. That would be lovely. 
 
I think I really would love to become that woman - who's so self confident that she can just do what she wants to do. And she doesn’t worry all the time that she's a failure and she's not doing her job properly and not good enough to do what she wants to do. 
 
And I do have a little part of me that thinks I might be that woman one day, so that's nice. So I just - she'd be really happy that I have that little part of me.
 
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