Be Gentle on Yourself… a work in progress

Melinda Schneider, Central Coast, NSW

I felt deep sadness, my body felt so heavy that I couldn’t really move. Then came the shame. I felt hopeless and defective.

I’ve always believed taking care of yourself was kind of selfish. Growing up a good Catholic girl, selflessness and sacrifice were to be aspired to. But this manifested for me as a belief that when it came to my needs, I should put myself last or leave myself out of the picture all together.

On Mother’s Day 2018 that belief began to change, it had to.

That Sunday, I came home after performing a show and told my partner Mark,

“Something doesn’t feel right,”

But I couldn’t describe what it was. He sent me to bed and told me to stay there. He said

“You’re a workaholic, you never have any time off.

“Go to bed and watch Netflix, but do not work.”

I took his advice. I was in bed for 6 weeks.

I felt deep sadness, my body felt so heavy that I couldn’t really move. Then came the shame. I felt hopeless and defective. Some days I couldn’t even pick up my son, Sullivan from school. I couldn’t bear to be seen by the other school mums.

Then came the guilty thoughts. What do I have to be depressed about? I have a great life, a successful career, a home, a kind and loving partner and a beautiful son. There are so many people worse off than me.

I’ve since learned that it’s all relative and comparisons don’t help. They only make you feel worse. It’s validation a person with depression needs. Permission to feel exactly how they need to feel at any given time. I was lucky, Mark gave me that.

I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and Generalised Anxiety. My doctor said

“Be strong, but not TOO strong.”

Her words really made me think. Was I too stoic? The answer was yes. But now I have so much more awareness around how workaholism, perfectionism, exhaustion and a critical inner voice can bring on a bout of depression, well two in twelve months in my case.

In April 2019, my depression came back and in May, I lost an old friend to suicide.

I was beyond devastated.

The grief and depression combined were too much and the pressure to be all smiles for my upcoming Doris Day National tour was looming, I needed help. I went back to my doctor who convinced me I didn’t have to keep battling this alone.

I finally agreed to try medication.

A week later it kicked in and I felt so much better. However, I’ve learned that meds alone can’t manage it, I need to exercise, meditate, eat well and cut out coffee to stay healthy.

As my song, The Story of My Life says,

“I was born in 71, policeman dad and a yodelling mum.”

With that came lots of wonderful things, but it also came with pressure. Pressure to be a perfect reflection on my family. I felt I always had to be a happy, little, pretty thing. So, without even realising it, for my forty-year music career (an Anniversary I celebrate this year), that’s the role I’ve played, until I couldn’t anymore.

For me, to Be Gentle on Yourself means learning to stop self-judgement and treating myself with the same unconditional love I give my child. This doesn’t come easily, it takes practice, daily. I’m a work in progress.

In hindsight my experience with depression was less of a breakdown and more of a breakthrough, it’s changed me for the better.