October 10, 2016, is World Mental Health Day, and though people are talking about this whole subject much more now than in previous years, it’s still far too much of a taboo, so I’m sharing my story so far. If any of this identifies with you or someone you know, please talk about it xxx
I finally realised I had post natal depression when Millie was about four months old. I was out for a drink with a friend and she commented on what a great job I was doing with my daughter, and I tried to say thank you but burst into tears instead. I was so embarrassed, but I just couldn’t hear it. A great job was the total opposite of what I felt like I was doing.
I thought I knew all about PND. I work for an NHS trust that provides both mental health care and health visiting services, so I’d read the blurb, written the advice, and as a mum I’d sat through the appointments, checks and been asked the questions. I knew the signs, but I’d just been ignoring them. I thought it wasn’t going to happen to me.
I knew something wasn’t right, but I found it incredibly hard to face up to that, or speak to someone. I’d gotten through the ‘baby blues’ stage, where the most attention is paid to the risk of PND, and was getting more sleep, had a good routine with Millie, I’d built confidence in knowing what she needed and when, and I had lots of family and friends to support me. So why was it so bloody hard?
At the time I was not only managing a small person, but also doing quite a lot to help care for my husband’s grandmother, who suffers with dementia and had some time in respite before moving to a care home, and we also have a dog. The dog is a minor point to many but she was my tipping point. At the end of every marathon day juggling feeds, naps, changes, appointments, phone calls and whatever else, I’d get through the door exhausted to see a hopeful little furry face. She was someone else who needed something from me and it was just too much.
When I got to the point of saturation, I got angry. Not necessarily at anyone, but just lashed out. I did a lot of shouting and crying in the car, which Millie was often audience to. Sometimes she was the source of my exasperation and I lost count of how often I’d raise my voice at her and say ‘I don’t know what you want!’. Sorry pumpkin.
My other outlet was the shower. I’ve spent a lot of time crying in the shower, telling Millie how sorry I was, how much I’d failed her, and that she deserved far better than me. Millions are bringing up children every day and doing an amazing job, and yet after only four months I thought I’d fucked it all up, and should probably just leave.
I know I’m lucky to have been blessed with a child, and I know there are people fighting much greater battles than me. But in the midst of all this I’m afraid that knowledge meant jack shit and didn’t change how I felt every day, it just made me feel more guilty for feeling it at all.
There’s an analogy I read that really hit home for how I was feeling; pouring from an empty cup. When you always trying to give yourself to others and fill their cups until yours is empty and you’ve nothing left to give, and no one’s giving anything to you either.
There was too much going on so my brain just clocked off for a bit. I couldn’t concentrate on anything, or be bothered to speak to anyone, and became very withdrawn. I’d feel incredibly low and couldn’t see how I was helping anyone.
I eventually went to see a GP, was prescribed anti depressants, which I didn’t take. Even as she was printing the prescription I knew I wouldn’t. I felt like taking them was giving in somehow, which I know is bloody ridiculous. I also still didn’t talk to anyone, which is even more ridiculous, and just pushed on.
Christmas came and went, and then in the New Year my cloud began to lift. The festive season brings such disruption to routine that I was distracted, and as things around me began to settle I felt much brighter, and was able to enjoy life more. I can’t say there was anything I did really, but things just felt easier after a while.
I think depression skews your coping mechanisms long term, and I’m definitely still dealing with that. I’ve always considered myself to be pretty strong emotionally, and in almost every job interview I’ve had I’ve confidently told people that I thrive on crisis, and perform best under pressure. I know now that the opposite is true after having a baby!
My job can be pretty full on, and has certainly been stressful since I went back to work six months ago, as well coordinating childcare and home, friends, family etc. The treadmill of life has been whacked up a few notches and I do struggle to keep up! Now I’ve felt depression I sometimes can tell that I’m dancing around it again, which I suppose is good as a warning sign, and I know I need to act rather than just ignore it now.
With hindsight I think my case was pretty mild, but I don’t really know, and it definitely didn’t feel mild at the time. I’ve heard and read stories from people who suffered far worse experiences than me, and it can be devastating to deal with. What I do know is that you can’t face it alone. Now when I’m feeling low I try and talk to people more, and it really does help, and in fact just hearing from others online and feeing less alone is a huge support. Not letting anyone in just isolates you further, which is the last thing you need. I also love long hot baths and finding time to read. You have to make it about you sometimes!
Although those crappy inspirational quotes that flood social media are annoying, some of them really are true. You can only take life a day at a time, and sometimes you just have to let things go and focus on what’s important. And actually, I’m pretty bloody important. ❤️