Postnatal Depression: My steps to healing… (Part 1)

I’ve spent a long time wondering how I got to this exact point in my life… And whilst I believe there are many contributing factors, if I narrow it down to this particular journey I feel I can kind of make sense of it all.  Kind of.  There are parts of the past 12 months I now know will never make sense, and I’ve made my peace with that.  So, in my endeavour to help other mums figure out this minefield of thoughts and feelings, I’ve listed below the questions I’ve asked myself time and time again.  I’ve decided to write about these questions in two parts, as there are too many to squeeze into one!  I hope you find it helpful in navigating your own journey.

When did it start?

I’m really not sure if there were signs of prenatal depression for me although there were definitely those feelings of spiraling out of control throughout my pregnancy.   After a traumatic birth, I held it together quite well (I think).  It wasn’t until the LM was just over 6 months old I really started feeling the postnatal depression symptoms in their full capacity.  We had gone through quite a bit in a short period of time:  LM had developed eczema at 3 months causing his cheeks to welt and bleed;  we trialled dietary restrictions to help ease the eczema with no result;  I had recurrent mastitis and lost weight;  LM had to be weaned at 6 months as a result of the eczema and my mastitis, etc.    The good news was that while I had become an irritable, obsessive, intolerant, gangly insomniac, the LM was thriving!   Apart from his poor little face looking like a war-zone, that is.

For me, it was my having to wean the LM early which proved to be the final straw.  I couldn’t cope with anything further from that point onward.  Despite the LM’s eczema improving drastically after switching to a soy-based formula, I was in a world of pain – both physically and emotionally.  Christmas proved an extremely difficult period for me and the cracks were really starting to show.  Meltdowns became a frequent occurrence and I found I couldn’t be around groups of people for more than short periods without needing “time out” to ease the feelings of anxiety and claustrophobia I was experiencing.  It was not me at all.

What pushed me over the edge?

When we were given the option of 10 days away with my HF’s family just after New Year I knew we were in trouble.  I bargained with him, saying I would go but he had to accept I was likely to crack and people would really see how ugly I had become.  I would go for 4 days, but no more.  By this time I knew my limitations and couldn’t handle more than that.  As it was, it was our time away that forced me to get help.  The whole time we were with his family I felt like I was wearing a mask.  I smiled, I chatted, I drank wine, I played with the LM, we went to the beach, we took MANY family photos.  But whenever I was alone, or just with my HF, the mask would slip and I’d become an emotional wreck.  When we got back I finally had a massive breakdown from the stress of “pretending” and took it all out on my HF  – it was unfair to him, frightening, and confronting.  Later, I looked at the face smiling back at me in our holiday photos and I felt truly sick to my stomach.  I didn’t recognise this person at all because on the inside I was miserable, broken, and falling apart.  My life had become an absolute farce!  It was a terrible realisation and I knew at that point I would lose my family if this continued.

What was the first step?

I remember saying to my HF, “I need help.  This isn’t me and I’m scared of how out of control I feel.  I’m going to see Dr J.”  Of course he was extremely supportive, and so the next day I went to see our very kind family doctor who had helped me through my mastitis nightmare.  Walking into her office, I sat down and immediately burst into tears.  “It isn’t getting any better,” I sobbed, “In fact, it’s getting worse!  I’m a horrible, bitter person and I need help.”  Dr J was wonderful.  After completing the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS), with quite a high score, she calmly explained I definitely had Postnatal Depression.  I felt both relieved and scared at the same time.  Relieved because I could finally now define what was going on within me in a context I could understand.  And scared because I didn’t know where this journey would now take myself and my family.  I could only hope it was to a better and brighter place.

After further discussion, and many tears, Dr J said she thought I would benefit most from a combined approach of therapy and antidepressant medication.  It was important, she said, to get my life back to a degree of “normalcy” as quickly as possible.  It was only then, after my sleep, appetite, and weight issues were more under control, that I could productively move forward and deal with everything else.  Fortunately, I had already been to see a women’s health therapist previously (Mrs D), so together Dr J and I worked on my Health Care Plan for the next 6 months.  Walking out of Dr J’s clinic that morning it finally hit me:   I have a mental illness.

Which medication?

My antidepressant journey began with Zoloft.  I have since learned Zoloft is given first to most people with depression because it is the kindest with regard to side effects.  Dr J said we ideally wanted to see me feeling 60% better in two week’s time.  So, I began by taking 25mg for 4 days, then increasing to 50mg from then on.  The impact on my mood was almost immediate.  It seemed I now had breathing room to think things through before reacting, whereas previously I had a zero tolerance limit and would “attack” instantly.  However, despite this improvement, I was still experiencing really down days and my sleeping and appetite had not improved at all.  My vision was effected for the first two days after each dosage increase, everything would become blurry and I was extremely sensitive to light.  To top it off, I now also had constant diarrhea which was making life VERY uncomfortable and not great when trying to put on weight.  When I spoke to Dr J at out next appointment, I was disheartened due the side effects and felt only small improvements had been made so far.

So after the initial two weeks, my dosage was increased to 75mg for a week, then to 100mg after that.  This increased dosage continued to positively impact my mood, however the diarrhea was getting worse and my sleeping and eating were still as bad as ever.  After another two week’s at the 100mg dosage and continued negative side effects, Dr J suggested we look at Lexapro as another option.  She said that if this change in medication didn’t work, I may need to see a psychiatrist to monitor the medication, in conjunction with therapy, more closely.  I didn’t want that at all, so was determined to see a significant change!

Over the next two weeks my dosage of Lexapro was gradually increased from 10mg to 20mg and I’m relieved to say the difference across all of my symptoms was amazing.  My insomnia resolved almost instantaneously, I was finally getting a full night’s sleep again!  Slowly the diarrhea eased, my appetite returned gradually, and my mood leveled out to what I can only say was the most “normal” it had been for quite some time.  I cannot tell you how relieved I was!  Things were on the improve and I found I could cope with life again, it was wonderful (and my HF was was also very relieved!).  The only thing I realised, unintentionally, was the need to absolutely remember to take my medication at the same time every day.  There have been a couple of occasions where I’ve forgotten and whilst that day itself has been fine, I find the next day almost unbearable as the medication takes time to get back into my system.  The next day is a reminder of how dark the PND symptoms can be and it frightens me how quickly they return.  Who would have thought the incredible difference just one little tablet can make!

So, over a period of approximately 3 months I went from walking into Dr J’s office a broken woman, to now going about my life with a much more positive mindset.  Whilst I’m still a long way from where I used to be, I definitely feel better about my current reality.   I’m not sure the science behind each of the different types of medications, but find it astounding to this day how quickly the Lexapro worked for me with regard to my sleep and appetite.  Thank goodness!

And so ends Part 1 of the questions I’ve been asking myself… I honestly hope you’ve been able to relate to at least some of what I’ve experienced so far.  I’m always interested in hearing how you’ve dealt with your own journey so please be sure to share with me if you feel like it, I would love to hear from you.  I hope to post Part 2 over the coming week, so until then please take care.

TSM  xx

Postnatal Depression: My biggest obstacle…

I was lying on the bed over the weekend, watching my Handsome Fiance (HF) get ready for a boys afternoon out, and it suddenly hit me:  I wouldn’t blame him if he left me and found someone younger, more beautiful, NICER.  I wouldn’t blame him at all…  I mean, look at me!  There I was, still in my pajamas and dressing gown (with the customary uggboots), my hair a mess, feeling depressed and awful.  And here he was, looking absolutely manly and gorgeous in a shirt and jeans, ready to face the world in all his handsomeness.  What do I have left to give to this relationship?  What can I possibly give this gorgeous, hunk of a man to make him stay?

So, I said to him:  “Babe, I wouldn’t blame you if you left me, you know.”

To which he replied:  “I’m never going to leave you, you’re stuck with me.”

Me:  “Why would you want to stay with me when I’m like this?  When I’m feeling crappy all the time and can be so horrible?”

Him:  “You’re not horrible all the time.  It’s going to get better, babe.  You know that.  We just have to give it time.”

He is a wonderful, wonderful man!  I consider myself so very lucky to have him in my life.  His understanding and patience through the past 18 months has been extraordinary and I love him so much because of it.  What makes me sad is the majority of the time I can’t show him how I feel because my mind is so clouded by the vicious thoughts the Postnatal Depression Monster (PND-M) constantly consumes me with, as highlighted above.   I desperately want my HF to know how much I appreciate him but instead I find myself getting upset and frustrated over the most stupid of things (eg. putting his laundry in the wrong basket), or feeling exasperated because I’ve had to explain something more than once, or overwhelmed due to my having to do EVERYTHING around the house (which is entirely untrue!).  Then the guilt kicks in… Why do I keep doing this to him?  Why do I speak to him so unkindly and with such venom?  Why can’t I just love him and be patient the way he loves me and is patient with me?  It seems such an impossible situation and I often feel completely helpless to repair the damage I’m continually causing my family.  And therein lies the torturous reality for those affected by postnatal depression.

So my biggest obstacle throughout this journey so far?  Definitely these such thoughts.  My world has gone from one I viewed with such confidence, motivation, and optimism to one I can only describe as dark and cloudy.  Don’t get my wrong, I do have sunny days (and more so since I began taking the antidepressants prescribed by my GP), but the dark days still come and interfere with my life in ways I wish they wouldn’t.   I find myself craving the life we had before the LM came along.  Not a life without the LM in it, but rather the easiness of the relationship I had with my HF.    We used to laugh and joke, hug and kiss, hold hands and really enjoy each others company.  Now it seems we simply co-exist.  My HF fears saying anything wrong that will “set me off” and is hesitant to give me a hug like the old days for fear I’ll pull away from him.  All the while he doesn’t realise I desperately want for things to return to the way they were too.  It feels like a no-win situation, even though in my rational mind I know it isn’t.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel though.  The help I’ve received so far, which I’ll go into further another time, has given us one very helpful tool… “understanding”.  The arguments we would have before my diagnosis would spiral out of control because neither of us knew what was happening.  We would blame each other, take things personally, and never reach a resolution because not only were these “episodes” becoming more frequent, they were becoming more damaging.  So when I came home from my doctor and said, “I’ve been diagnosed with Postnatal Depression, I’m officially a mental case”, we were actually able to laugh and breathe a sigh of relief for the first time in a LONG time.  We now knew what was behind this erratic behaviour (thank God!) and we could take the necessary steps to ease what was going on for us both.  Our focus now resting on healing each other, rather than resenting each other.   This small understanding between us has definitely made our lives that little bit easier.  We now talk openly about what’s happening on a day-to-day basis – how he’s feeling, how I’m feeling, what needs to be done this week, etc.  We plan in advance for as many things as possible to alleviate the stress for me, we discuss my flat or bad moods without being offended by what the other is saying.  This simple tool alone provides us both with the breathing space we need to quickly think about things before we react… Much like my example of our conversation above.  Rather than becoming exasperated because I was again feeling flat and questioning his love for me, he instead reassured me he’s not going anywhere, came over to where I was lying and gave me a big hug.  And you know what?  I believe him.

My journey through postnatal depression, whilst feeling endless at times, has also provided my relationship with some very valuable tools of communication.  And for that I’ll always be thankful.  Things are far from perfect, but with each sunny day we get that little bit closer to a brighter future and feel better equipped to handle the dark days when they appear.

Have you had a similar experience?  What are the valuable tools you’ve learnt so far?  I would love to hear about them.

Thanks as always for reading, I hope your day is being kind.  Until next time.

TSM  xx

Mother’s Day: A time to celebrate, a time for reflection.

Sometimes it’s so difficult to celebrate being a mum, isn’t it?  When everything’s getting you down, sleep seems a thing of the past, and those endless days of feeding and changing nappies seem as though they will last forever.  Then one day, you find yourself looking back at those times and wishing you could have them all over again because the preciousness of those first, initial moments with your baby are ones never to be repeated.  Whether you’re a mum of one, or ten (or more!), I am sure every experience is different and special in it’s own unique way… We are so very lucky!

So today, I am ensuring I focus on all of the wonderful positives it takes to be a great mum, despite the many negatives that from time-to-time creep in to cloud my reality.  I find when things are at their toughest (for me personally, mentally), a good reminder of the positives comes from the LM himself: the smiles he gives me when he first wakes up in the morning; the quiet time he spends reading his books, quite content to sit by himself in his own space; the looks of pure wonderment at something new he’s discovered and wants to share with me; the giggles I hear as he plays with his toys; his uninhibited laughter when we wrestle or kick his ball in the yard; the hugs I receive for no reason at all; and finally, the beautiful gentleness of his touch while feeding him his bottle before putting him to bed.

It is all of these things and more that on a daily basis remind me I must be doing a good job.  So today, I will embrace each and every one of them, and any others that may come along!  Remembering always that even on the darkest of days, I am extremely lucky to have this LM in my life and he too is lucky to have me.

Happy Mother’s Day everyone!

And especially to my mum, who has been an unwavering pillar of strength throughout my life. I love you! xx

Postnatal Depression: A not-so-surprising diagnosis…

It’s interesting, isn’t it?  A great many of us spend our lives priding ourselves on our ability to “keep things together”.  It would be fair to say we by no means always achieve this task, but I do believe we try.  Then one day, as in my personal case, a sequence of events results in a diagnosis of Postnatal Depression (PND, or Postpartam Depression).  I say “a sequence of events” because I believe everyone has the ability to cope with different things thrown at them on a random basis throughout their lives.  However, when one of these things is hugely traumatic, or a number of these things occur all at the same time, or in very close succession, you suddenly find yourself falling apart.  Even the strongest of people have a threshold which, once crossed, leaves them questioning even the most simple things in life.  It is scary, confronting, and incredibly threatening…  Especially when it coincides with your new role as “mother” to a gorgeous little baby.

Whilst I think I knew I was suffering from PND, I tried very hard to shrug it off as the norm.  I didn’t allow myself to believe how negative things had become, even though I could acknowledge I’d been through quite a bit with regard to both mine and the LM’s health since he was born.  I mean, really… My situation is NOTHING compared with so many other mothers out there currently dealing with horrific personal/health issues, let alone those families dealing with sick bubs – or worse.  But at the end of the day, we each have to deal with our own reality and in this instance mine was one with which I was slowly losing control.  I was losing control of myself internally, struggling with low self-esteem, lack of confidence, and with my general identity – all things I had worked very hard to build and strengthen over the previous 10 years or so.  And I was also losing control of things externally.  My family was bearing the brunt of this horrible shift in my state of mind, which was not only incredibly unfair but was tearing us all apart.  It became a terrible and heart-wrenching situation, and one I knew I had to deal with or risk losing everything.

So after a very difficult Christmas period, I finally worked up the courage to speak with my GP about how I was feeling.  The basis of my teary confession centered around my feelings of being “fake” whilst out in public, while inside I was desperately miserable.  The effort it was taking me to put on a “normal” face was wearing me down to the point of increased anxiety, verging on panic attacks.  She told me very bluntly to cut myself just a little bit of slack.  I am not super-human and my expectations of myself were simply too high given the circumstances.  “Think of yourself like a person with a broken arm”, she said, “Would you honestly expect yourself to do everything as you’d normally do?”.  A very interesting point.  Basically, the combination of a not-so-great pregnancy, traumatic birth, LM’s jaundice, eczema, then my recurrent mastitis infections leading to my weaning LM early, all contributed to my feeling (8 months down the track) completely inadequate as a new mother.  Pair all of this with the fact I was now 36 years old and very much used to having things within my control and everything simply became too much!  And therein lies the vulnerability the Postnatal Depression Monster preys upon, slowly working its way into your mind and overcoming every positive thought until you feel like you’re going crazy.  What makes it worse in my mind is the fact I have a Post Graduate Degree in Psychology.  Shouldn’t I have been more aware of the symptoms?  Shouldn’t I have been able to recognise them as they were happening?  Shouldn’t I have the skills to cope?  Shouldn’t my experience and knowledge from working with midwives, pregnant mothers, and their littlies, give me everything I need to ensure this doesn’t happen to me?  The answer… simply… is no.

Personally, I feel it doesn’t matter what your personality type is, what you do for a living, or even who you have as a support around you… If you are one of the 1 in 7 mothers who encounter Postnatal Depression in the 12 months after your baby is born there is very little you can do to prepare yourself for it.  In hindsight, it’s very easy for me to see I was a walking textbook example of Postnatal Depression.  Whilst my case is considered “quite bad”, it has fortunately not effected my relationship with the LM, and it certainly has not seen me wishing to harm myself.  For both of these things I feel extremely lucky.  LM has given me my reason to get up every morning and go about whatever needs to be done for the day.  It was for him I portrayed the image of a “coping” mother whilst finding myself dissolving from the inside out during those quiet moments alone.  I could do what I needed to do for him, though even then at times I found myself cracking under the pressure when out socially.   What I couldn’t do, unfortunately, was cope with anything else.  Cooking dinner provided many examples of what became  known as my “Masterchef Meltdown” moments.  If even one tiny thing went wrong, it was disaster!  The idea of having people over for dinner was threatening to me – and this coming from someone who used to love to entertain!  Going out socially became anxiety provoking if anything went a miss before we were due to leave, or if something had been forgotten in our haste to get out the door.  Simple chores around the home became too hard and gave me reason to pick on my family.  Issues about returning to work and the LM’s health became reasons for me to wake for 3-4 hours every night, causing me to become irritable and start losing weight.  A ridiculous notion when the LM sleeps 12 hours a night!  I became a bitter, horrible, and nasty person who on the flipside was consumed with so much guilt about what was going on it made everything worse… Talk about a viscious cycle!  I can now honestly understand how some mothers just take to ground when feeling this way and simply do not cope at all.  It is a terrible, awful, and scary situation with which to find yourself consumed.

I couldn’t bear for others to think I couldn’t cope.  And to be pefectly honest… I still can’t.  Hence the reason, even now, only a few select people closest to me know everything about what’s been going on for me this past 6 months or so.  At this time, even though I found the strength within myself to seek the help I needed, there is still so much “repair” work to do both internally and externally that having anyone else knowing feels like too much pressure.  It’s definitely not an easy road, and one I’m told will take months, if not years, to fully walk down.  It’s a daunting thought, but the relief from knowing there is finally light at the end of the tunnel is very much worth the effort.  And this is the reason I’m choosing to share my story with you, rather than leaving it under wraps for another time.  This post has been the most confronting thing I think I’ve ever had to write!  PND is a difficult topic to speak about, though it is becoming more known and accepted as time goes by.   My hope is that any mother who is struggling with how they’re feeling, or wondering what on earth is going on, can read my story and gain the confidence to not only identify with a similar experience, but also find the courage to book an appointment with their doctor to speak about it.  I promise you won’t regret it!

There is no doubt I still have a long way to go and over the coming months I hope to share more about the steps I’ve taken in getting where I am today.  I’ve been so incredibly touched by all of the comments and support I’ve received so far… Thank you all so, so much!   I look forward to sharing more with you soon.

Take care,

TSM  xx

Our new baby: An interesting start to the journey…

Just over a year ago, we welcomed into the world an amazing little bundle of joy (from hereon in referred to as the “Little Man” – LM).  From the moment of his conception, our lives have changed in numerous ways – some for the better, and some unfortunately for the worse.  This is my journey through the dark world of postnatal depression (PND – also known as postpartum depression).  I personally found it very difficult to find information on what I was going through so hope by sharing my story I may have the opportunity to help many new (or seasoned) mums out there who are experiencing the same thing.  Postnatal depression is scary, confronting, and threatening… Not only to the women experiencing it, but to friends, family, and others in general who don’t always understand that PND as a  “mental illness” does not change the core of who you are, only your ability to cope and keep things in the kind of perspective you’re used to.  Obviously everyone’s experience differs greatly, however without support and understanding those first initial steps are the hardest of all to take.

So please, take my hand and let’s begin…

When I fell pregnant, I was 35 years old, a career-driven individual in a wonderful, loving relationship with a man I had met 4 years previously.  We had bought a house we were renovating, had become engaged, and life was generally wonderful.  I began thinking of writing a blog when I was 4 months pregnant.  I felt it would be a fantastic way to pass my time whilst on maternity leave given I was fortunate enough to be given 12 months off work.  My job as a project manager involved working with midwives, pregnant mums, and their babies.  In my mind, it was a given that the knowledge I had, paired with the support surrounding me, would arm me with the best tools possible for getting through this amazing chapter of my life.  Seriously, what on earth would I do with myself every day for 12 whole months!  Little did I know the start of my blog would not only be significantly delayed (I am now back at work), but revolve more around my need to maintain my sanity than simply filling in time.

I’m sure there are many women out there in my position who thought having a baby at this stage in life would blend beautifully with their already amazing ability to multi-skill and fit everything in their life to a “plan”.  I accept now how completely wrong I was!  Whilst LM’s pregnancy and birth is an experience I would not trade for the world, it was however the biggest wake-up call I think I’ve ever received.  Now, having just celebrated his first birthday, I find myself searching for answers to questions I never thought I’d be asking and finding them in strange, funny little things I had never really contemplated until now.

With all that being said, I guess I am looking to this blog to help me make sense of the ever changing landscape of my life, and to share my thoughts and experience with other mums (professional or otherwise) who might be feeling the same way.  If nothing else, I am looking forward to relieving myself of the many “thoughts and feelings” taking residence inside my head on a day-to-day basis… To write them down will be a relief indeed.

My next blog, which I hope to post soon, will share with you the beginnings of my PND journey and how I came to get the help I currently receive.  The first step towards asking for help is always the hardest, but the relief you feel when you do is well worth the effort!

Take care,

TSM (Thirty Something Mum) xx