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.