Postnatal Depression: My steps to healing… How can I return to work?

I didn’t think it would take me this long to post my next question…  Unfortunately, the LM seems intent on picking up every virus he can from childcare at the moment.   Our poor little babe hasn’t had too much relief of late, so we are hoping the next couple of weeks are easier on him.  Fingers crossed!

So to continue where I left off, the following question is one I thought would be easily answered when I first became pregnant and looked into my (very bright and happy?) future.  It’s funny how things change, isn’t it?  Little was I to know, not only would my confidence and motivation take a severe battering over the next 12 months, but so too would my priority list for life.  Looking back, my naivety makes me sad for the excited mum-to-be I was at that time.  I wish I could have told her what I know now, give her a nice, warm hug, and  maybe this journey would have been just that little bit easier for her… Maybe.

How can I return to work?

This was a question I asked myself daily when in the darkest pit of my depression, before my diagnosis.  How could I possibly return to the “adult” world of work when day-to-day functioning had become so difficult?  What do I have to contribute to my team at work when my best is only 50% (if that!) of what I’d considered “mildly satisfactory” before I left?  Better yet, forget about work.  How can I believe for one second my mothering skills are even remotely good enough if I am questioning these types of things at all?  And so the negative thoughts would go on… and on… and on.

After my diagnosis, in the months leading up to my return to work, both Dr J and Mrs D’s only focus was getting my mental (and physical) health back on track for my transition back into the workforce.  Neither of them were convinced I should be returning when I’d planned (I had taken 12 months of leave), and felt another month (even two) would do me the world of good before having to face the added pressure of again managing my team.  Their concern was that my PND had only been diagnosed when the LM was 8 months old.  We were still experimenting with medication, I was still undertaking regular therapy… Was I really prepared for what returning to work might do to the progress I’d made?  Deep down though, I was convinced returning to work might help my situation.  For all the fear and anxiety the thought of returning to work brought forth in my everyday thinking, there was definitely a part of me (buried deep, deep down) that believed the re-installation of a work/life balance might actually be a good thing.  So, hanging on to this very fine thread of hope, I surged forward with my plan to return to work at the time I’d originally intended.  I asked Dr J and Mrs D to please support me in this decision, help me find the resources/tools I’d need, and assist me in any way they could to ensure I made it there in one piece.  Fortunately for me, they agreed.

A blog by Michelle Gerdes, titled “Returning to Work After Postpartum Depression”, summed it up perfectly for me.  I’ll leave it for you to read (and be sure to read the comments also), but believe Michelle’s struggle is one faced by many working mothers with Postnatal Depression.  I certainly found the issue of who to tell at work (and who not to) a very difficult decision.  With Mrs D’s help, I worked through my reasons for wanting (needing?) to tell anyone about my PND and decided I most definitely wanted some form of support within the office, someone I could turn to if things became too difficult.  Luckily for me, one colleague with whom I work closely is a mother of two children and very well educated on all things “depression”.  After speaking with her about my situation, she provided me an open door of support whenever it was needed.  If my day-to-day cracks came with me to work, at least I would have someone to help me pick up the pieces.  Whilst this was indeed a relief, my confidence was still at an all time low.  Because of this, I certainly didn’t want my boss to know about what I’d been going through.  The last thing I needed was to feel like my every move was being watched – would he think I just couldn’t do my job at all now?  That kind of pressure I felt I could live without.

So, this was the point my thinking had gotten to the day I walked back into my office for the first time.  Progress had definitely been made, however the feeling of certain things being “too much pressure” remained.  What I came to quickly realise was I enjoyed being back in an “adult” world.  I am sure many mums may scold me for feeling this way, but I honestly felt like a part of me had been revived.  Arriving at work those three mornings a week, I could make myself a cup of coffee (at my own pace), sit at my computer, read through my emails, and take the time to plan my day.  Completely selfish, I know, but this time to myself truly felt like a gift.  Better still, I found myself looking forward to picking the LM up after my day at the office.  Instead of waiting for my HF to come home so I could hand the LM over and have 5 minutes to myself with a cup of tea, I found it an absolute pleasure to spend time with the LM after picking him up – real quality time.  The two days each week I spend at home with him are now a gift in their own right.  This time with him I had completely taken for granted when I was home with him every day.  Again, I understand my feelings on this subject may be rejected by many stay-at-home mums, but I have to be honest with you.  My transition back into the workforce could not, for me personally, have come at a better time.

I do find some days are more difficult than others.  Those mornings getting ready for work are sometimes hellish and extremely difficult for me to handle, but I am managing.  And with each passing week, I feel the whole process getting just that little bit easier.  Throw a spanner in the works with the LM doing Number 2’s all over me and himself right before we are about to walk out the door and I may tell you otherwise!  But generally, I believe things have improved considerably.  My ability to handle the pressures of work has surprised me.  I’ll admit there are those occasions where the conversation and workload start to feel overwhelming, however my saviour is the fact I now have the time to breathe.  By taking a deep breath and reminding myself of why I am here, why I have been welcomed back as a key member of our team, and why my contribution is worthwhile, I am able to bring my anxiety back to a manageable level and move on.  It does help though, to have two wonderful colleagues who notice these “moments” of mine and take the time to whisper quietly, “Are you okay?”.

The “returning to work” issue for mums with PND is one I am very interested in, so would love to know your thoughts.  Do you have any strategies that worked for you that might help other mums with their transition?  If so, it would be great if you could share them.  I found it such a lonely thing to go through on my own so even to help one mum not have to deal with that would be wonderful.

Thanks so much as always for reading.  I look forward to sharing more with you soon.

Take care,

TSM xx

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6 thoughts on “Postnatal Depression: My steps to healing… How can I return to work?

  1. ivyshihleung says:

    Our daughter was always sick in the first couple of years of being in a childcare setting, but look at it this way….the exposure to colds and other germs does help build up their immune systems! I was faced with similar feelings of fear and dread as the day to return to work approached. I feared I no longer had it in me to go back to the work environment I had thrived on for so many years and had planned to do as soon as my 3-month maternity leave was up. How I wished it would be longer. I know you’ve read my recent post about how it’s a shame that in the U.S. you’re lucky if you can get a paid 12-wk maternity leave. Some only get 6 wks. Deep down inside I was, like you, hoping that the return to work would help in my recovery. I think for me it did. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t feel guilty leaving my daughter in the care of someone else. But living on one salary wasn’t an option. Like you, I feared what other people at work would say if they knew what I was going through. Like you, I was glad to return to the stimulating and familiar environment at work, and one that allowed us to interact with colleagues. Like you, I was able to work out a schedule that was amenable to achieving work/life balance (for me, it was merely adopting a different schedule of coming into work at 7 AM and leaving at 4 AM so I could pick my daughter up everyday before childcare closed for the day and I had more time to spend with her before bedtime); I kept this schedule for 5 years. Unlike you, however, I didn’t find anyone at work…or anyone among my family/friends who had experience with any kind of depression (or was willing to admit to it), so I never had the opp’y to talk to anyone about it.

    • Thanks, Ivy, for your reply! I have heard the exposure to germs isn’t going to be easy for a while, but am hoping it may at least give him a little time between episodes this time – can only hope! I’m also very sorry you didn’t have the support you needed when you returned to work. I can honestly say I am thankful every day for the support I’ve been so lucky to have around me. I think it helps I work within the health industry, in epidemiology, and work closely with midwives and birthsuite staff. If it were a more corporate environment I think it would have been MUCH different. Thanks so much again and very much look forward to hearing more from you soon.

  2. Cara says:

    Thank you for this post. I’m struggling at home coming from a busy office I just made the call to work today to see if they will take me back part time. I feel I’ll be a better mother having those two days out at work.

    • A Write Relief... (for PND) says:

      Hi Cara… I definitely struggled with the work/life balance! I’m so glad you found my post helpful, as much as admitting the way I felt/feel was difficult. I’m actually on maternity leave again at the moment but decided to only take 6 months this time. Will then return to my 3 days per week. Am hoping this will be a much better outcome for all of us. Good luck and hope your work place accept your request. xx

  3. Sarina says:

    Thank you for writing this positive article. I have PND and am returning to work in 4 days. I am looking forward to being at work and hope it’ll aid in the recovery from this horrible illness. All articles I’ve come across on the web have mentioned PND getting worse when going back. Reading yours is a breath of fresh air.

    • A Write Relief... (for PND) says:

      Oh, thanks so much! I think it’s difficult for many mums to return to work with PND, and even more so to admit sometimes thst having just a little bit of space and some *adult* time can actually be therapy in itself. My workplace and team were very supportive and I think it made a world of difference. Not sure an indifferent or unsupportive environment would help. Good-luck, Sarina, and be sure to let me know how you go! xx

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