Motherhood

Post-Natal Depression, Five Years On

May 2, 2017
Post-natal depression

The UK’s first Maternal Mental Health week started yesterday, and in support of opening up the conversations we should be having as new mums and as friends of new mums, I wanted to share my story again.

My first brush with formal mental health support was as a 21 year old with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I was the only witness to my then-fiancee being stabbed by men trying to break into our car outside our home and the situation completely traumatised me. My GP diagnosed me with PTSD with a side order of depression and anxiety (yay! the party duo), and I had counselling for six weeks to help me get over the experience.

My issues at that time unsurprisingly revolved around my personal safety: I refused to travel to and from work alone, would have panic attacks in busy supermarkets and was a fan of lying awake at night listening to worrying noises that didn’t exist.

Fast forward three years and Elfie was born. I found it difficult to cope with the transition to motherhood but told myself I was experiencing what every mum goes through. A health visitor encouraged me to talk to my GP about the fact I felt I was struggling – having given birth at 24 the baby world felt more foreign than China – and I was prescribed antidepressants. A couple of days later Elfie was diagnosed with her genetic disease and in all the effort of coping with this news and the subsequent fallout, my antidepressants and struggles were soon forgotten about.

Not long after Elfie was diagnosed we re-located 70 miles away, and falling pregnant a few months later meant I never re-visited either my feelings about becoming a new mum or the ordeal I’d gone through as a mother of a very poorly baby.

Post-natal depression

Suppressing these feelings meant things got a lot more hectic when Hux came along. Looking back, I can’t believe some of the experiences I went through when he was a new baby. I truly thought I was going mad, with no interest in cleaning – either myself or the house – which for a beauty-obsessed house proud woman like me was completely out of character. I hated going outside and would only do so if it was absolutely necessary, shuffling in to Tesco to buy essential milk before beating a quick retreat to the sanctuary of my home. I became completely paranoid, again of my personal safety, only this time I had two babies to protect which meant the anxiety was doubled.

At the time I lived in a big echoey barn conversion: me, the babies and an almost-always absent husband. So worried was I that the ‘baddies’ would break into my home, that I would set up booby traps around the house on all the doors. In the light-filled space this was a lot – 5 sets of French doors, then front and back doors, too. I’d prop an ironing board in front of one door, put a buggy in front of another. Anything that would make it harder for a burglar to get into our home, I did it. My house was a veritable obstacle course, the crystal maze of village homes. As crazy as I felt, any intruder would have to have Olympic-level gymnastic skills to get around the traps I set for them.

On one memorable night I remember lying in bed, convinced someone had somehow broken in and was hiding under my mattress. I was frozen in the same spot for three hours, hardly breathing yet clutching a can of hairspray – I’d read online this was a very effective weapon for women who spent time alone.

On another occasion I called the police in tears, convulsing in panic at the four men I had spotted outside my house, certain they were casing the place in a plot to break in. A very lovely Police Support Officer attended, kindly asking the 14 year olds on BMXs I was in hysterics over to re-locate to the park rather than my cul-de-sac before coming inside to coax me out of my hiding place in the corner of my pitch black bedroom to hold my hand and tell me it was OK to be scared when you had a new baby.

I don’t remember much from those days and that’s what upsets me the most. I didn’t feel anything for a really long time, no joy, no warmth, no happiness. I remember being scared, anxious and alone, sleeping at every available opportunity to escape. Between Elfie’s illness and me feeling like I was going a bit mad, the pleasure from the early years of my children’s lives were taken from me, and that’s something I’ll never get back.

When Hux neared 6 months old a worried Health Visitor expressed concern and whisked me in to see a GP the day she saw me. I remember being more honest this time, knowing something had gone very wrong and I needed help. I remember crying a lot and saying “I can’t do it any more” – because I couldn’t, I didn’t want to.

Post-natal depression

I was diagnosed with post-natal depression and again anxiety, prescribed Fluexotine – Prozac – referred to the mental health team at my local hospital and felt like a fully fledged loony. Something I felt almost proud of at the time, knowing that meant I had taken the first step to getting better.

There’s no doubt the fact I was alone for so many of those early days and long nights of motherhood heavily contributed to my post-natal depression. Motherhood can be an incredibly isolating experience: especially for new mums, when your life suddenly changes beyond recognition while everyone around you continues as they were. Sleep deprivation, of which mums usually suffer the brunt, also takes a huge toll on your mental wellbeing, alongside the huge amount of hormones coursing through your body (especially when breastfeeding).

Despite the impact this loneliness had on my mental health at the time, I credit my divorce with changing the course of my Post-Natal Depression. Single motherhood with such young babies gave me something to fight for, knowing I couldn’t live off child support and tax credits, that I had to pull myself together to earn a living. My children’s dad looking after them a defined once a fortnight meant I no longer felt abandoned, and removing that disappointment helped me find strength to move forwards and find happiness.

Having to step up to work to pay off debts I was left with and build a new life with a newborn baby and one year old made me realise I was capable and had much to offer the children in the new life I was starting as a single mum.

Looking at how far I’ve come from my place of anxiety and Post-Natal Depression makes me feel very proud. Mental Health issues don’t discriminate, they don’t care who you are or what you do or where you live: my situation could happen to anyone, and I certainly never believed it would happen to me. In the times where I felt my very worst I almost felt like that was it for life, that I was in a place of slight madness I would never return from.

I felt like I was perpetually drowning with no chance of being saved.

It’s something I think never leaves you, and the lessons I learned have become unforgettable. I’m so much more aware of the importance of my own mental wellbeing but of those around me, too. I look at the photographs of my children from this time and my mind boggles at how I could feel anything other than unbridled joy at being their mum, but that’s what Post-Natal Depression does to you. It sucks the happiness from your life like a Dementor.

post-natal depression

I now know how important it is to take care of yourself when you’re experiencing challenges in your life. At times of heightened emotions – house moves, upheavals, breakups – it’s important to take note of how you’re feeling, to treat your physical and mental health with kid gloves. Think of how mindful you are of your children’s wellbeing around big life changes, such as new schools or bereavements. It’s important to offer yourself the same care, to give yourself whatever it takes to make you feel looked after: an early night, a long bath, a movie and a bar of chocolate.

I also can’t overstate the tonic of speaking to someone who understands your own quirk of mental health if you’re going through a rocky patch, whether that’s a friend, a husband or a family member. The hardest thing to do when it comes to mental health is talk about it, which is a big fat sod’s law as this is the thing that helps the most. But as the saying goes, a problem shared is a problem halved, and it’s never more the  case than when you’re offloading your sadness or worries onto an understanding friend. I have mine, who can always be relied on to respond appropriately when I say to her “you know what? Today was a right shitter”, and within minutes of uttering those words out loud the world is a happier place.

I don’t write this to be congratulated on coming out the other side of my mental health struggles, or to be applauded for the successes I’ve had despite them. I write this because when I was in my darkest moments of new motherhood I felt so damn alone and I shouldn’t have. I write this because I felt I had everything I’d ever wanted in the world, and if I was still feeling as terrible as I did, what was the point? I write this because I believe opening up this conversation about maternal mental health is so difficult for us, and it shouldn’t be. I write this because we need to talk about it – heck, if you’ve recognised yourself in this, I’m here to talk to you.

I’ve written this because you need to know it gets better, and life is too precious to throw away in a Dementor-induced void of unhappiness.

You can follow this weeks’ activities on the Perinatal Mental Health Partnership Facebook page. 

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19 Comments

  • Reply Amanda May 2, 2017 at 2:12 pm

    Thank you for writing this. I am so glad you came through such a tough time. I’ve been having a tough time lately but have nobody to turn to. Just reading this post has helped x

    • Reply alice May 2, 2017 at 11:07 pm

      I’m really sorry to hear that, Amanda. It’s a really crappy thing to go through and so easy to feel lonely. Do drop me an email if you need an impartial ear, or take a look at the Perinatal Mental Health page which is really helpful with lots of resources. Sending love xx

  • Reply Cat May 2, 2017 at 2:23 pm

    This is such an incredible piece of writing. So brutally honest (and if you’re anything like me there will have been lots more blurred crazy times/ days when you felt completely alien to yourself)
    I always feel like it’s just me and everyone else is a-ok and got everything sussed.
    Thankyou sooooo much xxx

    • Reply alice May 2, 2017 at 11:34 pm

      Ahh thank you Cat! I’m so happy it resonated. And YES… even now I get those days and have to pull myself back in to remember who I am. I don’t think any of us have got it sussed, really. x

  • Reply Janie May 2, 2017 at 3:11 pm

    Incredible writing indeed. I am choked with your honesty and kindness for the welfare of others suffering. Much love and thanks Alice x

    • Reply alice May 2, 2017 at 11:34 pm

      Thank you so much, Janie xx

  • Reply The Other Emma May 2, 2017 at 10:08 pm

    I don’t have the words to adequately say what. I would like to but thank you for writing this. The darkness is hard to find a way out of but it can be done.

    • Reply alice May 2, 2017 at 11:35 pm

      You’re right, it can. Thanks Emma xx

  • Reply Suzi May 3, 2017 at 6:30 am

    Having been touched by mental illness on more than one occasion it’s great to see people writing honestly about their own experiences. Great writing Alice!
    Suzi x

    • Reply alice May 3, 2017 at 11:08 am

      Thanks Suzi! x

  • Reply Pregnant Eve May 3, 2017 at 11:42 am

    Post natal depression is a bummer but didn’t know it could be as serious as yours. You’re a brave girl.

    • Reply alice May 3, 2017 at 12:36 pm

      Thanks, Eve.

  • Reply Angela May 3, 2017 at 12:37 pm

    Wonderful post Alice. Thank you for sharing, you put things into words that I just cannot express to people. You have made me feel a little more normal and also helped me to realise how far I have come.

  • Reply Claire May 3, 2017 at 12:41 pm

    Reading this brought tears to my eyes. A truly wonderful, honest piece of writing that so many new (and old) mums can empathise with. I rarely write comments on blog posts, but this time I felt I must. Thanks you for being so honest. I only wish I’d read this years ago.

    • Reply alice May 9, 2017 at 11:57 pm

      Thank you so much Claire xx

  • Reply alice clark May 8, 2017 at 12:31 pm

    Brilliant piece, thank you for sharing and being honest. I never suffered PND, though I know people who have. I did suffer pre-natal depression in my first pregnancy and it was terrifying, I can’t imagine how hard it is to struggle with that and a baby to care for. You are brave and I hope you feel proud, of your own journey and the hand you’re offering to others.

  • Reply Charlotte May 13, 2017 at 9:31 am

    Alice,

    Your blog really does resonate, and I think your candour is marvellous. I too suffered with post-natal depression after the birth of my twin boys. I felt completely disconnected with the world around me and felt very isolated and lonely. One watershed for me was my return to work when I started to feel more human, more like me. The grey cloud resurfaced when my relationship with the boys’ father disintegrated. My family were amazing though, and six months later the boys and I moved into a new house and another woman with a young son moved into the house opposite. We became firm friends. It was a very happy period of my life, we were in similar positions and understood the trials and tribulations that we were both experiencing. Though it’s hard to see when you’re at your lowest ebb, life moves on and things do get better. I marvel at how warm, confident and effusive my boys are. As they grew, they truly became the shining light to guide me through the darkness. Even on a down day now, they lift my mood instantly. I wish I’d read this post way back then. I agree with Alice that self-care is critical (not my forte). I didn’t get out enough; interaction with others is good though this is counter to the natural impulse to retreat. It is also important to try to avoid self-flagellation; it doesn’t make you any less of a mother.

  • Reply Vicki Gray May 21, 2017 at 9:51 pm

    Such an honest and heartfelt piece of writing. So many points I can relate to.

    I had severe PND when my eldest was born 9 years ago. Think it might have been triggered also by something that happened when I was a child. I was on antidepressants for years and last year I thought I’d cope fine without them. How very wrong that proved to be. Just recently started on Fluoxetine again and starting to feel more able.

    So glad I came across you on Instagram, loving your blog x

    • Reply alice May 22, 2017 at 2:48 pm

      Thanks Vicki – sending love to you and hope the Fluoxetine brings loads of positive changes for you xx

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