It was mental health awareness day on Saturday.
I don’t think anyone can disagree with the fact that mental health is not talked about enough and we hear of examples of our health system failing people on a daily basis. We’re making steps towards wider public acceptance of mental health awareness but there is still some way to go.
I have written about my own experiences with Post-Natal Depression in the past and though I am thankfully not affected any more I still think it’s important to talk about what I went through. It’s only now, nearly three years down the line, that I look back on that time and really understand what happened to me.
It’s not really known entirely what causes PND but for me I truly believe a lot of it was hormonal changes after Hux was born. I’ve always been affected by the slightest fluctuation in hormones (my PMT used to be IN-sane) and that coupled with the upheaval a new baby brings sent me a little bit cuckoo.
On the outside I looked like I had the perfect life but I spent a lot of my time feeling scared. We lived in a big house at the time and I was convinced our safety was at risk: there was a spate of break-ins in our town and I’d spend hours scouring the local news looking for new information on the crimes. Our town was in rural Buckinghamshire so we’re hardly talking guns and knives, mostly lawnmower thefts, but I was terrified.
My ex-husband spent many nights staying away in London over that period (I think because I was driving him up the wall) but I was so scared of being alone with two tiny children, in that house on our own. I didn’t sleep, I spent nights creeping round checking doors and windows and jumping at every single noise. I kept a can of hairspray next to my bed for self-defence and on the worst nights would put heavy objects on the doors to the garden so if anyone managed to open one I would hear it happen. My reaction was bonkers but at the time it felt so real – the fear was physical and all-encompassing.
One evening, after we’d moved to a smaller house where I felt more secure, I heard noises outside. We were on a fairly new estate in a nice part of our middle class town and there was a group of 4, maybe 5 teenagers on their bikes outside the house on our cul-di-sac. I completely freaked out, thought they were looking at the house and called the police shaking and crying. They were ever so good and came out to move the teenagers on but I look back on the situation and can’t believe I thought that was a rational reaction. Those poor teens were only trying to have a sneaky cigarette and a chat with their mates at 8pm on a Tuesday evening ;)
This was my anxiety part of Post-Natal Depression. Everything felt like a threat to my children and I and I just wanted to wrap us up in cotton wool to keep us safe. Being alone magnified my irrational thoughts and for a while it consumed my whole life. Their little lives, too.
The late nights playing middle class vigilante obviously took its toll and I was constantly exhausted. Even more so because this was a symptom of depression – I found it hard to get out of bed and would always sleep as soon as the children slept. People would marvel that I’d managed to get my children napping simultaneously but for me this was survival – there was no other option.
I didn’t like seeing people or leaving my house and would make sure I had enough food and milk supplies at any one time so I wouldn’t have to go out for a couple of days if I didn’t want to. I cared little about my appearance and my self-confidence took a real beating – I didn’t care about the housework and would just do the minimum to make sure the children were fed and happy. Toddler groups were my version of hell because I felt so inadequate as a mother. I hated making small-talk with parents I felt I had nothing in common with.
Looking back at this time now I feel very sad. I tried so hard to be what I thought ‘normal’ should be but because of the PND felt lazy and inadequate. I’m sure my marriage breaking down was a big part of this – and would have happened whether I was depressed or not – but I feel like I lost a big chunk of my children’s lives which I will never get back.
At the time I didn’t talk about how I felt because I was ashamed I wasn’t coping and wasn’t a good mum. I kept quiet and paddled furiously upstream with my emotions until I cracked one day and called the Health Visitor. Not because I thought she could help, but just because I didn’t know what else to do and something had to give. She must have seen something in me because she made an emergency appointment at my doctor’s surgery that day.
From that point it got easier. It didn’t happen immediately but the pressure was off. Being told I wasn’t lazy and I wasn’t a failure but was ill helped me immensely and from then on I was able to work on myself and my anxieties; I feel like I re-build myself from the ground up. My ex-husband moved out soon after my diagnosis and I think there was an element of survival instinct that kicked in then, that I had to make it, and so I did. I’d felt for so long like my life didn’t have an aim or a purpose and it was wonderful when I realised that it did. A bit like Nadiya my mantra switched from “I can’t” to “I can, and I will”.
I’m writing about this again today not because I want anyone to feel sorry for me but because I think the channels of communication around Post-Natal mental health need to be more open. It took me thinking I was going mad and having a breakdown to realise what was wrong and I feel so lucky that I was able to get help when I did. I look at myself today and all I’ve achieved in the last two and a half years and I am so proud. I’m a brilliant mum who loves the absolute bones of her children, they have everything they want and need (and loads more) and my career has gone from strength to strength. I might have the odd off day but am generally heart-burstingly happy. The me of three years ago would be looking at the me of today in wonder.
If anyone reading this recognises themselves or a friend in what I’ve written, please talk. Talk to anyone – your health visitor, a good friend, your husband, one of the brilliant mental health charities. Send me an email, if you like! Because even though being a baby’s mother is hard it’s not normal to feel desolate, hopeless or inadequate. Nobody deserves that.