Three Years On – What Post-Natal Depression Felt Like For Me

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.

MIND have some really great resources on PND – read them here.  You can read everything I’ve written about my experiences with PND here

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  1. Molly wrote:

    This is a really important post and I have no doubt it will help other mums who might be feeling the same way. You’re SO right, mental health is something that still has an element of taboo around it, when actually we should be as open about it as other types of health. Fantastic post Alice, and I’m so glad you’re feeling better now. x

    Posted 10.12.15 Reply
    • alice wrote:

      Thank you Molly :) xx

      Posted 10.13.15 Reply
  2. Alison Perry wrote:

    All day, today, I’ve been writing a post in my head about mental health and hormones and other things, and after reading this, I realise I have to get it down onto my laptop and publish it. Thanks Alice xx

    Posted 10.12.15 Reply
    • alice wrote:

      Thank you Alison! I really loved your post.

      I have to say that I pondered over publishing for ages. I sometimes think about the people who read this blog (the schoolgate mums, the men I date) and do I really want to lay bare my mental health to them? But then I realised I have nothing to be ashamed of and it’s far more important to educate and be open. I’m really happy I did x

      Posted 10.13.15 Reply
  3. Aimee Blackford wrote:

    Thank you for writing this! I’ve been diagnosed with PND for the second time today. Had it with my 1st 8 years ago and did not expect it to come back this second time as planned but think I put too much on it to be perfect this time round. My husband works 4pm-4am in bed till midday then so feel very lonely as no one round here either once picked son up from school home then in till next day!! Do think loneliness can always be a big part of it but also someone who understands which isn’t many still!! I was very bad first time and tried to hide it a lot. Made sure this time I went to Drs as soon as I felt like this again.

    Posted 10.12.15 Reply
    • alice wrote:

      I’m really sorry to hear that Aimee. It’s so tough to raise children alone and that’s the time I used to find hardest – from picking up from pre-school to dinner and the hour before bedtime. Loneliness is the hardest thing to cope with, I still struggle with being on my own every evening sometimes. Really happy to hear you’ve been to the doctors. I hope you won’t feel so alone this time xxx

      Posted 10.13.15 Reply
  4. Lori wrote:

    Thanks for writing such an important post, I was affected by it and to be honest I didn’t really know what was happeneing to me at the time I swinged from feeling ok-ish to having panic attacks in the street and asking the midwife in a sleep deprived state whether I should get my son adopted as I felt so horrific, it seemed like the only option I could think of. Looking back, like you I feel so sad that i missed out on a period of time that should have been happier and in all honestly I still struggle with my this side of me and see a therapist to try and repair the damage I emotionally did to myself and working on getting me in the best place I can be for me and my beautiful boy. If anyone reading this feel they can relate and are scared to speak out, please do. Help is everywhere and just waiting for you to ask. x

    Posted 10.12.15 Reply
    • alice wrote:

      Thank you Lori! The official stats say 10-15% of women are affected but I think in reality that it must be much more which is why I think it’s important to talk about.
      I’d forgotten the panic attacks! Luckily I only ever had them at home.
      Like you said, I really hope that by opening the conversation we help to reach out to people who are suffering unnecessarily. Thank you so much for sharing your experience xxx

      Posted 10.13.15 Reply
  5. Gill Crawshaw wrote:

    This is awful, sounds like it was horrific Alice. I think it’s such a crazy time anyway, what with hormones and sleep deprivation, so I can’t imagine what it’s like to be suffering from all this too. It’s so good that this is an issue that you speak out about – there shouldn’t be any stigma at all about it. Getting help is the most important thing x

    Posted 10.13.15 Reply
    • alice wrote:

      It is such a bonkers time isn’t it, even without the PND your feet don’t touch the ground! Thanks Gill x

      Posted 10.13.15 Reply
  6. kirby wrote:

    Oh I feel ya here babes! I went through PTSD (still dealing with it) but it was at a height during my divorce to my first husband. Survival is real, and I think it kicks in the strongest with us mama dukes. Also the sense that can come up when big life changes are on the horizon (like divorce) before our mind admits it’s happening contributes. You’re a strong lady! Keep up the good work!

    Posted 10.13.15 Reply
    • alice wrote:

      Thanks Kirby! You’re so right – survival is strong. Sorry to hear you’re experiencing PTSD, bloody divorce, eh? xx

      Posted 10.13.15 Reply
  7. laura redburn wrote:

    i can’t even imagine what this must have been like. you’re a fantastic, strong woman, and it’s very admirable (and important!) that you’ve spoken out about this to help reduce/remove stigma around it, and mental health in general.

    Posted 10.13.15 Reply
    • alice wrote:

      Thank you so much Laura xx

      Posted 10.13.15 Reply
  8. Fritha wrote:

    Oh Alice I remember just getting to know you at this time and I have admit it really did look like you had it all! you seemed SO together and in all honestly I thought of you as someone who was much more with it and confident than I would ever be. Shows how much people know when it comes to what’s going on behind the scenes. I think you are so brave to talk about this time and I know you will have helped so many by writing this, either right now or in the future when they are going though this and stumble across your blog and this post. I had PND with Wilf for about three months, I used to wish I could close my eyes and just never wake up, either that or I’d day dream about being in accidents that left me hospitalised for a short while so I didn’t have to deal with life. It was only when I came out of it that I realised how bad I had got!

    P.S the bit about the teenagers made me smile though, I called the council about the noise from our neighbours was 9pm and they were playing music in their garden ha! x

    Posted 10.13.15 Reply
  9. MrsB | Mind over Matter wrote:

    Great post. It’s so hard to talk about these things but we must talk about these things… My PND unfortunately still hasn’t completely left me alone, 6 years later :| Some months I’m off medication, some months I’m on.

    Posted 10.14.15 Reply
  10. Laura wrote:

    So an inspiring post – thanks so much for writing this as I am sure your story will help others. I had a few issues after having my first and I am surprised my partner didn’t leave me over all the irrational things I did but can only see that now looking back. Mental illness is something that really needs to be talked about and shared. So glad to hear how far you have come and how it no longer affects you

    Laura x

    Posted 10.15.15 Reply
  11. Kate wrote:

    I’m new to this blog and wanted to comment on how brilliant this post is. I’m so sorry that you had to go through what you did and it’s so upsetting to think of the many other women who are going through similar simply because we don’t communicate enough. This sort of post helps to combat that so thank you!

    I’m pregnant and, if I struggle with mental health issues before/after birth, I hope I’ll be as strong as you!

    Posted 10.16.15 Reply
  12. Jude wrote:

    Love this post, spoken from the heart. I’ve just popped over after you left a comment on my post about PND and medication. Love that you’ve shared your story too. The more we share the more we can move on from the stigma and help others. Well done. xxxx

    Posted 10.17.15 Reply
  13. Kelly wrote:

    You have converted me into a blog reader, normally I browse pictures & look for recipes, your blog is just brilliantly heartfelt. Love this. I didn’t have PND but I had the baby blues & was lucky to be taken under counsel by my mid-wife on the first night of motherhood when I couldn’t sleep & was walking the labour ward pushing my new born baby in her trolley probably looking desperate. She ordered two teas, sat me down & warned me to watch out for the signs of PND “there a fine line between baby blues & PND” she said. I listened. I then had terrifying moments & thoughts in the early stages of motherhood but always found an understanding ear to pull me back into reality. Thanks for sharing this personal account & I also read The Divorced Home, again so much I can relate to and I admire your honesty, I find it hard to share what it’s like going through divorce except for friends & family who have been there. I totally did the same thing after my divorce & in my small two bedroom home with 3 kids, I focused on creating a space, making it home & a trip to IKEA! Primark I also find is a godsend to cope with the inevitability of lost clothes between homes :) x

    Posted 11.10.15 Reply
    • alice wrote:

      Thank you Kelly, what a lovely message! The midwife looking after you sounds amazing – there aren’t enough people talking honestly and frankly about how you might feel when you first have a baby and it’s something I always try to ask my friends in a quiet moment.

      I’ve been to IKEA and to Primark this week – great minds!! x

      Posted 11.12.15 Reply