I take a very audible sigh as I sit down to write this. I started my whole blogging journey because of an awful bout of postnatal depression and the repercussive anxiety. I don’t really want to face it again, I’ll be honest. I’d much rather talk about something else, anything else, maybe we can talk about my favourite Waitrose desserts or my new Etsy finds? No?
I guess you’re right. I was looking through my page of, ‘Hope and Courage’ which is telling the personal accounts of women who have come out of postnatal depression. And whilst it is my brainchild, I am noticeably absent from the page. Which is ridiculous as I started it from a very personal place.
So, enough delay tactics, I’ll tell you all about my Etsy haul later… here we go.
I’ve never suffered from depression. I’ve been sad and low but never depressed. I’m a horribly upbeat person. I can find the good in most situations. But arriving over the threshold with my newborn baby I felt something I’d never felt in my 30 years, horribly dreadfully depressed. I couldn’t summon a single positive thought, my predominate feelings were fear and regret and quite a lot of anger, at everyone; myself, my husband, my baby. I also felt like I was let down by everybody and that I had no idea how to get out of this hole. I was also keenly aware that everyone was worried about me and not sure how to help, that frankly didn’t help. That made the problem so much worse as I tried to mend myself quickly and privately.
I didn’t want to be a mother anymore, I didn’t want to be married. I didn’t want this awful postnatal body. I was just filled with regret. I couldn’t imagine a day when this would be better. I did contemplate walking out the door and not coming back. I felt trapped; if I told people how awful I felt they seemed to judge me and get worried. If I didn’t tell people how I felt I felt so much worse. Clearly I wasn’t coping as well as others, perhaps I wasn’t a good mother or wife, maybe it would be better for everyone else if I left. I was under a crazy impression that parenting wasn’t difficult it’s just that I must not be doing it very well. The sense of utter failure was intense and dismal. I was incredibly deaf to any compliments.
I had one very helpful breastfeeding counsellor acknowledge the pain I was experiencing during breastfeeding. She helped more in that moment than she could ever have imagined. That was the first time someone said ‘I see you in pain, and that must be awful’. It felt like the first time someone acknowledged the elephant in the room, it also felt like they were thinking of me and not of how to mend me. It was tremendous.
After a few days I got on the phone to one of my best friends who’d had a baby a few months before me. She understood exactly what I was going through. Nothing I said shocked her, she related to most, if not all of it. She would constantly tell me it was going to get better.
I started to confide in her more and more, all the things I was struggling with, the terrible thoughts I had. She acknowledged my bad thoughts but told me they didn’t make me a bad mummy.
At no point was my friend scared for me or concerned that I wouldn’t cope. She was utterly calm, she has a black sense of humour which helped a lot. Often I would just start the conversation in floods of tears, she’d answer the phone to these sobs coming thick and hard and we would end the conversation with giggles. She’d always end the conversation with ‘call me WHENEVER’ and I knew she meant it, even though she also had a baby, I knew she would answer, she was there for me utterly judgement free. She verbally told me that she thought I was bloody great, infact I was totally nailing this mum stuff. I didn’t believe her but it helped an awful lot.
I couldn’t bear being as brutally honest with my feelings to my husband because I didn’t want him to think I was a bad mother to his child, however we did start talking more honestly. I started to ask his permission if it was ok to parent in a certain way. My husband was utterly supportive. He told me I didn’t need to seek his approval. He told me I needed to do whatever it was to make myself feel happier, even if that wasn’t popular in our culture or it made me feel like I wasn’t ‘succeeding’. I was going to have to be honest about what I needed – sleep, food, time away from the baby. My husband was unwaveringly supportive. He also kept brainstorming. Maybe a night out for dinner would help? Maybe sleeping in a different bedroom so I could get better sleep would help? I loved that he was confident that there must be a solution and therefore we just had to try a variety of things until we hit upon the answer. My husband kept reassuring me I was doing a good job. He told me he didn’t care how much I cried or how I behaved, he loved me, he knew me and he understood it was hard. He absolutely believed I would get through it.
When the baby was a few months old my husband had to go on a work trip to Australia for a few weeks so I was left on my own with the baby/ my daughter. It was the making of me. To feel like no-one was watching and that I could really do things the way I want to without fear of judgement. I also didn’t have to concern myself with keeping my marriage alive (which can feel Herculian with a new baby on the scene). I could just direct all my attention to the baby. I sleep trained her, I started getting out the house more, watching what I wanted on TV, going to bed when I needed to. I bonded with my daughter in those weeks and I also gave her a nickname that she lives with to this day. That nickname is everything to me, it signals our new beginnings, me coming out of the darkness and seeing all the joy that my daughter was, what was waiting for me. She started to smile. The light was seeping through the cracks.
After a few more months my husband could see I needed a break from the baby. I needed childcare but I was absolutely not ready to accept it due mostly to anxiety issues I had about leaving my daughter. My husband very slowly encouraged me to look at nurseries and then to try just an hour or a morning. Nursery was a real saviour. My daughter started going for mornings and I started with just sleeping for a few hours. The anxiety just saps you of energy so I was taking time to rebuild my strength. Slowly I built trust in the nursery and could see the benefits of having time away, for her and for me. After a few weeks or months (I can’t remember, it all melds), I got a part time job and that was really me coming fully out of PND. I could focus my mind on something else, for someone else, something utterly not related to my daughter or family or feelings. It was wonderful and I worked for a really lovely lady who understood about motherhood and was flexible and kind.
I still struggle with a little bit of guilt and shame for having the feelings I did postnatally. I get upset that I wasn’t a happy mummy when my daughter started life but I’m starting to forgive myself and understand that life is complex and multifaceted and I did a bloody good job at coming out of a low point. I know how hard I fought for the life I do and for not walking out or giving up. I have a ridiculously wonderful relationship now with my daughter, she is my everything. I am a terrific mummy, I’m fun and wild and silly. The things that perhaps made me vulnerable to depression are the things that make me super now. I care deeply, I’m proud and I like to do a good job. I want the utmost best for her.
Reframing things has helped. To realise I went through a traumatic separation with my baby shortly after birth, that I lost a lot of blood and had to have a blood transfusion. I learned in hindsight how much these these things can affect us. The probably didn’t set me up very nicely for being discharged from hospital two days later with only my husband as full support. We were the blind, leading the blind and anaemic.
Reframing my relationship with my daughter and experiences has helped tremendously. I now see my daughter as the one who was in the trenches with me through those dark days, she’s seen me at my absolute worst, the bottom of the bottom of my dark character and she loves me insanely. That everyday I did get up and did do my damnedest to make her life good and her smile bright. That’s a remarkable achievement. How about viewing it through that lens instead of one where the days were dark and miserable? Instead I believe we were two warriors battling through a bad start to a story, but like all good stories, the ones that are set up like that always draw the heroes closer together. That’s us. She’s such an amazing girl. So much resilience, kindness and emotional aptitude.
So to summarise, my turning points were;
Talking honestly to someone who was utterly non-judgemental and kind and supportive.
Realising that those closest to me were often too distraught about seeing me in that space of bad mental health that they might not be the best people to help at that time.
Trying a shit tonne of ideas to make things better.
Pushing the boundaries of what feels conformable because when you have anxiety nothing feels comfortable, how about raking it easy on yourself and trying just one small thing, one hour of something rather than a whole day.
Finding time and space for myself and my needs and realising this isn’t selfish.
Finding a job role that allowed my brain some freedom from the constant anxiety and parenting questions I was throwing myself. It also gave me some freedom physically and financially.
Reframing bad experiences so that I can see the positives and the heroic journeys that were carved out because of those experiences.
Eurgh. That felt like drawing teeth, until I could talk about the good bits at the end. But I think it’s incredibly worthy to share the story. To see what worked for someone, that maybe there’s some ideas in there that could be useful to just one other person struggling gives me hope. To know we’re not alone, weird, mad, unhealthy or unworthy. That many of us struggle in a variety of ways, that depression is common and solvable and incredibly understandable.
If I can take one thing away from the whole thing it is that asking if someone is ok and then listening with a non-judgemental and compassionate ear is the start of something beautiful.
Live in love and hope xoxoxox
oh, yes, and Etsy finds. Here you go….Little children riding a dinosaur. Just spectacular art by Mab Graves.