A: So often we hear about how mothers struggle with their first born; how it’s that adjustment from single woman (even if married), to parent and how that can trigger different and complex feelings. One of the things I found interesting from Tiffany’s story was that she suffered acute depression after baby number two.
We talk about how you can get stuck in the ‘rinse and repeat’ of nappies, bath, bed, how it’s so easy to loose perspective. We also talk about how difficult it can feel to ask for help; how there can be shame attached to seeking help and treatment.
I love Tiffany’s story because she highlights so clearly what is the other side of accepting help. There is healing, there are people there ready to support and guide and there is personal growth. I’m passionate about mothers being able to enjoy motherhood to the fullest and I think this a reminder that many of us can relate to about thinking we can do everything ourselves and not daring to mention we might be struggling. A powerful story about being honest with ourselves, and for accepting we can’t do everything (and don’t need to!).
Tiffany has been so wonderfully honest here it makes for an articulate and insightful read. My utmost gratitude to Tiffany for sharing her story here. We jump right in…
Tiffany: The key is having someone at the top whilst when you’re in the pits at the bottom of the well, as much as we think we can be objective about our situations, with the best will in the world you can’t. You need someone standing at the top of that well saying ‘I see you, I’ve been there, but you don’t need to be scared. I’m going to help you’
We can go to the moon, build these amazing companies, build incredible engineering feats, but we are failing our mums. It’s not intentional, it’s just people don’t know how.
We hear a friend who’s struggling with postnatal depression but we don’t always know how to help. It’s about finding the ways that have worked for other people.
Sometimes all you want is someone to hear you, to be witness and to feel heard. We have certain basic human needs, in particular being accepted, feeling validated and accredited for doing good stuff. Never is that need more intense than in those early days of motherhood, but often we are at home, alone and we’re not being seen and validated and even least likely, given credit for what we’re doing – day in, day out. It can be very empowering just to be acknowledged for the effort that goes in to caring for our young.
A: So how did your story start Tiffany?
T: With baby number one I was fine, but looking back now, I did have some sort of form of anxiety. I had the scary thoughts of this most precious, perfect little being and I’d have the odd thought of what if I dropped her going down the stairs by accident. And those thoughts did scare me.
I had a very different experience the second time around. I had a seventeen month old at the time of giving birth. It was a whole new world of challenges, and I felt even more alone and I didn’t have the NCT whatsapp group on hand this time and knew no one else with two as close as I had who was under the same pressures. I couldn’t’ help but loose perspective. I got so deep into it. So deep into the rinse and repeat of feeds, nappies, naps, snacks, play, feeds, sleep… you can’t help but get lost in the whole Groundhog day of it all. And if we’re even slightly prone to some over-thinking, we get ourselves tied up in knots.
A: How did you get yourself out of that pit?
I think the key is finding the right support, the type of support that works for you.
My support came in various forms. The initial catalyst however was my sister-in-law who is a paediatric nurse out in Australia who said, Tiff go see a GP, just get assessed.
At the time (when my second was about four months old) I tied my negative experiences with the difficulty I was experiencing at the time transitioning my newest from the breast onto the bottle, and the whole process became hugely traumatic. My post-natal doula here was a god-send, she came in and helped us when we were at a loss after months of trying to get a very stubborn baby to bottle feed due to my dwindling supply. In hindsight, I most definitely got post-traumatic stress from that.
But as soon as I walked into the GP’s office, in less than three minutes she had written out a script for an antidepressant. So it was clear she’d made an assessment that I was in a bit of a state.
A: Did you go in to that doctors meeting feeling emotional?
T: Yes, I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown and I actually thought I was heading to hospital.
A: How does that manifest itself, the signs of a nervous breakdown?
T: Two ways, mentally and then physically. If left too long (as in my case) the physical symptoms manifest and make obvious what we can’t always detect (or more often, push away) with the mental symptoms. The thoughts – I was completely sleep deprived and I was in a state of fight or flight for weeks. So my appetite had disappeared, I was essentially malnourished. I wasn’t getting sleep and because of the anxiety I wasn’t actually breathing properly. So the three fundamental pillars of physical existence: sleep, nutrition and oxygen – I wasn’t getting sufficiently. My body got to the point where it was going into shock. I think this is why I had got to a point of planning in my head the case of me going into hospital. But logistically I couldn’t make it work if I was in hospital. I thought, ‘my husband can’t take time off work to look after the kids’. So I thought, I’ll go see the GP.
The toughest period was waiting for the meds to kick in.
Because I had been on Prozac before I was more hesitant about going on them again. I had been off them for 12 years and I was personally very proud of that fact.
The GP said to me at that appointment, she said ‘Tiffany, your girls need you right now and they need you to be ok, right?’
I said ‘yes’
She said ‘no one is going to give you a medal for not taking this medication’
And it was like she switched a light on. If this medication is going to mean I’m going to function better for my children, I would be stupid not to.
So I said ‘yes, let’s do it.’
She said ‘well done, do you know how many women I know I should be seeing and they don’t even walk into my office? You should feel proud for even getting here’.
If there’s an option for help sitting there waiting for you to use it, for the love of all things good – use it.
Why do we view mental illnesses so differently to physical illnesses? If we’d burnt our hand and we couldn’t cook dinner, we’d go to A&E and we’d get it sorted out. And you’d be fine with that, as we deem that the right thing to do.
Why should we not view mental illness in the same way?
A: How long did it take for the meds to kick in?
T: I started feeling improved by week two and three. Life was manageable again, I thought. “I’m not sinking, I’m not falling apart, I’m not going to die. I can do this.”
I’m of the opinion that when needed, medication can be a very effective band-aid. Medication serves a fantastic purpose when you’ve got acute stress or anxiety, it works quickly to establish that balance that then gives you the capacity to move into a therapy or longer-term solution.
The medication for me helped me cope and allowed for me and therefore, my girls to be ok. I could then get to a place where I could say, ‘ok, I’m ready for therapy now’.
Then I needed to put a plan in place for getting help for the next phase.
The process for me was that the GP prescribed medication and then they have a standard protocol where they offer you a menu of services, different types of therapy like CBT etc and a number you call up to book and then a health visitor gets involved.
I personally didn’t take up any of the NHS therapy options because I had my own. This was another key support player in my story.
The other steps I put in place whilst I was waiting for the meds to kick in was to put in a plan for childcare help. I needed help with the relentlessness of what was my life in those early months of raising two babies.
I got help from my postnatal doula again and our babysitter. Between then two of them they helped me every weekday afternoon for a period of two months to get me through the toughest and darkest period. I know this is an expensive option, and not one everyone can afford, but as I have no family nearby and I had nowhere else to go. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. We found a way to make it work. We had to.
A: That’s really interesting to hear the different methods you used. I think it will be really valuable for other people to read. What else would you like to say to people out there struggling.
T: It doesn’t need to get so bad, it doesn’t need to reach crisis point before you do something, like talk to a GP or someone, to get some perspective. I know what it feels like, and it is downright terrifying.
I’ve found a model of therapy that works for me. I do want to say that whilst there is value in sitting on a couch and going into deep analysis about our childhood and all that that entails, there is a risk of getting stuck in a trap. What I know is that there is a way to move forward right now.
Thanks to research we are understanding more and more about the neuroplasticity of the brain. The takeaway is that we have much more influence over our health and wellbeing than we realise. These techniques and form of therapy I have been fortunate enough to have found (and have subsequently studied) is a synthesis of mind-body medicine, therapeutic linguistics and energy psychology. It taps into that neuroplasticity, and can be used to unlock emotions which have a direct impact on our health and wellbeing. There is help, there are solutions, there is a way out.
Ultimately, I desperately want mothers to not feel ashamed anymore, I want them to feel free to speak out about their feelings. To just speak their truth. This is the first step towards healing. Being ignorant to the role unintegrated “negative” emotions play in our lives can undermine even the smartest, most well-informed and well-meaning mum.
I am very open about the fact that some days with my kids are really awesome, monumentally fulfilling and nothing really compares. But, there are also days when it is really flipping shit and unlike a regular “job” we’ve got no one there to give us a pat on a back, a bonus or an annual review.
This is the least rewarded job in the world, other than what we get back from our children and a lucky few of us have nice partners who give us validation, but those women are in the minority. Most people don’t get how hard this motherhood gig is, and on top of the grind, the stakes are HIGH. You are raising a human being. This mothering thing is not a job, it is a lifelong commitment. No wonder we can feel the weight of the world on us at times and without anyone to share (or share enough of) the burden, it’s no bloody wonder we sometimes completely lose the plot!
It’s terrifying to be vulnerable, but getting honest and real about the experience of being a mum makes us vulnerable. And then, if we feel we’re being judged on top of that then of course people push away thoughts and feelings which, in reality, they really shouldn’t. We need to feel free to air that stuff to someone. Friends or family, or a coach or therapist.
We all need a lighthouse in the stormy sea. Just knowing that someone is there who understands and can help, can in itself be incredibly consoling.
Many people have been here and many people have come out it.
A: And what happened after your therapy sessions?
T: I got my medication, continued my therapy and then we had a holiday to South Africa which was wonderful as we got some much needed sun.
I came back and got a fantastic job opportunity that allowed me to use my brain in a different way again, and it was like the universe saying ‘Tiff, you need some balance here’.
This has been such a gift in so many ways, but in particular it’s given me a look over onto the “other side of the fence” and into the realm of challenges that working mums face. This has been so beneficial in opening my mind and helping shape my service offering on my own passion project, which happens to be therapy for mums (funny that!).
A: And how do you feel now?
I feel I’m a world away from the place I was. I’m now eight months down the line and I’ve just completed tapering off the meds. When you get to a point knowing you feel well enough to come off, it is incredibly empowering. But this is also because of the therapy that I’ve got as well. It’s a game changer, and is why I am focussing on delivering it to other mums who can use it.
A: Thank you so much Tiffany. It has been so enlightening to talk to you. Thank you for such beautiful honesty and making the time to chat. Time is a precious commodity and it means a lot that you spent time on this post natal depression project I’ve created. You are an incredible character and I feel so pleased to have captured part of your story and your healing here.
If you’d like to read more about the therapy work that Tiffany offers then please take a look here