My name is Bec Bishop and in August 2012 my world changed with the birth of a son. Four weeks early and ready for life as I say, Louis (said lu-ee) was strong in character and thrived immediately. He and I certainly faced the standard gamut of newborn challenges - reflux, feeding every 3 hours (as a premature baby) and in addition he wasn't able to breastfeed as the fat pads in his cheeks were not yet developed.
Although, retrospectively, I showed signs of anxiety through stages of my pregnancy, it was when Louis was about 6 weeks old that the wheels metaphorically fell off for me. It happened rapidly and severely over a period of about 72 hours.
As an event manager specialising in international sport events I was accustomed to perceptibly being in control of much in my life; professionally and personally. I carried routine through into early motherhood with checks and balances like shower by 10am and morning walk to follow. I thought that feeling like you were on the set of a sci-fi movie was no different to any other new mother.
Walking on one such morning I found myself abruptly lying down on my back of a grassed area in our local park, incapable of getting up. I had observed that the morning routine was becoming harder over a short number of days but having not experienced anything like this before, I wasn't aware of what was unfolding. Lying there on that grass, the hardest call to make was to the person who would become intrinsic in my journey through PND - my Mum. All I could think was how do I tell the woman who raised two children without waivering that I'm not able to do the role after 6 weeks. It turns out that you really underestimate people's ability to understand when someone is struggling. I learned straight away the value of straight talk and to dismiss the instinct to try and mask the struggles of reality. From here on my Mum started educating herself, and me, while creating a sense of normality in what was an extremely abnormal circumstance to me.
For a period of about 6 months to follow I did not drive my car, my husband struggled as he worked from home trying to hold down a demanding CEO role, as I required someone with me twenty four hours a day as a result of acute anxiety. I would regularly start my day free from “the fog”, as I called it, as late as 4pm. My husband carried out the morning routine that was but a mere whir of noises downstairs to me.
A combination of the support from a tight knit group of family, friends, a psychiatrist, a psychologist, an amazing GP with patience and determination to change things, resulted in great improvement from that initial moment of debilitation in the local park.
Two things that came into my life, pivotal in shifting my anxiety into confidence, was the opportunity to join the Anglicare program, Little Oaks, and my employment with lululemon athletica – a Canadian apparel brand. The Little Oaks program was one of its kind in South Australia and allowed mothers and their children to interact in a safe and supportive environment and in whatever way we could manage on that given day. Qualified staff convened the group and would then see to the children’s needs for the second half of the session while freeing up the mums to enjoy morning tea, conversation and great creative and journaling activities as free agents. Some days, just getting to group was an achievement, but quickly became an anchor and guiding light in my week. Being open to support networks and groups is a great way of peeling away layers of isolation and gaining insight into your situation.
The confidence I re-established over 16 weeks of the program lead to broader connectedness in my community and I was offered a role with lululemon in November 2013. Prior to this, I had imagined never holding a job again. The key for me was making the choice to be completely transparent with my employer and in turn being afforded respect, development opportunities and consistent understanding. The culture of lululemon has, in less than two years, seen me achieve so much from being part of the team opening a new retail store for the global brand to travelling to Whistler, Canada for a global summit in April 2015. Organisational culture can really take a stand for how society views common mental illness diagnosis and I am now more accomplished and confident as a leader than ever before.
In August of this year, our darling Louis will turn three. When people ask me are you better now I tend to respond with the belief that I view PND as something that changes you rather than comes and goes like the common cold. It shines a light on things that weren't necessarily serving me in my life and has given me the opportunity to alter my thoughts, outlook, and approach to everyday circumstances. I am, as I said, better than ever and I strongly believe that being open and honest is the best way to manage PND. Surround yourself with those who support you in the challenging moments and celebrate your successes. I still see my GP from time to time, take medication and visit my psychologist when I am facing a new challenge, primarily to remind me of how to manage myself through new and vulnerable situations.
Nobody has a crystal ball but learning to identify challenges or triggers and have “tools in your tool box” to apply to situations is a valuable asset. The way I see it, my friend is an elite athlete and sees a sports psychologist in order to perform at her peak on the world stage and I seek support in the same way in order to be the best version of myself. I think that with a positive perspective that anything is possible; it may just take some time.
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"I was accustomed to perceptibly being in control of much in my life; professional and personally. It was when Louis was about 6 weeks old that the wheels metaphorically fell odd for me."