I have two beautiful daughters aged 4 and 6.
I have also suffered from post-natal depression for 5 years.
Anyone who has suffered depression will understand this means I have earned my racing stripes.
Postnatal depression is a life robbing illness. It takes you to a place where you just wait in limbo for your world to end and be sucked in the darkness that has surrounded your mind. It feels like turning up to work dressed for mufti day and everyone is in black tie. I remember the first time one of my friends who was very supportive asked me how did I know something was wrong....did I just not bond with my baby. Of course I lied and said I did bond with my baby just felt a bit down.
The truth was my baby was perfect and I didn't see it. I loved her but didn't just sit and stare at her in wonder....never. You know what I mean how people say babies are great time wasters because you can watch them for hours? Not me...I was always stressed and busy and this was with a baby that spent 12hours sleeping at night and 4 during the day. Of course I had my show face on you couldn't tell all my social media posts show me capturing everything. Maybe that's a sign...if its too perfect...it is. I felt like I was just being sucked into a black hole. I didn't want to go out and share my baby and I didn't want people to come to me. That where it is hard for friends and family who don't understand as they take it personally and these ties can be lost forever. I was ashamed of how I looked And thought people were disgusted by how I looked.
I was so out of touch with reality. I have never looked at anyone friend relative or stranger and thought they were disgusting post baby. I think it's beautiful to see a mother who is soft and cuddly enjoying her baby and know that in time when she can she will find herself again. For some that is sooner. As a result of my feelings I just found no joy in anything, was isolated and agitated. I managed to still keep my struggles to myself for 10 months. I couldn't face the thought of returning to my job as a scrub nurse in the operating theatre where I had a reasonable level of responsibility so I quit. I took a job in an aged care facility that I felt would be less stressful. Within 2 weeks of returning to work I was diagnosed with PND , in the end I just couldn't keep on top of it.
The crunch came on a Sunday. I had been out for brunch with my friends with my baby. I didn't enjoy it...I thought they were angry with me for taking her...I thought my husband was angry with me for going...I thought I couldn't leave a 10 month old baby for an hour since I had worked this week. I thought a lot and every thought was negative and full of self doubt and wound me tighter and tighter. Finally I could go home and as I drove I felt like I was in a black tunnel and it was just going and going. I thought about driving off the road into the swamp or the telegraph pole, this is a terrifying way to feel especially with your baby in the car with you. Getting home felt like fighting world war three. When I did I just collapsed on the bathroom floor sobbing loudly. My husband who had seen me suffer just said "you have to get help love...you can't go on like this." He rang my parents they came and took their granddaughter to give me a break for the night.
The next day I went to the doctors. I did the test you know the one to see if you have it and bingo....I got top marks in every question shame my degree wasn't like that! My doctor wanted to prescribe antidepressants but I declined I wanted to get by without them. So Friday that week I was sitting down with my psychologist telling her how great things were....yeah right luckily that's what they are paid for and she was able to see between the lines and start me on the road to recovery. This was the start of my weekly appointment for 10 weeks. These were my lifeline and honestly why I am here today. After this when I was stronger and had the basic tools I let more time go between appointments until my psychologist agreed I didn't need to return. I also found a great naturopath and took all sorts of potions which seemed to help namely magnesium and zinc. I wished I had found running at this time that was still a few years away.
Fourteen months later I gave birth to our second daughter. This time she was different she didn't sleep well at all... 45mins morning and afternoon and a frequent breast feeder at night. It was harder to keep my show face on this time with chronic tiredness and a toddler. When my Doctor diagnosed me 9 months later I couldn't lie about not hurting myself or my children. I said I felt my control was hanging by a thread and I needed to start medication straight away as I didn't have the time or support to try without them. I wish I had been stronger and gone without. The reason is, I have always thought like antibiotics, antidepressants were over prescribed. Also starting is extremely unpleasant as your body adjusts...I could barely keep awake...not easy when you are sick, have two small children and work. But pretty quickly within 2 weeks my mood had stabilised and I could go on.
It was during this time I found exercise. Initially I started boxing with a friend colleague in my lunch break. Then when I had to have a rest due to carpel tunnel repair we began to run. I could only run about 50 metres at first but we kept going. Soon I found I had completed a 10k fun run with my friend and husband. I was hooked and in the three years since I have run 7 x 10km fun runs and my first half marathon. I have found the natural high of exercise....it makes me feel so good I do not like to have more than one day off in a row. Also as a bonus I found it makes me look good ...losing 13kg and gaining some muscle tone.
It wasn't until I decided to go off the antidepressants that I saw a psychologist. I really wanted it to happen straight away since I felt good. I asked several doctors but none would advise it and even the psychologist wasn't overly keen. At the time it was so frustrating but now I appreciate it’s a process that should be slow and steady with lots of checks. I spent around 6months decreasing my antidepressants and seeing my psychologist weekly. Finally she agreed to discharge me when I assured her I would make an appointment if things started to get on top of me or my mind went racing again. I found the biggest side effect was an upset stomach which was unpleasant enough that I don't want to go through it again.
For me having postnatal depression has highlighted how stigmatised mental illness is. I have relatives and friends who have dealt with chronic diseases like diabetes, arthritis and heart disease. It is acceptable to talk about this, how they are feeling, what their test results were what side effects they are struggling with. Mental illness is different, people don't understand how you "got it" especially when you have 2 perfect happy children or how it is treated. I always found it difficult to attend psychology sessions as I would need a babysitter for 3 hrs and even with a gp referral they are an expense. I can really understand why some patients become non-compliant. Honestly it would have been much easier for me to say on antidepressants for life than to come off them. I was just really determined, persistent and lucky.
So now I have completed treatment and am officially recovered from postnatal depression. Not so emotionally attached to it I have even spoken a bit to some friends who have asked. They are actually keen to know more about it. Depression is such a difficult thing to explain...each person has a different experience and responds to a individual treatment. One of the harder things to explain is why. I know so many women whose life is harder than mine yet they did not get PND and I did. This is because PND is an internal fault in your brain, it's not a response to your situation. I think that is part of the reason people don't understand depression. It isn't seen. The mother is seen with a perfect baby, home, family and friends. If you break your leg someone can see how the injury occurred maybe you had an accident or fell over. It is easy to understand how it happened. How could someone with so much love and support fall over?
I have spent time reading through articles and find it inspiring to read about people's journeys. Often though it highlights a sad lonely and difficult time in someone's life. This gets me to the title. I am better and feel things I haven't for five years. Post natal depression isn't getting stressed because you have not had anytime to yourself. As parents we all get that. Don't worry when the are teenagers they won't want to sit and watch you on the toilet relaying a story about how Grandma said you should wipe your bottom! I hope.
Postnatal depression is not leaving the house in a mess because you have been busy ferrying children around and will catch up in a few days or weeks. Everyone prioritises things differently. It isn't walking around the shops with greasy unwashed hair because you are going to the gym later and didn't expect to run into your work colleagues.....really who looks like Angelina all the time?
When I was in the black fog that was postnatal depression I didn't recognise the symptoms. Now that my life has taken a turn up I can see the differences. We just moved house and it was so exciting but also stressful. But I can manage stress without laying awake all night or sobbing in the shower because if I don't get everything just right in one day something bad will happen.
That's it always having a dreadful sense, living in constant fear. I still cry in the shower it's always been my private place it's just not every night and if I do once in a while when feeling emotional its a stress release and I feel better not worse. I am better at communicating to my nearest and dearest what I need or can or cannot do. This doesn't always make them happy and i am ok with that. I don't please everyone all the time. I am able to set goals again and gradually tick them off. If i can't achieve one it's ok. i might get disappointed but i get over it and accept goals and priorities are constantly changing. When I was sick I enrolled twice at university for postgraduate studies but couldn't even do one week...completely unrealistic and sent me into a downward spiral. Now I have no desire for further studies maybe when my kids are older. I am proud of my achievement as a mother and wife and don't feel the need to accomplish any thing else.
So now my goals are around what will make me feel good....I have been running for 3 years and 6 months ago completed a half marathon. I wish i had found running or exercise before children but being naturally tall and thin and with a love of books it just wasn't on my radar. The benefits i have found are significant weight loss, huge improvement in my self esteem and just feeling generally great afterwards. So my next goal is to run a full marathon the first in 30 years in my home town. I have started my training and it is a bit scary but I think I can do it. If I can't I am not ashamed or embarrassed but already really proud of having the courage to try. After that I really want to look at other ways to exercise to help me be a healthy happy person. I will always have in my heart the guilt and disappointment of what I missed when I was sick. Everyday when I picked up my baby her 2.5year old sister would ask "you happy today mummy?"this would turn me into a sobbing mess. Now I am proud that if she has any memories of this time I have also shown her how to be healthy happy and strong.
The best thing about not having post natal depression is just enjoying my children. They are sometimes naughty and there are times when I don't cope with this as well as I could. There are days that I don't respond the best and maybe yell too much or throw something. But there are also days when I can just stop my trolley in the supermarket and give my girls a big kiss for being so cute and melting my heart. Such a simple thing i knew was there but just couldn't let go and feel it....the joy of being a mother I feel so lucky and blessed.