Content warning: Symptoms of psychosis, harm to self/child
For me postnatal psychosis was seriously one of the scariest things my family and I have lived through.
8 weeks after my baby was born I felt as though I was being watched through our television and that people were standing outside our windows watching and trying to come in. Whilst I knew in myself that this couldn’t be the case, I couldn’t see that it wasn’t real and that my brain was ‘playing tricks’. It quickly progressed to me not wanting to let go of my daughter thinking that I’d lose her if I did, even though there was no way she would be taken or lost – but I couldn’t shake the feeling.
Leading up to this time I’d noticed an increase in my depression and anxiety symptoms, I felt like I wasn’t making progress even though I’d started taking anti-depressants at my 6 week post-natal check-up. Whilst I had a couple of good supports around me, my then husband was not one of them. My family were living far away and I was not yet under the care of any mental health professionals. I believe all of this caused greater anxiety and meant my mental health was not being monitored closely enough.
During my initial psychotic episode I was functioning well enough to get my partner to phone a colleague of mine who was a Registered Nurse. Straight away she could see that I was not in a safe state and she and my partner convinced me to go to our nearest A&E department. I don’t have a lot of clear memories from this time, however I know I was admitted to the locked psychiatric ward without my daughter and after a short stay there was transferred to a mother baby unit.
This meant I could stay there with my daughter whilst I got the care I needed. My daughter and I had multiple stays in this unit in the first 8 months. I can say without any doubt that without them my daughter and I would not be alive today. The work they did with my daughter I and my family was completely life changing. With their assistance I was able to recognise that the relationship I was in with my daughter’s father was not a healthy or safe relationship. With their help and my family’s I was able to leave my husband and move back in to my parents’ home when my daughter was around 8 months old.
I was still extremely unwell at this point and required a lot of support from my family to care for my daughter and medical professionals to manage my mental health.
Even though I was home, everything wasn’t ok. When my daughter was around 10 months old we were still living with my parents and I experienced a second psychotic episode. It was even scarier; I remember hardly anything but know that my daughter and I were very lucky to have survived. I’d made an attempt on both our lives and was immediately hospitalised and transferred to a specialist mental health unit. Once again I was separated from my daughter. I’m thankful every day that my family were vigilant and quick to act and get me the support I needed.
Looking back I have very mixed feelings. I find it hard to remember a lot of it due to medication, ECT treatments and the psychosis itself. I had Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) on two separate admissions. In total I had 12 sessions of ECT, this in part is why my memory of the time is quite vague, ECT can affect short term memory. I found it to be a lot less daunting and scary than a lot of people may expect and nothing like it is portrayed by Hollywood. I was sedated and made to feel very comfortable every session.
In some ways the lack of memory is a blessing as a lot of the memories would probably be too difficult to cope with. I still feel a lot of guilt around what I feel I’ve put my daughter through, even though I know none of it was my fault. Every birthday and special celebration brings feelings of joy for the event and that we are both still alive and able to be a part of everyone’s lives. It also brings sadness that us not being alive had been a possibility and the impact this must have had on so many people, not least my family.
I still battle ongoing mental health issues, but since the second psychotic episode I’ve not experienced psychosis again. I now recognise when my mental health is worsening and let the people I trust around me know, and if required see my GP and psychiatrist.
Please keep an eye out for worsening postnatal depression symptoms and signs of psychosis. It is real, it is scary and it’s life threatening to mum and baby! If you or your partner feel unsafe or are worried about your mental health please seek help, there’s PANDA and other helplines, your GP or if in an emergency your nearest A&E department. Please don’t put off seeking help out of embarrassment or lack of time, it is something that can have irreversible effects not only on you, but also those around you.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read my story. I hope by sharing my experiences I am able to help others and raise awareness of this serious and life threatening yet little known illness.
PANDA National Helpline 1300 726 306 Monday–Friday 9am–7.30pm AEST/AEDT
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