Four years ago, I was happily pregnant with my second child and working part time as a Communications Manager. I finished work late in my pregnancy and was keen to spend my last couple of weeks having one on one time with three year old son Lachlan. This plan soon changed when Lachlan was diagnosed with pneumonia and admitted to the Childrens Hospital.
After Lachlan returned home, I went into labour with our second child. This in itself was a shock. My labour symptoms were only confirmed upon a routine visit to my obstetrician! A quick examination and I was sent straight to hospital where I gave birth only a couple of hours later. It was Monday 11 April 2011 and our beautiful baby girl Grace Louise Hyatt, became the perfect addition to our family.
All seemed to be going well for the first few weeks, but then breastfeeding issues and an inability to sleep took over. Along with the lack of sleep, extreme anxiety and paranoia kicked in. I was anxious about everything; from how often and how much Grace fed, burped, pooed and weed, to how much television three year old Lachlan was watching. I worried and obsessed over my growing list of things to do, and my hubby hadn’t even gone back to work yet! Usually a very happy go lucky person, I became a shadow of my former self and cringed at the prospect of visitors.
In a very quick time frame I became highly strung, extremely anxious, agitated, sad, withdrawn, and eventually unmotivated. To everyone that knew me I was clearly depressed, but I myself was in denial. To me depression didn’t explain it. I’m not sure if this was due to the stigma associated with it or my ignorance of how severe depression could get.
Had someone told me I was having a nervous breakdown, or had a rare disease in my brain, at the time I probably would have accepted that diagnosis with open arms, but the word “depression” just didn’t gel with me. So much so, I later insisted on an MRI after trying to convince medical staff and my family I didn’t have depression and that it must be something like a brain tumor!
Along with my depressed and anxious state, my lack of sleep continued over a week in duration. This led to many paranoias and phobias setting in as I completely lost touch with reality. The biggest phobia (which I truly believed) was that DHS were going to take my children away from me. While my husband Geoff initiated help in many forms (including via our GP, my obstetrician, a referred psychiatrist, outreach support workers and even a volunteer caller from PANDA) I would put on a brave face, act out and lie to most of them, fearing my children would otherwise be taken away from me.
While I did not comprehended it at the time, this infuriated my husband who was desperately trying to get me the help we needed, only to have me act up in front of medical professionals like nothing was wrong! We would get back home and yet again I would be rendered helpless.
The only people I didn’t put on a brave front for were my family, so after I exhausted my own husband and his efforts to help, Grace and I moved in with my mum and dad to give him and Lachlan a break. (Geoff has since told me this was more of an attempt get me away from home at the time where everywhere I looked I felt I had so much to do!). It was at this point in time that I recall feeling like I just needed to get a full 8 hours rest, and everything would be okay. Unfortunately however, guilt played a major part in my depression. I was so physically and mentally exhausted that I needed to rest and let others help, however the more help I got, the guiltier I felt for resting and not soldiering on. These guilty thoughts occupied my mind 24/7 inhibiting my ability to rest, which made me further exhausted and in need of help. Thus, this vicious cycle of guilt and exhaustion continued. Thoughts of self-harm began to enter my mind as I rendered myself completely useless.
On Monday 23 May 2011, I went into a Mother and Baby Unit (MBU) at Mitcham Private for further help and support beyond my family. This unit focused on sleep problems in infants and had cameras in the infant sleep areas. Upon being admitted and seeing the cameras, I freaked out and was certain the cameras meant staff were keeping a watchful eye over me, trying to catch me out as an “unfit” parent. For this reason I recall leaving Grace in the nurses’ station for most of my stay.
Only one day later, during the evening of Tuesday 24 May 2011, I was transferred to North park MBU in Bundoora. Despite having no cameras, I broke down upon arrival and didn’t want to stay. My hesitation was greeted with a Valium to calm me, which I reluctantly took after much coxing from nurses and family. My anxieties and phobias were at an extreme high. I was still convinced medical staff were working against me, out to prove I was an “unfit mother” as opposed to helping me. I may have been diagnosed with PND, but I was adamant I didn’t have it. I reluctantly took my medication and drifted further and further away from reality and bonding with my little Grace. I also missed Lachlan dearly.
I rarely got time to bond with Grace one on one as was either accompanied by my family members visiting or the nurses in the unit. I think back now and wonder if I perhaps needed more time just Grace and me without everyone around. I felt somewhat smothered by everyone and everything. Forced to take my meds, forced to eat, and encouraged to do things I wouldn’t be doing in front of people had I been home. I felt I needed to break out of the confinement and out of the structure, I needed space . . . headspace. For this reason on Saturday 11 June 2011, I left a note to my family apologizing for my actions and walked out of the MBU without notice that day, implying my family would be better off without me. Clearly I wasn’t thinking my actions through very well as I only took an apple, my jacket and my phone with me, but I felt free. I hadn’t walked too far from the unit and was contemplating bizarre thoughts like spending the night curled up by the creek or by the park when my phone rang. I ignored the first call and kept walking but the second time it rang I felt compelled to answer, it was Geoff. He had been contacted by my sister who along with a nurse had discovered my note and my disappearance. Both pleaded with me to come back and informed me that the police were also looking for me. Suddenly the impact of my actions weighed upon me and I gave myself in and returned to the MBU.
Unfortunately my actions and my note in particular were taken as a possible suicidal threat and I was discharged involuntarily by North Park MBU the next day and transferred by ambulance to the Northern Hospital Psychiatric Unit where I was admitted on an Involuntary Treatment order under the Mental Health Act.
I bawled and pleaded with the staff at Northern to let me go back to the mother and baby unit where I could be with my baby. The reality of my disappearance the day prior set in as I learned that my admittance to the Psychiatric unit was involuntary. Geoff met me at the hospital as soon as he could and together we made our way to what was to be my room. We bawled together on the bed at the reality of the situation and cuddled in silence.
I spent the next 14 days in the Northern Hospital Psychiatric unit. It was like living a nightmare. I was now locked into a unit beyond my will, with many other patients experiencing all sorts of mental health problems, not just post-natal depression. In an effort to improve my surroundings and my sense of security my family arranged for me to be moved to a room in a small corridor section of the unit with only females occupying the corridor. The medication I’d been so reluctant to take was now dispensed via a window in the unit where all patients lined up for their meds. Staff were more often than not behind glass windows and I felt like I was in a large fish tank being watched. What’s more, my stay here meant that Geoff was now left with the burden of looking after both children on his own whilst still juggling this responsibility to be there for me. The psych ward did not allow children to visit, nor was it a place I wanted my children to see. When my family came in to visit with Lachlan and Grace, we would gather in a meeting room at the entry to the unit. Each time I saw Lachlan I felt as though my heart had been ripped out, like the beautiful bond between us two had been broken, instead replaced with loss and sadness.
After spending 14 days in the unit with not much change to my health, it was suggested to my family that I undertake a course of Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT). My family were hesitant about the treatment, particularly receiving it within the current environment. Through various discussions with the psychiatrists at Northern and the North Park MBU, my family successfully convinced the psychiatrist at the North Park MBU to take me back into her care and continue my treatment within the MBU.
Once back in the care of the North Park Mother MBU, the psychiatrist now responsible again for my care, also strongly recommended my family consider a course of ECT as a last resort. I underwent 12 sessions of ECT treatment over a course of 3 weeks. It was only towards the end of this treatment that I truly started to finally accept my diagnosis and began to show positive signs of recovery.
By mid July 2011, I left the North Part MBU and continued my recovery from home. I continued taking medication for some time and saw a psychiatrist on a regular basis to monitor this.
I now know that what I suffered was a severe case of Post Natal Depression and psychosis. I have been mentally healthy and off all medication now for more than 2 years. The only possible side effect I have experienced since having ECT treatment is some short term memory loss and I now write lists for everything!
Never in a million years, did I think PND would happen to me, nor did I realize how severe it can get. I now know that PND does not discriminate. It can happen to anyone and it often presents itself very differently for each individual. By sharing my story I hope to show others that may be suffering, they are not alone in their thoughts and in their struggles. I hope to inspire them that they too can overcome the battle of depression, anxiety and even psychosis. That there can be light at the end of an extremely dark tunnel.
I was exceptionally lucky to have a super supportive husband, parents and family throughout my ordeal. At times they needed just as much support as me, and I am forever grateful to the hospital staff, medical professionals, family and friends who assisted them as well as me. Lachlan’s crèche and Geoff’s employer were also very considerate and understanding at the time which was a blessing well received. Today my husband Geoff and my children Lachlan (now 8) and Grace (now 4) have their wife and their mum back, and for that we are forever grateful.
Having survived my experience with PND, I cannot stress enough the importance of the MBUs for mothers with post-natal depression. It saddens me to hear that many of these units are closing or being reduced in capacity due to lack of funding. Without these units, sufferers would otherwise be faced with psychiatric wards being their only option for recovery. I know myself that had I been solely confined to the psychiatric ward, my full recovery may not have ever happened.
In order for acceptance, support and understanding of PND to take place, awareness is paramount, and I commend and support organizations like PANDA for making this happen.
"Never in a million years did I think that postnatal anxiety and depression would happen to me. In a very short time I became highly strung, extremely anxious, agitated, sad, withdrawn and unmotivated."