We are very lucky to have a brave, honest and open post from Fiona, a mum of two who has suffered twice with postnatal depression. Her insights into this condition will hopefully encourage other mums who are struggling to seek help and get on the road to recovery quicker. A big special thanks to Fiona; you can read more on her blog Sunny Spells and Scattered Showers. If you think you may be suffering with PND, please visit your GP and also have a look at some helpful resources such as Nurture.
It’s hard to know where to start when talking about postnatal depression, because it affects everything; every single aspect of your life and that of your family. I have two kids, and unfortunately experienced PND with both of them. I’m not sure which was harder to be honest – the first time because we had no clue what was going on, or the second time because we knew exactly what to expect!
For me, it manifested as chronic anxiety, a deep and overwhelming sense of isolation, sadness, guilt (about everything – I would probably have accepted responsibility for world hunger given the chance) and anger. Massive, all encompassing anger. I think that’s probably a good place to start as it’s not something you hear so much about, but from having spoken to friends who also experienced PND, I’m beginning to realise it’s a common theme. I think it stemmed from the sense of frustration at the combination of everything else I was feeling. It made no sense. None. I was completely in love with my babies, and desperately wanted them both. But I was also very isolated, particularly with my first, had little support, and they both had chronic reflux which meant a lot of screaming, a lot of the time. For most of their first 6 months they were either in my arms, or strapped to me in a sling. I was breastfeeding as well, so there really was no respite, and I was exhausted. Looking back, it was a heady combination of circumstances and it’s probably no wonder that PND took over.
But back to the anger. That part was so scary. It would erupt, without warning, out of absolutely nowhere, and was almost impossible to control. Thankfully my kids were never on the receiving end, it was most often directed inwardly, or at my long suffering husband. I used to hit myself, as it was the only way to break the anger. This continued for years.
The guilt and anxiety were also incredibly hard to handle. I felt guilty because I was anxious, the guilt furthered the anxiety……it was a vicious circle. I was terrified to be left alone with my baby. When my husband went back to work after my son, D, was born – well even thinking about it makes me feel sick to my stomach. I was just so scared. That hour after he first left the house, with the whole day stretching away in front of us, left me almost paralysed with fear. I’m not sure now what I was scared of exactly, but the fear was a constant. And again, this fear fed into the anxiety, which fed into the guilt, which fed into the anger…………so you can see how quickly it can spiral out of control.
After months of struggling the first time I eventually spoke to my GP who prescribed anti-depressants, and when D was about one and a half, I started working with a therapist. The work I’ve done with her, more than anything else, is the reason I’m still here and able to write about this. She saw me through an incredibly tough time, and again, was my lifeline when PND struck again after my daughter, M, was born. Medication wasn’t an option the second time. I was breastfeeding, and the rules had changed, so despite taking medication while feeding the first time, it was a big no-no the second time. My therapist half dragged and half carried me through M’s first year.
Unfortunately I still struggle with depression. It has been in the background since I was in college, if not back as far as school, and has reared it’s head more times than I care to remember over the years. But, so much learning has come with it that I’m almost thankful to have gone through it. Stress on the word almost!!! Myself and Hubby have had to have some incredibly difficult conversations over the years, and there is absolutely no room for secrecy in our marriage. Communication is everything, even when it’s the last thing we want to do, and especially when we know it’s going to be a difficult conversation. But the flip side of that is that we’re stronger as a couple now than ever before. We’ve weathered some spectacular storms (most recently an episode of depression that led to my being in hospital for 5 weeks) and we know that we can handle whatever life throws at us in the future. That is very good to know. I’ve begun blogging, and aside from the work I’ve done with my therapist, that has been the single biggest driving force in my recovery. It’s also had the bonus spin off of opening up doors for me that I wouldn’t have dreamt of this time last year. I wouldn’t say I’m campaigning about mental health, rather I’m just very determined to talk about it and get the message out there that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, and that people need to feel able to ask for help. Next month, I’m going to train as a volunteer with See Change, the national organisation for stigma reduction. Hubby recently spoke on national radio about the impact PND had on him and our family, in the hope of encouraging more men to seek support. In a very convoluted way, depression has given me a direction and a purpose that I didn’t have before. Ideally I’d have found that direction without all the hardship, but that’s just how things worked out!!
The biggest thing that I’ve learned from everything that’s happened this last six years is that pride will get you absolutely nowhere. If you’re struggling, ask for help – your partner, a friend, your GP, a counsellor – anyone. Just do not push on alone, it doesn’t help you, your baby or your family. PND is a cruel illness, but it does pass. Asking for help will make it pass a whole lot quicker.