We are delighted that Talia has recently opened up and talked about her experiences of Perinatal Mental Health Illness. Talia is a true demonstration of a mother who can manage a difficult pregnancy, light up her own flourishing career and be the best Mother a child could wish for. Talia is working with PANDAS as an ambassador to encourage others to speak up, share their stories and end the stigma. PANDAS are here to help parents. And we want you to know that it’s OK not to be OK.
Approximately half of new mothers are concerned about their mental health and they are suffering in silence, according to research by the NCT. There are a range of symptoms and conditions that fall under perinatal mental illness, including antenatal or postnatal depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder – and dads can be affected too. If left untreated it can have a devastating effect on the whole family.
We’ve selected a few of the top tips we’ve come across from working with new parents every day, and also through our partnership with the NCT as sponsors for The Big Push.
Talk About Your Feelings
Whatever you’re going through, it’s important to talk. By vocalising your problems, you will see your way forward more clearly. What’s more, whoever you speak to may offer you important advice, or make you see everything in a different way. Who you talk to doesn’t really matter, all that matters is that you trust them and you can confide in them. Counselors and doctors are ideal if you need medical or psychological support. But if you don’t feel comfortable doing this, there are plenty of local support groups who specialise in helping women through postnatal depression. If you decide that support groups aren’t for you, opening up to a friend or family member can be just as helpful. If you know any other mums, they’ll be able to offer you sound advice, too. Whatever you’re going through, it’s likely that they’ve been through something similar, so don’t be afraid to open up. Most women who go through postnatal depression feel an overwhelming sense of isolation. This means that, unfortunately, many don’t speak out about their feelings and suffer in silence. It is important to override this feeling of loneliness as much as possible, and find people who are able to support you.
Make Time for You
When you become a parent, it can feel like your only purpose in the world is to look after your child, and that you have lost the life you had before you had your baby. But it’s important to remember that you’re an individual as well as a parent, and that you can still make time for yourself. You might feel rushed off your feet, but by making time for friends and family, you can enjoy the company of your loved ones, helping you to feel less isolated. Finding time to be by yourself can be helpful, too. If you can organise a sitter even for just an hour or two, this gives you the chance to relax and unwind with your favourite home comforts, whether that means watching a funny TV show or delving into a new book. Having time out will help you to feel rested. Taking up a hobby or setting yourself a manageable goal, like learning a new skill, anything from cross stitch to playing an instrument, will also help you to feel better. By achieving something like this that’s separate to your family life, you will feel more positive and empowered.
It’s no secret that, if you eat well, you will feel well. By consuming healthy, natural fats and protein based meals, you will start to see a difference in your mood. By eating dishes that contain high-energy protein, like oily fish and filling vegetables (for example avocado), you will feel more energised. Everyone should treat themselves, but there are certain things you should avoid where possible. Many new mums avoid alcohol if they breastfeed, but it’s advisable to avoid drinking if you’re feeling vulnerable after having a baby, anyway. Alcohol is essentially a depressant, so it is likely to make you feel much worse overall if you drink regularly.
It might sound simple, but if you exercise regularly, you will start to feel healthier, both mentally and physically. In their study, Be Active and Become Happy, researchers Kanning and Schlicht found that participants felt content, awake, and calm after periods of simple exercise. On the other hand, participants who did not exercise had a low mood. What’s more, by taking up regular exercise, you will be able to socialise more. Plenty of new mums take up new sports and exercise classes in their local areas, so you won’t be alone if you take up something new. A popular choice among new mums is to take their little ones to local swimming classes. Here, your baby will be able to flex their muscles, and you will also get a gentle work out. By supporting your baby in the water taking part in gentle, water-based exercises, your bond with your baby will grow and you’ll get to keep fit, too.
Get the Help You Need
Whatever you decide to do, make sure you talk to someone about what you’re going through and introduce approaches into your daily life that will make you to feel positive. From strengthening the bond between you and your baby, to offering you both some gentle exercise, there are so many benefits swimming lessons can offer you. More than anything, if you are going through postnatal depression, remember that you’re not alone. Many women experience postpartum mood disorders, so make sure you speak out and get the support you deserve.
About Puddle Ducks
Puddle Ducks teach independent swimming from birth, strengthening
bonds between parents and children across the UK.
This post contains references to infant loss and hyperemesis gravidarum, and may be upsetting for some.
Elation – that’s what you will feel when you give birth so you can forget about the nine months of HG sickness, depression and anxiety, the bleeds and fluid loss; not to mention my baby not moving regularly. This was just the start of my journey.
I had lost two babies previously, got pregnant by accident with the third and could never bring myself to acknowledge that I was pregnant – I was filled with anxiety and worry and a sense of loss that I would most definitely give birth to another dead baby. This was teamed with a sense of guilt and horror of my previous miscarriages. I didn’t get help to move past them, and with the awfulness of wanting to just be dead because I felt so ill during this pregnancy, it played with my mind body and soul and there were times when I just didn’t want to be, let alone have a baby.
And that is reality of PND – I would never think that it was real, so I tried to carry on with my normal life of working in the city of London; being sick on numerous platforms and on people on the tube, fainting and getting carted off to hospital at least every week so they could pump me full of vitamins and fluid just to get my arse out of bed of a morning. I looked pregnant but never felt the joy of it. To me it was just a horrific process that was going to end in tears and heart ache when I’m told again I won’t be taking a baby home.
And that stuck to me. I didn’t pack my bag until the last minute and took minimal items for the baby. I never actually considered names seriously, I took no part in putting the room together and placed only small baby clothes in the drawers, still in their packets as I just couldn’t see how this was ever going to happen.
I suffered with HG (hyperemesis Gravidarum). I have many stories about how this made me want to just curl up and die. Now, looking back, the thing was I had the nose of a trained police dog – I could smell what you had eaten or drank days before. On one occasion on the tube it all ended in carnage: Contestant number 1, who smelt like they had been drinking after work (very jealous). This made the bile enter my throat! Contestant number 2 who clearly worked in a Chinese restaurant made me want to smash down a chicken chow mein but that brought the bile and food up into my mouth. Contestant 3 who had their armpit in my face just smelt of complete and utter smelliness and the sick was there ready to go – then Contestant 4 got on the train and smelt like a smoking room. Now, I liked the smell of smoke during my pregnancy as I was an ex smoker but this was enough for me to projectile, exorcist style, over a whole carriage of people. Now don’t get me wrong, I would be angry, but the abuse I got meant I just had to get off the train. It started and didn’t stop and I wildly shouted back “I’m pregnant, you idiots!” as the train pulled off. I retreated to being sick at the end of the platform and was swiftly told to remove myself and asked how much I had been drinking! (I wish) “I’m pregnant,” I kept saying and was escorted to the police office were I proceeded too cry and tell them I need an ambulance not police to arrest me as was about to faint and could not stop being sick in the tube station bin!
These type of incidents happened often and got me down down down to the point I just didn’t want to be pregnant, but I got filled with guilt because of the losses I had suffered before.
I was told at 25 weeks there was a high chance I wouldn’t make it the whole way through and this thought just consumed me. It brought what I can only call the cloud of depression on me, and it stayed and rained on my parade 24 hours a day.
Laura was gone, she was a nothing; just an extremely sick mother-to-be who could not acknowledge the pregnancy let alone the birth. After two days of pain, drugs, crying, sickness, temperatures and pushing I finally gave birth to my baby girl but again coldly didn’t acknowledge her birth and started acting out of sorts afterwards – wanting to see my placenta, reverting to making jokes about the labor and telling them to stitch me up and do a good job.
PND had stolen my sense of identity. I didn’t know who I was and just could not acknowledge I was a mother. I could only see this robotic person who had to act happy through the dark cloud that had descended upon me. This was just the start of how PND took me into its arms and didn’t let go for two years, essentially taking me away from my Nellie and my family.
This is my journey, and my blog. Publishing this is to help in my recovery but also to educate and let everyone know out there the truth about Peri and Post natal depression and how real it is and just how that has taken over my life for the last few years.
I am a 34 year old normal working professional (well nearly back to work) who has been thrown head first into this unknown world of depression. Starting long ago when I lost 2 babies and building again when I was pregnant with Nellie and now I am ready to share my stories and journey in the hope that it will help others to seek help and reach out in their time of need.
Post and Peri Natal depression / PTSD and Anxiety is a dark dark place and is not always recognised as an illness but it is. It takes hard work, therapy, strength, highest highs and lowest lows to get to the point of recovery but it is achievable. Don’t feel alone – reach out and just say “I need help.” Easy for me to say now but I wish I did it sooner.
I want to ensure that you know this is a funny crazy and light hearted blog with some deep and dark emotions involved so please do not be offended or think bad of what’s written. It is the truth, it’s my story in my own words.
So to everyone who is going to follow me and my journey please read, cry and say goodbye to PND together with me!
Having lived with depression since the age of 12, with my triggers being linked to times of pressure and stress (I was first diagnosed after the death of my beloved grandad), I guess it was fairly inevitable that I suffered with both prenatal and postnatal depression with all three of my children.
The first time that I realised I had postnatal depression was with my eldest child when he was only a few months old. I was around my mum’s house with him and, after a build up of emotions and feelings of helplessness, I told her he would be better off living with her and I ran out into the road. She followed me, brought me inside and calmed me down and the next day I booked myself an appointment with my doctor.
Over the next few years my depression ebbed and flowed, with the birth of my daughter triggering things again. I built myself up online to sound like superwoman, cooking, cleaning and even baking cakes the day after giving birth, but behind closed doors my relationship was shaky and I was falling apart. I became an expert at faking a smile.
Now 27 years old, with a failed marriage behind me, now with a loving partner and my youngest son aged 4 months, I have a slightly been there done there attitude when it comes to depression. I’ve tried both counselling and medication, and both have worked for me at different points in my life.
There’s no shame in going onto antidepressants. I was on them when I fell pregnant with my youngest, and I slowly weaned myself off of them during my pregnancy, although I was assured I could stay on them if I needed to as ultimately my health and mental wellbeing was key.
The best advice I have ever had is not to be ashamed to speak out and let people know how you’re feeling. Your friends and family can’t necessarily help you, but just having their support, and not suffering in silence is a huge step in the right direction. A big misconception is that if you speak to your doctor about postnatal depression you may risk your baby being taken from you. This is not true at all, and please don’t let fear stop you from getting the help and support you need.
This time round I self referred myself to the Steps to Wellbeing service after my depression had me catapulting between bouts of uncontrollable crying and resembling a robot, lacking any emotion. I had a telephone assessment which resulted in being referred to a specialist counselling team in my local area.
I don’t feel I’ve gotten to the root of my depression before and am hopeful that this will help to not only mask the symptoms, as I feel I have in the past, but to battle my inner demons and ultimately get better not just for me, but for my partner and for my kids.
People have told me that I’m strong before and, although I don’t feel it, I guess I am. Having lived with depression for over half my life I feel it’s a part of me now, but I’ve not let it take over, I’ve not let it win. This illness is horrible, something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, but I can beat it, and you can too.
When my eldest, Theo, was born two years ago, I felt everything I was meant to as he was placed straight into my arms after the birth. He was our very much longed for baby and I had spent a lot of time throughout my pregnancy bonding with my bump. I would sing to him, bought expensive massage oils and spent a lot of time visualising him.
We didn’t find out what we were having but I just knew he was going to be a boy. I felt as if I knew him inside out from the moment we locked eyes on each other. I felt totally overwhelmed by the strength of my love when I held him that first time. It’s such a cliche but I honestly thought my heart might burst. I instantly felt ridiculously protective of him and hated anyone else holding him, even my husband. I breast fed him for the first few months and he was a hungry baby, so we were literally glued to one another.
Being one of two girls, I never witnessed a mother-son relationship first hand. I had assumed Theo would naturally have a closer bond with Zac and I would become a bit of an onlooker. So our exceptionally close connection took me totally by surprise.
Things with our second child, Daisy, couldn’t have been more different. I didn’t get that rush of love. Sounds brutal, I know, but I think I might finally be in a place where I can put this experience into writing.
I won’t go into the gory details but we had one weak moment over Christmas 2015 and all of a sudden we were expecting another baby. I remember feeling terrified and went into a total panic. More than anything I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. How could I do this to Theo? He wasn’t even one yet. I suddenly felt as though the countdown had begun, ticking down the little time we had left together before an intruder would ruin everything.
I tried to pretend it wasn’t happening. I know I should have felt happy and so fortunate to be in the position I was in. I know there are couples who would give anything to have a child and another on the way. I can’t imagine the unbearable pain they must feel. This made me feel incredibly ungrateful and a pretty shitty human being.
I felt indifferent at the 12 week scan. Then at the 20 week scan I convinced Zac that we needed to find out what we were having. This wasn’t the original plan as I loved keeping it a surprise with Theo, but I had hoped that knowing the sex would help me to bond a bit more with my ever expanding bump. It didn’t. I bought one pink dress as I felt that’s probably what I should do then carried on ignoring the situation. I saw my midwife appointments as a massive inconvenience. I would get so excited about going to them the first time around. I tried to act excited when I heard the heartbeat but I still felt nothing.
Then Friday 23rd September arrived and I went into labour. It was 3am and my mum had just arrived to look after Theo. I went into Theo’s bedroom and gave him a kiss goodbye as he slept. I wept as I realised our time together as a twosome was over. I had spent the last 8 months dreading this moment. My contractions were very close together by this point so I quickly left the room and closed his door behind me.
An hour and a half later at hospital, Daisy was born. Zac got the first cuddle whilst they repaired the damage down below (childbirth is so bloody undignified!). I felt numb but so excited to hold her and to finally feel that connection I had been waiting for all year.
Zac handed her to me and.. nothing. I felt like I was holding someone else’s baby. I knew I loved her deep down, but that overwhelming connection just wasn’t there. When I held Theo I felt like I had known him my whole life. I think I expected Daisy to be the spitting image of him but they couldn’t have been more different. Theo looked a bit like Phil Mitchell and E.T’s love child. Daisy had a head full of jet black hair and such beautiful dainty features. She was a stunner, that much I could appreciate. I held her for a few minutes, then handed her back to Zac telling him I wanted to have a shower.
For the next few weeks, I fluctuated between feeling extreme guilt for turning Theo’s world upside down (in hindsight he was totally fine, the steady stream of gifts from thoughtful family and friends were a good distraction) and feeling very sad. The rest of the time I just felt numb. It all felt so wrong. This beautiful little girl should have felt like my best friend. My soulmate. My partner in crime.
I should probably have seen someone about how I felt, but I didn’t for two reasons. Firstly, I’m incredibly stubborn and hate accepting when things are less than perfect. Secondly, I had depression several years ago and refused to consider that it could ever come back again. So I just turned a blind eye to how I felt. I did what was expected of me as Daisy’s mother. I fed her, changed her nappies and washed her. But that was it. I was just going through the motions without really engaging with her or trying to form much of a bond. We started giving her formula after two weeks. I was fed up with the pain and she wasn’t latching on very well. And I wanted Zac to be able to help with feeding so I could spend more time with Theo.
This went on for nearly four months. I became convinced that she preferred just about everyone else over me. Why wouldn’t she? They gave her actual eye contact for starters. I felt little bursts of love for her now and again, like when she smiled or laughed, but it was nothing like the overwhelming emotions I felt for Theo.
Then a couple of weeks ago everything changed. Every night Zac and I alternate which of the kids we put to bed. This particular night, I was reading Theo his story. I could hear Daisy start to cry whilst Zac was trying to feed her. I gently told Theo to wait in his bed so Mummy could see what was the matter with Daisy. Zac saw me coming into Daisy’s dimly lit bedroom and told me she had heard my voice as I read Theo his story and wanted me. He’s tried saying this before, but she’s always carried on crying when I’ve held her, probably sensing my stress. I picked up her up from Zac’s arms. She instantly relaxed and snuggled into me. I felt so surprised when I realised she actually wanted me there. Zac quietly slipped from the room to finish Theo’s bedtime story. I sat down on the rocking chair and showered her with kisses and started to cry happy tears of relief. I finally felt a bond with her. I realised all this time it had been slowly forming without me realising it. All those little smiles, all those giggles and funny incidents over the past four months had built up to this moment. Today, I feel ready to share this experience. It’s been very difficult to write as no mother wants to admit that she has felt like this. I realise I still have a way to go with Daisy, but it’s fantastic knowing we are finally getting somewhere. Putting it into writing has helped me to accept that those tricky times are hopefully all in the past. I love both my children equally and with all my heart, but I love them in different ways. I’ve had longer to get to know Theo so of course my bond is naturally going to be stronger. But I realise that’s ok because I’m still getting to know Daisy. I absolutely adore her, and I’m so excited to see what adventures life has in store for the two of us.
I picture us going for coffee together when she’s my age, perhaps with children of her own, perhaps not. We might be laughing about something silly, or she might be confiding in me about the same things that used to worry me at her age. I really hope this becomes a reality one day. But for now, I’m just enjoying getting to know my future best friend in the making.
I went through the typical ‘Baby Blues’ on days 3 to 5 post partum, which included a good cry in front of my in laws on day 3, as for some stupid reason I decided going to a family BBQ was a good idea. It wasn’t.
I felt like I eased into parenting. Breastfeeding went really well, we managed to prove all of our family wrong by actually using our cloth nappies, we were peacefully cosleeping and I had made some lovely new friends from various Mum groups, including the breastfeeding support group I later trained to be a part of. I thought I had it down. And I’m ashamed to admit it, but I was very judgmental of those who didn’t parent in the same way that I did.
We were so cocky in fact, that when my periods returned at 8 months post partum, we decided to let nature takes it’s course. Which was a good thing too as at 9 months post partum, we were pregnant!
It all went down hill from there…we were gleefully happy, but within days my Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) came back twice as hard. Over the course of the next 32 weeks, I was admitted into hospital for rehydration and fluids a whopping 30 times. 30 times where I had to leave my little girl; my breastfed, cosleeping, little girl, to sit in a hospital where I received IV fluids, anti sickness and pain relief medication until I was able to keep down a dry piece of toast then sent on my way… until the next week. It was heart wrenching. This baby inside of me, that was supposed to fill our lives with joy, was breaking me, mentally and physically.
We had always decided we would only have two children, mainly due to how my body can’t seem to handle pregnancy very well. This meant I put a lot of pressure on trying to enjoy my ‘last pregnancy’ as much as possible. I forced myself to take weekly photo updates, plastering a grin on my face for my family and friends to see on social media. I got a maternity photo shoot done, to try and find some beauty in a crappy situation. I already felt detached from the baby inside me, I resented it from taking me away from my baby girl. I wanted to bond with it just like I had the first time around, but the sickness made it so hard.
During one hospital visit, at around 20 weeks pregnant, a female consultant sat me down and calmly asked how everything was at home. As these are usual questions to ask when a woman is alone in hospital, I thought nothing of it. But then she asked again, I again answered that everything was perfectly fine, my husband was at home looking after our daughter to keep some routine in the upheaval that was this pregnancy. A few hours later, at around 3:30AM, she came back and asked again.
By this time, I was quite annoyed. I knew exactly what she was hinting at, so asked her outright why she was asking. She explained that it was ‘impossible’ to have HG so severely that I would be admitted weekly, which must mean I am trying to get away from an abusive relationship.
Eh, excuse me?! You can see me, not able to even keep water down, and yet you are accusing me of making my condition up because you think my husband is beating me? I was shocked. After finding my words and assuring her my husband couldn’t hurt a fly, and that our relationship was anything but abusive, the doctor then started a different route. She started talking about my daughter, and stated that I must miss her so much during these hospital visits. Of course, hormonal pregnant woman starts crying when she thinks about missing her darling daughter. The doctor smiles, tells me I’m obviously mentally ill, which is why I’m getting so sick, refused to give me any more medication and referred me to the peri natal mental health team.
I didn’t know what to do. I knew that although I was quite down, I knew I was down because of the sickness, not sick because I was down! I was a part of a few HG Facebook support groups, so posted about my situation that same morning. Luckily, I was put in touch with the charity Pregnancy Sickness Support (find out more about PSS here). They were able to explain to me my options, and gave me some great advice on how to change consultants and who they recommended from my hospital, as well as a volunteer peer supporter who had also been through HG. She was my rock. I was able to change to a brilliant male consultant who understood HG completely, we got a game plan and decided that should the HG continue throughout pregnancy (like it did with my first pregnancy) then I would be induced at 37 weeks due to bile acid build up and liver troubles in myself.
Now I knew there was an end, I just had power through. I had assured myself as soon as the baby arrived, everything would be fine. Our family would be complete, we’d live happily ever after…if only life worked like that, eh?
You hear it all the time. New job? Oh you must be so happy!! You’re engaged? You must be so happy!! You’re wedding day, you’re pregnant, a new baby. You must be so happy. And you start to wonder whether this is an assumption or an order? You MUST be so happy. But what if you’re not? What if you have all of these lovely things and you still don’t feel happy? Is there something wrong with you? Are you ungrateful? A bad person? Because, and this may surprise some of you, there have been times in my life when I have had everything I ever wanted and guess what? I haven’t been happy at all.
I have lived with depression for eighteen long years, my entire adult life. I went from being an outgoing, popular, confident young girl to just a shell of my former self in just a few months. And I have no idea why or how it even happened, all I know was that everything had changed and I couldn’t find my way back. I had previously heard about people with depression, usually when eavesdropping on adult conversation, and yet it was spoken about in hushed whispers and with a look on their face that implied that it was something so shameful that it wasn’t something you spoke about out loud. And so, aged 18, when I finally plucked up the courage to approach the doctor, who told me that I was clinically depressed and wrote me a prescription for antidepressants, I felt scared, confused and thoroughly ashamed.
And so I isolated myself further, feeling as though there must be something very wrong with me. People would ask me, “What do you have to be depressed about?”, my own family would tell me to, “Cheer up!!” and friends would assume that a night out would ‘fix me’, and slowly I found myself realising that it was easier to avoid people, friends, family and try to “snap out of it” as suggested by so many.
But I didn’t snap out of it and my depression was all-consuming. I would spend weeks holed up in the little flat that I shared with my ex-husband. I would go days without showering, dressing, eating. I would cry for hours on end and have no idea why I felt so desperately sad. I considered ways to end this miserable existence, convinced that everyone would be far better off without me in their lives.
Eventually it got so bad that both my ex-husband and I moved back home to my parents. I had lost a great deal of weight, was physically un-well and desperately in need of some professional help. And back under the care of my family doctor I did begin to receive more support. I saw counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists, I underwent various therapies, tried a whole range of medications and at times I began to see glimpses of light at the end of the tunnel.
While all of my friends were beginning their post-graduate jobs or travelling the world, I was under-going intensive therapies and pouring my heart out to yet another health care professional. I felt as though I was the only person in the whole world who felt that way and it was unbearably lonely and impossible for those around me to understand. For all of his faults, the fact that my ex husband stood by during that time was a miracle. To continue to love someone who is intent on pushing you away, who has nothing left to give in return and who, let’s be honest, is no fun to be around, is a hard feat. There would be times where he would have to miss important occasions, events, even work, because I had been crying for ten hours solid and he was too scared to leave me. Times when I would ring him begging him to come home because I was afraid of what I might do. It was a miserable existence for me, but it was equally miserable for him too.
As the years went by, with the correct medication, there were many highs amongst the lows. I would go months where I felt as though I was clawing back a little of the old me and during those times I was happy, I really was. And then I would wake up one morning feeling as though the whole world was about to end, out of nowhere, just like that. And I would sit in the doctor’s surgery begging him to help me, telling him that I couldn’t go on feeling this way, and he would increase my antidepressants and send me on my way.
When Lewis came along I was over the moon, of course I was, being a Mummy was everything I had ever wanted. “You must be so happy!” people would say and I would tell them that I couldn’t be any happier whilst wondering what was so wrong with me? Why did I still feel so sad?
By the time I fell pregnant with Joseph I was finally finding my feet again, beginning to get back on track and things were looking up. I was happily married, enjoying Lewis as a toddler and looking forward to the arrival of our second son. I felt as though we had survived the worst and as I prepared for being a mummy of two, I had no idea that the worst was still to come.
So within just a few months of losing Joseph, it was no big suprise that I was at an all time low. The weight issues that I had teetered on the edge of for the last few years became a massive issue. I lost several stone in just a few months and when the doctor diagnosed me with anorexia I was so far gone that I no longer cared. I was surviving each day on diet coke and a couple of slim-a-soups and, at a time when I felt as though I had lost control of most areas of my life, I was clawing some back for myself. My parents seemed to age over night, they would cry and beg me to get better and yet I told them I was fine, just grieving, reassured them that I was eating and taking care of myself.
The following year I was finally admitted to an eating disorders unit and I didn’t fight it. I was tired, I was ill and my body was shutting down. I spent the first few weeks in there with a dedicated nurse by my side twenty-four hours a day. She watched me sleep, watched me shower and even watched me use the toilet. It was the lowest point that I can remember. I felt degraded, ashamed and as though I had failed as a mother, a wife and a daughter. And so I did whatever it took to get myself better. I ate, I talked, I wrote it all down, I opened myself up to the various therapies and group sessions offered there and I fought against every thought in my head so I could get out of there and home to my son. And by the end of the Summer when I left the unit, several kilos heavier, I swore that I would never go back.
And whilst I didn’t go back, it was not due to a recovery. My depression fuelled my anorexia and my anorexia fuelled my depression. It was a vicious cycle of self-hatred, self-doubt and self-harm, and I reluctantly accepted that perhaps this was all that my life had to offer. It was un-fortunate that at a time when I was already rock bottom, life continued to throw obstacles, heartache and more misery my way and so when my marriage broke down it was not a shock to me. It had been slowly crumbling for the last few years, the rocky foundations on which it had been built were not enough to keep us afloat. When it ended it simply re-affirmed what I already knew.
That I was not good enough.
And whilst I laughed and smiled and did everything that I could to protect Lewis from it, inside I was dying. When we announced the end of our marriage I remember the look of absolute terror in my parents eyes. A look that said, how will she ever survive this?
But by some miracle, we did. Faced with the option to sink or swim, I threw myself in headfirst and used every ounce of survival instinct to keep treading water. Within a year we had moved into a new home, I was holding down a full-time job, socializing on a weekend and beginning to embark on the world of dating. I had gained weight, without even realising, I was feeling good and I was stronger than I had been in years. With the acceptance that my marriage was over came the freedom from the great weight around my neck, the heavy chains of grief, the never-ending reminder of all that we had lost. For the first time in eleven years I was free to be whoever I wanted to be without that constant battle to repair a marriage that could not be fixed. And as we pieced our lives back together, Lewis and I, we paved the way for a new life, just the two of us and I was excited for everything that lay ahead.
By the time that I met Gaz I was feeling a world away from where I had started. Still, right at the beginning I was honest with him about what it would mean to enter into a relationship with me. I couldn’t promise him that it would all be plain sailing, there would be days, weeks, even months, when I might hit a dark place and need his help to find my way back. There may be times when I was feeling particularly bad about myself where I wouldn’t want to eat, when he would have to stand by and see the weight drop off me and he would be powerless to help.
And it was hard for him. To watch someone you love suffering is just heartbreaking, but to see someone so unhappy when you are doing everything in your power to put a smile on their face must be the most frustrating feeling. I’m very lucky that Gaz accepted me and all of my baggage and not only did he accept it, but he tried his very best to understand it.
For the first time in my life, being with Gaz made me feel beautiful. It’s very hard to loathe yourself when someone is telling you how amazing you are a hundred times a day. Even when you start to doubt yourself, that kind of affirmation most definitely starts to change your mindset and in doing that I felt happier than I had in years.
And I think the common misconception of depression is that we are unhappy most of the time. Depression is so much more than just feeling unhappy. There were times when I was genuinely on top of the world. When Gaz, Lew and I became a family I thought I would burst with happiness but depression doesn’t just disappear over night, it simply fades into the background. You can be feeling happier than you ever thought possible but the sadness is still there, just lingering under the surface, waiting to surprise you. You start to realise that weeks, months have passed and you haven’t cried or had a bad day and then just as you think you have got everything back on track, it jumps out on you, seemingly from nowhere, and knocks you right back down again.
People often say that there is that one defining moment in their lives when they decide that enough is enough. For me, I think that was when I had Megan. After Eva I became very poorly again with severe PND and it got to the point, as my weight plummeted, where the doctors wanted to re-admit me to the eating disorders unit. By some miracle, whilst waiting for a bed to come up, I fell pregnant with Megan and although not at all planned, I was so happy and desperate to keep her safe. I began to eat again, spurred on by an insatiable pregnancy hunger, and the weight piled back on. When she was born and so poorly, my sole focus was on having her well. Losing weight didn’t even enter my mind and allowing myself to give in to those post-baby plummeting hormones was not an option. All I cared about was being there for my baby. And right there and then, I looked around at my beautiful children who were completely reliant on me, and I knew that I had to change. And more importantly, I was finally ready to change.
And where as previously I have sank back into bad habits between pregnancies, this time it was very different. Falling pregnant with Harry so soon afterwards meant that my weight was at the healthiest point it had been in years. I ate us out of house and home and discovered that my love of food was far more satisfying than seeing those numbers going down on the scales. I re-discovered the joys of eating out, of cooking and baking and sharing meal times with my family. I noticed that my family stopped commenting on my weight, the doctor stopped quizzing me about my diet and that friends were telling me I looked good, I looked healthy and most importantly, I seemed happier than ever before.
After Harry I did lose a lot of weight, due to medical reasons, and yet I have spent this last year desperately trying to gain it back. To see the scales going up each week has made me happy. To see another pound on has been a massive achievement and never in a million years did I imagine that I would ever get to that point. And although, like depression, anorexia never goes away completely, I can now shush those thoughts in my head far better than I ever could before. I can push them away with a new-found strength, tell myself that my children need me to be well, that being healthy is far more important than numbers on the scales and most importantly, that I AM good enough. And I can be content in myself, in a body that, although far from perfect, has given me five amazing children.
And actually, I can hand on my heart say that, the last couple of years have been very kind to us. I see my doctor at regular intervals, I still see a therapist and am due to start a new course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy in the next few weeks. I still put those things in place to keep the depression at bay and to make sure that I never sink as low as I have done previously. And my beautiful children still remain to be the best therapy that I could ever ask for. Every single day they make me laugh and smile and I am grateful for this life, for my family and the joy of being their Mummy.
I’ve had people comment the last few years,”It’s like we’ve got the old you back” and I tell them that the old me is long gone. Like all of us as we age, we change and grow, but depression changes you indefinitely. I like to think that my battle with mental illness changed me for the better, shaped the woman I am today as a wife, mother, daughter and friend. I’ve learned to surround myself with positive people, to avoid situations that put me at risk of taking a step back, to remove myself from conversations that revolve around weight loss and negativity. I’ve learned that depression is the loneliest illness in the whole world, that there is no-one else on this entire planet who can see inside your head and share this illness with you and that battling against yourself is the toughest battle you will ever face. I’ve learned that true friends will understand my need for space and will be there to pick up where we left off, even when months have passed. I’ve learned that my family will love me unconditionally, regardless of how much worry and upset I have caused. And I’ve learned that even when there have been times that I have felt it was too hard to go on, there is always so much to live for.
And so when I tell you that I am the happiest woman in the whole world right now, I mean it. Today, right now, I could not be any happier. Tomorrow? Next month? Who knows, I may be struggling. I may be feeling down, anxious or struggling to push those dark thoughts away. There is no pattern, no rights and wrongs, no way of knowing how I will feel from one day to the next. But as adults we seldom share those days with others. We very rarely reply when asked, “How are you?”, “Not great, I’m struggling with my depression.” We are far more likely to say, “Great thanks”, and smile as though nothing at all is wrong.
I have never shied away from talking about my battle with mental health. I finally came to realise that there is nothing at all to be ashamed about and that actually, if more of us spoke about this openly then there would be fewer people suffering in silence. I hope that by sharing my story I can help even one person who is struggling, to perhaps reach out to someone who is feeling scared and alone and tell them, it WILL be okay. I imagine that all of us know at least one person suffering with mental illness, whether you realise it or not, and in a society where mental illness is still very much a taboo, that needs to change.
There’s a lovely quote that I read recently that simply says, “All of us are fighting a battle that others know nothing about. Be kind, always. ”
And that just about sums it up.
A smile can hide a thousand tears, so be kind. Always.
This is my life right now, I am living with postnatal depression behind closed doors. No one except Andy, my mum and the doctor knows. I am caught in a place that I am so desperate to get out of and I don’t know how. I think that because I am living in a world where no one knows I am constantly pushing it down inside, desperate for it not to show. Painting on that face that I’ve got so good at painting.
I know I need to change this, it’s not helping my recovery. Talking is good, sharing is good, so why am I so afraid?
The answer to that question is quite simple, I am worried what people will think of me, that I am a failure as a mum, that people will not want to associate themselves with me. All of this is ridiculous I know, but that is how I feel. I think it’s largely down to society and that we live in a world where it’s not ok to say ‘I’m not coping’.
Not too long ago, I hugged a stranger. This lady probably even younger than myself, was quite clearly distressed. I tapped her car door to which she opened and burst into more tears. She was sitting with a letter on her legs, which I could only see was NHS results of some description. I tried to console her and ask her what was wrong. From the floods of tears emerged a slight description to her pain – she had gotten terrible, terrible news. In that moment I didn’t have a word to say and for me, that does not happen often if ever. I had no answers to give this girl, no way of helping her other than reaching out and holding her. Something in that hug told me not to ask anymore questions, it told me not to say anything, it was enough to know she wasn’t in control of this news. I cannot get her out my head. I offered to give her my number, to take her somewhere or to stay with her but she just continued to say ‘Thank you, it’s OK, I’ll be OK.’
Fear and Parenting – by Amy Dear, for PANDAS Foundation
Fear is something that, as parents, we are constantly bombarded with. Just had a baby? Congratulations, both on your new child and your new state of constant terror. It’s nearly constant, from the moment you take your child home from the hospital and think ‘Really? You’re just letting me leave?’. Fear becomes your constant companion. Unending, primal, and best described as the sense that we are all (despite the baby books and manuals and well meaning advice from friends and relatives) getting it horribly, horribly wrong.
You only have to look at the absolute plethora of baby books out there to see how common fear is. From books about co-sleeping, whether or not to cry-it-out, reward charts and naughty steps and not using the word ‘naughty’ at all, it turns out there are a million ways to parent (and despite angry arguments on forums across the land, parenting differently to someone else won’t, in fact, end up with your child irreversibly damaged. You’re doing just fine).
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