Thank you so much for writing such an honest and inspiring piece for us.
Looking back, do you think your husband may also have been suffering from postnatal depression?
While my husband undoubtedly had a hard time of my pregnancies, and the first few weeks of parenthood, I sometimes worry that most of his anxieties were caused by me. He remembers dreading coming home from work because he never knew how he’d find me, and I will always feel a sense of responsibility for those ‘ruined’ few weeks. Even now I think he gets a hard time of it, although we communicate so much more than I was able to in the beginning. That has certainly helped!
Did you ever speak to your midwife about your feelings of anxiety during pregnancy?
I remember having numerous conversations with our midwife during my first pregnancy, and it was her who referred me for help and introduced me to the counselling I went on to have. The second time around I saw two or three different midwives, and that dialogue became harder to open. I felt as though I was having to explain everything over and over again, even though I wasn’t really sure I could put my finger on what I wanted to say. I found the health visitor invaluable the second time round.
Do you feel that there should be more help and support for those suffering from antenatal depression and/or anxiety?
Certainly – even now postnatal anxiety and depression are seen as something of a taboo, and I know that I’ve certainly not been forthcoming in talking about it. You’re never quite sure how people will react. Until I suffered myself, I wasn’t even aware that antenatal depression and anxiety was possible. Surely pregnancy is a joyous time? That myth can lead to women feeling isolated, as they’re sure they’re not supposed to feel like that. Support at these points is absolutely vital to stop anxiety escalating.
I like that you’ve written “You are not postnatal depression”, but how did you learn to disassociate yourself from your illness?
It’s hard, because sometimes it becomes an excuse – I’ve had a bad day, but that’s okay because I have an illness. I think, for me, the most important thing was to not consider postnatal anxiety to be an illness, and also to focus on my children. I was determined that they shouldn’t suffer because I was having a bad day, and just thinking about how they might feel is a great way to pull myself back sometimes. ‘It’ just happens to be something hovering in the background, but it isn’t the heart and soul of who I am. Every day I wake up with a mantra – today will be a good day. Sometimes I’m confident enough to pull that off!
I too have struggled to come off medication, do you still have hope that one day it will be a possibility for you?
Oh yes. I was prescribed medication when my first son was still very small and decided early on that it wasn’t for me. I stopped taking it altogether and found I was able to control my anxieties on my own. The second time around has been harder – a little more of a roller coaster as I attempted to understand what would work for me. I didn’t want pills to control me, but I’ve learned to accept that they’re not altering who I am, merely how I cope under certain strains. I know that one day I’ll be able to control my own emotions, so I have no doubt that this is just a temporary solution.
What do you do during your dark days to try and lift yourself out of them?
I leave the house. I can usually tell quite quickly what sort of day I’ve woken up to, and so if I start to feel a little low we’ll head out to the park, or I’ll contact friends to try and arrange something. As long as the children are up and active, and enjoying their day, I think it’s okay if I’m having a bad day – their happiness is one of the best feelings in the world, and it’s infectious. Staying at home tends to be a trigger for anxiety, as I’ll feel guilty if I’m not up to doing much.
And finally, do you have a message for anyone who has not yet seen the light?
Just that it is there – honestly! Antenatal and postnatal anxiety and depression are so cruel, bringing you down when you should be on Cloud 9. The tiredness and range of new hormones and emotions never helps, but you need to understand that this isn’t going to be forever, and it’s okay to have dark days. They just make the good days seem all the more brighter. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help either – telling yourself that you’re suffering is one thing, but being able to admit that is a huge step forward.