MY STORY BY CARLY RICHARDSON - PANDAS Foundation UK

Before I start I have to say how happy but nervous..scared and emotional I was about sharing my story. Its something that has all been locked up in a box at the back of my head for so long now I almost don’t think about it anymore. But I think that if just one person can gain something from reading this, then it’s absolutely worth me emptying that box at the back of my head again and throwing it all onto paper. Here goes!

I guess I should start back in 2012 when I was pregnant with our 2ndson. It was a very straight forward pregnancy in most ways, I worked through it upto about 35 weeks when I planned to take maternity leave early to spend some time with our first son who was 2 at the time. My job had become everything prior to this, I had started a new job in late 2010 and had totally thrown myself into it working 5 days a week full time. When I went onto MAT leave though things just didn’t feel ‘right’. I suddenly didn’t feel any excitement about anything, whether it be preparing for the new baby or spending time with my son in the lead up to the birth. I also started to have trouble sleeping which really wound me up because I love my sleep! Things took a rough turn when I happened to read a news article about a lady who had developed psychosis and killed her 2 babies. I was absolubtly devastated by the story and before I knew it I had become obsessive about it. I was looking for it on the internet, watching the news stories about it and thinking about it all the time. All I could think was ‘what if that happens to me’? ‘she’s had her 2ndbaby which I’m about to do, so its bound to happen to me too’.  Before I knew it I had totally become consumed by this poor lady’s nightmare and terrified myself with the thought it could happen to me too.

From here things deteriorated fast. I woke up one night from a nightmare in sheer panic, crying and sweating totally terrified I would lose my mind and kill my son. I woke my husband who was completely taken aback, as up to now I had hidden all of this from everyone and kept it to myself. I told him my fears and he tried his best to assure me I would not hurt my son or our unborn baby, it was just a nightmare that had really got to me. I went back to sleep for a while hoping I would wake up feeling better, which I did for a period. I woke up feeling okay and tried to do the day as normal, my husband went off to work and I set off to nursery with our son. All I could think though on the journey was ‘what if I deliberately crash the car to kill us both’, what if I lose my mind on the way to nursery’. I managed to drop him off, but on the way back home it got too much and i drove straight to our doctors surgery. I didn’t have an appointment, I was just desperate for a medical professional to tell me I was okay and I wasn’t crazy. I remember trying to keep calm but before I’d reached reception I broke down in tears. I said to the receptionist through my tears and snot that I needed to see a doctor as soon as possible, could she please help me. She looked me up and down (I was 37 weeks pregnant at this point) and said ‘come back in an hour and we will fit you in’. And that was it. No warmth, no compassion, nothing. I often think if I had been that receptionist could I have spoken to a clearly terrified heavily pregnant lady the way she did? No, never in a million years! So off I went back home for an hour, stupidly I didn’t even phone my hubby to tell him, I just led on the bed and cried until I had to go back to the surgery.

I was seen after about an hour of nervous nail biting and trying to keep the tears at bay in the waiting room. I sat down with the GP who was male locum doctor I had never met before. I immediately burst into tears and broke down in front of him. He just stared at me and didn’t say a word. He told me he thought I had depression, but because I wasn’t suicidal it wasn’t severe depression. I begged him to help me, I don’t know what kind of help I was really looking for I just wanted him to say it would be okay and possibly give me a magic pill to take the pain away. I also said I was not sleeping but his reply to that was ‘you’ll sleep eventually’. The only outcome was an appointment with the midwife as she may be able to suggest some relaxation techniques. He then went onto inform me that although he had dealt with depression and pregnancy before as separate things, he had never dealt with them together. Wow, thanks for that! That didn’t make me feel worse at all…

I told my hubby what had happened and he came home from work. He was totally bemused and angry at the way the GP had treated me. He came with me to the midwife appointment and explained to her what had been happening (I was so upset I couldn’t even speak). She came to the conclusion I was just experiencing some anxiety in the lead up to the birth and she would put me in touch with the Surestart Centre’s befriending team so they could help me once the baby arrived. Totally not what I wanted to hear, I just wanted her to say it would be okay too, but of course she didn’t. At this point I had not told anyone but my husband about the scary thoughts I had been having about my son. That night was another sleepless one, so the next day my hubby phoned the docs and told them we needed an appointment immediately. Off we went and saw Mr Compassionate again. This time I felt so much worse and was so much more sleep deprived that I told him about the scary thoughts and said I just wanted the baby out so he could be taken away from me and kept safe. He decided I needed to be seen by the emergency mental health team, so I should go home and wait for a phone call from them. I’m pretty sure that day was the longest day of my life. I wasn’t eating either so felt like utter crap. I remember my husband trying to take my mind off things so suggested we watch the Inbetweeners Movie on DVD…needless to say I couldn’t even stifle a laugh! No phone call came either so I was in total limbo and my anxiety became worse as I was convinced they would section me. I also asked my husband to never leave me alone with my son in case I hurt him. He tried his upmost to convince me that would never happen but I was not for listening.

Finally the next day a phone call came..but not that one I was waiting for. It was a social worker from the child protection team about a report from my GP over thoughts of harming my child. Her exact words to me on the phone were ‘do you have plans to kill your son’? I insisted that no i didn’t have any plans to do that, I was just terrified of the ‘what if’ that happened. She seemed satisfied and that was that. Until the next day a card was popped through the door saying ‘social services have visited. Please phone us urgently.’ Friday night; this was at 6pm. So I spent the full weekend in trauma over this horrible horrible card we had received. In the meantime the mental health team came out and helped me immensely. They were actually a little confused as to why they had been called, as they said it was clear i was suffering from severe anxiety. Just to be told what was happening to me was a huge relief. I got through the weekend pretty well, we went out for the day and I did feel an awful lot better, but still had the feeling of dread about the baby being born. They referred me to a psychiatrist who prescribed anti depressants and some diazepam for the really tough times. He also said id be referred for CBT.

When I spoke to social services they said they had called round to do a home visit due to the report from my gp. We arranged for them to come back the next day. Needless to say neither I or my hubby got any sleep that night. Although he didn’t say it, i could tell he was as frightened as I was at the mention of social services being involved. The social worker arrived 2 hours late for the appointment and said he was there just to follow up the report and see if they could offer me any support. He said he was very satisfied my son was happy and well cared for, he even apologised for any distress caused. What did piss me off though was his parting comment to me ‘you stopped watching the news now then after all this’? Yes, I had stopped watching the news, but was I still terrified that I would have the baby and possibly kill him too? Yes, absolutely.

Skip a day and unbelievably I had given birth to a healthy baby boy weighing 6 lb 4 oz. I had gone into labour spontaneously at 38weeks the day after the social workers visit. I absolutely believe that he came early to help his mummy out. I have a faith in God and I prayed everyday for it all to be over and in some ways my prayer was answered as he came early and very quickly, which was the best thing for me at that time I think, as a difficult delivery may have pushed me over the edge. I was only just on anti depressants at this point, so they had not kicked in fully when I delivered. I had hoped to go home straight away but they had to keep me for one night due to thick meconium during delivery. I was still very scared of being on my own, so to be left at hospital with our newborn was terrifying as my hubby wasn’t allowed to stay with me. I remember staying awake all night just sweating and panicking that we would get home and I would smother him. I don’t know where that came from but it was a very intense fear really scared me. We got home and the first few weeks were tough. I thought about packing my bags and leaving at one point. Just disappearing on my own and leaving the boys with my husband, as the scary thoughts were destroying me and I didn’t understand how I could have such thoughts regarding my own children. We muddled through, with me actually coping really well with hindsight. I was very emotional but I was getting through and slowly starting to feel a bit more like myself.

Before we knew it, our newborn was 10 months old and I was still taking the anti depressants, which had really taken the edge off the panic for me. As I had never experienced mental health problems before, I had no idea the length of time I should be taking them or when i should say i was ready to reduce the dose. I went for my review and saw a new gp. I told her I had been feeling okay so she told me to drop the dose. I remember being a bit wary but thinking well she knows best so i should do as she advises. Naive of me maybe, but I didn’t think it would get bad again, I thought I was ‘cured’. Obviously the reduced dose did nothing for me and I ended up back to square one with awful intrusive thoughts and just the feeling of sheer panic 24/7. Off my own back I went back upto 20mg of my tablets and went back to the gp to tell them I had done this. I saw yet another gp and he stressed the importance of going off my own feelings and listening to myself rather than others. By this point I had not yet heard anything regarding the CBT I had been referred for so I asked the GP only to be told there was no record of a referral on my file. He also asked me if I had been seen by the mental health team again about my postnatal depression. Postnatal depression?? I didn’t have that did I? This may be my own ignorance but I was genuinely taken aback as not one professional had told me i had PND. I thought that this was because i was put on the anti depressants before the baby was born, I was ‘safe’ from it and it wouldn’t occur. The gp told me i was always going to get it because I had prenatal depression. I was really taken aback, but at the same time relieved to have a name for how I was feeling rather than just being an anxious mother.

Not surprisingly I received a CBT referral letter within 2 days of that appointment. I was given a place in a fantastic group especially for mums with pnd. It was a 6 week cbt course with 2 other mums just like me. For the first time in a year i felt normal. The relief I felt from meeting other mums who also suffered with this awful illness was phenomenal. The therapist was an amazing lady who knew the subject of postnatal depression inside out. She was not phased at all by some of the irrational fears and thoughts I shared with her and made me feel like I could be myself again. I cannot recommend cbt enough, it gave me my life back.

That was 3 years ago and I have since had another baby in may 2015….ANOTHER boy! I still take my anti depressants and was so lucky to receive fantastic treatment this time under the care of the specialist mental health midwife. I have friends who understand me and a much greater knowledge about anxiety, depression and intrusive thoughts. They were my biggest battle and for so long made me think I was a bed person because I was having them. I now know that everyone had intrusive thoughts, even people who haven’t been diagnosed with a mental health problem. It was a lot to get my head around, but i now know that if i have a fleeting thought about throwing my son out of the window it DOES NOT mean I am going to do it. I am still on my journey to conquering my anxiety, but I am at peace with that now and try to control it without letting it control me. I want so much for womens mental health awareness to be given more attention. I know I have done a bit of GP bashing in this blog, but i now realise they only have a limited knowledge on mental health so are working with that they know. I just hope that if a woman walks into a GP surgery feeling how I felt, she will be given the information and resources to get on the road to recovery a lot quicker than i did. Never in a million years did i think i would now have 3 boys aged 5, 3 and 4 months and be muddling through as we are. We have some pretty crappy days (my middle son hid my car keys last week and I cried on the hallway floor out of sheer desperation to find them). Without the awful days I wouldn’t appreciate the great days where I’m feeling proud of myself for kicking PNDs arse and actually dropping my son to school on time. My husband is amazing and now seems to ‘get it’. He knows when im going through a bad spell and acts as the ears for listening to all my ‘what ifs’, which, don’t sound as scary when I say them out loud!

I hope you enjoyed reading this and gained some form of encouragement from it.

AUTHOR

Catherine Jones

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