My name is Lucien, 32 from France. I have been living in the UK with my wife Alix for almost 10 years and consider myself more English than French! Our son Oscar is 2.5 years old. I work in sports marketing, and apart from running, I enjoy sports in general, music and film.
2) Please tell us about your marathon?
My marathon was Sunday (9th April) in Paris. I’ve been training hard for the last 6 months, gradually building my training regime. I only started running 1 year ago, after 31 years of hating it!
3) Please tell us about your experiences of perinatal mental health and why you are supporting PANDAS?
It wasn’t something my wife and I were ready for. I don’t think anyone can be. But in my case, I had a misconception of what it meant. My wife was ,and still is- one of the strongest persons I know, and when it started few weeks after our lovely boy Oscar was born, I think both of us actually fooled ourselves into thinking it wasn’t that. It couldn’t be. She was just tired and it would pass. But it didn’t. Things worsened, to a point where I was fearing for her safety. Never our child’s. Remarkably and bravely Alix decided to get help and it was the best decision she could take.
I remember feeling this complete sense of being useless. I am used to making her feel better after 14 years together and I know what to say when she’s down. But this wasn’t “like before.” And we now know this isn’t something you can get out of without the help of professionals. This doesn’t make Alix, or anyone seeking help weak or weaker. Actually for me realising this is beyond your control and requiring professional help is a sign of strength. Alix received the help she needed from NHS professionals, who were absolutely amazing. But we wish at the time we’d known about PANDAS.
4) How can supporters follow your marathon and sponsor you?
I’m starting on Sunday around 08.55 UK time, and you can track me (my race number is 71199) here: https://track.rtrt.me/e/ASO-PARISMARATHON-2018#/tracker You can support me (and PANDAS of course) by donating on my page: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/LucienBigois
5) Finally is there anything else you would like to add?
To people reading this at that crucial point when you do not know if you, or a loved -ones is suffering from perinatal mental illness, and think it will go by itself, please do seek help. If nothing else ,you will get the chance to have a chat than can be more powerful than you think.
Thank you for reading and I hope to make PANDAS proud. I won’t set the timer on fire – but I’ll do my best.
Lucien is running a marathon in Paris on Sunday to raise funds for people suffering with perinatal mental health. We would like to say a huge thank you to Lucien for sharing his family’s story and for having the strength to train for a marathon.
Meet our fundraiser, Will from East Sussex. Following the birth of his first child, Will’s wife Shauna suffered with post traumatic stress and post natal depression. Will has been training non-stop for an almighty marathon in Hastings in tough weather, all in aid of PANDAS. Please read Will’s amazing journey and how to sponsor him below!
Please tell us about yourself?
I’m Will. I’m 33, and live in Worthing on the Sussex coast with my wife Shauna and two kids, Nova and Nate. Shauna and I have been married for almost 5 years now and Nova is 2 ½ and Nate is almost 5 months. I love nothing more than hanging out with my family and taking them out to places that excite them. Each weekend we enjoy swimming at our local gym and we also like walks in the South Downs and visiting local farm attractions.
As I’m originally from Devon I have a love for the sea and enjoy sailing, fishing and running.
Please tell us about your marathon?
I’m running the “Hastings Half Marathon” East Sussex coast this Sunday, the 18th March 2018. Weather forecast has predicted that it’s not going to be warm! Reported that it could feel like -7° with a 30mph north easterly wind gusting up to 50mph with a slight chance of snow!
At the time I decided to do the marathon it didn’t seem that daunting, but as my training has progressed it has become clear that it is actually a big undertaking for someone who had not done a huge amount of running.
My training has gone well but not as well as I had hoped. Trying to fit in the shear amount of training around work, family and a 4 month old baby has been a challenge but I’m feeling positive about the race.
Please tell us about your experiences of perinatal mental health and why you are supporting PANDAS with your fundraising?
Following the birth of Nova, my wife suffered birth trauma, post natal post traumatic stress and depression. It was a very difficult time for us as a new family and it isn’t something that you expect to happen because you very rarely hear anything about it, until you’re in it.
There are two main reasons I wanted to try to raise some money for PANDAS. One is that there seems to be a lot of misconceptions surrounding perinatal mental illnesses and not many people, such as family and friends really know how to help. The second is that in a way we were in a lucky situation because Shauna is a qualified psychotherapist so she already had knowledge about this area. I can only imagine how scary it must be to not have any clue as to what is happening during a time that is socially regarded as being one of the happiest moments in your life.
Based on this I think the work PANDAS does is so important to such a large number of families and it needs to be more widely acknowledged. Hopefully my contribution may help in some small way.
How can supporters follow your marathon and sponsor you?
You can follow my journey on my Instagram account @willbeare and I also post on Twitter @Echo_Will and Facebook. So far I have managed raise over £600, which is incredible and the support all my family and friends have shown is overwhelming. If you would like to donate, no matter how big or small, I have a fundraising page on Virgin Money Giving – https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/WillBeare.
Will has also for the last 10 years been building his video production company, “Echo Video” which is based in Brighton, East Sussex. Producing corporate and promotional videos for a wide range of businesses, from local artisans to multi-national organisations, we offer a full in-house service so we can take a video from conception right through to final delivery even if that involves time-lapse photography and aerial filming from helicopters and drones. Our website is www.echovideo.co.uk if you would like to find out more about us.
If you would like to fundraise for PANDAS please do not hesitate to get in touch with our fundraising team! www.pandasfoundation.org.uk
Mother’s Day, historically, is a day for children to appreciate their mothers and all that they do for them. Slowly, like many of these seasonal events over the years, this has become commercialised and now for many the pressure of ‘fulfilling’ the glossy-magazine, smiley, happy, room dressed in walls of flowers – just never quite happens.
Many mothers have children who don’t even know the meaning of Mother’s Day. And there are also children who do not have mothers. Many mothers are single and don’t have that one person who can rush out to Clintons and bring back a ‘I LOVE YOU’ teddy bear. And many Mums, like the mums that are supported through PANDAS, are mums with perinatal mental health illness. Depression, anxiety, intrusive thoughts, to name a few. The energy consumed with this means that we are tired. Exhausted and drained by our thoughts, let alone once the day starts (if we haven’t been up all night already!) So, Mother’s Day for some can just be another huge burden that we can’t perform to on that day.
“JUST ONE PICTURE for Instagram!” I screamed at my equally exhausted husband, 3-year-old and wailing 6-month-old baby. With a full stream row over the top of the babies crying I sat in a heap on the floor and wept. I didn’t know why I was crying? Was it because we wouldn’t make it to our harvester Mother’s Day lunch, was it that my kids weren’t hanging off my ankles telling me how much they appreciate my efforts. Or was it that I couldn’t put a selfie on Instagram displaying my proud mother hen moment in my nest? On that day I hated Mother’s Day. And then, my 3-year-old wiped my cheeks and said, ‘Love you mummy’ and that was my moment to feel proud, it made my day. – Sarah
Social media and commercialisation are two of the biggest contributors to mental health in parents when considering things such as Mothers or Father’s Day. Constant marketing and promotion of what we ‘should’ be doing in an idealised world cannot be helpful to the many parents out there suffering with PND. One women kindly spoke to us about her traumatic experience over Mother’s Day two years ago.
Clair and her husband were visiting family with their newborn baby. Whilst the family cooed over the baby, Clair felt disconnected and isolated from her baby. On top of her stress she started to feel physically unwell and assumed a cold was on its way. Clair started to deteriorate and soon went downhill. Being rushed to hospital by her husband, it was confirmed that Clair had an acute case of Mastitis (Swelling of the breasts). Sore and in pain, Clair felt relieved to be away from everyone for the night whilst hooked up to a drip. She felt safe and looked after. She didn’t have to join in with happy families and she didn’t have to smile.
The next day was the morning of Mothers Day. Clair was discharged and went home into the arms of her husband. There he gave her her baby, and a small gift. And inside two little foot prints of her baby boy. Whilst she wanted to feel tears of joy, she felt nothing. Cold and numb. Clair bravely smiled at her husband and baby and got through Mother’s Day wishing it was over. All she wanted was her baby to display something. To give his mummy some real visual live feedback, but it wouldn’t happen.
Since then, Clair’s experience of Mother’s Day has improved year by year. Now approaching her third Mother’s Day Clair wants to have a day of no expectations, and just embrace the day.
For some, its our first ever Mother’s Day and we want to have our flowers and breakfast in bed moment. But for others, this can be a cruel reminder of not being a parent. wanting to be a parent or for some like Annie wanting to be a better parent and ticking the boxes.
We must remember that children don’t remember presents, they remember presence and even if you are having the worst day you could be, a child’s love is unconditional. It is ok to feel sad, it shows children how to accept emotions.
Every mother out there is doing their best. And that includes you, reading this.
Words – Annie Belasco
Contributor – Clair Priestley
PANDAS are here to support you. If you need a listening empathetic ear we are open 24-7 with our email services firstname.lastname@example.org
or you can call us between 9-8pm on 0843 2898 401 Calls cost 6p per minute plus phone company’s excess.
I wrote this article for PANDAS in the hope that one day there won’t be such a thing called stigma when it comes to mental health.
I suffered with depression prior to my pregnancy because we found out we couldn’t conceive naturally. I felt like the world had come crashing down around me. And I was very low. We planned our fertility treatment and ended up having IVF. I became very anxious; I basically lived in a bubble through my pregnancy. I would over analyse everything, I wouldn’t eat anything unless I prepared it or if I told someone what to prepare. I read the labels on everything. I wouldn’t over exercise. Because I was told it’s better for baby to lay on your left, I was so scared to lay on my right side during my sleep that I hardly slept. I prayed everyday that we would make it to the end and meet our little girl. But at the back of my mind I was worrying about what my life would now be like. Did losing my “Pap” mean that I got to have a baby. There is an old myth that when you lose a loved one a baby comes along. He was my closet relative and this played on my mind throughout.
I was anxious, irritable, agitated, tired from lack of sleep, nervous, low and spent a lot of time crying.
I had all different sorts of ideas running through my head. How can I care for a baby? What if this happened, what would I do? Is this it for the next 20 years. Then I’d think: I can’t wait, all those cute clothes and day trips out.
It was exhausting.
During my pregnancy I suffered with severe morning sickness and had to have medication. I was diagnosed with pelvic girdle pain and saw a physiotherapist. The IVF and pregnancy certainly took its toll on me both physically and mentally. I had a few scares through my pregnancy regarding my baby’s heart rate. This did not help my anxiety at all. I expressed to the medical professionals my levels of anxiety and that I was concerned about my delivery. I was exhausted from not sleeping with worry. I didn’t think they would get her out, due to previous Gynae problems. I was told it was just nerves and not to worry. “Every mum feels like it. Every mum gets nervous.”
I was not asked about my mental health during my pregnancy. I was always told it is first time mum nerves. My advice would be to other parents, don’t accept this if you feel low. Then please seek help.
After a rough pregnancy my baby decided to come a few weeks early.I had mixed emotions, I thought finally we would get to meet and this worry will be all over with.
That’s what I thought anyway.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Kerry Thomas, in her own honest
words, is married to an “amazing husband” and is a proud mother to a beautiful little girl. Kerry started writing mummy blogs regarding post traumatic stress, postnatal depression and birth trauma following the birth of her now two year old.
Kerry has a strong desire to write about her mental health experiences through blogging and on social media, and is also writing a book to help others who are struggling. Her aim is to give people with mental health illness a voice.
She has written a three part series of blogs for PANDAS -the first introducing herself and her pregnancy.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.’
When someone is ill, or hurting, or injured, they go to the doctor. They’re not too ill to get up, they don’t need the hospital or an ambulance. They can still carry on the basic daily functions – but they just don’t feel very well.
Maybe they have a temperature – a runny nose, a cough. Maybe they’re feverish. Or perhaps they were injured somehow – a cut, a graze, a sprain. At worst, broken bone. They might need a bandage, a cast. They might even just need a plaster.
Perhaps they need medication to fix it. It might be antibiotics, or pain relief while their body heals itself. They’re given a clear timeline – two weeks, a month, a couple of months, and you’ll be better. If you’re not, please come back.
So they come home from the doctor to their loved ones and they say “This is what happened, this is what’s the matter. I’ll be better soon.” They might have a day or more off work, or just need to sleep for a bit. Maybe (if they’re very lucky!) they get a card, or flowers, or chocolate. Read More
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