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.
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
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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.
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).
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
After the announcement today that the first of £360 million pounds worth of investment into supporting expectant and new mums with their mental health has been given by NHS England, the UK’s leading pre and postnatal depression charity has shown its support for the measures.
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