There have recently been some new babies born to friends and extended family of mine. It’s led us to chat about the early days and months of motherhood and I’ve offered my support and shared some of my own experiences. I can’t help but constantly be on the lookout for their mental health. I don’t want another woman to have to be trapped inside her own mind wondering is it, isn’t it and struggling more than she needs to.
It’s only when doing this that I realise that I’m not as truthful as I’d like to think I am on this blog.
My experiences may have been tainted by the now obvious and apparent fact that I had some form of postpartum depression. This lasted well into George’s second year, if not beyond. I continued to believe I could fix it myself but it always crept back in. One good day would be marred by two bad days.
I have worked in and around the mental health sector for the entirety of my Pharmacy career the 11 years prior to George’s birth and solely being employed by a mental health trust the 8 years previous to leaving my job to become a stay at home Mum.
I knew the mental health system relatively well. I had been in close contact with many types of mental health conditions when people were at their absolute lowest. Yet when I myself felt that I needed help, I was so scared of seeking it for fear that I would lose George. It was never going to be the case.
If you are considered to be a threat to yourself or others you may be sectioned under the mental health act. Despite having very desperately low thoughts, I was avidly aware of them and it upset me that I didn’t want to feel like this but I couldn’t stop it. I wanted to just run away. I told my husband countless times I wanted to leave him when all I really wanted was to vanish. He was the only person I could fully confide in despite his own issues.
Not more than a month after George’s birth, hubs own father died suddenly of a heart attack. He was in his fifties, the same age at which hubs grandad also died of a heart attack. We now look back and realise that hubs always suffered with mild anxiety. Who doesn’t. But losing his father and witnessing me have a severely traumatic birth was the trigger to make him have what in the olden days would be referred to as a nervous breakdown.
He couldn’t even bear to be in the same room as his own mother due to the intenseness of his anxiety. Running upstairs in tears during a visit, leaving me to see them out. Quickly realising he couldn’t bear to be in a room by himself without feeling desperately scared and anxious of having an heart attack. Thankfully this intense week was exacerbated by the GP starting him on Beta Blockers which had the opposite effect to what they should have. (This can happen and is known as a paradoxical side effect). After stopping the tablets he slowly improved but it was a long road.
Having had an emergency Caesarean section and needing to stay in hospital with George with us both suffering with suspected infections for 6 days I was weak and in pain at the start. By the time of hubs breakdown I was healed and able to be strong for all of us. It was hard and we had some great support from family.
Hubs wasn’t able to work and I had given up my job due to struggles with health and being able to juggle what was expected of me in my work role and as new mother. This all added to his anxiety over needing to support his family and being unable to. Although self employed, the guys he was contracted to were very supportive and understanding.
As hubs grew stronger, my own mind must’ve relaxed and with it came flooding through all the negative thoughts. My mum said with what we had both been through it was a wonder we hadn’t experienced this sooner. George was now almost one years old. I could still cry several times a week. I remember if I couldn’t console him, feeling so helpless I would just cry. Then I’d feel better and he would soon settle.
I’d tell people and no one made it seem unusual. A few suggested I go to the doctors but I was so scared of explaining it wrong to the doctor and being sectioned or George being taken away. I was absolutely no danger to George and I knew it and deep down I knew this wouldn’t happen but the depression made me irrational.
In the end anyone who made me feel even slightly unhappy I shut out and pushed away. Even now I still don’t know if I lost friends because of my behaviour or theirs. I don’t know if I took my frustration at myself out on them or if they genuinely were not compatible with me now I was a Mama. I changed. I’m still me but I have changed.
The mask became a powerful thing. Sometimes I couldn’t hold it together and I found myself quickly rushing George to the car so I could hide the tears that I couldn’t hold back. I cried over the stupidest of things. But overall when I saw people the mask came up and I smiled and it was a brief relief from the negativity I dwelled in behind closed doors.
I no longer enjoyed things I previously enjoyed doing. I went along but just willed it to be over. I wasn’t interested. I was flat. I didn’t care. Eventually when George was around 16 months old I visited the GP and was put on Fluoxetine. It made me feel so, so nauseous. You’d think it’s a small price to pay but food was the only thing I found enjoyment in and to lose the willing and desire to eat made me feel even worse. What’s more they didn’t make me feel any better.
Antidepressants can take 4-6 weeks to have an notable effect. My GP agreed they wasn’t doing me any good after 3. Ultimately this was because they made me feel so nauseous, I lost my passion for food and eating. Food was all I had left that I enjoyed. The thought of losing that was just too much. I know it sounds ridiculous, especially since I need to lose weight. It was how I felt though. I had to stop the fluoxetine. From there the GP follow up was non existent. Presuming I would return if I felt low again, there was no further contact to see how I was doing.
Thankfully after that period of time, something changed. I don’t know if maybe even the short amount of time I took the Fluoxetine was enough to reset the chemicals in my brain. It also coincided with my neurologist introducing some new medication for my migraines. They happened to fix my long term vertigo and I was able to drive again. I had my independence back and I think this contributed massively to my self worth and happiness.
What I do know is that I feel better than I have for a long time. Stronger, fearless, happy. Once you’ve considered your life worthless you tend to lose your fear of things. You realise nothing is as scary as the thought of escaping your life.
So what’s the point of sharing this with you? I suppose I want mums out there to distinguish between what is normal and what really isn’t when you have a baby. If something doesn’t feel right then please speak to someone. Your partner, parent, friend, health visitor or GP. Okay, my experience with the GP wasn’t wholly positive but I wasn’t completely honest with them and I should have been more persistent.
I got so good at the mask, my GP visits saw me sitting with a smile on my face. I felt stupid. No way someone sits there trying to explain how low they feel whilst smiling. People break down and burst into tears. But I’m too polite I just smiled. If you’re the same, maybe take someone along to the appointment with you who has seen you at your worst. Don’t suffer in silence.
Can you relate to any of this? I find it so hard to know if I can say I had/have postnatal depression. Does it ever go away? My moods are certainly more changeable but is that how parenthood feels? I genuinely still have no idea.