Almost a year ago, I started writing a piece for this blog that I wasn’t sure about writing but knew it had to come out. It wasn’t something I was ashamed of, as such, or something I thought was wrong. I was perfectly happy with the anonymous people of the Internet knowing it, it was the not so anonymous faces of friends, family and other internet friends who I wasn’t so enamoured with knowing my “secret”. I sent it to my best friend and got the mister to read over it, to check that the wording was okay, that it wasn’t “too honest” and that I wasn’t making an absolute idiot of myself. In a way, I was looking for their seal of approval that it was okay to write this piece, to tell anyone who read my blog that I wasn’t finding life so easy, that I had been diagnosed with postnatal depression. A year on it seems on one hand crazy that I put so much time overthinking it, but on the other it seems completely justifiable and even now like something I should do.
Back then, I had a just-turned seven month old infant, and had found help two months previous, help for the voice in the back of my head that kept telling me I was a shite mother, that everyone else was doing it better, that my child would be better off with someone else. Before all of this I would have considered myself knowledgable about mental health issues, having looked up various articles and gotten through my ups and downs with depression in the years previous. I didn’t count on my stubborn streak working against me to reduce my ability to see that I was in need of help, the stubborn streak that told me it was working hard to ensure that I was not one of the 15% of women who deal with postnatal depression, while actually just filling me with a false belief that I just needed to ignore it long enough for it to go away. That was a terrible response to it, but my mind got itself all ravelled up in it’s fight or flight argument and against all logic refused to accept that sometimes we need to raise a hand and ask for help.
In the year since I published that piece, I have discovered a great many things, both about myself and the beast that is PostNatal Depression (or PND for short). Upon sharing the piece, I received an influx of feedback from others which lifted me and made me feel a whole lot less alone – as much as I am, and was, aware of the statistics, it’s a whole different kettle of fish when you see that coming through in comments and messages from others saying “I could have written this…”, “I had those feelings when I had my baby…”, “I suffered with PND on my first…”. People who understood, who had stood in my shoes, who had broken through to the other side. They got that it wasn’t as simple as “take a few tablets and you’ll be fine” or even coming to terms with the need to take medication to stop your mind from sending you down a rabbit hole. Some of them were people I knew, or people I’ve gotten to know, strong amazing mothers who love their kids and just needed some assistance through the initial stages of motherhood. I’ve learned myself how it isn’t as simple as “ask for more help” or “take this medication” – when all of the writings about mental health tell you to get 8 hours sleep, the only feeling they bring up in me is rage for their lack of understanding the plight of a new mother whose baby just won’t sleep.
I learned that not only was I not doing a crap job, I also didn’t have a demon baby who never slept. I had a baby. They don’t do things by clockwork, and the sooner I removed myself from needing to fit into my idealised framework of how mothers of babies were, the sooner that life started feeling a bit brighter. It’s not that removing the expectations I put on myself (and that I felt everyone else: public health nurses, doctors, my own family, even the poor child himself) was like turning off a switch, it’s a daily battle to tell myself that the world won’t end if we are five minutes late, or that people aren’t really staring at the toddler tantrumming in the supermarket. It’s been about learning to cope with my moments and hours of doubt and knowing myself well enough to know when it’s time to book that doctors appointment or ring a family member or close friend to cash in some babysitting favours just so I can spend five minutes not panicking about things like mismatched toddler socks which on a good day I KNOW that the creche girls honestly don’t care about. I learned that just because I start on one dose of medication doesn’t mean that increasing it is admitting failure – it takes time to work out what is needed. I also learned that the world didn’t end, the ground didn’t crack under my feet and nobody (out loud anyway) called me a failure or a bad mother for admitting I was the one in eight.
I submitted some pieces to different places; Maternity & Infant Magazine and a host of different post sharing linkies. I included a follow up piece, entitled “Post Natal, you bitch” in a blog carnival hosted by the lovely Dreaming Aloud in conjunction with the publication of her book “Moods of Motherhood” (you can check out the others involved in the carnival here). Overwhelmingly, there was a positive message received, as well as feeling a weight off my shoulders every time I mentioned it. Not that I became a crusader for the cause or a one-track record (I hope!), but I wrote honestly, sharing a very real part of my life that was just as much a part of my parenting experience as changing nappies and doing night feeds. I was asked last week to contribute to a piece by a magazine who in their email used the phrase “a strong woman with a strong message” to describe me. One I finished laughing and took a step back to look from the outside I could see where they were coming from – I just don’t see it as me being strong, I see it as having to get up and get on with my life, because babies/toddlers won’t accept that you don’t fancy taking on the world today and prefer to hide under the duvet until the nagging doubts in your mind go quiet. My child is quite literally the reason I get up in the morning and has been my focus in my need to get better. That is just my personal story though, everyone has a different tale to tell.
When my back hurts, I do physiotherapy sessions and take medication to ease the pain. When my mental health isn’t doing so well, I use the wonderful psychiatric professionals and antidepressants as prescribed by them. I don’t see the two as different; both are parts of me in need of medical intervention, the difference is that society doesn’t have a perception that only people who are “much more severe” are in need of back treatment.
When I started blogging almost two years ago, I was inspired by other parenting bloggers whose experiences coloured the tone of my start to parenthood and educated me on things I never would have thought would become my normal. Like it or not; PND has become part of my normal and it does for many women – more than will admit, or even realise. It’s not always the same, it varies in severity and it can hit you out of nowhere. I just hope that if one person comes across this feeling like I did, crying more days than not and feeling that they can’t cope, feeling like they can’t tell anyone for fear of what they will think – I hope they will get that it is going to be okay, this is just one chapter in their life and that they should speak up to someone they trust – a GP, friend, family member, public health nurse – nobody needs to live with that black dog for longer than necessary. I’m not saying life gets perfect, but it does get better.
If you do need more information about PND or perinatal mental illness; PND Ireland , Cuidiu Ireland and Nurture are all great places to start.