I love being a mum. I really do. I just wanted to start with that, because at the very centre of my soul, I know this is where and who I’m meant to be; and I don’t want to portray anything differently.
I love my kids with every part of me.
But sometimes… Sometimes I feel like I don’t love motherhood.
Sometimes I feel like I can’t cope, or like I’m not a good mum. Sometimes my brain plays tricks on me, and starts me worrying unnecessarily and irrationally about things that are a) very unlikely to occur, and b) that I have little or no control over anyway.
I have postnatal anxiety and depression, also known collectively as postnatal distress (PND).
There, I wrote it. You can read that and think nothing of it, but what you didn’t see was me trying to write it over and over again, and not being able to. Or starting this post, then deleting everything I tried to write because I didn’t want to admit to the world, or myself, that I have it, that I’m battling and struggling. Part of me sees it written there in black and white and feels terrified, overwhelmed, ashamed, embarrassed and guilty. Part of me feels numb, still disbelieving and questioning whether it’s true. Part of me feels like I need to just suck it up and that I’m being a bit of a drama queen. And part of me feels liberated; like I’ve owned it, accepted it and taken away its power.
I try to keep my posts as positive as I can, because motherhood is truly wonderful; and when I’m writing about the Shit Days, I try to keep it balanced. I write my blog posts when I’m having good days, and I don’t post anything unless I’m in an okay headspace at the time. I do this purposefully, because I want to promote motherhood and life as something special and amazing and worth it – because it is. But as part of my healing and in the hope that sharing my journey may help someone else, I’m opening up about what I’ve been struggling with.
For the most part, I am coping. I’m getting the help I need, I have a wonderful support network of amazing people around me, and I love life. But I’m working bloody hard to stay in this space, and sometimes hard work is not enough – but I’m determined to keep trying until it becomes natural and I don’t have to fight for it anymore.
I was recently asked by a close friend who teaches antenatal classes to come and talk with her class about my journey with PND, and answer some questions. To my surprise, sitting there in front of a group of expectant parents talking about having a mental illness was more confronting to me than actually being diagnosed. Suddenly, it was real. I was putting my face to the name postnatal depression and anxiety. I was very grateful that the group were incredibly receptive and supportive, but it was still hard to actually spit the words out, and for the rest of the night I berated myself for not wording something right, or for leaving other things out. I hope though, that amidst my mumbling and bungling, I helped, and that if any of them do find themselves in a similar situation in the future that my story will encourage them to reach out and get some help and support. And now, I’m sharing with you what I tried to share with them.
I had my first panic attack about 8 weeks along in my pregnancy, over something really little and irrational. I put it down to haywire hormones, and thankfully didn’t experience anything else for the rest of the pregnancy, so it was pretty much forgotten about. The first few months post partum were great, and I felt like I had motherhood sorted. I remember mentioning to my partner how glad I was that I didn’t have any issues with PND, because I knew there was a risk of getting it. But then about 3 months in, I started having days where I felt lower than normal, where I felt frustrated or angry or sad. I started getting angry at my partner any time he left the house (even to work) and I cried, a lot. I stopped enjoying things I normally love. At first, the bad days weren’t a big deal – I mostly put them down to tiredness (I was always tired), but also hormones, getting up on the wrong side of the bed, lack of coffee, whatever I could think of to explain them away. But the key indicator that it was more than whatever I tried to blame them on was that it got worse not better, even when Littlest Man started sleeping better. Slowly, the bad days started becoming more and more frequent, and the good days became few and far between.
Realising I had a problem
My bad days started well out-nunbering the good days, and my partner started gently mentioning to me that I wasn’t as happy as normal. I went through days where I’d completely forget to eat, days where I couldn’t sleep for hours even as Littlest Man slept. I would lie awake worrying that Littlest Man was going to stop breathing in his sleep, or that my partner and I were really sick and didn’t know it, and panicked about how the kids would cope without us. I felt like if I were to die, no one would care. I would cry every time I looked up PND symptoms or read online about other people’s experiences with it, but was unsure why it affected me so much. I started socially isolating myself, and small things like leaving the house or going to the supermarket became really hard. At best, I worried that people didn’t like me or want me around; at worst, I’d worry we were going to be attacked. The house started getting to a mess level I couldn’t cope with, but I felt completely unable to fix it. It was a downward spiral; the more depressed and anxious I felt, the less I looked after myself, which caused me to feel even worse.
The turning point
I tried to fight it for ages, denying that I had an issue, and even when I realised I had an issue, I denied that it was bad enough to seek help (but actually, it is always important to seek help). After months of trying to encourage me to go and talk to someone, my partner eventually just outright told me I was going to get help. He said something along the lines of “it doesn’t have to be a big deal, just talk to someone. Talk to your doctor. Start the process. You can’t keep going like this”. And he was so right – I’d known deep down all along that he was right, but admitting that you aren’t coping is hard to do. Plus, I’m really stubborn and like to do things myself and in my own time, so I resisted as long as I could, because it felt like seeking help was admitting defeat (which it definitely is not). And at one point, my Eldest Little Man (9) looked at me and said “Mum, you look really stressed. Do you need me to look after the baby so you can sleep?” While this was incredibly sweet, it felt like a kick in the gut. I felt like I’d failed as a mother, letting my child feel like he needed to look after me. In hindsight, now that I’m starting to feel better, it’s more an example of success as a mother, rather than failure – my child was attentive, empathetic and caring enough to notice that I was unwell, and wanted to help. At that point, though, I knew I needed to work to get myself better.
My first appointment with the doctor was pretty overwhelming. I sat in the car beforehand googling PND symptoms for about the 18th time because I still wasn’t entirely convinced that I was “bad enough” to warrant a doctor’s visit. I sat in the waiting room thinking “actually, I’m not that bad, I shouldn’t have bothered coming.”
Then I sat down in her room, and she asked me how I was. And I burst into tears.
I cried, and cried, and didn’t know why, or what exactly was wrong. I didn’t know if I was more scared of her telling me I did have PND or that I didn’t. Then, when I was finished crying, I tried to convince her that I was actually OK, that I didn’t have a problem, and that I was only coming because I’d promised my partner I would.
“I’m fine,” I said, “I’m just tired.” I remember the look on her face pretty well. “Um… No. You’re not,” was her response.
She then had me fill out a short questionnaire, which isn’t a diagnostic tool for PND, but is a good indicator. It came back much higher than I expected, but I still struggled to get my head around it all. My doctor said that there were two options for treatment, of equal effectiveness – therapy or medication – or that I could try both. I wanted to try therapy first, and so she booked me in with the psychologist. I walked out of her room feeling so much better – I now had something tangible to address, and had hope that I wouldn’t feel like this forever. I now knew that what I was feeling wasn’t normal and that in itself was a huge relief.
A similar thing happened when I attended my first therapy session. I went in thinking “I’m not bad enough to need to be here, I’m just waiting everyone’s time”, then came out thinking “thank god I’m getting help, I can’t keep going like this!”
There are a few things I try to do now to keep myself well. Part of my recovery is to let other people in, and to start talking about what I’m going through – if you can identify and accept the problem, you can fight it. I make more of an effort to socialise, and keep communicating with my partner so he knows where I’m at (and have started listening to his advice more because I swear the man is always bloody right which irks me to admit to, but it’s true). I have also added a lot more structure to my life, which ensures I make time to take care of myself, and makes it easier to keep on top of things like housework. Each Monday I plan out my me time for the week so that I have something to look forward to, and also so that I actually do it instead of just talking or thinking about it. I make sure I get out of the house more often (I aim for once a day) and get lots of sunshine, fresh air and exercise.
When I get into a bit of a funk, I try to talk to myself as if I were talking to my partner or my best friend instead. Sometimes that means I sit by the door and say to myself “you can do it. Just go out for a little while, I know it’s hard and scary, but you’ll feel so much better once you’re out.” I try to rationalise with myself and think “what is the worst thing that could happen?” and then “if that does happen, will it matter in the long run?” I also am better at recognising when I’m starting to slip into that state of mind and ask myself the questions from my previous post ‘Some days just suck‘.
And finally, this blog is my therapy. This is something I do for myself, to give myself some non-mum purpose, and to hold me accountable to looking after myself and staying positive.
If you think you have PND – or you think someone you care about does
If what I’ve written about has resonated with you or feels familiar, please please please reach out and get help. I really wish I’d listened to my partner sooner and hadn’t been so in denial and stubborn. If it’s you, talk to someone close to you or your GP (or both!), and if you don’t feel heard or validated, talk to someone else. Keep going until you feel like you’re supported; you are so worth it and you deserve to feel awesome. If it’s someone else, don’t be afraid to ask if they’re coping. If they’re like me, they may have an inkling that something’s a bit off, and they may just need someone to give them ‘permission’ or an opportunity to admit it. Don’t judge them or their feelings, don’t tell them to just “try harder” and don’t expect them to be able to explain or identify what’s wrong – because sometimes they can’t. It takes patience and energy to care for someone who has anxiety and/or depression, so make sure you have support and look after yourself too.
Communication is really important here too. If you are suffering, try your best to let your support people know what they can do to help. When you’re feeling low, do you need cuddles or to be wrapped up in their arms like a burrito? Or does that make you feel claustrophobic, and do you really just need space and fresh air? Let them know. And supporters – let them know you’re there, and that you want to help. Give them pep talks when they need it. Tell them how amazing they are, even if they struggle to believe it. Keep telling them until they do.
So… That’s my journey – so far. I’m still going through it, still figuring it out, and I don’t have all the answers. But I’m getting there.
Have you experienced PND? What helps you get through it? Let me know below or on my Facebook page.
Until next time, glow mamas.
More information and support for PND can be found by visiting: