I’m probably not unusual in that most of my life affirming beliefs stem from my lived experiences of a few god awful times. Thankfully, in a relative sense, these experiences have been few and far between but the personal adversity to hang on in there was really rough going at the time nonetheless.
The first time I faced a crisis where I became so helpless that others had to step in to help me – whether I wanted it or not – was when I began to spiral into a post-natal depression nightmare after baby number two.
I can pin point the exact moment in time when it started. A dream birth experience produced a bouncing, happy – albeit hungry – baby.
I knew from my first child that a lack of sleep is very problematic for me, it always has been, but I knew what I was in for this time round so tried to go with the exhaustion rather than fighting and resenting it.
In fact, everything was going pretty well for the first few months, when at the start of month four, I woke up feeling like a switch had been flicked off in my head. I went from ok-ish to seriously not ok literally overnight.
Chronic exhaustion and overwhelm only served to magnify my misery and triggered feelings of anxiety and depression that I had no coping mechanism or energy left to deal with alone.
The worst thing was calling my parents to tell them, because they lead such busy lives and I knew they had no experience of helping me as an adult being ill, let alone, a mentally ill state, which we had no family experience of dealing with whatsoever. I wasn’t sure how they’d react to my news and in all likelihood my drama would be completely inconvenient to whatever plans they had.
Sadly, even I attached lazy stigmas to post- natal depression such as it being a sign of weakness and I was completely ashamed of admitting the whole thing to begin with.
Frankly, there is lots I don’t remember when people tell me their version of events about what was going on; but I know that I did hysterically cry in my doctors office numerous times, and went over and over my fears with her about my life being over as I knew it due to this mental break and that I would never be back on track to being the person or mother I was pre-pnd.
The doctor didn’t and couldn’t say, yes of course you will get back to being who you were before by x date but she was excellent in helping me with treatment pathways and how to best approach each day one at a time to give myself less of a hard time. We also spoke about trying to look forward rather than back, that in reality life is always changing and evolving and that this doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
As an ill person, that lack of guarantee of getting well on a time scale made trying to be patient so much more frustrating, but I now know that I’m so much the wiser for the experience. Really, I was at the mercy of the slow passage of time with shit.fm playing relentlessly in my head with no off switch. It was a nightmare! But it did eventually ease.
If I had to pick one word to best describe how PND felt, it would be hopeless. Addressing it against my will was just about the worst experience of my life to date and it was a good eighteen months before I felt anywhere near confident enough to say that I was back to “my old self.”
But I did bounce back! Thankfully I had a good “team” of people around me and even though I didn’t want them to take over, I am grateful that they did. The first load of laundry I managed to get done myself was honestly a joy!
I still feel quite defined by this experience but looking back now I find it crazy that I convinced myself that I’d never recover. The truth is, I just didn’t know for sure as I lost all ability to rationalise and regulate my catastrophising.
One of the toughest day-to-day things was feeling like everyone else was smiling and enjoying life around me and there I was in a dark pit unable to relate to a sense of happiness at all. I will never forget the despair associated with being unable to access even a fake smile or put a brave face on things. Everything felt so heavy. People who hadn’t known me previously must have thought I was so serious.
For me, the above was the big difference between feeling exhausted and crappy in a typical new mum way versus knowing that I had tipped into the deeper darker waters of despair. The kind of waters where your only hope of not sinking is rescue by a third party.
Being new to the area meant that I had to put my big girl pants on and reach out to other mums I barely knew for support. I will always be grateful to those mums who went above and beyond to invite and include me in coffee dates etc and who took me in at rock bottom just as an act of kindness from woman to woman; mother to mother. I always try to pay this kindness forward whenever I can. It’s a kind of survivor duty I guess.
This is one of the many reasons why I am so looking forward to working within the mental health sector in my next role, and also why I’m happy to share my story with you today.
With an agonisingly slow passage of time and several adult colouring books later, the energy dials eventually started to speed up and my “hopeless” did blossom into “hope” once again.
There is always hope, even if you can’t see it; I promise it will be there; even if in a form you can’t yet fathom.
Of course, this is just my story and no two lived lives are the same.
I don’t pay credit to medication and group therapy here, which did play a pivotal part, but I may do a post another time on these.
If you reached the end of this long post, well done! Thank you for reading…please reach out if you ever need an ear, I have two! Sharing your story may just help.