Today is #timetotalk day so I have a confession – when my daughter was born I had postnatal depression (PND).
It’s not something I’ve talked about that openly. A few close family members and friends knew. I felt too ashamed, guilty and embarassed to admit it.
But over the last few years I have admired the growing number of people who have spoken openly about their mental health experiences so I thought I would share my story on #timetotalk day.
Firstly, my children are my life. I adore them and wouldn’t change them. They are gorgeous inside and out and I can only hope to be a mum who raises them to be kind, loving people who try their best and work to achieve what they want.
But that’s the cruelty of PND. I knew and felt all of this but I also felt desperately, desperately sad, alone and out of control.
It started creeping in when my husband went back to work. Suddenly I was juggling a toddler and a baby. I fed her myself, which meant I spent a lot of time glued to the sofa in the early days, which my toddler found frustrating. He had to learn to adapt from being an only child whose needs were our absolute focus to suddenly sharing our attention.
I worked hard to find activities we could do while I was feeding such as reading, sticker books and flash cards. But sometimes that’s not what he wanted to do.
(I should say I was lucky enough to have fantastic family support around me so relatives would come and take the toddler out or do the ironing to give me a hand.)
As a baby, my daughter had colic, something our firstborn hadn’t had. And it was awful. Sometimes I held her or wore her in a sling for 21 hours a day. We used colic relief drops and cuddled her constantly to relieve her discomfort. But it was distressing and exhausting. And honestly it felt as though it would never end.
I also turned 30 a few weeks after having my daughter. And I (selfishly) felt a little sad that I wasn’t looking fabulous and having a party with cocktails that I’d imagined I would be years before in my pre-mum world. Instead, I was a hormonal, exhausted wreck with the sore and wobbly body of a woman who had not long given birth.
I knew something was wrong within a few weeks of having her. I was tearful, angry and impatient. The slightest problem triggered tears. Mentally, I felt like a stretched elastic band that could snap at any point. I also had thoughts that made me feel as though it would be better not to be around any more.
But I didn’t seek help for a few months. It was only when these thoughts became more and more apparent that I decided I couldn’t take the strain any more and admitted I needed help.
Where I live we have a fantastic mental health support service for expectant and new mums, which means you can be seen swiftly. And they were marvellous.
As well as offering face to face appointments (and a support group should I have wished to attend) they spoke to me about medication. I explained that I had lost lots of the joy from my children. Honestly, I didn’t think I would recover. But I was adamant that I did not want tablets.
I remember one day having a conversation with a psychologist. I said I was worried I wouldn’t feel like me if I took medication. And she said: “But you don’t feel like you now, do you?”. She explained that it was a chemical imbalance making me feel that way and that needed addressing just like a medical problem. And her wise words won me around.
I felt so ashamed collecting the prescription. And the night before I was due to start the medication, I cried and cried and cried. I felt as though I’d failed.
But I took the tablets and within a few days I felt lighter. Smiles that had been missing for so long started appearing. My patience grew stronger. And the joy that children bring became more and more apparent.
Within weeks, I felt like my old self again. I was discharged from the new mum mental health service not long after with the reassurance of being able to see them again should I need to do so. That was a comfort, but luckily I was well enough not to need to see them again.
Recovering was incredible. I felt as though colour was filling what had been a colourless world. It took time but every day I felt that bit better and able to be the mum I wanted to be for my gorgeous boy and girl.
Two years on, I am so glad that I sought help to get well again. It’s an experience I look back on from time to time but it has made me so much stronger.
And now is the time that I feel able to talk about it more openly.
That’s why I’m going to run a 10K for the charity Mind who do so much awesome work to help people living with mental health issues and their loved ones. They also do a cracking job of reducing the stigma around mental illness.
So if you’re a mum or dad (or anyone for that matter) who is feeling like this, please, please seek help. Talk to someone. As hard as it may feel to do, it will make things better.
You can also talk to the Samaritans.
If you fancy showing your support for my story, please sponsor my 10K challenge for Mind here. Thank you!