The J Word NZ

My Companion, Depression. Part 1 – Postnatal.

Post Natal Depression

My first depression diagnoses, post-natal depression to be specific, was in 2008. I think depression was present in my life prior to this, but this was the first time that I had the “label” and could start to think about what that meant. At the time I was struggling. I struggled with pregnancy, I struggled giving birth, I struggled to recover from birth and I really struggled with a newborn.

Sadly, I was not graced with the maternal instinct that it seemed to me, everyone else naturally had. My instincts pushed me to learn everything I needed to know, to cover the basics, but I always felt like I was failing and not doing things well enough.

I had a lot of guilt about not really knowing what to do as a Mother. I had a lot of peoples’ opinions, often differing opinions, flying at me constantly which added to my stress. I found my self-doubt often creeping in and it was hard for me to work out what was right or wrong and I ended up second-guessing my every decision. This caused a lot of confusion and conflicted feelings in my mind.

My confidence was near zero. Unless of course, it came to things I was passionately decided about like safety and health. I would not budge when it came to “safety first”, no matter what type of pressure other people would put on me to “go with the flow” if I thought there was an element of danger, I wasn’t having a bar of it. I was also always very staunch in my views around healthy foods, nothing processed or high in sugar was the way I wanted my little girl to start off life, and develop healthy habits. This wasn’t met with approval by all, but I made my views very clear and this made me feel a little in control.

Sleep has always been extremely high on my priority list, if you have had a baby, you will know that long full nights of sleep is not on the cards, for about a year. For me, this compounded day after day. It was about a month into this new experience, parenthood, that I ended up at A and E with quite advanced mastitis.

My Nana took me to the emergency room late in the evening when I called her beside myself in pain, ugly snotty crying on the phone. The on-duty doctor at the emergency room suspected that I was not coping very well, with life in general, which was true – I wasn’t. He took care of the mastitis issue and asked me to book an appointment with my GP the following day to discuss my mental health and make a plan.

The appointment was booked, as instructed, and I went along to my GP the following day. My Nana also accompanied me to this appointment which was a great support. I couldn’t really make sense of it all or get any useful words out so she explained to my Dr what was happening with me and I felt grateful for that.

My Dr obviously thought this was quite serious because that afternoon I had 2 mental health crises team members in my lounge assessing me. They were wonderful ladies and they gave me a lot of useful information about postnatal depression. They spent a lot of time talking to me and left pamphlets and other reading material for me.

These wonderful women then booked me in to be assessed by a psychiatrist at the local mental health unit in the following days and I felt a bit of hope from that point on. For a while there, I was wondering if this is all I would ever be moving forward, the useless mess that I felt I was. But now I felt like there was some help available and things were going to start to get better. There was a little light at the end of the tunnel.

When I think back about this time in my life, I don’t think I was really aware that mental health was even a real thing. I likened it to something similar to werewolves, witches, Santa or some other fairy tale.

Emotions and feelings were never discussed in my family growing up and mental health support or mental wellness was certainly never a topic I had heard anything about. The only place I had heard about mental health was in the movies where there was a “mental hospital” with people rocking in the corridors and pulling out clumps of their own hair and I really thought that this was how all mental health sufferers looked. Needless to say, this was a whole new world and a steep learning curve for me.

I remember vividly walking into the psychiatrist office, my very first experience of this kind. I was met with a man in his 60’s or 70’s who was very clinical. He asked me a bunch of questions. We talked for about an hour. I didn’t feel either comfortable or uncomfortable, just some weird place in the middle. He ended up prescribing me with anti-depressants (Citalopram) and 6 months worth of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) with one of their onsite therapists.

At the time, being new to all of this, I decided against taking the anti-depressants. Again, from the movies I had this image of taking a pill and then dribbling all over myself and not being able to talk, move or walk.

I guess no one talked me through the medication well enough for me to properly understand it otherwise I would have realised that was not the case. The people in my life, and in my family were also of the idea that anti-depressants were BAD. I don’t think the opinion on this came from an educated place, just one of misinformation. Whatever the case, the pills sat in my medicine cupboard for years, untouched.

I had gone back to work full time once my wee girl was 8 weeks old. My Nana left her full-time job to stay home with her during the working week. Not many people are given a gift like this, I sorely needed the gift of reprieve and space so I feel very lucky to be given that opportunity.

Going back to some sort of normality did wonders for my mental health. Of course, though, I felt guilty as hell. Like a useless Mum who couldn’t be a proper mother. The looks people would give when I told them I was going back to work already, looks of disapproval, stacked up and weighed on my shoulders.

The alternative, though, would have been a lot more disastrous so I feel happy now that I made the right choice. My little girl was safe, happy and loved and I was able to shift into a much better headspace. It wasn’t “perfect” but it was a win nonetheless.

Along with work I had to make time for my weekly therapist appointments. This wasn’t easy because I hadn’t told anyone what was happening, that I was depressed.

I was too embarrassed and terrified of being judged. Each week I had to make up a reason to leave work early, come in late, or shoot out to an appointment during the day. Lucky for me I didn’t get too much grief about this but imagine how nice it would have been to just be able to open up and tell the truth about what I was going through. I may have even received some support, who knows.

Cognitive behavioural therapy was life-changing for me. I don’t think I had ever really been listened to quite so well before, like the way that this woman listened to me. With kindness and only my wellness in mind. No ulterior motives, manipulation or misguided information, just care and logical, practical help.

This experience of kindness gave me the tools to question the situations I was faced with, in my life. The ability to stop, to decide how I wanted things to happen and stand up for myself. This was the start of a whole new me. I no longer felt like a bystander in my own life while things happened TO me.

I felt like an active participant in my life and it felt AMAZING.

I wished I was taught this earlier and I am glad these strategies are now being taught in schools. I remember at one point being handed a sheet of paper with a list of all the emotions a human can experience.

When I first started in therapy I couldn’t even label any of the emotions I was feeling, which might give you some insight into how it was impossible for me to know what was going on for me and my mental health.

To learn this, I kept a little notebook with this piece of paper displaying the emotions glued inside the cover and I would note down my feelings as they arose in me. It’s a great way to keep a gauge on how you are feeling and I still do this now if I am not too sure I am in a good headspace. It helps me to keep a record of my mood and know when I need some time out to recharge.

Coming to the end of the therapy sessions I had been allocated felt dreadful. I had one final meeting booked. I cried all morning prior to this session and I didn’t go in the end because I didn’t want to say goodbye to this wonderful woman who had helped me start discovering who I was.

Day 1

I had become so attached to the way she made me feel; heard, cared for and important that I just couldn’t bring myself to say goodbye. She messaged me to ask where I was and I told her what was happening for me and she said that’s totally OK, told me to have a great week, take care of myself and I never heard from here again.

Post Natal Depression was hard, it was terrible to go through and I really feel a lot of empathy when I see women struggling with it now.

I feel very grateful that the medical system took such good care of me through the whole process. Treatment was even fully funded for me at that time which was a great financial help as I was a very young (21) and I would never have been able to afford to pay the cost of the weekly therapy sessions but gosh did it help change my life.

I am thankful for the support I received from my Nana. I don’t know if I would have coped had she not been there to help me. I am also thankful for the experience as it set my life on a path of discovery around mental health which I am still well and truly on now, 12 years later, 12 years of learning, reading and talking to people about their experiences.

The biggest piece of advice I could give to a struggling new Mum would be to TALK. Talk to someone, anyone. If there isn’t anyone in your family or friend group that will understand then talk to your doctor. They are there to help and there is a lot of help available under their wrap-around services.

There is no weakness or shame in reaching out, in fact, it takes strength to ask for help. Be strong, it will all be OK.

J

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