This Christmas and New Year, I am fortunate enough to be well. I am lucky that I can see the joy in Christmas and celebrate it with gusto. But for many, I know this may not be the case at all; just like it wasn’t for me last year when I was recovering from post natal depression. Christmas and New Year can be extremely difficult for people suffering with depression. It is not always a merry and happy time of year. It is often a very lonely and difficult period for everyone who is affected by the illness, and supporting someone through it can be – in its own way – as challenging as it is being the person who is ill.
Today I have the pleasure of hosting a moving post about just this…supporting others with PND. And in particular supporting others when you are suffering or have suffered yourself – for many of us who are recovering or have recovered are determined that no one should suffer like we have, because that thought is simply unbearable; you wouldn’t wish post natal depression on your worst enemy.
The post is from the lovely Pumping Mama who blogs, amongst other things, about her experiences of PND with raw honesty at thepumpingmama.wordpress.com. She’s recently blogged about Christmas, and describes it as a ‘two sided coin,’ one side where you are able to enjoy it, and another where you are suffocated by other’s Christmas cheer and possibly feel at your lowest point ever. The Pumping Mama is passionate about mothers not feeling alone, about us all supporting each other through talking, texting, and tweeting, giving hope and encouragement to each other. This post has verbalised many thoughts I’ve had when talking to others suffering from PND, for even though I’ve suffered my experiences may be very different to those of others. For me in particular, the last line says it all.
Supporting Others With PND
Do I make my reality theirs? The feelings they have, the things they’re suffering, may not be anything like my personal experience.
Do I tell them the gritty truth? Do I tell them that I don’t remember a lot of the first year of Moos life? Do I divulge to them that I still have bad days, even now, more than two years on?
Do I just listen? This isn’t about me now. Do I tell them that I can empathise, that I’ve been there, that it gets better?
No one tells you how to support others in life. Is this why we live in such a fractured society, often lacking in compassion for mental health issues? How do we learn how to love other human beings, to hold each other up, to comfort and nurture one another?
I don’t know the answers. I just know my experience, my reality, my journey, and what works for me. All I can do is hold a hand, make a cup of tea, and listen. I’m no expert on mental health, no degree backs up my support. But in the midst of a vastly lonely head space, someone simply walking alongside you is enough.
You can follow The Pumping Mama on Twitter @ThePumpingMama, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ThePumpingMama and her blog is http://www.thepumpingmama.wordpress.com
An A to Z of PND.
Alphabet: The modern English alphabet is a Latin alphabet consisting of 26 letters – the same letters that are found in the ISO basic Latin alphabet. The English language was first written in the Anglo-Saxon futhorc runic alphabet, in use from the 5th century. This alphabet was brought to what is now England, along with the proto-form of the language itself, by Anglo-Saxon settlers. Very few examples of this form of written Old English have survived, these being mostly short inscriptions or fragments.
So, a week on from taking my last tablet and I’d just like to start this post by saying that I didn’t start my blog to focus solely on post-natal depression, but recently it seems that this is where my writing has mostly wanted to be, and my blog has been overloaded with PND posts and poems. It has been helping me to voice everything I’ve gone through and have been feeling, and I hope it has also helped those of you who have read it and have also suffered, or know someone else who has. So I’ve been going with it, and writing as honestly about my experiences as I could. For now though, as I have taken my last tablet, I think this might be my last post on the subject for a while, unless there is demand for more honesty! It is an A to Z of my post natal depression (in a not all doom and gloom kind of way, but as always, in a very honest kind of way!)
A is for…let’s start with an obvious one…antidepressants. Where would I have been without those little pills of loveliness. Yes, they take WEEKS to work and they’re a bugger to come off (brain zaps anyone?) but when you’re feeling so low you want to go sleep and never wake up again they are amazing. For me anyway, I appreciate they’re not for everyone.
B is for bastard, bugger, bitch. All delightful words I’ve used regularly to describe this delightful illness.
C is for catastrophising. A phrase I didn’t even know existed until PND took its hold. I’d have a cut on my leg which I was convinced would turn into a septic oozing sore that would eventually lead to blood poisoning and death. Or an ulcer in my mouth that was actually cancer which would lead to death. Or a stomach ache which was appendicitis, which would obviously burst, and lead to death. You get the picture. Not only did I catastrophise about illnesses I’d do the same with the safety of my children. My 3 year old would be at the top of a slide and I’d be screaming inside ‘be careful, hold on, sit down, go slow’ because I thought somehow he’d fall off, break his neck and this would lead to… I’d jump to the worst possible conclusion about everything. Seems silly now, now I’m thinking rationally, but at the time it seemed like a distinct and real possibility. Danger was everywhere. Disaster was always about to strike. (Thankfully it never did, long may that continue!)
D is for dreams, crazy, vivid, bonkers dreams. I’ve dreamed entire film plots (and even the credits when it was over and time to wake up) I am amazed at the things my subconscious brain can conjure up in the middle of the night. I have two recurring dreams that vary from night to night. One is needing the toilet. Desperately needing the toilet, but for some reason I cannot go. The toilet is blocked, or too high, or someone is watching me. The other recurring dream is about my Grandma’s house. There are secret rooms I didn’t know about, or someone is chasing me there and I need to hide. Last night I dreamt it had been renovated for students to live in. Random, and by far not the weirdest dreams I have had, but undoubtedly the most frequent. Haven’t quite worked it what my subconscious brain is trying to tell me through them! Any dream interpreters out there?
E is for eating. I CAN.NOT.STOP. At first I couldn’t eat a thing (which was great for post pregnancy weight loss, but not so much for breastfeeding) but now I am ravenous, all of the time. Burning acid in the stomach ravenous. I could eat one of my children ravenous. Food has always been my comfort and never more so since I became ill. I have tried dieting, and it did work for a while, but food is just too delicious and life is just too short at the moment for me to worry about it. So there.
F is for f*** you. F*** life. F*** everything. I have never sworn so much at my poor husband. Or just muttered swear words under my breath when out and about and irritated and frustrated by absolutely everyone and everything. Swearing at the television and all of the irritating people on it. Swearing felt like getting all of the crap inside my head out. I’ve always loved a good swear, but it’s definitely upped a notch or two. (Not around the children of course, well not every day anyway ;-))
G is for guilt. Guilt for being a rubbish mum, a rubbish friend, a rubbish wife. Guilt for breathing in oxygen that could clearly go to someone more worthy. Guilt for being ill. We all feel guilty as mums, society (and as I’ve said before social media and manuals) all conspire to make us feel useless, to doubt ourselves, to make us feel guilty for not doing things ‘properly’ or as well as others. Gah, one day I WILL write a book encouraging mums to trust their instincts, ask for support from trusted sources, and hopefully relieve some of the guilt we all are made to feel.
H is for hypnotherapy. Solution focused hypnotherapy to be precise. Absolutely integral to my recovery. Helping my messed up brain get back into the intelligent part and not the primitive cave man part that only operates through fear, anxiety and anger. It has saved me, and given me invaluable techniques and skills I can use in the midst of an overwhelming panic attack. I urge all of you who suffer to seek it out, and I know it can be expensive. I was lucky enough yo have free treatment from someone who was training, so it didn’t break the already broken bank!
I is for isolation. Oh now isolated I felt, even though I was surrounded by people, big and small. Isolated because no-one else was responsible for this little pink person. No-one else could breast feed him, no-one else could settle him like I could. He would only sleep on me, and only stay asleep on me. The minute he was handed over to someone else those little brown eyes would ping open. And then the anxiety would begin. I was convinced that if he didn’t sleep well during the day then he’d be overtired and wouldn’t sleep during the night. I spent my days struggling to get him to sleep and then desperately trying to keep him there. Because if he was awake he would cry, and I wouldn’t know how to stop it. I didn’t have any confidence that I knew what to do. I didn’t recognise what cry meant what. I couldn’t make it stop. When he was asleep he was peaceful and so was I. Isolated because I didn’t want to go anywhere, going out was too much of an effort, it meant having a shower for starters. Isolated because I felt trapped in my own head filled with these voices telling me I was worthless, that I had nothing to look forward to…and I couldn’t find the words to explain that to anyone so I was alone with those feelings and thoughts. Looking back it was probably the least isolated time of my life as I was surrounded by so many wonderful people. Horrible how your brain can make you feel.
J is for journey. Everyone talks about your journey with depression. Your journey to recovery. Your journey as a mum. Journeys in my opinion are meant to be fun, this one was not.
K is for kitchen. I used to hide in mine. Often eating. It was the only place in the house where I couldn’t hear my baby crying. I used to escape there, only for a few minutes, the guilt of leaving him crying would soon kick in and I’d be back upstairs rocking him to sleep once more. But those few minutes of peace and alone time were precious.
L is for love. Love of friends. Love of family. Unconditional love from my children whether I am happy or sad or crying or laughing. I am so unbelievably fortunate to have some of the most amazing friends there are, ones who know just the perfect things to do and the perfect things to say. They have helped me more than words can say. And I love them completely.
M is for mum. My mum. We’ve certainly had our ups and downs but there’s not doubting that she has always been there for me, trusting her instincts and encouraging me to do the same. And since I have been ill she has been worth her weight in gold. Couldn’t have got through it without her.
N is for neurotic. I guess I’ve always been neurotic, even before this all started! People have always marvelled at how my thought processes work, and how I reach conclusions they never would have reached in a millions years. My neuroses kind of make me who I am I guess. I just need to learn to control them, and to live with them.
O is for on my own. Which is what I wanted to be most of the time. All of the time in fact. My suitcase was often packed in those dark days, and I knew exactly where I was going and when I’d go. I just wanted to escape as it was all just too hard. Looking back, it was the days when that suitcase wasn’t packed that should have worried me more.
P is for pull yourself together. Oh, is that what I need to do, silly me! I didn’t realise it was that simple, I just need to pull myself together. Actually, do you know what…no I cannot f***ing pull myself together. F*** off.
Q is for questions. Why do I feel like this? Why can’t I feel better? Why am I such a bad mum? Why me? As any inquisitive Toddler would say…why why why? And there are no real answers, not for me anyway. Life’s just a bi*** sometimes.
R is for Rescue Remedy. Oh how I love this stuff. The sweets, the chewing gum, the drops. I had them all. If you’d opened my bag it was like a Rescue Remedy party bag inside. We all have safety behaviours and having Rescue Remedy with me at all times was one of mine. Placebo? Maybe. But who cares, it worked.
S is for well, what else but stigma. Yes I was afraid to be a mum of three on anti-depressants. Scared people would think I’d had one baby too many and couldn’t cope. Scared people would look and me and wonder what on earth I’d got to be depressed about and think I was just looking for attention or feeling sorry for myself. Not realising it’s an ILLNESS, and I had no control over how I felt. Another reason why I’ve chosen to write so honestly, to help smash the stigma.
T is for talking. If you read my blog you’ll know I’m a wear your heart on your sleeve kind of girl. I have no secrets. Everyone knows everything about me (which is a bit embarrassing at times!) and talking my way through this illness to anyone who wanted to (and yes even those who didn’t) listen has helped me to recover. Especially talking to those who have also suffered. It’s so true to say that unless you’ve ever experienced something you can never fully understand what others are going through. And whilst PND is different for everyone, I’ve met many people who have felt the same as me. Talking to them has undoubtedly helped, both myself and hopefully them as well.
U is for understanding. Sometimes I wish people would stop trying to understand. I think if you haven’t suffered you might never be able to understand fully. Just listen and help me, don’t make it about you needing to understand, you don’t need to I promise, you just need to be there.
V is for vile. I felt vile, I looked vile, I thought vile thoughts. I said vile things.
W is for withdrawal. Ah off those little pills of loveliness I mentioned earlier. Having been cushioned from really ‘feeling’ for the last nine months, I am now firmly back in the real world. I think I’m lucky (or ready) because although it’s not been easy, it’s not been half as bad as I expected. I’ve had a few unpleasant withdrawal symptoms but I am able to be rational and know that that is all they are, that I’m not getting ill again and that in time those symptoms will disappear. (they’d bloody better!) And boy am I looking forward to being able to have more than one glass of wine of an evening lol! (An inappropriate reason for wanting to come off them I know!)
X is for X marks the spot. The spot of PND that will always stay with me, but will hopefully never take full hold of me again. (Although if it does, I won’t be too ashamed to admit it, and I will ask for help, and I will take it!)
Y is for yesterday, days of yore, and letting them go. It physically and mentally hurts to think about how I felt after my last baby was born. I never, ever want to go back there ever ever again, and in order to recover fully I need to move on. Let it all go. It happened and I can’t change that, but it doesn’t have to define me. It’s changed me undoubtedly, but it doesn’t have to control me. I can beat it, and I will.
Z is for zzzzz, sleep. Lack of it, too much of it. At my worst I was totally and utterly obsessed with sleep. Mainly because thanks to insomnia and a newborn baby I wasn’t getting any. My bedroom (which was the spare room because after those very early weeks I could not sleep with anyone else less than 100ft away from me) smelt like an old lady’s boudoir, with lavender spray, pillows, mists, candles. I would count to the minute the amount of sleep I was (or wasn’t) getting. I would go to bed at 8pm, terrified that if I went any later I would run out of time to get some precious shut eye. I’d also have to nap during the day, and still do regularly. (But to be honest, I’ve always done this!) Sleep comes a bit more easily now, and I am back in bed with the other half (ears plugs in tow!) I’m still up in the night with the baby, but have learnt not to look at the clock, it does me no good!!
So…that completes my A to Z of my post natal depression, and for now my ‘journey’ (haha) with it. I hope that writing this may help others who are suffering or who have suffered to not feel that they are alone PND. You are not alone, and you can and will get better, promise x
Thanks for reading xx