Hope: Hope is the state which promotes the desire of positive outcomes related to events and circumstances in one’s life or in the world at large.
Post natal depression – when you are living it, or watching someone live it – is hell on earth. It’s dark, isolating, terrifying. Intrusive thoughts are your daily companion and the world can pass by in a blur of tears and panic attacks. It is a part of my life I’ve worked damn hard to come out the other side of (three sodding times) and is something I’m terrified of returning. I didn’t realise, until this week, how good I have become at boxing up those hideous times in my mind, and moving those negative dark thoughts and feelings into a part of my brain that I never want to access. I’ve blocked it out, hidden it away and got on with life.
But ignoring something is never wise is it? Ignoring something never means it’s going to go away, and magically disappear. Generally I find that if I ignore something it can come back twice as hard to bite me firmly and painfully on the ass.
Life keeps me very busy and keeps my mind active and full of a multitude of different things…so it doesn’t have room for the past. It doesn’t like to share space with anything other than the present or the future. My mind likes thoughts about what I need to put in a packed lunch, or what I need to buy at the supermarket, or teach my year 5s that afternoon. I’ve become an expert at living in the moment and ignoring anything that stands in the way of that – even a panic attack. And I honestly didn’t realise how good at this I’d become, even almost convincing myself that I’d never really been that ill. That yes, I’d cried a bit and had been sleep deprived, but other than that I’d been ok. Just a bit down and desperate. A sleep deprived mum. It’s not like I was looking back through rose tinted spectacles…I just wasn’t looking back.
Today I met with some truly inspirational people. People who’ve suffered with pre and post natal depression, post traumatic stress disorder, post natal anxiety and puerperal psychosis, or who’ve supported a loved one through it. People affected by perinatal mental health problems and have lived to tell the tale an are now working hard to support others. And today we talked about the illness, discussed how we can raise awareness and start a national week or month dedicated to perinatal mental health awareness and support. Today I remembered what it was like, revisited a time in my life I’d give anything to be able to forget. It was exciting and draining all at the same time and tonight I am at a loss for words as to how best describe how I am feeling. The thought of others suffering what I did makes me want to cry, but it also puts a fire in my belly that is so strong and powerful it makes me determined to do everything I can to support them, and help them, and let them know that this isn’t the end, that they can get better – that there is hope.
Here is a link to the blog post I wrote in January that got the ball rolling 🙂
You know you’re not welcome here anymore,
Go away, get out, I’ve shown you the door.
Don’t you dare come back and ruin my world,
I won’t let you, I’ll stay strong for my boys and my girl.
Get lost, jog on, go away, just scram,
I’ve worked too hard to get well and to be where I am.
You were beaten, overcome, I was rid of your hold,
You can’t break me, can’t destroy me, I refuse to fold.
My ears are shut to your self loathing attacks,
I shan’t be irrational, I’ll hold on to the facts.
You will not absorb my energy and spirit,
You can say what you like for I’ll choose not to hear it.
I’m stronger than you and I win every time,
There’s no point in fighting, all choices are mine.
Try all you like you’ll never beat me,
So give up, f*** off and jog on PND.
Recovery: Recovery or recover can refer to: Health; Healing; Cure; The Recovery model of mental distress/disorder; Recovery International, a self-help mental health program based on the work of the late Abraham A. Low, M.D.; Hair of the dog or “Recovery drinking”, the practice of drinking off a hangover, mainly amongst students; Addiction recovery groups.
Now I’ve not blogged about PND for a while. I took the last tablet and apparently was ‘recovered,’ if you ever can recover fully from the hideousness of the illness, it has certainly changed me forever. This time last year was hell, and I think about it daily. Just now, when tidying out a cupboard, I found my youngest’s first ever babygro. And I’m not ashamed to say it reduced me to tears. I remember him dressed in it, so small and helpless. It’s not the first time I’ve cried over that babygro, nor I imagine will it be the last as the memory of it all is very painful, but looking at where I am now, and remembering where I was last year has got me thinking about how far I’ve come, and how much better and more like my old self I really am. It has got me reflecting on what I’ve done and what has got me here and able to function without panic attacks and tears. I thought a post about the techniques and therapies I’ve had might help others in the same situation, or at least comfort them that they are not alone, and that they can get better.
Once I had finally admitted I had post natal depression (which took a few stubborn weeks I can tell you) the first thing I did was visit my doctor and start on a course of antidepressants. For me I viewed it very much as an illness, and if there was a medicine that could make me better then I would take it. I knew I couldn’t do it on my own and I was beyond the stage where exercise could help. As far as I was concerned nothing could help, and I didn’t even want it to. Permanent sleep seemed like a good option. So those tablets were a start, even though the doctor told me I would feel worse on them before I felt better (I did) and that it would take several weeks for the effects to fully kick in (it did.) I remember when they did start to work, I woke up and actually wanted to get out of bed. I got excited about putting my son in a gorgeous outfit for the first time. I smiled and looked forward to seeing my family. However I was still plagued by anxiety and panic attacks and cried most days. The tablets weren’t enough, I needed something more.
CBT was suggested and I thought it sounded perfect. I’ve always been a very anxious person, mainly centred around my mortality, at just five I had a screaming episode where I apparently told my parents I thought I was having a heart attack. So the thought that this talking therapy could help me re-train my brain to function in the correct part sounded easy. It wasn’t. I referred myself and luckily was seen relatively quickly in a face to face, one to one meeting. I was given booklets to work through, exercises to do and techniques to try out. I met with the CBT lady once a week for 6 weeks. She was lovely and always asked how I was, but it was very clear that these weren’t counselling sessions. I had to be focused and do all the hard work myself. By now the tablets had well and truly kicked in and so panic attacks during the daytime had reduced and I wasn’t able to practise ‘thought challenging’ them. I was still having terrible nightmares and problems with my sleep and had no idea how I could ‘thought challenge’ something that was happening when I was asleep! The CBT lady gave me suggestions, and they did slowly start to work. But it was hard work, and I had to muster up every ounce of energy to practise everything I’d be told and had read. I would recommend CBT, but only if you are prepared to work at it and commit fully to it. The techniques need to be practised continuously before it all becomes second nature.
I was also lucky enough to be referred through the health vision to an art therapy group which lasted for 12 weeks which I blogged about briefly in the post linked above. The other ladies on the course were by far more private than me and I promised to them that I would never blog in detail about the sessions, so all I will say is that if you ever get an opportunity to be a part of a ‘My Time My Space’ group then do, it was amazing.
Now, whilst everything I have mentioned above was helping, my main fear was that as soon as I stopped taking the tablets I would be back at square one. I was terrified that my brain would once again neglect to make the vital mix of things it needs to function without depression, so I knew I needed something else. One day whilst on Twitter I spotted a tweet from a lady called Viv Kenchington. She was a reflexologist near me who was looking for people to have free solution-focused hypnotherapy sessions whilst she was re-training. I tweeted her and asked if it worked for PND and the response ‘Yes!’ was immediate. We arranged a date for the following week to meet. As soon as I met Viv I felt relaxed, she has a wonderful calm and friendly manner. Keen to find out why I was interested in hypnotherapy I briefly explained my situation. I was reassured that this type of hypnotherapy wasn’t anything like the kind you see on the television and that I wouldn’t suddenly start milking cows when I heard a bell ring. Viv was wonderfully clear in her detailed explanation of how the brain works, and how it functions when a person has anxiety and depression. The penny dropped there and then for me and it all made perfect sense. I couldn’t wait to get started, our sessions were to be an hour long so not least the thought of lying down with my eyes closed and no small people demanding things from me was incentive enough! For the next 8 weeks I visited Viv for regular hypnotherapy sessions. They were amazing. Peaceful. Relaxing. And yet strangely exhausting, I always slept extremely well after a session. Viv’s voice was soothing and even now if I have trouble sleeping I ‘hear’ her in my head and am instantly more at peace. She’d ask me what had been good about my week, and then asked questions so that I would come up with solutions on how to make it better. Her enthusiasm and passion for helping people is infectious, she would listen to me intently and work so hard to help. My sessions have stopped now, but I know I can always go back if ever I need to. I credit Viv as being a huge part of my recovery. Whilst seeing her I stopped taking the tablets, and miraculously so far have not needed them again. She saved me. She helped me clear my brain of thoughts it didn’t need, creating space to be more creative (I started my blog whilst seeing her!) Hypnotherapy is amazing when you find someone who is passionate about it and and who you can trust and feel comfortable with, and I felt that with Viv. If you would like to know more about solution-focused hypnotherapy and look at her website you can do so here.
And then finally onto my current therapy! (Yes I filled in that delightful form recently which we all know and love, and it showed that I’m still not quite there apparently) Dance therapy. Feeling that I’d worked enough on my brain and not enough on my body, when I was referred for this by my health visitor I agreed. I’d always said I’d do anything I could to get better and stay well. I have issues with personal space, touch and dancing in public all of which the course entails, so needless to say I am finding it challenging. I have written a poem about those challenges here. The thought behind this therapy is that the body and the brain are closely linked and that we hold areas of pain and anxiety in parts of our bodies that needs to be released. It definitely seems to be helping so far, but only time will tell so I shall blog about it in more detail when the course is finished, watch this space!
I know that some people reading this may have not been as lucky as I am in everything I have been offered and I know how privileged I have been. I have had wonderful health visitors and doctors and am blessed to have been able to take part in so many wonderful things. I’m also aware that many of you reading this may feel like you will never get better, that there is no hope, and have been struggling with the illness for many years, I hope with all of my heart that you feel better soon. Recovery is possible, I promise.
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
Tablet: Tablet (pharmacy), a mixture of pharmacological substances pressed into a small cake or bar, colloquially called a “pill” (Wikipedia)
So, it’s Sunday…and today is the day I take my last anti-depressant. Today is the day I am meant to be officially cured. No longer trapped and isolated and broken from PND. And although I feel ok, I don’t think I’ll ever be the same person I was before this vile illness took hold. A little bit of my confidence will never come back, an edge of anxiety will always be there in the distance, and the unbearable threat of the illness returning will always surround me.
But, for now I’m lucky enough to be ok, and to celebrate this last tablet (yes, for me it is definitely a celebration!) I am going to share with you a letter I wrote to myself several months ago. I was very very lucky to be put forward to go to a local art therapy group for mums suffering with PND. It was, as we all in the group felt, a lifeline. We all lived for Friday mornings, where our children were in the crèche and we were given time, and space, to talk, and be listened to. To not be judged. To not be made to feel like we were terrible parents. Where we drank tea, ate cake and got creative, each of us finding our own favourite creative tools. It was during the first of these sessions that we were asked to write a letter to ourselves, a wish list of everything we wanted, needed. And when the sessions ended it would be posted, for us to read.
My letter arrived in the post last week, and I haven’t opened it yet. It was so many weeks and emotions ago when I wrote it that it’s contents will be as fresh to me now as they are for you reading it for the first time.
So, today, after I have just taken my last tablet….here goes….
I wish these things for you…
*child free clothes shopping
*the gift of acceptance (to not try and control everything)
*the gift of reading a book, uninterrupted
*some quality time with each of my children, independently
*8 hours of uninterrupted sleep
*the gift of just being, without analysing and criticising myself
*some quality time with my husband
*waking up when I am ready, not be woken up!
*confidence to go back to work
*quality ‘child-free’ time with friends
*an uninterrupted bubble bath
*time to exercise; for hobbies
*to wake up looking forward to the day ahead, even if I’ve nothing planned
*to feel good about the way I look
*to feel positive
Okay…wow…that was actually rather lovely, but also very eye opening to me. It was like reading a letter from a completely different person, and it’s so hard to believe that I wrote it. What first strikes me as I read this through is how trapped I must’ve felt, and how I felt I couldn’t do some of the things on the wish list, things which now I actually take for-granted. And as I read I notice how such trivial things are written next to some really quite serious things, but at the time there was perhaps no differentiation, all of these things seemed like desperate needs to me. Amazingly, I have been lucky enough to have been granted many of the wishes I wished for myself all of those weeks ago. I have done so many of the things I wanted to do. And I don’t feel trapped or isolated anymore, I don’t feel like everyday I am trudging through treacle in a midst of panic and desperation for it to be bedtime again so I could sleep and not feel anything, not have to struggle through.
Reading this letter has shown me how far I’ve come. And has granted me one last wish, the knowledge that I really am recovered, it has shown me I am one of the lucky ones, and that those little tablets which held me together for so long are now gone. And now I know…that last tablet…really was my last.