(Original content at https://dancingwithpnd.wordpress.com/2015/08/30/3-years-ago/)
Its almost 3 years ago since my experience with post-natal depression began. It seems a lifetime ago now, thank goodness, but I wanted to put down my experience in the hope it will help others. I think it would have helped me knowing there was light at the end of the tunnel, by a mother who had been there and who had felt completely lost.
I feel strong enough now to talk about what happened and I asked for my medical notes so that I could piece together the missing parts I can’t remember, which has helped. It also made me see how ill I was, almost to the point of being delusional about certain things. That’s what this illness can do.
I think it is also important to look back and see how certain life events contributed to me developing PND. I initially thought it had happened after my second child and that I had no problems before but I believe there were things that happened that set me up to be a prime candidate for developing PND.
My first child was born 10 years ago. The birth was difficult and had an effect on me for a long time. I didn’t realise at the time that there was such a thing as birth trauma, I just thought it was me not being able to handle the birth well. I didn’t feel depressed afterwards but I became anxious and decided I could not have another child again. I realise now that I should have spoken to someone and that I needed counselling about this, but there wasn’t as much awareness then as there is now.
A year after my daughter was born my husband developed cancer. It was caught at the early stages so he went on to make a full recovery but it created more anxiety that I might lose my husband and all those thoughts that you try not to think about. For 5 years it was a nervous time when he had to go for his checkup every 6 months, but eventually he got the all clear which was great news.
When my daughter was about 6 I began to think about having another child. I tried to put the fear out of my mind that anything bad would happen and when I became pregnant I was very happy. However, I started to have problems and when I went for a scan at about 10 weeks they found that the baby had died. I think I dealt with this by trying to forget it had happened and to try again when I had recovered. About 6 months later I was pregnant again but much more wary this time. Again the same thing happened and at another scan my worst fears were confirmed. I was at the point of giving up by this time but I still felt I wanted another child and I felt that it couldn’t happen again so eventually I became pregnant for a third time. At seven weeks I began to have problems again so I went to hospital for a scan, expecting the worst but there on the screen was a beating heart! All was well. I went on to have a good pregnancy and although the birth was difficult I felt more prepared this time and it wasn’t as traumatic. I now realise I had been through a lot by this point and all the difficult things that had happened previously were making me feel like I needed to be on my guard, that bad things happened and it was only a matter of time. Thankfully I no longer think like this and realise it was just an unfortunate series of events.
After my baby boy was born I had a happy few weeks and all was going well. By about two months in tiredness was affecting me and my mood was slipping. I went to see my GP who prescribed an anti-depressant and I started taking them as advised. What I didnt expect was that I would have a reaction to them. I don’t know how common my reaction was and I don’t want to put off people from taking antidepressants because I think they are a lifesaver and they definately work but sometimes it is a case of trying a few until you find the right one.
It was my son’s christening in Ireland that weekend so we went off on the ferry and all was well. By the day of the christening I remember saying to my mum that I felt weird and anxious but I didn’t associate it yet with the tablets I was taking. That night I stopped sleeping, well I got one hour from 12 until 1am, then I was wide awake all night, not good when you need your sleep with a young baby. The same thing happened the next night, 1 hour sleep. By the time I was back on the ferry for my return journey I was starting to feel spaced out, sweaty, exhausted and I ended up getting lost on the ferry when it had docked and my husband was trying to find me. I couldn’t find my way to the car deck, I was very disorientated. For some reason it never occurred to me to stop taking the tablets, I was someone who was compliant and didn’t challenge because doctors knew best.
When I got back to my home the pattern of not sleeping continued. My mood then started slipping very badly. I stopped caring about anything or anyone which is not my normal personality as I care very deeply about people. I lost the drive to function and live life and the only way I could describe it was like someone had taken the batteries out of me, like a child’s toy. I was walking about in a big heavy body that was an effort to even move and I was expected to take care of a baby who needed me and needed 24 hour care. I think my mind just shut down and I gave up.
The community mental health team were involved at this stage and they were very good but it became clear I was becoming very ill. It was suggested I go into a Mother and Baby unit. I remember thinking I didn’t really care, I would go anywhere anyone told me because I had no purpose. I agreed and off I went to Morpeth, 100 miles away to the nearest mother and baby unit, because my local mother and baby unit just 2 miles away, had closed the year before, which I am still annoyed about to be honest. I feel a lot of the suffering my family had to go through could have been prevented had I have been treated closer to home, but that is another story and another campaign.
It must have been a terrible time for my husband, daughter and my mother as they dropped me off at the unit, but I remember feeling numb and not really caring which sounds awful but this illness shut me down emotionally which was what hurt me the most looking back. My family were my life before all this happened.
I am now very grateful that I went into this unit because it was a lifesaver and the nurses and staff who work in these units are amazing and have the patience of saints! However, I didn’t appreciate this at the time and I remember looking at my ceiling for hours in my bedroom and saying to myself “so this is how I have ended up”. I was a very black and white thinker so seeing myself in a place like this was a failure to me. Now I think very differently and see how lucky I was to get a bed in this unit.
I was in Morpeth for 3 months and although there are bad memories there are some good, including the wonderful mothers I met while I was there who I still keep in touch with and they amaze me as I watch what wonderful mothers they have become and I think, they appreciate things much more after what they have come through.
My recovery was not as quick as was hoped and it was felt that being so far away from home was hindering things so I was transferred closer to home when a bed became available. Things didn’t work out for me in this unit and I discharged myself thinking I would be able to cope at home. I remember standing in the kitchen trying to cook dinner and nothing coming easily to me, things that I had done automatically before for many years were like mammoth tasks, I remember looking at the chicken and thinking I need to cut that up but being all confused with the cooking times and my brain just freezing. I was pretending I was okay and talking normally and being this pretend person I was supposed to be but I was nowhere near well enough to be home yet.
I eventually went into the adult ward in York and my family in Ireland took my son to look after him until I got better which I will always be so grateful for because they did a wonderful job caring for him.
My recovery started to happen in this ward and the staff were wonderful. Some of the nurses had worked in the mother and baby unit in York before it had closed so they already knew what to do with me and I was very lucky to have them help me. I was also able to get visits from my husband and daughter much more frequently and this helped me to start having hope. I was also visited by friends who were not going to give up on me and one friend in particular used to drag me out of my room and make me walk to the hospital coffee shop and refuse to believe me when I said I would never get better. I think the faith she had in me really started to give me some hope. I was also being supported by my family in Ireland even though they were far away and they would send photos and call me and they really believed I would get better too and they constantly encouraged me to keep going with treatments. I was also prayed for by many people and I truly believe the power of prayer had a big part in my recovery too.
When I was well enough to leave the adult ward I started trying to pick up the pieces of my home life and it wasn’t so difficult this time. I had a few setbacks like the time I went to my daughters sports day and had to be taken home because I was so overwelmed by it all but there were little steps of recovery starting to happen.
My mental health nurse said that I needed to think about working on my relationship with my son so it was agreed I would move back to my parents house where I could work on the bond and have my parents and brothers to help and support me. After a few months of getting nowhere and feeling I wasn’t bonding with my son and that everything was hopeless, I met a wonderful psychiatrist who set me on the right path for recovery. She arranged for me to see a bonding specialist in the NHS who worked in infant mental health, that wasn’t her official title but that’s what she did. These sessions were the breakthrough I needed as she observed how we still had a strong bond and praised how I was with him and that instinctively I still cared for him. I also did a 6 week course called a WRAP course which helped me to get some power back over depression and taught me that there were things I could do to help myself. This was the start of me becoming well again. Slowly my bond with my son developed until I couldn’t stop kissing his little face and I started to feel alive again and started setting goals and having a purpose again.
I moved back to my house in England shortly after and was able to look after my children on my own and haven’t looked back. I am now a very happy mummy and I don’t worry about anything any more, life is for living not worrying and when bad things happen I will deal with it.
I am now of the view that no matter how ill depression makes you, you can and will recover. I have a place at university next year to study psychology and I hope to work in mental health in the future. I am also back dancing again and hope to compete again in Feb next year which will be a big achievement for me.
Hopefully this story will help those who need to hear it. Take care of yourself xxxx
To read more, please visit the Dancing with PND blog: https://dancingwithpnd.wordpress.com/