Sometimes I need a filter between my brain and my mouth.
This is not the way to get one.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Honesty

Today, I'm going to put it out there. In black and white.

I've not been very open about my struggle with Postnatal Depression. And a part of me was ashamed of it, for a long time.

But I'm trying to change my mindset, and so I am sharing my story. And if it happens to help someone, then it will have been worth it.

This is my entry to the Black Dog Institute Writing Competition 2010/11.

When I was pregnant I felt great. Yes, I was tired and sore but, I didn’t feel any anxiety or concern about life with a new baby. I even recall mentioning to my GP that I was aware my history with depression would mean I was in a higher risk category for Postnatal Depression (PND).
 But I had a plan and a supportive, loving family who knew the warning signs.

Looking back, it would seem I underestimated my depression, and I forgot how clever I could be at masking the signs. I think this is the surprising thing about depression. Inside you can be a mess and feel like the world is about to fall apart, but on the surface you’re smiling, laughing and projecting the vision you so badly want to be the reality.

I suppose my first ‘trigger’ was that I didn’t really get the 3 day blues. At the time I thought it was a sign I was coping so well, I was going to skip the hormonal side of it all. Fantastic! But in reality it was a sign that I was already building walls around feelings that I thought weren’t ‘acceptable’ as a new parent.

Hospital was easy. Breastfeeding was a challenge. And I always had this feeling that my family expected me to get home already. That I was in hospital too long and should get out and get on with it. I know now that I was already projecting my own insecurities, and attaching them to other people to reinforce my frame of mind.

When we got home, I couldn’t relax. I felt on edge all the time. I spent a lot of time being worried that our daughter would cry and wandering the house aimlessly, unable to sit still. I felt like I had a ball of cement in my stomach that wouldn’t go away. I was always waiting for our daughter to do something so I felt like I had a purpose. It was as though I didn’t exist outside our daughter’s needs.

I began to have unrealistic expectations of myself. Obsessive cleaning and tidying became a daily occurrence and I got agitated if anything was out of place or messy.

Part of my mask was appearing to have it all under control. In my mind, if our home was clean and tidy and if I had dinner organised by 5:30pm every night, it showed the world that there was nothing wrong, that I was coping and I was a perfect wife and mother.

But deep down I felt like nothing I did was enough, especially when it came to our little one.

As a Mum I felt like a failure. Everything I did was wrong and it was only a matter of time before my husband and family discovered what a hopeless fraud I was.

When I got mastitis and my milk started to dry up, it was a steep slope down into a darkness I had forgotten.

I continued to try and feed our daughter because I felt that not being able to was just one more failure on my part. I couldn’t stop our daughter from crying and I couldn’t feed her. I felt I was worthless. Simple things, like breastfeeding and soothing our daughter, that I felt should come naturally, were slipping away and I could do nothing to stop it.

My Mum knew I was struggling and gently guided us through organising bottles and formula as well as getting our little family through each day. There are no words to express my gratitude to my Mum during this time, because how can you thank someone for holding the universe together?

After our daughter was diagnosed with colic, I still blamed myself for everything. Having a reason for her crying didn’t make me feel any less responsible. Only now I felt responsible for keeping her in pain for so long. The thought that our baby girl had suffered for the first 6 weeks of her life gave the PND more to feed on. And I slipped further and further into the darkness and cried.

I would cry in the shower, sneak out of bed and hide so as not to disturb my husband. I gave all the ‘right’ answers to our family GP at baby check up’s.

I didn’t have to worry about acting in front of friends, because I stopped seeing them. I had everyone fooled, including myself.

Breaking point came when I had to go back to work when our daughter was 6 months old. Working mother’s guilt and social anxiety competed with hiding my PND and it almost sent me over the edge.

I was exhausted but I couldn’t sleep. Cracks began to appear in my carefully constructed facade. I stopped caring about myself and started to think life for everyone would be better if I weren’t in it. That I should just grab the keys and drive away. Disappear and let them get on with their lives.

I never thought to take my own life. I did consider hurting myself. I thought if I could physically display the pain I felt inside, it might hurt less. Thankfully, I never acted on those thoughts.

When I woke up one morning and had a panic attack about being on my own with our daughter, I knew I couldn’t continue and I had to get help.

Reaching out was the hardest thing. Already feeling like a failure, admitting to my husband and family that I was drowning felt almost impossible.

I called my husband, who was on his way to work. He turned around and came home, but I couldn’t explain to him what the problem was. All I could do was cry. The truth hurt so much and I was afraid that if he knew the truth he would leave me, or that he would think I was ‘crazy’.

At some point I decided I had to see my Mum, even though she was at work. My Mum is a medical receptionist at our family GP clinic. I didn’t have to say anything. She took me to a quiet room with the little one and asked me to wait. Before I knew it our GP was there and it all came spilling out.

At times I struggled to find the words and had to force myself to open up. And it was hard to watch my Mum cry, hard to watch her hurt. But I’ll admit that a part of me was confused by her tears because I had convinced myself that everyone would be better without me. Why would my Mum cry if she didn’t care? Why would my GP be sitting here, seeing me and postponing other patients if she didn’t care? Why?

The horrible thoughts kept rolling around in my head, that if I opened up they would take our daughter away, that my family would turn their backs on me because I was a failure as a person. But I decided I was going to be honest. And I was honest when I said I didn’t want it to hurt anymore.

I started anti-depressant medication and was referred to a psychologist. It took time, but slowly I noticed the heavy feeling had lifted. Like I had been carrying a huge backpack up a steep hill, and I had finally put it down.

I started being honest with my Husband about how I felt, as best I could. The words didn’t always come easily, and even now they can be difficult to find at times. Our GP sat down with us and explained PND which helped my husband understand that medication only does so much. That it doesn’t change me and I would still be ‘me’. He has since admitted that his main concern was that I wouldn’t be able to feel anything. That I would be a ‘zombie’ and be emotionally detached from him and our daughter.

My husband told me he found it helpful having our GP talk with him. It has helped him understand the situation better and to recognise when I might need to step back and re-group.

I still have challenging days, and there is no ‘quick fix’, but I feel confident that I can manage each day as it comes. Maintaining an open line of communication with my husband, family and GP is essential because I know the medication only goes so far. The rest is entirely up to me.

It takes a lot of courage to admit something's not right and get help. There is such a stigma linked to depression, it can make it hard to be open. I now understand that there is no shame and depression does not define who I am or my value as a wife, mother, daughter, friend, family member or work colleague.

No one should be afraid to speak up.

Reaching out, getting help and healing is something to be incredibly proud of. And I am.


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