I thought I knew my emotions. I thought I would know if I was depressed having experienced depression previously. I thought it would be obvious. But it wasn’t. It snuck up on me slowly, working in parallel with the sleep deprivation, the insecurity of not knowing what to do and wondering why I didn’t feel overcome with maternal love that everyone told me I would experience.
When I experienced depression before it was after a sudden event. One day I was ok and the next my world felt like it was just all wrong. It made me question everything in my life; my work; where I was living; my relationship. Ultimately it led to the breakdown of my first marriage – all my questioning made me realise things about myself and about my husband that perhaps I had never truly recognised. After I recovered, with the assistance of anti-depressants and counselling, I felt stronger. I felt I knew myself better. I felt I had a better understanding and control of my emotions.
Fast forward eight years, a new (and “right”) husband and a tiny baby. The birth wasn’t straightforward (24 hour labour, shoulder dystocia and a ventouse delivery) and I was exhausted, physically and emotionally. When my daughter arrived all I wanted to do was sleep. I didn’t feel the urge to gaze into her eyes forever. In fact I thought she looked like her cousin and often slipped up and called her by her cousin’s name.
Breastfeeding was hard. I didn’t feel I was getting a straight answer on what to do from the nurses and midwives; they all said something different. I needed someone to tell me what to do and for it to work.
Now I know it’s not that simple but I didn’t appreciate this at the time. No one tells you what those first few hours, days and weeks will be like. All I remember from my antenatal classes was how to prepare for labour, how to write a birth plan, how to breastfeed and how to do pelvic floor exercises. Now I realise that none of this helps explaining how hard it is; how a birth plan can never be set in stone, how breastfeeding does hurt initially, no matter how many tell you it won’t, and how pelvic floor exercises are important but you won’t realise until later!
It wasn’t until my second child was 6 months old, some two and a half years later, did I admit to myself that something was wrong. I think I’d just denied my feelings; put them all down to ‘normal’ motherhood and having two children who were misbehaving and sleeping erratically.
But constantly questioning why I had children, not feeling adequate but a failure as a mum, wanting to sleep but not wake up again and always seeing how much better all my mum friends were doing was not ‘normal’. It was my children who were behaving normally, not me.
Taking that first step to seek help was hard. No one likes admitting they need help. No one likes seeking the kind of help which requires some sort of medical intervention. At least I knew, to a certain degree, what I might expect when I made that first contact.
I called PANDA first and spoke to a lovely lady. She coaxed what was happening and how I was feeling from me; there was no rush and the anonymity of talking on the phone meant I relaxed a bit. She didn’t judge me. That helped. A lot. She gave me courage to go and see my GP, to realise that it was ok to ask for help, that the way I was feeling wasn’t right and that it wasn’t my fault.
Following this first step I spoke to two different GPs before I felt like I had confidence in the approach they suggested. I didn’t initially want to start medication, having taken it before, but after seeing a clinical psychiatrist, I was made to understand that the issue was an imbalance in chemicals and the medication would give my brain and mind the kick start it needed to get back in track.
The reasons why we each may experience a mental health issue are complex and individual. They also may change over time as you go through the recovery process. Therefore everyone’s journey will be different. I needed to change my medication and also see a different psychiatrist. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t working or I was failing myself; more so that I was discovering how i really ‘ticked’ and what I do or don’t need in my life.
What I have learnt, and am still learning, from this experience are the following:
- It is ok to ask for help;
- Depression isn’t your fault;
- Getting help doesn’t always mean taking antidepressants; You’re likely to be judging yourself more than anyone else who matters does; There’s not an easy or quick fix – you may need to try different treatment plans or combinations – but you WILL feel like you again; The mum you see in the park, at the shops, in the doctors may look ‘together’ but don’t assume that – she may be struggling too – smile from a stranger goes a long way; and
- As clichéd as it sounds you will come out the other end a stronger individual.
Being a mum is hard, but it shouldn’t be so hard that the bad outweighs the good. There is help out there; you just need to take that first step.