Experience: Coping With Postnatal Depression / Illness

I'm so sorry I haven't written much lately, the reason for this is the title of this post - postnatal depression.  I thought I had escaped getting it as Eric was a year old (after your baby reaches the age of 1 it's alot less common), and I was really glad, as I had been worried would get depressed as it's more common if you've had depressive episodes or mental illness in your life before.  I had really bad 'baby blues' for the first week after Eric was born, where I felt sick, panicky and weird, but it got better as my hormones adjusted and I got used to looking after a new baby.  But unfortunately, at the beginning of September, when Eric was nearly 14 months old I was diagnosed with PND, and life became extremely hard.  I want to write about it to offer hope to anyone else who is feeling the same way.

So first of all the symptoms:

  • I couldn't eat.  I really had absolutely no appetite at all.  I had to force feed myself and it was so stressful, and I felt sick.  Unfortunately when you're not eating enough your blood sugar drops, which can make you feel sick and anxious, so it was a vicious circle.
  • I felt really depressed.  I wouldn't normally use words like 'depressed' as I think it's such a strong word and doesn't describe my normal day-to-day feelings, I would normally say I was feeling a bit 'down' if I was having a bad day, so to use the word 'depressed' shows how low I was feeling.
  •  I had no interest in doing things I usually enjoy.  I couldn't watch TV, I didn't enjoy going shopping (and I'm normally a total shopaholic), I didn't want to go out, or see people (but I didn't want to be alone either!), I didn't want to read or look on the internet, I didn't want to bake or cook (which is unlike me because I'm quite a greedy foodie!) and I found it hard to feel close to and relate to Eric.
  • I felt lonely.
  • I felt panicky and anxious.
  • It felt like I couldn't cope with life, my feelings, or looking after Eric.  I felt like I was just going through the motions and doing absolutely basic baby care...
  • ...which made me feel overwhelmed with guilt for not doing enough for Eric and being the Mum he deserves.
  • I felt like everything was hopeless.
  • I would have awful thoughts about terrible things happening to Eric.
  • I either couldn't sleep until 1am or was desperate to go to sleep at 8pm so I didn't have to feel so bad any more, and would wake up at 2am and then 4am or 5am shaking, with my heart racing and not be able to go back to sleep.
Alex had gone to Australia for work and I think the PND was triggered by a misunderstanding with a friend that really upset me, and I lost my confidence, which combined with some things I had been worried about (issues with my relationship and about where to live and what to do with my life) completely knocked me for six.  I went home to stay with my parents for a week to get some support, and started feeling a bit better, but I had to come back to Bristol for work.  I got back and was in floods of tears, I didn't want to be there at all, and the next day was really bad.  I felt like I was going completely mad and I just couldn't do it anymore, so I desperately tried to get help. 

That day I rang APNI (the Association for Postnatal Illness), my health visitor and my local vicar from church.  I also rang a helpline called No Panic who weren't so helpful for me personally, but it was reassuring knowing they were there.   APNI were so kind on the phone, and they said the first thing I needed to do was see the doctor, then we could take it from there after I had a diagnosis.  My health visitor was nice, tried to reassure me and made me a doctors appointment for  the next day.  I was actually quite embarrassed to ring our local vicar Michael, as he is an older man and I thought he wouldn't understand, but he was absolutely amazing.  He was so calm, friendly and supportive, and he and his wife came round that very afternoon to talk to me.  They also said a prayer and I was so grateful.  I believe in God and so started trying to put my trust in him to support me and get me through feeling so bad.  I also rang my acupuncturist Charlotte who came round that evening to give me a treatment and talk to me, she is always amazing and helpful.  I also asked my Facebook mummy friends for any advice and help.

I saw the doctor the next morning who asked lots of questions and diagnosed PND.  He wanted to put me on antidepressants, and I have to admit I was not keen at all and asked him lots of questions about how they work etc. The ones he prescribed (Sertraline, an SSRI) work by increasing the amount of serotonin available for re-uptake in your brain.  They take about 2 weeks to start working, and can increase feelings of panic and anxiety until they start to work.  I got the prescription and got the drugs from the chemist, but didn't actually start taking them.  I am not really a fan of using conventional medicine apart from as a very last resort, and am also terrified of trying new medicines (especially something that affects your mind or brain!) after a bad drug experience in the past.  It was helpful to me to know I had them in the bathroom cabinet though, just in case.  The doctor arranged to see me in 2 weeks time.  I felt like such a failure.  I talked to other friends who had taken antidepressant medication before, and described it that "If you were deficient in iron and needed an iron tablet, you would take it until your body's back to normal.  It's just the same, your brain is just not making enough serotonin right now and the medication can adjust that in your body until you're back to normal" It did really help to think of it like that, but in the end I decided medication wasn't for me, partly because if/when I did start to feel better I would think it was because of the medication and not because of me, and then I wouldn't want to stop taking it. 

I had acupuncture four nights that week, and it really helped feeling supported by Charlotte. Acupuncture is quite expensive, but it's worth it.  I normally pay £25 per hour, and I was worried about the cost, but I am so fortunate that Alex said he would pay and Charlotte said she would invoice me for the sessions after I had started to feel better to save me from worrying about it now.  She also reduced the cost as I was having such frequent sessions.  I can't recommend acupuncture enough for literally any problem or ailment, it just really works, and believe me I'd tell you if it didn't as I was quite sceptical when I started having acupuncture.  I was also wetting my pants during my first session 3 years ago as I was sooooo scared of the needles, but they really are fine! 

I kept having regular acupuncture, about 3 or 4 times a week for the next few weeks, and I also arranged a visit from the health visitor to come and chat to me at home.  One of the things the acupuncture helped with was my appetite and feeling worried about food, so that gradually got back to normal and I was able to eat properly again.  I was feeling worse on days when I was trapped in the house with nothing to do so I tried to keep quite busy and make sure I got out of the house and did something every day, and saw lots of friends.  Weekends and evenings were the worst.  I was alone and all my friends with babies spend that time with their husbands and partners, and I didn't like to ask friends without babies who work as I know how precious evenings and weekends are when you only get those two days off! But I saw Eric's godfather Brett and his girlfriend Charlotte two Saturdays in a row, which was lovely and I really appreciated them spending their time off with us.  They brought me a Mummy Care Package with chocolate, pamper products, magazines etc. which was soooooo nice, and the next week we went to a soft play which was really fun.  My mummy friend Helen came round for a curry night once the babies were in bed one evening, which was great.  It helped me starting to feel some enjoyment in life again.  I rang the local Sure Start Children's Centre and explained the situation, and they made us 'high priority' and enrolled us on a PEEPS (early education for babies through play) group straight away, which was once a week, and told us when the drop in sessions were.  We we went to singing every Tuesday and tried to see people Tuesday afternoon, arranged seeing mummy friends on a Wednesday morning, saw Alex's mum Wednesday afternoon and I look after my friend's child (work) on Monday and Friday, so Alex's mum popped in sometimes on those days to see us too. Thursdays were hard as Eric is at nursery on that day and I felt really lonely and didn't want to be apart from him, but I saw my mummy friend Helen one week and made myself get on and do the housework in the morning then go out in the afternoon as normal the other weeks.  Sunday school started up again on Sunday mornings after the summer holidays which was a huge help as they are the loveliest people I know.  Eric particularly likes two of the older girls there who are 12, and they pick him up and look after him and play with him so I get a tiny break! I saw Hayley the health visitor a couple of times and she gave me some more numbers to ring if I needed to and was supportive.  She made me feel more normal and said how common PND was, and helped me feel less guilty.  She advised me to have a proper chat with Alex once he got home about things that were worrying me. 

I think one of the things that has helped me most was being able to talk about the PND when I wanted to, and not talk about it when I didn't want to.  Sometimes I needed to analyse my feelings and talk them through with people and get their perspective, especially with Charlotte and Alex, and sometimes I needed to just be out and about, focussing on other things.  It helped me to chat to friends about their problems and their lives, to get me 'out of my head'.  It helped talking to my friend Katie and seeing she was worried about the same things in life as me, our careers and relationships etc., and we walked past a bus stop that someone had graffiti-ed on "Don't worry baby, everything will be alright" which helped! My friends really bolstered my confidence by telling me how well I was doing etc. I talked to Alex every day about how I was feeling and I think it got quite frustrating for him as he just wanted to be able to fix it and make it better for me and to be there, but he was stuck in Australia, so I tried to explain to him that I just needed to talk to him about how I was feeling and have his reassurance that it would get better and that he loved me.  I talked LOTS to Charlotte and she gave me some really useful bits of advice, such as that it's a journey that I was going through, rather than something I was stuck in, that "you can never stand in the same river twice" (as the water in the river is always flowing and changing, so it's never the same even if you're in exactly the same spot - so even if you feel you're in the same situation, your experience and things you've gone through mean you've grown and you can't go backwards) and that getting through the experience would make me a stronger person.  She helped me see how things I had been worrying about were really affecting me and that I had to deal with them.  My best friend Rachael also told me an amazing quote: "God never puts more on us than we can bear", which was so comforting and something I have thought about lots.  

I've gradually reduced my acupuncture sessions to once a week, and Alex got back from Australia and we had some really good conversations and made decisions about the future which took a weight off my mind, we decided where to live and talked about his job and other things that were worrying me.  Our relationship's so much better and that makes me very happy.  The very dark days got less dark, and bad days became fewer and further between, and now I feel so much more normal.  I'm closer to Eric again and we have fun, and I have alot more good days than bad.  I don't really think I would say I have PND anymore.  I am wary of having bad days, but I know how to deal with them now (talk in depth about my feelings, book an acupuncture appointment, pray and keep busy!) I was worried about Alex going back to Australia again but I'm really proud of how I've coped so far.

It's been quite hard to write this, and I hope it hasn't been boring, but if I can help just one person who is suffering from PND or any other type of depression to feel more hopeful for the future then it's worth it to me! There IS hope and you WILL get better, reach out to people, it might just take a bit of time.