I have been writing this post in my head for a long time. Now, I’m finally writing it here.
A fresh start.
In a week’s time we are having The Boy with No Name baptised. In contrast to Beaver’s and Godivy’s baptisms, it is a very small affair. Daddy Pig jokes that we pushed the boat out for the girls. And the boy is only getting a dinghy.
But there is a reason I want to keep it small. An actual reason other than the fact we can’t fit everyone in our tiny courtyard garden. And that is because, more than ever, his baptism is a time for reflection. It marks the end of a difficult time.
And the beginning of a new one.
Bless-ed. And Blessed.
When we stand up at the font, I will be grateful to be there. In one piece. With our little, but as it turns out, tough family of five. We’ve come through a tricky nine months. A new baby. Family illness. And my own struggle with post natal depression. Especially that.
I have questioned many times, whether to share this here. Because my blog is supposed to be light-hearted and this is far from it. But then a few women, expecting accidental thirds, wrote to me to ask how I cope because I seem to have my s*** together. And I guess I wanted to say that I don’t.
Some days, I really, really don’t.
‘It was nothing anyone did.’
I’m not ashamed PND happened to me. It was nothing I did.
My hormones were wonky. We had a lot going on. I was on my own with three small kids, through no one’s fault. These unfortunate circumstances were a catalyst for an illness I possibly would have got anyway. Because of the flipping, wonky hormones. Circumstances just forced its hand.
But I was worried about PND defining me. That I wouldn’t be the same, resilient, optimistic person I once was. That I would see myself differently.
That others would see me differently.
Me and PND.
Now I know that I am defined by PND.
But not in the way I feared. But because I am different. In the same way that any person who gets through an illness is. And I am grateful every day, that I know how to find something to be grateful for. Even on the most challenging of days.
(Whilst obviously moaning a great deal too. I still have three kids and a husband who doesn’t remember where the cereal lives. All the tablets and counselling in the world can’t cure that.)
I was lucky. Because I had people looking out for me.
I was fortunate to have a friend so honest that after a series of panic attacks, I could call her and say, ‘Do you think I have post-natal depression?’ and for her to say, ‘Yes.’
I was blessed to have people around who had their own experiences of depression and anxiety. Who understood that it wasn’t ‘just a bad day.’ Who walked me through it. Who told me that I would get through it.
I will be forever grateful to those who did this for me.
My achille’s heels.
Post-natal depression is different for everyone.
But the one common factor is an overwhelming feeling that you just can’t cope. With things that never fathomed you before.
For me, in my bleakest moments, I couldn’t take or pick our children up from school and nursery. Because getting in and out of the car with all three was impossible. In my less bleak moments, I managed it but not without the threat of a panic attack. And whilst I bonded with the baby, I felt incredibly detached from our middle child. I had crippling health anxiety and thought I was going to die. Because I felt so physically unwell.
All of the time.
Going for a swim will not cure PND.
I was lucky to have a lovely doctor who knows me and, more importantly, knows PND. I’ve heard of women whose PND remains undiagnosed and their doctors tell them to go swimming.
The combination of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and anti-depressants gave me my life back. The former taught me skills to manage the anxiety; to live in the moment and challenge unhelpful thoughts and I keep this in the back of my mind every single day. The latter balanced out those darn, wonky hormones and a lot of the physical symptoms. There were marked improvements after a few weeks but actually it’s only in the past month or so that I feel like me again. That others have commented I’m myself again. Nine months later.
Even with help, recovery takes time.
A cat’s lick and tin of beans may be as good as it gets. (And that’s ok.)
Although I still hate the hassle of getting in the car, I don’t think twice about it. I can’t spend enough time with our middle child, she’s blooming hilarious. And I don’t worry about dying anymore (well, no more than the next person anyway).
And when I survive another day with all three kids (and surviving is honestly what we do some days with a cat’s lick and a tin of baked beans), I feel proud of myself. That I can do this. Sort of. With a smile (grimace) and a healthy dose of shouting.
Then there are the times when someone else validates that what I’m doing is hard. That what all of us mums are doing, day in day out, is hard. That it’s not just ok to struggle, it’s par for the course.
Like last week, when I bumped into my dentist and he looked slightly scared as Godivy went in one direction, Beaver plucked The Boy with No Name out of the buggy and I had to decide who to rescue first.
‘It’s quite a handful, isn’t it?’ he said.
‘Yes it is.’
And it is. It really is. But you know what?
Now? I’m handling it.
If you have post-natal depression… or you’re concerned you may do… if you’re worried about someone you know… the only thing I can say is ask for help. It’s hard. But once you do, you’ll be overwhelmed by the support that comes from the most surprising corners and the people who say, ‘I’ve been there. I know.’ The relief that comes from that support is palpable. There’s comprehensive (and useful) information on PND here. And a forum thread here, which helped me identify my symptoms and realise others were going through the same thing. I’m happy (and would encourage) you to share this post, if it will help another mum. Remember, getting help is the first step to getting better.
And you will get better.
Footnote: this is a very personal post about a very sensitive subject. Just one person’s experience of PND. And whilst, naturally, we all have different experiences and opinions, I would ask you not to share any negative reactions here. This blog and the facebook page have always been places for mums to support one another. And for mums to speak out without fear of being judged. This has never been more pertinent than it is for this post. Thank you.