Today marks the end of the first ever Pre & Post Natal Depression Awareness Week #PNDAW16 run by PANDAS (the UK’s leading pre and post natal depression charity). In light of this, I wanted to share my story of perinatal mental health.
My experience may be slightly unusual as I have suffered from depression for almost 17 years; most of my adult life.
At times, my mental health has been terrible. At other times it has been under control.
During those 17 years I have had many relapses and depressive episodes. My depression is classed as long-term and it is highly likely that I will have to take antidepressants for the rest of my life.
As a result of this, becoming a mother was never going to be easy. And there was a high risk that I would suffer from a perinatal mental health problem at some point.
Both pregnancies were fraught with worry. And both Mr H and I were on the lookout for the signs that my mental health was deteriorating.
With Little Miss H I was lucky.
But with Little Mister H I suffered from bad anxiety which built as the pregnancy progressed. This stress led to my mood being very low for most of the 9 months.
I was fortunate because I am on antidepressants and I was being monitored. Help was available when I needed it. And 4 days after Little Mister H was born I was given a psychiatric assessment.
It was a horrible experience.
My milk was coming in. I was exhausted. I’d just given birth and desperately wanted to be at home with my newborn baby.
But there I was reliving the most traumatic moments of my life. Describing them in great detail and pouring over how I had felt at the time.
Despite the hideousness of that hour and a half, it was worthwhile. Because I have now been seen by the mental health team where I live.
I was discharged but I can go back if I need help. I know that all I have to do is make a phone call and I will be seen the same day.
Perinatal mental health – It’s okay not to be okay
It may seem counter-intuitive but my mental health problems have actually given me an advantage in this situation.
I am already on antidepressants. I have already had Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and can access those tools.
My history means that when I tell a medical professional I don’t feel well they will listen and I will not be put on a 6 month waiting list.
And I know that it is okay not to be okay.
We live in a world of social media. We are bombarded by photographs of our friend’s and families lives. Lives that look perfect.
Everyone smiles. All the children are dressed in Baby GAP and look immaculate. Houses are clean and tidy and look like a cover of Ideal Homes.
And we all know that one woman who seems to have motherhood completely sussed. She is the perfect mother, wife, domestic goddess, blogger, vlogger, photographer and is also able to hold down a full time job as CEO of a global company.
You name it. She does it. And she does it perfectly.
How can we compete?
We can’t compete and this makes us we feel inadequate.
We feel exhausted. As we’ve been awake all night with a toddler who won’t sleep unless they have their favourite toy … a cup of milk … a cup of water … to pee on the potty … a different pair of PJs on … no PJs on … the night light to show green stars …no, blue stars…no, green stars. All this while you have been nursing your 3 month old who is going through sleep regression hell.
We feel a failure because our house does not look like a showroom. Instead, there are stains from a potty training toddler and a sickly baby all over the sofa and the living room looks like a graveyard for unloved toys and the tat from far too many Kinder Eggs.
We feel fat and ugly because we can’t shift the baby weight. And a balanced diet consists of eating the raisins the toddler dropped on the floor for breakfast and a packet of Oreo biscuits for lunch.
We feel frumpy and unattractive because our yummy mummy wardrobe consists of the same leggings and t-shirts that we wore throughout pregnancy. As they are the only comfortable clothes that we own. And this season’s must have accessory is the milk encrusted muslin that is permanently attached to our shoulder.
But you know what?
It is okay to feel this way.
It is okay not to be okay.
You may be exhausted but you are not a failure or fat or ugly or frumpy or unattractive. You are a parent and that is a bloody hard job.
And so it is okay to not be okay.
It is okay to be imperfect and to have no idea how to look after a baby with colic.
It is okay to wonder why you feel so miserable when the child you have yearned for is in your arms.
And it is okay to look at that child and to not know what you feel.
You are not a terrible person for feeling this way.
But you may need to talk to someone who can help you feel better.
Perinatal mental health problems can take many forms. And they can even affect the men in our lives.
It is important to remember that everyone is different and not everyone with the same condition will feel the same way. However, if any of the symptoms in the graphics below are familiar to you then please do get help. Talk to your GP, midwife or health visitor.
Or you could phone the PANDAS helpline on 0843 28 98 401. It is open everyday from 09.00 to 20.00 and it is run by trained volunteers who will be happy to chat to you and point you to the help you need.
I know how terrifying it is to feel this way. You feel alone and out of control. Terrified of your own mind and emotions. Scared that you are a terrible mother.
But you don’t have to go through this alone. There are people who can help.
Be brave, reach out and someone will take your hand.
“If you would like to donate to PANDAS (Pre & Post Natal Depression Advice and Support) to help them support sufferers of perinatal mental illnesses please text PANDAS £3, £5 or £10 to 70660 or visit their website for further information and support. (Texts cost donation amount plus network charge. PANDAS Foundation receives 100% of your donation. Obtain bill payer’s permission. Customer care 01691 664275 Charity No 1149485.)”