When I was pregnant with my first baby I was so optimistic about the future. I was newly married, we had just moved to a new home and I was finally fulfilling my dream of becoming a
parent – I couldn’t wait for the next stage of my life.
Soon after she was born though I spiralled into anxiety and depression. My life had certainly changed but not in the ways I had expected or hoped. I felt devastated.
I started to desperately miss my old carefree days, the responsibility I had now of caring for this precious child was just overwhelming and I didn’t think I could live my life like that anymore. I would cry at the situation I now found myself in, feeling guilty for missing my life before baby but loving her so much I couldn’t imagine living without her. It was a confusing and distressing time.
As time went on I started to adjust to the practical side of parenting and caring for a baby wasn’t as tough, but the mental, emotional side of things continued to decline. As my depression worsened, and my anxiety became so awful that I didn’t leave my house, all I thought about was how hopeless the future seemed and how much I missed the ‘old me’.
The ‘old me’ was happy, optimistic, always out and about doing things. I loved going out with friends, family and life was good. Then I was hit with depression, and crippling anxiety. I also had mild maternal OCD and the routines, and obsessions over safety and health were mentally exhausting. My life had transformed from happiness and hope into worry, fear and anger.
I began to grieve for my old life and wished I could get the old me back. I couldn’t look at old photos, or videos – it was like looking at a different person. I couldn’t even remember what it felt like to live without depression or anxiety.
Eventually I recognised that I had PND and anxiety. I searched and read all kinds of recovery stories trying to find out if I could get the old Sarah back. Could I have a happy life again?
I began treatment and I naively thought I would become better within a few days/weeks. I thought the old me would suddenly break through and I’d be back to my old self in no time. The reality is it takes time, I soon realised recovery is possible but it is a process of small steps, and even the tiny steps get us towards our goal. I kept at it and over time, I started to feel the light breaking through the fog of depression.
Something did start to dawn on me as I began recovering – the old me was gone. That Sarah wasn’t coming back. Being a mother changes a person, whether you experience a maternal mental illness or not. But the depression, the anxiety, it had impacted my life so deeply that it had changed me forever. However – that change isn’t something, I personally feel, is a bad thing. I’ve been determined to find the positives.
Now that I’m recovered I can look back and see the differences. Don’t get me wrong – I was perfectly happy with who I was before PND and wouldn’t wish it on anyone, it stole 3 years of my life, the precious first years with my babies, and I felt such loss and anger at the world for this – it is something I’ve only in the last year managed to let go of and make peace with.
Now I’m recovered – I have the happy, hopeful me back, but I’ve also gained a few more skills and qualities that I didn’t have before. I am much more compassionate and I have learnt not to judge. I now understand how important our mental health is, and that taking care of it is just as important as our physical health. I joined an online network of other sufferers via ‘PND and Me’ #pndhour and because of that I’ve met some amazing people. Many of who I can now call my friends. Also, personally for me, I discovered a passion and interest for mental health,
having experienced it I want to work towards helping others and raising awareness.
Someone recently said to me that by running support groups, doing the work I’m doing and talking out about my experiences I will always have PND and mental illness in my life. I’d never thought of it like that before, but to me it had such a huge impact on me, my family and my entire life that I feel it always would have been in my life anyway.
I felt I needed to use my experience to help others, just as recovery stories had helped me when struggling. In doing so it has helped me to come to terms with what I went through, learn to like the new me, and find some positives in what has been the worst time of my life.