Experiencing a perinatal mental illness affects everyone in different ways, for some it’s like a flick of a switch and for others it’s a gradual decline of their mental health.
There are times in our lives where we have the version of ourselves before an event and a version after. For me there have been two occasions this has happened.
The first was when I was 15, I experienced a family member passing away, it was my first time dealing with the death of a loved one. It was a very complicated time, for some reasons I won’t go into here, but it left me with anxiety about losing those close to me, mainly my parents. I suddenly had a new view on the world, the reality hit that those we love sometimes pass away and this is out of our control. I developed mild OCD, performing rituals, counting and routines in order to ‘protect’ those around me. I also became obsessive about my health. I eventually saw my GP, had some counselling and over time gained control of these symptoms. I felt the version of me before the death of this loved one had a very child like, carefree view on the world, whereas after I had been exposed to some difficult realities which were hard to process.
The second event was becoming a mother.
Everyone changes when they become a parent. It’s inevitable, we suddenly have someone totally dependant on us, to thrive and essentially to live. This was a responsibility I felt weighed heavy on my shoulders. The moment my daughter was placed on my chest the reality hit me. My whole life I dreamt of being a mum, now I was and it terrified me.
There’s a photo of me at this moment and I can see in my eyes I’m overwhelmed. I’m smiling but I know in my mind what I was thinking.
“This is MY baby!?”
“I have to protect her”
“I don’t know what I’m doing”
“I’m not good enough”
I couldn’t get my mind round the last 12 hours of labour. It hadn’t been traumatic in the sense things had gone wrong, a few minor complications/worries occurred but overall it was straightforward. It had been mentally traumatic to me. I felt things hadn’t been fully explained to me at certain points, I felt the entire experience had been very out of my control – I wanted to push and was told I wasn’t allowed which panicked me as I couldn’t resist the urge. There are moments I can’t remember to this day, I can only assume it’s my minds way of blocking them out to protect me maybe.
My daughter was born and it was like a switch had been flicked. I was flooded with anxiety, and I felt numb. I knew I loved her, but I couldn’t believe she was mine. I felt disconnected, and it took some time for it to sink in that she was actually mine. I didn’t want to leave her, even for my shower after labour, or going to the toilet on the ward. I wanted so desperately to keep her safe, it was my job, my responsibility to protect her and I became obsessed with it.
The first 3 days I didn’t sleep, I felt I needed eyes on her all the time, and I didn’t trust anyone but myself. I began hallucinating due to lack of sleep, and my mental health began declining. I worked hard to keep these feelings secret, I didn’t want anyone to think I wasn’t coping, and as the weeks rolled on I became isolated and depression had me in its grips. But the time she was 6 months old I didn’t want to leave the house or leave her side for fear of something happening to her.
I couldn’t believe how much my life, and my mental state had changed. I felt trapped, was this how I would feel for the rest of my days? Had I been sold a lie that motherhood was lovely when in fact I wasn’t enjoying it at all? I loved my baby but not the life that went along with being a parent. I started mourning my old, carefree days.
Eventually I began to realise that maybe this wasn’t how I should be feeling, I typed some of my feelings into Google and up popped the Mind website. Reading through the postnatal depression section, it was as if someone had written the words I couldn’t find. I sobbed, a mixture of relief and fear.
It took me another 6 weeks before I gained the courage to speak to a doctor. Unfortunately the experience wasn’t great, but I was pregnant with my second baby and spoke to my midwife instead. I was referred to my perinatal mental health team and began Therapy.
Becoming unwell was for me was quick. Anxiety was triggered by birth and becoming a mum and was like flicking a switch, this then lead to postnatal depression. For some it’s more gradual and symptoms becomes worse over time. Recovery unfortunately, isn’t a quick process. It takes time, and patience. It’s frustrating and difficult but i promise it’s so worth it, and you can get better.
It’s as if you have a broken puzzle of yourself; therapy, medication, peer support, whatever you need, helps you to pick up the pieces and start putting them all back together again. The picture you see afterwards may not be the same as it was before, but the main thing to remember is you can put the pieces back together and build a positive, happy life.