Welcome to the second edition of the series “What is it really like?“, which explores issues connected with motherhood which are often not talked about openly enough and/or are not fully understood by many.
The first edition, What is it really like to be a single mum; is now followed by a subject which, although affecting so many mothers, is still not wholly understood by many – Post-Natal Depression. Affecting around 1 in 10 women, the effects of Post-Natal Depression can be distressing, and often debilitating, adding to the already overwhelming experience that becoming a mother can be and impacting not only on the mother suffering from it, but also those around her.
Have you ever wondered what it’s really like to be a mum and suffer from Post-Natal Depression? I certainly have, and so very kindly mum of two Elanor has agree to be interviewed for this edition…
When did you realise you were suffering from Post-Natal Depression?
The realisation gradually crept up on me when my son was between 6-8 weeks old. I realised that I wasn’t feeling quite myself. I was having disturbing thoughts about ending my life or running away from the current situation. I was crying a lot and having severe mood swings. My emotions were all over the place and I start suffering from regular panic attacks and anxiety which I have never had before. Physically I was achey, felt sick and felt totally drained of energy. Not just tired but the most exhausted I have ever felt. I suspected it was Post-Natal Depression so did some research on the internet. The more I read the more convinced I was that I was suffering from Post–Natal Depression.
How did the realisation make you feel?
If I’m being totally honest, I felt embarrassed and ashamed of how I was feeling. We had been through so much and were lucky to have a healthy baby boy. This was supposed to be a happy time. There was so much I should be thankful for. But here I was feeling the lowest I had ever felt in my life. I also felt confused and worried. I knew nothing about this illness as I had never encountered it before. I was very apprehensive about starting to take the antidepressants that I had been prescribed. I wondered if I really needed them….
What do you think was the trigger for your Post-Natal Depression?
During my first trip to the doctor we discussed my son’s birth. It has been described by medical staff as being ‘traumatic’ Where as I found it quite shocking I didn’t feel at all ‘traumatised’ by the events of that day.
Eleven months after my diagnosis I started to have Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. After a lot of talking we realised that my depression had been triggered by a substantial bleed that I had had at 27 weeks of pregnancy. When discussing this bleed and how it made me feel I totally broke down. It was the shock and worry that I might be losing the baby at 27 weeks that triggered the Post-Natal Depression. This makes so much sense to me and since this realisation I have felt such great relief and my general mood has greatly improved. It’s as if I now have a starting point to move forward from.
Did you ever have any concerns that you might suffered from Post-Natal Depression prior to this?
Even though I have had one child already I never suffered from Post-Natal Depression following her birth. I didn’t have any strong symptoms of depression following the 27 week bleed either. I think that I was so focused on looking after my daughter and trying to carry my son for as long as possible that I just stored the feelings of fear and worry away. This all contributed to getting Post-Natal Depression after his premature birth.
Can you explain what it is like to have Post-Natal Depression and how it affects your day to day life?
I would say that having Post-Natal Depression is like carrying a very heavy invisible bag around with you and wading through thigh deep mud all day every day. It wears you down and makes you feel physically and mentally exhausted. I constantly felt like I was at breaking point. But breaking down was not an option.
Post-Natal Depression is emotionally and physically hard, it not only affects you but your friends and family as well. This for me led to lots of feelings of guilt for what I was putting my loved ones through. For me having Post-Natal Depression greatly affected me socially, I didn’t want to spend time with anybody or large groups of people. I found being around others so tiring as I put on an act that everything was ok. I told very few people that I had been diagnosed as I was too tired to deal with the questions and conversations that might follow.
How do you manage your Post-Natal Depression?
I am managing my Post-Natal Depression with antidepressants. It took until my third try to get the ones that suited me best and since finding these I feel as though a fog has been lifted. Everything seems clearer and I have been able to start dealing with thoughts and feelings in a more productive way to aid my recovery. I also received talking therapy over the phone for a few months followed by weekly face to face Cognitive Behaviour Therapy sessions. I have found the sessions so helpful and feel I have made incredible progress since starting them.
I also did a lot of research into ways of helping myself. I try to get a bit of fresh air and exercise each day, I eat healthily and try to make time for myself to do hobbies and relax. In the early days I also had a few sessions of acupuncture. This worked mainly on healing my body and boosting my energy. These aren’t always easy to do with two little ones but even just an uninterrupted hour in the garden does me the world of good.
How does living with Post-Natal Depression affect your parenting?
I think my parenting style with Mr A is very different to how I was with Missy B. Whether that is because of the Post-Natal depression or down to other factors I’ll never know. It may be because he was premature and so poorly that I was very over protective of him to begin with. This may also be why I had so little confidence in making any decisions regarding Mr A. It could be that it because he is a second child or that he is a boy with a totally different personality to Missy B.
I have made such an effort to not let my Post-Natal Depression affect the way I was dealing with the children that I think in some ways it has made me a better parent. I have become a lot more aware of myself and the impression I am making on them. I am very aware of how I speak and act around them as I notice that my mood has a direct effect on the way they behave.
What is the hardest/most frustrating thing about living with Post-Natal Depression?
The hardest thing for me is how slow the recovery has been. When I was first diagnosed I thought I would be better in a few months, but here we are a year down the line and I’m only just starting to feel an improvement.
How open are you about sharing the fact that you live with Post-Natal Depression?
To begin with I only told close family and friends. The reason for this is I had enough to deal with without having lots of questions to answer. I was still dealing with the diagnosis myself so wasn’t ready to talk back then.
However, about two months ago I started a blog to record my journey with Post-Natal Depression. I did this so that I could process and deal with my thoughts and feelings. Another important reason for starting my blog was to help others with Post-Natal Depression. If they knew they weren’t the only ones going through it they may feel less lonely and isolated. I also wanted to raise awareness of the illness and try to start breaking down the stigma that surrounds it.
Do you think that PND is adequately understood these days and what are people’s reactions to Post-Natal Depression in this modern day and age?
From my experience I don’t think there is enough understanding of the illness, mainly because it isn’t talked about enough. I think that if someone has suffered or know someone who has then they will have a greater understanding of the illness. Even some of the Doctors I have seen seem to have very little idea of how debilitating it can be. I have had mixed reactions to my diagnosis, some people are really understanding and want to chat about it. Others seemed quite daunted by it; they don’t really comment and seem awkward around me.
Do you foresee recovery in the near future?
Most definitely. Over the past few months I have been gradually feeling more and more positive. My panic attacks have nearly stopped and I can’t even remember the last time I cried….. The good days outweigh the bad which is a huge relief for me. It feels as though everything fell into place for me. The combinations of starting new antidepressants, therapy and Mr A’s first birthday have all had a positive effect on my mental health. I’m not as tired as I used to be although I’m not actually getting anymore sleep than before. I also think that blogging and connecting with others Post-Natal Depression through social media has been a huge support. I have decided to start reducing my dosage of antidepressants, although this is a very gradual process it’s just one more small step in the right direction.
What advice would you give to a women suffering from or concerned that they may suffer from Post-Natal Depression in the future?
As soon as you suspect you may have Post-Natal Depression, talk to someone. Whether it’s a close friend, family member or Doctor. Having a support network around you is such an important part of recovery. Well it certainly was for me.
Do you suffer from Post-Natal Depression? Do you relate to the above interview? Please do leave a comment and share your thoughts…