UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL. POST-NATAL DEPRESSION.
Knowledge is sometimes a hard-won thing. Having had not one, not two, but three bouts of severe PND I feel qualified to say this. I’ve written a blog about my own personal experiences, but if you’re after my pearls of wisdom (hmmm) skip straight to the end. That’s where the good stuff is…
Prior to having children my impressions of post-natal depression were that you’d feel a bit blue, cry often, and feel a bit out of sorts. Oh naïve, innocent me. My experience couldn’t have been more different. I was far too wired to cry, far too anxious to feel anything like myself (I feel like I checked out of my life for a good year), and I was completely and utterly terrified. I have a giant black hole where my memories should be, and all I can really remember with any clarity is feeling like I had been plugged into the mains electricity socket; I had so much adrenaline running through me that my arms would physically shake.
I also didn’t expect it to arrive six weeks’ post-partum, like a bolt out of the blue. I went to bed as normal, but instead of being able to fall asleep great waves of adrenaline coursed through me every time I was dropping off. Getting up the next morning I felt demented, having not slept a wink. The pattern repeated itself for the next two nights, by which time I was well and truly away with the fairies. This was when my wonderful mum stepped in, got me a doctor’s appointment, and my treatment began.
Looking back, nearly ten years later, there were signs things weren’t right. It wasn’t completely without warning. I felt very alone when I came back from the hospital. My husband and I were clearly at odds already over how to parent, and what being a parent meant. I decided to treat parenthood like a job and kept myself furiously busy during ‘office hours’, neglecting to listen to my poor body telling me I was exhausted. Slowly I morphed into someone who needed to control all the variables. I followed Gina Ford to the letter. I panicked, genuinely panicked, when the baby didn’t do what he was meant to do at that exact second. I didn’t talk to anyone about how I was feeling, keeping up the pretence that everything was absolutely fine until everything absolutely wasn’t.
Post-natal depression consumed my life for at least a year, and had long lasting repercussions for many years after that. It has changed who I am fundamentally. There were some very, very dark moments. I will never forget the feeling of sheer, absolute panic that was my constant companion for many months. However, I recovered, and have learnt a great deal. I went on to have another baby, and the same thing happened again. A third baby and a third bout of post-natal depression, equally savage, reared its head. I’m pregnant with number four right now and I’m resigned to it. I’d love to think it won’t happen, but chances are it will. However, I know I’ll beat it, again, and that I will get better.
If you’re pregnant or post-natal and worried about PND here’s my hard won wisdom:
1. Listen to your body and your mind. Try not to disconnect. It’s an overwhelming time. Be honest with yourself and check in that you’re doing ok. Denial always come back to bite you. Talk to your partner, your family, your friends. Don’t bottle it up.
2. As soon as you feel like things might be sliding away from you get some help. Go and talk to your doctor. Warning signs might be sleep, food, low mood, lack of bonding with your baby. Anti-depressants have saved my life on more than one occasion. I found the talking part of therapy immeasurably helpful too.
3. Trust your instincts. Throw those baby books away. You’ve got this. The baby has a mind of its own. He’ll do what he wants, you’re there for the ride.
4. Try not to compare. Not babies, sleep, food, jean sizes. You’re doing the best you can and it’s bloody marvellous.
5. Be kind to yourself. Put your feet up whenever you can. Nothing needs to be done right now except to cuddle your baby. The washing, housework, all that crap can wait. Food can be delivered for a very good reason. Don’t put pressure on yourself.
6. Get some fresh air every day. Without fail. It helps.
7. Gut health and mental health are, in my opinion, intrinsically linked. My digestive tract has never been a strength, it’s something I’ve battled with my entire life. Read up around this topic and get some professional advice.
8. Exercise. This links in with getting outside. It does wondrous things for your self-esteem and helps you feel more like the ‘old you’.
9. Drink lots of water and much less booze. Booze is a temporary prop and, although it pains me to say it, is not your friend right now.
10. Take every day one day at a time. Looking into the future can be overwhelming. Hold on tight to right now and try not to look forwards or back (unless it’s to congratulate yourself on how far you’ve come).
11. No matter how much you might not want to, try to go out and see people occasionally. Not all the time (ref. being kind to yourself and taking it easy!) but sometimes. You’ll feel better for it afterwards. There were times when running a bath seemed like a Herculean task, and if the prospect of chatting seems overwhelming go for a neutral option and see something – a show, a movie, an exhibition, and then you’ve got something to focus on.
12. I found too much of anything difficult to cope with – bright lights, loud noise, big parties or events etc. Basically overstimulation. Try to avoid situations that you know will make you uncomfortable. Even if you think you may cause offence by not attending don’t put yourself through it. Be honest with your host and kind to yourself.