A couple of weeks ago our wonderful colleague, Claire, shared this amazing post on Facebook. She has given us permission to share her story with you here it the hope that it will contribute to breaking the stigma surrounding antenatal and postnatal mental illness.
Warning long post! #breakthestigma #pnd #postnatalanxiety #teammummas (feel free to share if you know someone this may help)
This popped up on my news feed today from 5 years ago and it got me thinking. You may all see a happy mother of a tiny baby with a top covered in baby vomit and a grin on her face.
What I see is completely different. I see a mother who is holding and cuddling her baby as her crippling anxiety meant that she couldn’t think of what else to do. She would wander form room to room only vaguely aware of where she was and what she was doing as her mind was elsewhere, obsessing about her own health, convinced that at any minute that she was about to drop dead and leave her beautiful children motherless.
That mother is me and I have struggled with anxiety since the day my last baby was born (longer if I am completely honest). When people saw me with my baby, continuing with life, getting the kids to school etc they saw what you saw in the picture. But if you look deeper you can see a deadness in my eyes, a disconnection from my baby, from my children, from the world. I would spend hours sitting in the GP surgery convinced another lump was cancerous, another headache was a stroke or chest pain was a heart attack. Why wouldn’t I die now? I am so lucky to have 3 beautiful children, my luck will surely run out soon, right? I felt like I was watching my life through someone else’s eyes.
Every time my baby smiled I thought ‘that’s nice’ but felt nothing, every giggle, every drool, every cuddle I was denied that joy. I wanted a quick fix, someone to make it better, a wave of a magic wand but it never came. I kept hearing this magic 6 months mentioned a lot, but 6 months turned into a year that turned into 2. It did get easier at times but then I would be right back where I started from again. I lost a lot (apart form weight, I gained 3 stone due to comfort eating!) including my job. My anxiety would simply not let me continue to care for mothers and babies how I wanted to do and I would obsess about every case often waking in the night and phoning the hospital to check on my patients. I have never felt so lost or out of control in my whole life.
My poor husband was also battling his own worries as well as holding together a job, taking care of me and my children, I feel eternally grateful for his support and I love him more than ever, he is my rock. He lost his brother tragically 4 months after our baby was born and 6 months after that was hospitalised with meningitis. He used to answer the phone to me several times a day probably dreading what state he would find me in, having to try and convince me yet again that I wasn’t dying. I used to ask him almost every day how well I was as a percentage and he would say 30%, 50% etc. It helped a little for me to see my recovery and the joy I felt when one day he said 90%!
I always wanted more children but when I mentioned it to my husband maybe a year after our last was born, he simply looked me in the eye and said ‘I cant lose you again’. It was at that point I realised how bad it had been for him, he had lost me and his brother in the space of a few months.
So 5 years on what have I learnt. I have come to terms with the fact that I may never be 100% again. I exercise A LOT and practice mindfulness. I saw a hypnotherapist after about 18 months and I believe that was the beginning of my recovery. I talk to people very openly about my hypochondria, and do you know what, there are a lot of us out there (you know who you are)! This helps me stop beating myself up over it and learn to accept it a bit. I have learnt that doctor google is rubbish and will always conclude you are dying, NEVER GOOGLE, always go to your GP if you are concerned. I realise I may not always be physically well and that I may one day be sick, but worrying about it now will not help me. Worrying about the future just stops your living in the present. I have learnt that people are amazing, to my beautiful colleagues who answered my anxious phone calls at 2am as I had given my self an irregular heart rhythm, thank you so much.
To all the mummy’s out there who are finding it hard, please get help, see your GP and they well help you on the right path. What worked for me will not necessarily work for you. There is no weakness in getting help, taking anti depressants, seeing a counselor etc. There are so many people who want to help you, there is light at the end of the tunnel but sometimes you just need someone to hold your hand and guide you towards it.
1 in 5 women in Surrey suffer with anxiety or depression after having a baby, the more we talk about it the more we break the stigma attached to it. It can happen to anyone at any time.
Please get help if you need to. You are not a bad mother, you are not a bad person and you are not alone. Love and support surrounds you.
#breakythestigma #pnd #postnatalanxiety
Where to find help…
The starting point is to talk to your GP, midwife or health visitor but there are also support groups in the local area. Mummas and Beans runs a session called ‘Mummas support’ which is held at Smithbrook Kilns near Cranleigh.
There are also amazing organisations like the PANDAS foundation that provides support and information via their website and helpline.