And then I said it. “I think I have postnatal depression.”
The words hung heavy in the air between my husband and I. They just tumbled out of my mouth. Neither of us knew what to say next.
It’s not the first time that I have dealt with postnatal depression, or depression for that matter. However. each time. it creeps up on me. It always catches me off guard.
A few instances occur where I shock or disappoint myself, strange, insecure thoughts start to haunt me, anxiety starts to clench at my chest, until I have so many bad days that I realise it’s deeper set than something I can just shake off. The hardest part is often acknowledging it, and then talking about it. I found sharing it was a big step towards accepting it myself. But then came that common question, “Why do you feel depressed?” It doesn’t make sense. That’s the hardest part. You try to make sense of it but you just can’t. You want to lock your head in you hands and feel in control. But you’re swerving on ice with no breaks.
Unfortunately, loving your kids and your family more than life just doesn’t fix it, no matter how much you and others feel it should. The only thing that reassures me, is that I have weathered this storm before. I went through similar emotions when my daughter started weaning. I’m confident that the cause is my hormones being out of kilter, exasperated by chronic sleep deprivation, and a general lack of self care.
It’s difficult to recover, to build yourself back together. In my personal experience, I have found that there has to be a balance of taking it easy on yourself as well as pushing yourself forwards. The two seem to conflict with one another, but they don’t have to. As is necessary with many health matters, I am taking a multipronged approach to fixing myself.
It’s well known that exercise is a natural mood booster. However, the idea of an exercise class makes my anxiety levels soar even higher. When I feel low, I simply want to hibernate. New situations usually excite me, but at my lowest, they intimidate me. That doesn’t stop me from walking though. It’s so easy to start and gradually work your way up. If you’re able to catch a break, there’s nothing more therapeutic than a hike up the Med Steps. You can almost feel your worries being left behind you, as you breathe in the fresh air and take in the dazzling views, disconnected from the hubbub of busy urban life down below. Or more importantly, out of ear shot from cries and grumbling.
For now, just long walks pushing the buggy buy me some quiet time to reflect and to escape. The more I take these excursions, the more I feel ready to join a class.
Another thing I’m doing is eating well. When you’re having a rough time as a mum, many tell you to enjoy a glass of wine, eat some chocolate or cake – perhaps all three. In moderation, all of these can help. However, moderation and I are not closely acquainted. If I have one biscuit, I eat the whole packet. So I’ve had to take a different approach to avoid emotional eating which brings about other destructive thoughts.
As with exercise and mental health, there is no shame in looking for professional help with nutritional health too. Getting in control of how you eat can do so much to boost your confidence and happiness. My energy levels have increased which helps me to deal with the limited sleep I get.
Talking of sleep, while there are limited opportunities to nap – wherever they are available, I have been taking them. Before bed, I drink a herbal tea, sometimes I even treat myself to a bath and then I banish my phone until the morning and do my best to avoid pointlessly worrying. A spa day may be a distant fantasy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create the (perhaps short-lived) moments of peace at home.
The most important thing however, is looking for emotional support. Whether you choose to see your GP, your health visitor, a counsellor or simply talk with your partner or a close friend – it is essential that you talk to someone.
Elaine Caetano, Counsellor and Psychotherapist, runs a postnatal depression and anxiety support group in conjunction with local charity BabySTEPPs. I asked her about postnatal depression and she shared this;
“All emotions are natural and have their due place. What can lead to ill-health is how we manage them. Having children is a massive life changing experience which involves loss (of independence, identity, control) and often trauma for women. Significant loss brings about feelings of grief and if these are suppressed or repressed as opposed to acknowledged and processed in awareness, then symptoms will emerge.
It is normal to feel anxious when one suddenly becomes responsible for a whole new living being, but this doesn’t mean that it’s easy to live with.
In addition, although the biochemical changes mothers undergo are natural, they are often a challenge to sanity. There is no need for shame in any emotion that may arise out of any aspect of the experience of pregnancy or motherhood, although it can be difficult when we are pressured to feel only happiness, joy and gratitude. It’s also hard for mothers to focus on self-care when fulfilling such a demanding role of care-giver but it is important to take time out for yourself.”
Admitting it was the first step for me, and funnily enough, with every day that has followed, it has felt like less and less of a burden. No one case of PND is the same, what works for me might not work for you but there is one thing I know for certain; never suffer in silence.