“You’re so much stronger now”, is the phrase I hear the most now. It is the most frustrating compliment as I was strongest when I was most unwell. When I didn’t have the support, when I wasn’t on medication. That’s when I was at my strongest, when I was waking up and feeling like I was at the bottom of a black hole, when I felt numb and removed from life, when I felt a shadow of my old self, when I looked at photos of myself and didn’t recognise who that was. When I felt like this I still got out of bed, put on a smile, hosted visitors coming to meet the baby, made sure my toddler have as ‘normal’ a day as possible and my baby was nurtured and well looked after. That took strength, so much strength. Whereas now, I use less energy, life is SO much easier, I am not ‘stronger’ I am managing my post-natal depression (PND) and post-natal anxiety (PNA) so it is no longer consuming my life. I am on the road to recovery, I am enjoying life again and able to fully engage and drown in the love I have for my children whilst making some gorgeous memories.
I knew I needed help on the third day of baby crying for food, I chose to attempt to breastfeed as I couldn’t with my first child. She was latching on, sucking, I had minimal discomfort, but still, she was screaming for food. Everything I read said it was normal to take up to 6 weeks to establish a good feeding routine, knowing this, it wasn’t until the third day when I decided, no my baby is starving we have to get formula. She gulped the bottle down and was sound asleep moments later. But in those days, alone with my baby, trying to latch her on, I sunk to a terrible all-time low, I felt like a failure. A terrible Mum. Intrusive thoughts would creep in about my baby’s welfare, that I had no control over, I would worry she was going to die soon or I was going to die soon and not be able to raise her or my other daughter. I did not choose to think about these thoughts, they just crept in without my consent. When my husband returned with my toddler I wept and explained the thoughts I had been having. I knew I was not well, not even my toddler could lift the sadness. That in itself was heartbreaking, to not be able to feel that overwhelming sense of joy when looking at my daughter. Now the PND and PNA are managed I can enjoy again, something I will never take it for granted.
When I wasn’t well I never thought I would get to where I am today, so if you are going through the same please feel reassured it WILL get better, YOU will get better. Just give it time, get through each day and eventually, you’ll start to feel like your old self again.
So, how did I get to this point, well, it was a mixture of things. Going to my G.P urgently when I hit rock bottom was the best thing I did. My Doctor was reassuring and due to her not being a family member or friend I felt like I could be honest. She was amazing, she told me I would get better (I didn’t believe her at the time and I bet you are probably reading this thinking exactly the same!) She then prescribed me some antidepressants, referred me to various support and gave me reading around PND and PNA. She booked keep in touch appointments for me to go back and ensure the medication was starting to work. So, if you haven’t done so already, go to your G.P, be honest with them, they will help, they will not judge, remember it is like any other illness they will want to support you to treat you and help you recover. After my appointment, I was honest to my close family and friends, I did not go into detail about what I was feeling as I hadn’t come to terms with it, I just said I have PND and PNA so I may not seem myself at the moment, please be patient with me, I am getting help and I want to fight this. Two of my friends responded by opening up about their struggles, how they are worried they may have PND. Since I spoke to them they have both gone to their GP and now have the support they need. I am hoping sharing my story to a larger audience of Mums will encourage them to do the same. Even if it helps just one of you, that’s something!
Talking honestly to my Husband, Mum, family and friends when I needed it was a huge relief. However, some were concerned about the anti-depressants due to the stigma around taking them. Once I explained why I have been prescribed them and what the medication does they understood and was pleased I was taking them. If someone queries your choice of treatment just remember they are doing it out of love. Take a deep breath and explain in a way that suits you that you are simply getting the help you need, whether that be through taking medication or having other support such as, therapy.
Besides the necessary medication and talking to loved ones, I started something just for me. Baking. I bought various ingredients to have a basic stock and every other day I spend around an hour baking and experimenting with flavours and techniques, it is bliss. My mind is completely occupied by the baking, it is being used creatively, it is focused on one task, I have no depressive thoughts in this time. It is an escape. It also has the bonus of giving me a huge sense of joy and achievement when my toddler enjoys the things I have made. It has also allowed me more precious time with her as she has ‘helped’ with some bakes! If you haven’t already got a hobby or something just for you, then do something, bake, knit, run, go swimming, colour, draw, write, paint, anything that occupies your mind creatively. It will help. Alongside having the most supportive Husband, Mum, Dad, Sisters and Friends, I owe my recovery to baking. If I won the lottery tomorrow I would start a small café that would sell my bakes and run free classes to new Mums on how to bake. That’s how much it has helped me, I have so much faith it can help others. Please give it a go, or something else creative!
So, what’s next for me? Once I have mastered a few more baking techniques I am going to start a blog and share simple recipes others can follow even when busy with babies and toddlers! I want to provide escapism for others whether they are suffering from a mental illness or not. I hope reading about my journey with PND and PNA has made you realise you are not alone, it is NOT your fault, you WILL get better, just be kinder to yourself, you are awesome, an amazing Mum, your children and family love you so please just give yourself time.