I think I knew I had PND from a few weeks after my son (I will call him ‘T’ here) was born. He had been born by emergency C-section and was in SCBU for a couple of weeks. As he was tube-fed and in an incubator, I didn’t have that ‘instant bond’ I’d dreamed of. In fact, I didn’t even see him until he was 12.5 hours old. There was one evening, when he was around three months old and I’d had yet another row with my ex-partner (we didn’t have a very healthy relationship). T just kept crying and crying. He had severe reflux. I thought everything was going wrong because of me; because I wasn’t doing things right or I wasn’t good enough. I contemplated leaving and then something just clicked. Something about how I was feeling made me think this isn’t right, this isn’t real, you’re not well.
The next morning, I rang my GP and asked the receptionist for an appointment. ‘A couple of weeks’ I was told. No, I said, I needed to see someone. I thought I had postnatal depression. To say those words out loud felt like I’d just thrown a grenade into my own mind. An explosion of overwhelming emotions – sadness, fear, disappointment in myself, the fear of disappointing everyone around me, and perhaps, I think, hope. ‘Come in as soon as you can get here, we have a doctor who is specially trained in PND, she will see you straight away.’ Thank god. Initially the antidepressants didn’t work – it took a while to get the right dosage. I ended up on the maximum allowed.
To me, having PND felt like complete numbness combined with waves of crushing emotion: doubt, sadness, fear, failure. Imagine you are walking along the street and something in your brain clicks off. The part that makes you walk. So you stop. How can you carry on when your brain usually just moves your legs? That’s how it felt. When T cried, the part of me that would hear that and register ‘oh he’s crying, I should do something,’ didn’t work. The connections in my brain weren’t there. Eventually, I’d register and stop him crying. I was still a good mum and he was well looked after and perfectly healthy. But I was just a machine; one that sometimes slowed to a stop.
I saw no point in anything, other than him. There was no need to get dressed, why would I need to? No point in eating, what was the reason for eating? It didn’t benefit T in anyway. He didn’t need me to go out, so I stayed in. The fear of disappointing others kept me hidden away. And when I was with others, I still hid myself away, in my mind. I learned that not everyone ‘believes’ in PND. I had to battle against the ‘In my day mums just got on with it’ opinions too, including from people very close to me. That was tough. Even my Health Visitor told me I should just get out more.
In my darkest hour, I contemplated suicide. I can’t remember if it was before or after the time of my PND diagnosis as I’ve blocked it out. I was mentally and physically exhausted. I’d had less than two hours sleep a night for weeks. I honestly didn’t believe I was any good for anyone. I thought he would be better off with others. It wasn’t a big ‘oh i want to die’ situation, I was simply numb. I didn’t feel anything at all, not even sadness. I couldn’t think or feel. I felt like I had come to the end of my time. I changed my mind but I’ll be completely honestly that was only because I couldn’t think of a way to do it that would definitely work, and I thought I’d already disappointed people enough – if I failed at that, too, then I’d have to deal with them knowing what I’d tried to do. The next morning, however, I felt relieved. I didn’t tell anyone.
To some extent the antidepressants did help me, but they seemed to numb all emotion to the point that I couldn’t feel anything, be it depressed or happy. That was hard. It made me not want to take the tablets, but I knew I needed them. Sometimes, when T was at my ex-partner’s, I’d go out with my friends to further numb my feelings. Only one of my friends knew I had PND. My make-up and fake laughter would hide it from everyone else.
After a few months, I met someone on a night out. We got on and he’d sometimes come to see me after he finished work. I’d quickly get dressed, do my makeup, open the curtains etc. I didn’t want him to see me ‘depressed’. After a few weeks, I started to get dressed anyway, ‘just in case’ he came over. I really think that was the start of my journey to getting better.
I’d walk to the shops sometimes, and buy just a couple of things from my list, so I’d have to go to the shops again the next day. Fresh air really helped to blow the cobwebs away. I also found a great Sure Start group where T could play and I could get a hot cup of tea. It was quite often the only time I went out on my own, apart from visiting family. Over time, the man I’d met came over more and more and sometimes we went out. He took it slowly, at my pace, even helping me to host a small party for T’s first birthday. That day, I put my antidepressants in the bin. I continued to fight the battle myself, but being able to experience the highs as well as the lows gave me strength, and hope. (I now look back and wouldn’t advise doing that, always speak to your GP before changing your dosage!)
The man I met is now my husband. And we have two angel babies and a two-year-old daughter together. My PND didn’t return the second time. T is now 9, and still my hero.
My advice to anyone who thinks they might have PND, is just tell someone. A friend, neighbour, health visitor, relative, doctors’ receptionist. If you can’t say it, write it down. Walk into your GP surgery with ‘I think I have postnatal depression’ written on a post-it note and pass it to the receptionist. They will help you. And if you don’t think your GP ‘gets it’, then see another. They all have specialisms in different areas. PND is an illness. It’s a mix up in the brain. If you had a broken leg you wouldn’t (and couldn’t), keep going without asking for some help. This is the same. Help is there, you just need to reach out your hand for someone to hold.
Jessie J sang a song and in it is the line ‘it’s ok not to be ok’. That one line to me was massive. Someone telling me that actually, it’s alright not to be alright. Being a mum puts us up there with superhero status. But even superheroes have their off days. Think about it: what you’re doing, bringing a baby into this world is huge. Bigger than anything.
The photo above was taken shortly after my diagnosis. My family and friends love the photo. To me, I look at it and don’t recognise the person looking back. My smile was hiding so much pain. I still feel guilty. Especially now I have my daughter and see what I missed out on. I don’t remember T crawling for example, I don’t remember very much at all from his first year. I can’t fill in those missing pieces and sometimes I feel like he missed out on a year of love, although I know that isn’t true. I hope I have made up for it now. I’d be lost without him. He saved me from myself.