I’ve written this post a thousand times in my head, but last Mind Charity’s Mental Health Awareness Week, it was far too raw to publish. I was scared my family and especially my parents, would worry I was still in the same state. That I was a danger to myself…or worse.
I’ve often written about my Post Natal Depression, so I’m sorry if it’s becoming repetitive. But this time I’d like to explain its darkest side. I recently begun talking about this and, although no one seemed to judge me, they did seem taken-aback that someone would speak so frankly. And so I am now to you, too.
Too often women suffer in silent because of the stigma attached to PND, or assume its normal to have the ‘Baby Blues’. I hate that term. It trivialises and softens what can be a terrifying time for mothers. Plus it is often used in the wrong sense. As I literally just learned from my Wine Mum counterpart (she played Wine Mum in the live show), Gemma, this is something that occurs in many women after around four days of giving birth: an hormonal change causing a feeling of low mood.
It’s been more than two years for me. This ain’t no ‘Baby Blues’. It got close to getting as bad it can get. I’m lucky to still be able to watch Wildlings- as bonkers as they are- grow up.
December 2016 I went on a girl’s night out and as the wine flowed, lips got loser, and conversations flowed to motherhood. I confessed how bad a mum I thought I was: not giving the kids the attention the deserved; lacking in patience. Tears came and the girls rallied around me.
I threw up on the grass verge with my head hung out of the taxi.
At home I sat on the sofa (the Other Half had long been in bed), and rocked and sobbed, beating myself up once more, for being an inadequate Mum. Dragging myself upstairs to the bathroom, the feelings of incompetency, being a ‘bad person’, the cabin fever of being at home so much with two babies that couldn’t converse, the loneliness of it all…swirled in a perfect storm around my head, as the thunder clouds and tears continued to roll. “Why not just get in that bath and slit your wrists?” The devil on my shoulder asked. I’d never met this person; I was horrified and appalled by this unwanted suggestion.
If you’ve never truly felt your heart break, it feels like it is in a freezing vice, crushing it quickly until it shatters.
I fled to the warmth of our bed, at the side of my loving better half. But even the feeling of safety he gives me didn’t feel enough to save me. I sobbed and rocked until I passed out. But rather than being asleep, he was actually conscious of my break down.
I didn’t tell him the unwanted suggestion from my subconscious, but went to the doctors, knowing what questions she would ask me. Knowing it would be a relief- and could save me- to answer her. Literally ‘a cry for help’, rather than the darker sense of that phrase: an attempted/actual suicide.
It was a relief, but she wanted to meet the OH to make him fully aware of my mood.
At this point, I want to point out that, apart from dealing with the usual rigours of dealing with a toddler and a baby, I had (and still have) a very fortunate life. I have no money worries and I have a loving fiancé and two ‘characterful’ but amazing children. This was a purely hormonal.
I’d also like to raise the issue we have as a society, where men are made to almost be ashamed of talking about feelings- even those of other people, including their ‘soul mate’s’. For example, I had a really bad smear result that had ironically, in the October prior to the December, made me fearful for my mortality. The OH could barely bring himself to ask if I was okay. There was just a stoic remark about how fortunately it’d been picked up and treated very quickly.
So imagine his horror at being told by a GP locum he had never met, that he needed to step up his game and look after his suicidal fiancée, who was in charge of the care of his two babies. At home, he ranted about how my break down had been brought on by heavy drinking, with alcohol obviously being a depressant. I needed to change my ways, apparently.
It’s also worth pointing out that I was already on the second-highest dose of antidepressants at this point. So his point was valid.
My antidepressants were upped and the OH started to come home from work the hour before bedtime, to help me with The Tag Team. But I was still a tightly coiled spring by that point, most nights, but a glass of wine would bring me down from the state I had built myself up to throughout the day.
However, the downside of this, until the higher dose finally had time to establish itself in my system, was that the unwanted thought to harm myself crept in on the nights I was on the landing, outside the door of Kid 2, as he refused to settle. Some nights I wished that (when Kid 2 finally fell asleep) I would go back to bed and never wake up…other times a sharp knife in the bath seemed preferable- they say women are more likely to take in to consideration the clean-up of their sudden departure, by others, when committing that last desperate act. Each time my heart would re-break. I’d tell myself that the kids wouldn’t care if I never saw them grow up, I wasn’t a great mum anyway. At the worst, that devil would tell me try and convince me I didn’t need to see them grow up, anyway.
If I had have done the deed, it would have been as unexpected by myself, as it was irrational. It was a sudden impulse; I wasn’t walking around all day planning it, with the Grim Reaper at my back. Some suicides are planned, but many are impulsive. It surprised me when people referred to videos of Chester Bennington from Linkin Park, laughing and joking hours before he took his own life. Who knows if his death was premeditated or a sudden wave of anguish with one solution.
By day I was consumed with guilt at having had these thoughts, when clearly having so much to live for, and therefore felt I was becoming even more ‘incompetent’. I daren’t confess to still having those abhorrent thoughts- that did repulse me every time, it’s important to add- in case someone thought I was incapable of looking after the Tag Team. Worse still, they could lock me away, I thought.
Fortunately a few sacred thoughts saved me each night. Often, they say, people who contemplate suicide feel that the people they are leaving behind would be gratefully better off without them- I did. However, what I couldn’t bear was the thought of my children living with the stigma that their mother had taken her own life, especially as I had PND, in case they saw their own life coming into this world as being the cause of it.
Being an only child, my own mother had sometimes said- maybe she foretold something- that if anything was to ever happen to me (i.e. I was ever to do anything to myself) they (herself and my dad), couldn’t go on living themselves. I couldn’t hurt them.
And whilst this sounds absolutely absurd, one ridiculous idea that kept the devil at bay was: if I wasn’t around, the OH or our parents would shop for the kids clothes 😳. I envisaged the kids and the OH resorting to wearing Halloween costumes (like in the episode of The Simpson’s where Marge is in prison and there were no more clothes left to wear, so he wears Halloween costumes and even Marge’s wedding dress)!
**If they’re reading this, I hope they don’t see that as me criticising their fashion choices for my kids (I am), but rather see it as my literal saving grace.**
I started taking vit D and B supplements, going to the gym (to release some endorphins, and shed the flab to feel better about myself in that respect) and doing ‘mindfulness’ activities. Before you groan or roll your eyes, this can literally be anything where you are focusing on ‘the moment’ and nothing else. Others do yoga, meditation, adult colouring… I cook, write, iron whilst watching trash TV, and even cross-stitch 😄 (Xmas stockings etc. for my little ‘angels’).
Eventually the higher dose kicked in and I began to feel like my ‘old self’- this, I realised, was the ‘old self’ as well before having begun to breed.
I began to realise the PND had probably begun when I had Queen I/Kid 1, but put it down to not only the ‘normal feelings’ due to the hormonal and lifestyle change, but because I was looking after a baby with a dairy intolerance and other allergies. For example, I would cry terribly because I couldn’t get the housework done!
It must be a hormonal condition because as soon as I became pregnant with Kid 2 whilst Kid 1 was only 10 months old 😬, I begun to dip again. I can’t come off the contraceptive pill because taking the max dose of Citalopram (antidepressant) isn’t enough; the oestrogen in the pill is necessary to keep me level. This point was proven whenever I had my ‘pill break’- the red week of every month 😬- and wasn’t The Mother of Dragons, but a nasty, fire-breathing, actual f*%$**g dragon 😫🐲.
Those first ten months that I struggled emotionally with Kid 1 (to the point of suggesting we just ‘give her back’ to the hospital she came from), and dragged myself through are also proof that you can do it without antidepressants. They are also addictive.
Not addictive in that you crave them. But addictive in that you start rattling like a junkie if you accidentally don’t take such a big dose as mine, for a few days… And should some idiot dare park in a parent and child bay at Aldi with his dog (that can only be described as a ‘beard on a lead’) so his mutton-dressed-as-lamb wife has got less far to totter in for ‘some bits’…woe betide him! I think I coloured the air indigo, never mind blue, when he then called me a ‘tart’ for questioning him about parking there sans kids. I looked like an absolute psychopath: but I stand by that he deserved it 💁♀️.
But the body’s reliance on them can be reduced. Suicide can’t. It’s finite.
It took a hell of a lot to get me to even start taking them. I’d been recommended them by friends who, were complaining of similar feelings to me, at the beginning. We’d take our eyes off the kids for a moment at playgroup to talk about our anxiety over the house work (because anxiety was the first symptom, not the self-loathing and ‘low’ mood). I thought I was just being pathetic and, I’m ashamed to say, them more so- they weren’t rocking up to the Health Visitors crying on a weekly basis, like I was.
But when the OH finally had enough of my snappy temper and gave me a harsh dose of reality, I went to the doctors. When I didn’t improve I went back- dose upped. When I started feeling low and sad, crying for no reason, I went back again- dose upped. Each time our doctors were amazing and understanding (fortunately). Until that December day came.
So, just over a year since I imploded and had to give my job in teaching up (I was fine…until I re-entered that pressure cooker that is a school), I may have to turn down my first and fantastic job offer.
Despite a year of rebuilding my confidence, I still don’t know if I can go back to work. I’m doing fine at home, but can’t reduce my antidepressants yet. So the second there’s the slightest bit of pressure in the job I’ve been offered, what can I do? There’s nothing else for me to resort to. The mere logistics of getting there and arranging a complex childcare routine for a three-year old at nursery, but soon to start full days at school, and a two-year old doing half days at preschool, has made me feel sick, have palpitations and grind my teeth (much to the OH’s dismay).
So once again I feel slightly pathetic again; women who don’t have the choice but to go back to work to put a roof over her kids’ head, and food in their bellies, don’t have that option! Despite craving the challenge and intelligent conversation, I don’t know if I can risk falling back in that slump of despair.
I need CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), but as things stand, I only sit down to eat my evening meal, so what time do I have to spare on stress-management training for myself?
I suppose, what this post is getting at, is that it’s not only okay to talk about your feelings (as I have done/rambled for many paragraphs), but it’s okay to accept medical help- mummy’s happy pills. It’s essential you take time for yourself, too.
But most importantly, Baby Blues in the sense we treat it- I.e. what is effectively PND, rather than that temporary mood lull in the early days- is not a little thing and certainly not normal. Having those darkest of thoughts is not normal! And yet the number of mothers I see with low-mood, feelings of despair, anxiety or a short fuse who are either already receiving help or should be, is many. And yet no one knows! Because there’s still a stigma attached to it; like someone might think you’re a failure or worse, could be dangerous. Until I was initiated at a play group, I had no idea my friends and seasoned mums were dealing with such things.
This isn’t only appalling and unfair to consider them this way, adding more pressure to these already-struggling women, but it is dangerous. For them. For their families.
We need to say ‘it’s okay not to be okay’ (despite this being a song by the god-awful Ellie Goulding 🤦♀️🤢). There needs to be better education…or at least conversations between loved ones. Men need to be able to listen to their troubled partners, but also speak of their own troubles. If I do nothing else, I hope this will be an attitude I build for my son (and daughter).
Look after yourselves, speak up and listen out xxx