Occasionally, it rains.

I made it through the storm of depression. The winds were strong and the waves were high. My boat was rocked, it took on water, heck, it even capsized at points. But I made it out the other side.  I found land and my family is happy. I am happy. 

I now say things like “I suffered with awful Post Natal Depression when I had my first child” and “I’m so lucky that this time around I’ve been well”.  I am well.  I am no longer depressed.  The sun shines and I have been happy for a long time. 

But, occasionally, it rains. Like all habitable climates my mood experiences the odd scattering of clouds. Sometimes the sky is a bit darker and, yes, occasionally it rains. 

Rain is not depression.  Rain is a bad day. Actually rain allows the flowers to grow, in turn making the sunnier days more attractive and more appreciated. The bad days allow us to cherish the better days with more passion and more love. 

Rain is real life.  Rain is an inevitable, unavoidable part of life. Noone wants the sun to shine all the time.  It would be too warm, too bright, too dry.  We wouldn’t appreciate it.  It only takes a week of sun for people to complain, but, let that sun break through a dreary, wet weekend, and it is loved with more passion than cake at a party.

I will say it again because it’s important: rain is not depression.  
A bad day is not a storm. 

The sun shines, the sky is bright, the breeze cools us and yes, occasionally, it rains. 

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The bedtime realisation.

My two year old has decided that tonight we need to lie on the floor. Not in her bed as we usually do, cuddled up for that last breastfeed of the day as she drifts slowly off to sleep, but on the floor. In the middle of her bedroom.

She points at the ceiling and declares that she can see “egg mummy egg”, then rolls towards me and wraps her arms around my neck. I smile, and inwardly chuckle as she presses her face against mine, only to look up and realise that, yes, she is right, the shadow of her lightshade is indeed egg shaped.

She’s clearly not in the bedtime mood right now, as the requests are coming thick and fast.
“drink”
“other drink”
“big girl cup”
“milk cup”
“blue cup”
“wait there mummy.”

She’s cupped up. No more excuses. We move into her bed and attempt to snuggle down. “sing songs from Annie Mummy, tomorrow mummy.”
“twinkle twinkle mummy”
“sing yoghurt and mnanas mummy”
She points at the feet of her fairy dolls as they poke out over the edge of the shelf, “six, seven, eight, nine, ten! I did it!”

I squeeze her tight. So proud of the forthright and independent toddler she has become.

And suddenly, it comes.

I am hit by a wave of emotions.

The last two years have flown, and yet been the most fulfilling of my life. But equally full of hurt. One by one the pains of the years play out in my head, starting with events from earlier this year, heading back to the first few moments of her life.

The ectopic pregnancy.
The lost baby.
The lost baby sister or brother for my perfect toddler.
The threat of methotrexate and the fear of early weaning from the breast.

The PND.
The guilt of returning to work.
The anxiety at leaving my baby.
The lost time.
The mistakes I made that I can never undo.
The early breastfeeding pain.
My failure at labour.
My inability to stop crying for the first 8 months of her life.

They run on, over and over in my head, cycling round and catching me harder each time, an unforgiving whirlpool of tears.

Then I look down.

She’s latched onto my breast and she’s feeding. She’s holding me as tightly as I am her. And I realise.

None of it matters. Not anymore.

What matters now is the child in my arms. The way that my breath makes her hair move, the heartbeat I can feel against my tummy.

And the love that consumes us both.

What does post natal depression feel like?

I am a survivor. I am surviving. There were times I did not think I would.

Now, with the clouds above my head allowing sunlight through, I find myself reflecting.

My husband, a kind, generous, sensible, modern man, is not a great believer of mental illness. It is one of very very few areas on which we disagree. A disagreement this evening has led to his admission that he is only now starting to understand how ill I have been.

And so am I.

It is an impossible thing to describe to someone, but I am going to try. Post natal depression, for me, was, at its worst, a series of questions and statements. My post natal depression was triggered by the financial necessity that I returned to work when my daughter was less that six months. This still haunts me.

Why can’t I stop crying?
I cried a lot. And I mean a lot. It breaks my heart that my memories of my daughters early life are seen through blurry eyes and tears. I know, people cry, it doesn’t make them depressed. But when that crying becomes a large part of your daily activity, when that crying becomes the first and the last thing in yours day, there is a problem. When your eyelids swell from crying so much, when your face mottled with dried on tears, then, those tears are taking control.

I did everything wrong, and I am still doing everything wrong now.
I feel guilty. I didn’t do labor ‘properly’, I didn’t have enough skin to skin, I didn’t hold my daughter enough at the start, the house is messy, I haven’t cooked for my husband and I haven’t been the mother or wife I should have been. I watch too much TV, I don’t read to my daughter enough, I eat too much, I eat too little, I failed and am still failing at everything.

I’ll never get that time back.
My baby girl is already grown, I missed it. I looked away and I missed it. It hurts, I’ll never regain the time I missed, ever. Time has taken my baby and I let it.

I don’t remember that.
Now, this one is different, and this one scares me. There are chunks of January and February that I can’t remember. Colleagues have talked with me about days I “seemed a bit out of it” and told me of things I did. I have no memory of these days. January and February were very dark days, my mind seemed to have shut them away, to protect me from the pain.

I’m tired.
Curled up here in bed, with my daughter on my breast, we could sleep all day, we could snuggle and pretend the world is OK. We don’t need to leave the room and face the reality outside. Let’s stay here, let’s forget the truth, let’s avoid thoughts of how much I have failed, of how soon my maternity leave will be finished and how much I will miss you.

How could you say that? You don’t love me at all.
You don’t understand. It hurts, I miss her when she is near me, the thought of her being more than arms reach away leaves me short of breath. My stomach hurts and my eyes sting. I can’t swallow and my pulse races. You don’t understand. Nobody loves her as much as I do, and I am failing her.

Everyone is judging me.
Everyone. They are laughing at me, they are mocking me. Every Facebook status I write, posts I share in a bid to convince myself, and those around me that my world isn’t falling apart, they laugh at them all. They whisper, they snigger and they talk about what a bad mother I am.

I am a bad bad bad mother.

I deserve to feel this way.
If I had done things differently I would be happy, this is therefore my fault.

I don’t deserve to feel this way.
But I tried, I really tried. I love my daughter, I work hard, I am a good person. It’s not fair that it hurts this much. Life hurts. Life itself actually hurts.

I need to snap out of it
My husband is fed up of seeing me like this, I need to put that brave face back in. It must stop skipping, pretend pretend pretend.

Why won’t anybody help me?
Please. Anyone. I need to be a mother, why won’t anyone help me? Please. Please.

The ultimate question. Would everyone just be better off if I wasn’t here?

And so, the next time you hear of someone who is depressed, a new mum, struggling with their new world and an overload of feelings, please don’t dismiss them. Please don’t roll your eyes and sigh to your friends about “attention seeking” or “drama queen”.

Just be thankful that it is not you.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the ninky nonk

My husband and I went out. It is certainly not the first time we have been away from our now 1 year old, (a year! Wow! That’s another post!) but it was actually only the third evening out together we had had since her birth. And it was the first time that we had been at a non family social event.

I felt lost. Having left our darling girl watching In The Night Garden with my sister’s boyfriend, with the promise that the wonderful Auntie H would soon appear, we found ourselves standing in a room surrounded by people. Some we knew, some we didn’t, some friends, some acquaintances and some strangers.

And I felt lost. The last 12 months has changed me beyond recognition. I am no longer XXX, teacher, wife, funny and quirky, I am now F’s Mum. Being without her in a social situation I found myself missing a limb. What was there for me to talk about? The answer: Not a lot.

I quickly turned into bore mode. I talked about labor, about motherhood and about my trusty companion breastfeeding.

And as I stood there, surrounded by people in beautiful dresses and high shoes, listening to music and laughter and nodding politely to conversations I wasn’t really listening to;

I couldn’t stop thinking about the Ninky Nonk.

Who had got onboard? Were they in their own carriages or had Upsy Daisy allowed Igglepiggle to join her? Where did they go? Did they wear their seatbelts?

This doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy my evening- but I did feel lacking in identity. Missing the thing that defines me.

My life has changed.

And I don’t mind.

In fact, I love it. I love who I am now, I love the person I have become.

Parenthood, it changes you.

And the Ninky Nonk is just one part of that.

How to cheer up a woman with post natal depression.

This a question that someone wrote in a search engine to find my blog. They were delivered to my post about mythbusting, but I am sure they would not have found it a satisfactory answer. I am, for no reason in particular, assuming this was a husband, or partner, looking to support the mother of their child.

So, this is my answer.

How can I cheer up a woman with PND?

Don’t Try.

Cheering someone up, by its very nature, belittles the person with PND. Attempting to cheer them up suggests that you think their illness could be cured with a quick joke or funny dance. It can’t, and it is disrespectful to try.

You can however make them smile, understand them and make the cloud overhead clear for just a little while. Maybe the sun might even briefly shine through. You can make a small difference. And a small difference is a huge difference to someone with PND.

I do not pretend to be an expert, but after dark journey into the light I can say what would have given me a glimpse at sun.

Praise. And praise publicly.
Remind them that they are a great mother. Tell them how proud you are of them for bringing such an amazing baby into the world. (However labor went). Make the praise specific. “You are such a good Mum for staying calm during tears”, “We are both very lucky to have someone as selfless as you in our lives”. PND can often involve an intense paranoia that everyone else thinks you are a bad mother, so make this praise public. Tell Facebook how amazing she is, tell your family, tell her family, tell everyone you know. (and those you don’t!)

Small touches
Hugs, smiles, a squeeze of the hand or a nod of the head. All small and easy things that give a moment of reassurance.

Be her biggest defender.
Even when you can’t see that they need it. Be aware and be sensitive to the topics they may feel attacked on and jump to their rescue. (whether you believe they need it or not). If a parenting choice is being discussed then state clearly and without prompting that you are proud of her for her choices and that you agree with them wholeheartedly.

Give her time.
Time to sit, time to stare, time to be. Recognise that she has not made a choice to be ill and that recovery will not be quick.

Talk to her.
About life, about how she feels, about how you feel. About your child, about work and about the mundane. Show her that you care by telling her you love her and telling her that things will be OK. She will be happy again and you will help her get there.

Listen. Really listen.
You may think her reasons are strange, you may find her concerns ridiculous and you may find her anxiety frustrating. But listen as she tell you why they exist. Listen as she explains what her fear is in that moment and listen as she repeats herself over and over. Really listen. And to prove you have heard make sure to act on something she has said.

Be Silent
Allow her to sit and cry. Don’t belittle her emotions with comments. Just sit with her. Hold her hand, make her a drink and give her a kiss. Crying is important. Don’t stop her.

Don’t treat her as you normally would.
Strange advice though this may seem, DON’T just carry on as normal. She needs to be made to feel loved and supported and it is likely that she will be feeling numb to this. Imagine, if you will, that love is a temperature. A woman without PND may start at a warm temperature and love can heat them further. A woman with PND is starting at frozen. They need more love and more sensitivity in order for them to reach the same result.

Don’t talk about other mums and babies.
Right now she may feel like a failure on every count. Give her no excuse or ammunition for comparison. Her baby is the only one that matters.

ASK HER
“How can I support you?” Don’t ask if you can do anything, ask instead what you can do. Ask how she would like you to behave and ask if she wants more support than you are currently giving.

Remember, she is still the same person she was. Love her, understand her, and help her find her happiness again.

Note: This assumes that professional help is already being given. If this is not the case then it must be a priority to visit the GP. Go along with her if she would like you to.

I can see clearly now the rain has gone…

…I can see all obstacles in my way.

It’s leaving me. The cloud of PND that has been following me for so long is leaving.

It’s a very strange thing to feel happy. This feels like true happiness.

Not the kind of happiness that makes you see the world with rose tinted glasses, but the kind if happiness that makes you see the dull colours just as clearly as the bright ones. I can see the bad in the world as well as the good and I can cope with it. This, to me, is a much more sustainable form of happiness. This is not a bubble that could be burst at any minute, this is a house. A brick house with solid foundations.

In fact, things have been far from easy recently. Family illness and work pressures have made things tricky, but the exciting thing is, that despite all of this, my head is above water.  Waves that would previously have drowned me are simply washing over my back. I can cope. I am coping.

I can indeed see all obstacles in my way, and by seeing them I can face them.  My head was covered in a rain cloud that made me unable to see the path ahead, unable to see what was in my way and therefore I stayed still. I was scared to move towards happiness as I feared tripping on route and being stuck in deeper mud that I was before.  Well, now the rain has cleared and I can see the path clearly ahead of me. I can even see the destination. I am not there yet, but I do now have my map.  I can make it.  There will be ups and downs along the way, but I can get there.

 

 

Happiness. I owe it to my daughter.

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Post Natal Depression is a horribly selfish illness. Not selfish in the way that many assume, not always selfish in the “I don’t want to spend time with my child, I want my own life back” way that is the common perception. But, for me at least, selfish nonetheless.

I feel guilty all the time, I constantly feel like I am failing my daughter, (despite much evidence to the contrary) and I often find myself crying without reason. The selfish side is in my lack of happiness. My daughter is a happy, smiling, amazing girl. At 9 months she is the light in the dark, and thankfully, she seems completely unaware that her mother is a wreck. But I fear this will not last. My PND is selfish because I owe it to her to be happy.

Like all parents I want my daughter to grow up to be happy. She can be rich, famous, intelligent, married, single, unemployed, a stay at home mother, a business woman or anything else she wants, I don’t mind what path she chooses for her life, as long as she is happy.

My daughter will learn from me. Like it or not, I am the most influential person in her life. Therefore, I want my influence to be a good one. My happiness is essential, not for my own mental health, but for hers.

Imagine the following; as a child of six you see your mother drop a bottle of milk the kitchen floor, it smashes and the milk goes everywhere. She says, ‘Whooops, never mind, accidents happen.’ As a child, learning from their mother, you will learn not to panic, you will learn that accidents happen and are not the end of the world.

Alternatively, at age six you see your mother drop a bottle of milk on the floor and she says, ‘Oh no, what a disaster! I keep getting things wrong, I am so stupid and can never do anything right, now everything is ruined, I spoil everything.’ As a child learning from their mother in this situation your learning would be very different. You would learn that mistakes are awful, that there is blame and that when things go wrong it is very difficult to fix.

I do not want this for my daughter. I want her to learn love, to learn happiness and to learn resilience.

I want her to have what I call “bouncebackability”. I don’t want her to spend her life full of anxiety, jealousy, concern, sadness or fear. I want her to get back up after falls. I want her smile and intelligence to change the world.

Therefore I need to be a role model. If I want her to be happy, to be calm and to be confident then that is what she must see in me.

Happiness. I owe it to her.