This day last year I was a very different person. Today I turn 34 and for once I do not want to turn back the clock to be younger – I have no desire to be my 33-year-old self ever again!
This time last year I was at the rock bottom of this illness. June, July and August were the very last straw, in what had been a 2 year-long cycle of hell and loneliness. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that I had become very ill with severe PND. If you’re just joining us, I’ve linked a few posts to recap my story, so as not to repeat myself!
- The Words I Couldn’t Say
- The Flight I Couldn’t Win
- My Heart’s Broken Too
- How Do You Get That Lonely?
I remember this day, last year, so well. I woke, from what had been about 4 hours of fitful sleep – my norm for the past 6 months – to face another day. Not just any day, my birthday. I recall thinking “I honestly wish I had never been born. This was the worst ever decision my parents made. I wish I wasn’t here.”
I dreaded the day and people celebrating with me. As they wished me “Happy Birthday” it only made me more determined that I could not continue on. I wanted out. Thankfully, I am still here today.
I looked at myself in the mirror, loathing everything about myself on one hand, not recognising who I was in on the other. I seemed like a waste of life, and that presents and good wishes were wasted on me. I was so slow low (and would be for the next couple of months) that I think the summer passed in a blur, each day a little bit worse than the next, until finally crunch time came –
Today is my birthday and, this year, I could not feel more differently from last. Looking back to last year brings up all sorts of emotions for me. Sad that life got that bad; angry that I got that ill without help; and hugely blessed that I am where I am today.
Today, I am on the road to recovery. Everyday is a little bit better than what went before. I know hope, help and healing that I never believed was possible. Seriously, I got to the point where ALL HOPE was LOST and I firmly believed I was a forever doomed. Not so.
Today, I am thankful – thankful to God, my family, my friends, the Health Care professionals, my PND community and to all of you who have interacted with me and my blog.
Every journey to wellness is different, just like no two struggles with the illness are exactly the same.
But here are my five tips for surviving and recovering from Postnatal Depression:
1. Understanding the illness
Understanding what PND is actually like and how it presents, has been key.
It’s meant that I can release myself from the burden of guilt I have been carrying which had told me, over and over, “This is your fault – you are to blame and you should be ashamed”. That simply is not true. There is nothing I could have done to stop this, on my own.
I now understand how deeply PND (or any depression/anxiety) can affect a body: mentally, emotionally and physically. That means I don’t need to over-think or worry about every little symptom. I no longer spend hours worrying that I am doing “mad” or “terminally ill”, I know what is wrong with me – I have PND. The consequences of which are vast and complicated but this is what is going on with me.
2. Getting the help I needed
The help that I needed, might not be the help that you need. For me medication and therapy have been my lifeline. Both, in equal measure, have got me though some very dark, dark days. But those might not work for everyone – mediation, CBT, natural remedies etc may be what you need. You can read more about my journey with antidepressants here.
3. Family and Friends
I am blessed to have a wonderfully supportive family – husband, mum, dad and wider family circle. They have sustained me. They have been kind to me, when I couldn’t be kind to myself. They have helped me practically, when I have felt like I could not go on. They have listened to me, when I needed to talk. They have sat in silence, when I just needed company. They have dried my tears, made me cups of teas, poured me a glass of wine and brought home a takeaway. Having a support network has given me hope when I have felt hopeless.
4. Going easy on myself
This one has not been easy. I have always, since I was little, been hard on myself. I think I’ve spent a lot of life being disappointed in me and wishing I was a ‘better’ person. I’m learning to like myself again and discovering who I am, as a mum.
One of areas I still really struggle with is exhaustion. PND has taken its toll on me and my body is mentally, physically and emotionally tired. I spent well over 2 years not sleeping properly and anxiety has kicked the stuffing out of me. I get very tired. I get very tired, very quickly. I have days when I feel ‘normal’ and days when I just literally NEED to sleep. But in the background I feel lazy. I am not the girl I was before – who worked odd hours, evenings and weekends, and could bounce back. She’s gone. When the exhaustion hits I feel so angry at myself. It’s taken me time to be kind to myself in this area – to allow myself to lie down when Reuben is napping (yes, he still naps!!) or to allow Gavin and Reuben a saturday afternoon alone and sleep if I need to. But I am learning. I have to learn, it’s part of my recovery and healing.
5. Interacting with others
Sharing my journey and beginning to campaign for Perinatal Mental Health is the ‘good’ that has come from all of this. I am enjoying writing, meeting people, hearing stories and starting to live life alongside other mums. I feel that I don’t have to hide anymore and it’s giving me freedom to be me – if you don’t like me, so what? You don’t like me. I could NOT have said that last year. I was terrified of everyone’s opinion of me. I am making new friends on the road, I am learning from others ‘how’ to be a mum (with or without PND) and I am finally finding joy on the journey of motherhood. I was isolated and afraid, lonely and sad for too long – those days are fading and hope is returning.
I want to encourage anyone who is struggling to look for help – understand what is it you are facing, so that you know the battle you are in; find the right treatment, that works for you; get a support network who will allow you to be honest and will give you practical help; learn to be kind to yourself, even if that does not come naturally; and think about stepping out to find a community in whom you can confide and trust.
I promise, no matter how dark the days or nights might seem, there is light at the end of the tunnel. You might just need a little help to find it or see it. I know this for sure because there is light in my life today and it’s not just the flickers from the flames of my birthday cake candles!