“I have been very unwell” – words that came into my head about 3 weeks ago. I let them roam around – my mind pondered on them and what they actually meant. I was a bit shocked by them at first, but now I realise they are absolutely true. I think I would go a step further and say “I have been seriously ill”. Not in a ‘woe is me’ way or to look for sympathy but just in accepting that PND has effected every area of my life very deeply. It has stripped me of my health until I have nothing left.
I’m not sure society is really aware of the depth that PND (or any depression/anxiety) can take a sufferer too – so I thought I’d share a bit more about what that has looked like. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know I had antenatal depression following onto postnatal depression. But I wasn’t diagnosed until my son was 2 – so I was ill for almost 2 1/2 years. It was in the last 12 months, where things got really bad and where I will focus in this post – to share the depths it has taken me to.
I spent a lot of the early months, in year one, crying. I wrongly assumed this was ‘semi-normal’ as I could ‘pin it’ to hard things – like lack of sleep, a burst nappy everywhere, horrendous nappy rash, reflux issues etc. But as Reuben settled and he began to sleep and love life, I did not. I then began to cry in secret and often uncontrollably – for no apparent reason. I tried not to allow the tears to come in front of Reuben but didn’t always manage it. It was like my emotions where completely overwhelmed and could not express themselves any other way.
I would be overly moved by a TV soap, silly movie or book – not in a normal way. For example, I would weep over a character’s plight in Eastenders for days, even though I knew it wasn’t real. I kept telling myself that “somewhere in the world, someone is going through that, so I will cry for them”. I was constantly consumed with sad and dark thoughts about life. I felt like I had not enough emotional energy to love Gavin or Reuben and none to like/love myself.
At times my emotions would make me completely hysterical, the worst of times being in front of Gavin and Reuben. Once I recall lying in a ball on the kitchen floor, on a saturday afternoon, sobbing and saying “I can’t go on…I want to die…”. I will never forget Reuben or Gavin’s face on that day…that marked the beginning of the end, towards by diagnosis.
Last post I shared my extreme anxiety about everything in life – I won’t repeat that, you can read it here, except to say, again, that fear consumed and controlled me. But I also became hugely obsessive about random things and I just could not get a handle on it. I would spend hours and days looking up the issue online, obsessing over it and thinking about it constantly. For example, I got it into my head that we were using too much gas – we weren’t. It was a cold winter and the consumption was narrowly more than the previous year but we were in a bigger house. But nothing would do than for weeks but I researched the issue – reading up on everything I could do to rectify it. Did we need to upgrade the heating system, insulate the house, buy a new boiler, recalibrate the radiators? etc etc. Then as quickly as that obsession had begun it would pass (unresolved) and something else would grab my attention, so I’d move onto it. In this case, I think it was Reuben’s sleeping bag and him freezing to death – you can read more of that here.
I found myself unable to concentrate to read or watch TV, for any length of time. I lost my ability to ‘think straight’ and also to remember everyday things – I started writing everything down. I honestly believed, when I looked in the mirror, that there was a different person looking back at me. I did not know who the reflection was.
Things would repeat over and over in my head – things I might or could say to someone, conversations I wanted to have or had already finished (even just about what we needed from Asda). The worst was a night when songs were on loop in my head. Balamory was Reuben’s favourite, at that time, and the ‘PC Plum song’ rang over and over in my tired and confused brain. There was nothing I could do it keep it quiet or divert my thoughts. At times I banged my head on the headboard or shook it violently, from side to side, to try to get it to stop – but nothing worked. At its worst, I used to honestly wonder if God was using the words to try to give me a message – like I was going to be in trouble with the police or needed to hand myself in for some crime!
When we were out, I would feel like everyone was looking at me, watching me or could see through me into my head and my heart. I also wrongly believed I would never get well, get help or heal. I was terrified most days but some days I was relived at the thought I would ‘die from this’. I remember talking to my mum about plans for the care of Reuben, if I did. Again, I will never forget her face or the tears as she tried to deal with the conversation – that too was beginning of the end, towards my diagnosis.
I started off, after giving birth, with constant colds, flu, infections, headaches and sinus issues – I just got on with it and lived on painkillers. But I remember the day, it turned a corner.
It followed another awful, flu-like bug, which had me ache and swollen all over. As I recovered from that I developed this weird twitch in my chin – quite noticeable. It lasted for about 36 hours and then faded, but then my whole body started to twitch, in random places for random periods of time. They were worst when sitting or trying to sleep/rest. It was like my body had a mind of it own. Night time was the worst – my whole body would jerk, either to wake me from sleep or to stop me falling over. This led to insomnia. I developed tingling all over my body and random numbness. When I needed to go the toilet my lower half would go crazy with this tingling sensation. My hands and mouth began shaking and trembling, for no apart reason. I had heart palpitation, chest pains, blurred vision and feeling faint, on a daily basis. I could not cope with loud noises – the TV and radio ‘hurt’ my ears. My appetite would disappear in the middle of a meal. I was so tired but could never sleep or rest.
All of this led me back to the GP, which resulted in lots of tests and questions over other diseases but never anything to do with PND. I had myself convinced, thanks to Dr Google, that I had a whole host of life changing, incurable diseases. This only added to my mental and emotional distress. I used to imagine, everyday, breaking the news to my family – wondering if they would mind that I was ill. I worried most about Reuben – how would I look after him when this ‘disease’ really took over me? How would he cope with a mum that was ill, would my passing mess up his life forever? Would Gavin be able to move on? Would he finally accept that he was better off without me?
If I saw something on TV about another person being terminally ill, again, I would imagine it was a message from God, who was preparing me for what was to come. That led to a whole host of new obsessive internet searching!
So, yes. As I take time to reflect now I do accept that “I have been very unwell”. The good news is I am recovering – emotionally, mentally and physically. Accepting and processing that statement – “I have been very unwell” – has allowed me to see just how far I have come. I remember the pain of all of the above, like it was yesterday and it amazes me how ill PND made me. But it also encourages me, as I can see how I am much improving.
Please don’t get me wrong, I am not better and will not be for long time. But the very worst is passed/is passing. Emotionally and mentally I am much more stable and can cope better when the bad times hit – knowing what is fundamentally wrong with me really helps.
My physical recover is the slowest and perhaps what frustrates me that most. I would honestly say that it is only 50% better…but at least it’s improving. After a couple of months of the tablets, the Dr and myself agreed that if my health was not on the increase by the New Year we’d rethink things. Thankfully, however small the progress at times, I am getting better.
On that note the following still bug me weekly/daily – twitching and jerking, hearing issues – too loud noises and tinnitus, shaking and trembling, tingling especially with bowel movements, headaches and extreme tiredness. But again, knowing that these are a result of my PND illness makes them easier to handle and understand. Not panicking about them also means they have less power and control over me.
If you are finding it hard to believe or to accept that PND can really make you this ill, and are searching out lots of other options (like I did and find many others doing), please allow yourself some time to begin to heal. This might sound strange but making that ‘deal’ with my GP was freedom – it allowed me space to accept that PND was causing this all and to give the medication the opportunity/time to work. I also knew I had the ‘safety net’ of being able to return at a later date, if there was no improvement – maybe something like that could help you too?
So, the reality is that PND can make us very ill. The good news is that with the right help, and most importantly time and self-care, we can get better. If you are struggling with any of the above, take heart, you do not have to be stuck in this season for ever – there is hope and help available.