For me, this has been a bad week. It’s what some of might call a ‘set back’, ‘slip up’, ‘blip’ or ‘relapse’. Give it whatever name you want, it simply means that I haven’t coped as well this week, with my illness and life in general, as I have others. It’s been hard, lonely, sad and frustrating. There were plenty of triggers, in hindsight I should have known where I was heading, but I wasn’t looking for it!
The truth about recovering from PND is two steps forward, one step back. At least, for me, that’s the reality. I don’t think I’m alone. Others have described it as a game of Snakes and Ladders – surprised at times by the pace of progress, only to be disappointed when they fall down some length. Whatever the analogy, most (if not all) of us would agree that it’s a long process, it’s not straightforward or easy, and there are most certainly bumps along the way. Unlike a board game, there are no rules about how you get from point A to point B. I think many of us wish that there was.
I was diagnosed 4 months ago, so from that point I count myself on the journey of recovery – note I didn’t day to recovery. I’m not really sure if it’s a destination I will arrive at, I will figure that out in time. The first few weeks on medication I could have been fooled into believing that I had taken 10 steps back and would never move forward – that was just the side effects and settling in period – it did pass. Other weeks I have felt like I have made leaps and bounds towards healing – I’ve rejoiced during those times. Sometimes, life just goes on around me and is a bit mundane, ‘normal’ I guess, and I have no feelings, positive or negative, to the point of the journey I am at. Other times, like this week, I have what I’ll call a ‘set back’. Where I feel the darkness reaching for me, the anxiety rising, my irrationalism creeping to take hold, and my emotions slipping out of control. I find these times very frightening and overwhelming, like a looming presence creeping around me, willing me to give into its command. During these times, I find it hard to remember that I am getting better, I am just not better yet. These times are hard, but they do pass, in a way the bad times didn’t before I took the medication and started therapy. In fact, I would go as far as to say I rarely had a ‘good day’ in the 6 months before I was diagnosed.
‘Recovering’, ‘recovery’, ‘getting better’, whatever you term it, looks different for every person. We all reach different stages at different times and have varied goals that we want to achieve. I think the common thread is, we are not stuck where we once where. We can see that we have moved on, or forward, in some positive and helpful way.
I am in recovery. Even in my dark and difficult days I know that – I have to work hard to remind myself though. I have to battle with my will many times, as I long for “this to be over quicker”, to “arrive at a destination” and be “free” of this once and for all. Again, I’m not sure that will ever be the case, I think this will have left its scars on me forever. Granted, they will be healed but they will still be there, therefore I will never quite be the same. It’s a bit like my C-Section scar – 2 1/2 years on and it’s still there. It’s not sore, unless I try to irritate it – like any bit of skin, it’s not red or raw, it’s just there. It’s part of me, part of my story of birthing Reuben. I don’t look the same ‘down there’ anymore, but nor do I feel like I’ve been in a war – I’m just changed because of it.
So, how do I know I’m in recovery?
Here’s how I described the physical effects of PND in a previous blog – “panic attacks, tremors and shaking, muscle twitches and spasms, aches and pains, headaches, insomnia, dizziness, heart palpitations, sweating, tingling and numbness, no appetite and generally feeling like I was too tired to get out of bed, never mind make Reuben his breakfast.”
Most of those things have lessened – although I can’t say all have gone completely. But if they were on 100% before, they are on 50% now. They don’t worry as me much, when they do appear. I know they are a physical manifestation of my illness, so I accept them now as just that. Somehow, that has lessened the power and fear they hold over me. They do tend to be worse when I’m extra tired, having a ‘set back’ or bad day, hormonal with PMS or just plain sick with a cold. But again, I can understand my body a bit better now and try, as much as possible, to go with the flow. The few I am finding hardest to shake are the muscle twitching, headaches and sheer exhaustion. It’s hard to explain the exhaustion – it’s not really sleep related as I am much more relaxed in bed and getting a good nights rest most nights. It’s like an all-consuming tiredness that hits the whole of my body, mind and emotions and stops me dead in my tracks. I probably hate it the most.
My emotions have been a mess – you can read more of that here. I can see now that they are beginning to heal. The tears are not as frequent and do not overpower me. I don’t spend hours crying in private or trying to contain them in public. It’s not that I haven’t cried at all, I have, but again weeping does not control me. It’s not the only way I can express how I am feeling now. When I do ‘have a cry’ there is a start and an end point and I can normally tell you what got me to that point. If I can’t, I know that it’s just my journey through recovery. I am not as ‘numb’ to the world around me, as I used to be some days. I am beginning to get ‘feelings’ back and explore lots of emotions again. I’m still not great with anything overly emotional on TV or in print. I am aware that I can only handle so much…but I guess it’s good that I’m aware of it. My broken heart is beginning to mend, one day at a time.
This is a really hard one! To read, in detail, the mental effects of PND click here. Mentally PND takes its toll. As I re-read that post myself, I am overwhelmed by all it has put me through. Facing the truth, and accepting that the illness made me feel that way, is key. It isn’t a ‘fault in my system’ and there is nothing I could do to change it – it simply is a disease in my mind. I am slowly recovering mentally, but’s it’s at a snail’s pace at times. I have learned techniques to help me process my thoughts, to deal with the irrationalism when it appears, and to cope with the pain all of this brings. But it’s not easy. To re-read that post makes me so sad, and a little angry, at all this hateful illness can do. I wish it wasn’t that way, I wish I hadn’t experienced all of this when my little Reuben was born.
This is the area I have challenged myself the most and feel I am making best progress. I’ll share with you some of my “achievements”, I know for you might think it’s strange for me to believe these are to be celebrated, but for me they are…
- Taking Reuben out, on my own for, coffee.
- Taking Reuben to soft play on my own and chatting (a little) with other mums.
- Joining a mums groups, where Reuben plays with others as we chat.
- Going out for coffee with a couple of mums and their little ones – that was the best and worst – Reuben projectile vomited all over me and him!!
- Going to Church – just Reuben and I, as Gavin was sick.
- Allowing Reuben to hold my hand (not be strapped in the buggy) when I have nipped into Asda for a quick message.
- Sharing photos of Reuben on Facebook/Twitter and knowing that there is truth in the joy I tell of when posting them!
You might wonder why they are mostly “on my own” activities with Reuben, without Gavin! That’s nothing to do with Gavin, but with my fears and overcoming my anxiety of being able to cope with ‘normal’ things with Reuben myself. All of these have been major achievements for me!!
I don’t share this to suggest you should be at these points, to be able to move forward in recovery. Each of our stories is as unique as we are. None of the above may matter to you, in the way it does for me. Some of it might resonate, which is fine if it does. Please do not read this and be discouraged, if you don’t feel as I do, or see things through my lens. It does not mean you are any getting better any less, it’s just means the road of our journey is different.
I have got into the habit, every week, no matter if it’s been good, bad or indifferent, of looking back and spotting the small and big things that remind me that I am moving forward. Because the truth is, even on the bad days, I am moving forward. Even on the days where I know I have taken a step back, I can be sure that, overall, I have moved forward. Some days that is all the hope I have and all the hope I need.
Two forward, one back. How do you know that you’re moving forward and beating this illness? I’d love to know!
I think this is a great illustration about what the journey of recovery actually looks like - despite that we all might wish otherwise! https://www.pinterest.com/pin/30258628724281067/