Saturday, April 25, 2009

Postnatal depression - my experience

For some people who read this blog, it may be the first they have heard of my postnatal depression and they will be shocked that all of this happened and they didn’t know about it. Some people may initially not understand why I would be telling everyone about such a personal experience. But I want to speak up about it for a number of reasons. Firstly and most importantly, I believe that it is my duty to educate people about postnatal depression so that they are aware of it, recognise the signs and can help themselves or anyone else who finds themselves in a similar situation to myself. Lack of understanding has a huge effect upon a person’s ability to seek help and to manage a situation that in many instances is a matter of life and death.

Secondly, I feel that to not speak out about it makes me a complete hypocrite. In my role as a PDHPE teacher I teach my students about the issue of mental health and stress to them the importance of understanding the issue, the increasing prevalence in our society and the importance of getting help. The importance of this issue, however, will only be fully understood if people like myself talk about it as a very real thing. If I tried to cover this up how can I help others and expect them to seek help when I haven’t? By remaining silent I am perpetuating the stigma surrounding mental illness and depression; that it is something to be ashamed of and that you should keep to yourself.  This is in fact the complete opposite of what should happen and perhaps if I share my experience then others I know or even don’t know will feel that they can get help and that they will be supported if they are ever in the same situation.

Finally, I am hoping that by raising awareness society will come to understand just how significant a problem postnatal depression and depression in general is and realise that we must do something about it. Thousands of women and their families are affected by this illness and it is essentially something that can be prevented or at least dealt with.

My story and everything I would like to share is too long to tell in one sitting, so I feel the best way to go about it is to address certain elements of it a bit at a time. I will start out by giving you a picture of what it feels like because this is often the hardest part for people to comprehend or understand. Before I begin I would like to say that experiences of postnatal depression vary widely from person to person so all I can do is explain my experience as best I can.

The postnatal depression didn’t seem to kick in for me until the second or third week or so after my son was born. Initially it was all overwhelming and hard getting used to taking care of and being responsible for this little thing that is completely dependent upon you. But what I began to feel after a couple of weeks went well beyond that. I could not stop crying, I was completely and utterly exhausted (but could not sleep even when the baby was asleep), and I basically felt as though I was going insane. At first I thought this was just how every new mother feels and that this was the reality of having a baby. But as the days went on and I didn’t seem to be feeling any different I realised that something was very wrong. I felt as though I couldn’t do anything. I was so exhausted that the thought of even getting up out of bed to have a shower or go to the bathroom felt impossible. I didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything and I had an overwhelming feeling of dread and panic. I felt as though I would die if I had to spend another second feeling that way, but I had to keep looking after this baby who needed me 24/7. The second my son cried I would be filled with panic and a thought that I had to get out of my apartment. But even when I did escape for a few minutes or hours the terrible feelings and thoughts followed me. To most people who have never experienced depression or known anyone who has, this probably all sounds completely absurd and they just can’t comprehend it. People would try to tell me ‘It’s the Baby Blues’ and that I was just having trouble adjusting to motherhood. But having a feeling like the worst thing in the world was about to happen to you every second and not being able to do anything to fix it, not being able to care for your newborn son, wanting to run out the door because you have panic attacks just thinking about your newborn son, and basically wanting to die because you have no control over your life is not the baby blues. I was constantly being told that my son was a wonderful baby and that he wasn’t difficult etc, as if I was just being a whinger and couldn’t cope. But the problem was with me and what was going on inside my head – it had nothing to do with whether my child was easy to care for or not. Having my son was the catalyst to the depression but his existence, behaviour or personality was not the problem.

The Beyond Blue website is a great place to start in order to get a better understanding of postnatal depression and mental health issues. The following accounts are from some of the women who have shared their stories on the website. I wanted to include them as they really help to provide a very real picture of what it feels like. 

"The first thing I remember is waking on the morning after the birth of my baby. Oh no, I thought, I have just made the biggest mistake of my entire life. What have I done? Then I started to run though a mental list of the people I might be able to give the baby away to. My cousin? My Aunt? But how would I explain the absence of a baby to my parents, my friends....could I get away with pretending the baby had died at birth...................... 

Then the room was filled with visitors, and flowers, and friends and gifts and my baby cried continuously with colic and reflux, and I did not have time to revisit my secret thoughts. An anxiety the likes of which I have never known was slowly consuming me but I pushed it back and tried to ignore it. 

I was afraid to go home from the hospital, and tried to tell the nurses, but they insisted and so home we went. I tried to be a good mother, and do all of the things a good wife and mother do - cooking, cleaning, and breast-feeding. But the minute my husband tried to step out of the front door to go to work, I would burst into tears and beg him not to go. When he did leave, I would spend the day shaking with some unknown fear, and trying to pretend to myself and everyone around me that I was all right. Why should there be anything wrong with me? 

I was afraid to be alone in the house; a sense of doom as if something really terrible was about to happen began to escalate to the point that I almost could not move. I also felt completely incompetent as a wife and mother, a hopeless failure. The total lack of sleep was brutal. 

Then, one day, about 4 weeks after I left hospital, the anxiety became so bad that I literally could not move even to cry, and began to hallucinate. Suicidal thoughts permeated my mind. That was the moment I knew that I was terribly sick. 

The same night, I found myself hospitalized at the Belmont Hospital in Brisbane, and my world was turned upside down. 
Belmont Private Hospital is a psychiatric facility, and contained within is the most incredible, excellent unit for women with post natal depression. Women and their babies can stay there 24 hours a day with support and care from specially trained and experienced nurses and staff. 

I could not believe that I was suffering from post natal depression. I felt that I had ruined everything for my baby, my husband and my family. I had failed, big time. 

The staff at Belmont cared for my baby and I around the clock. They reassured me, comforted me, and treated me".

 "Those first nights at home were hell, I honestly thought I was going mad. Whilst she did cry a fair bit, looking back she really wasn't that bad. It was just that I was so mad on routine, I fed her by bottle right to the second of the book I was following which obviously didnt suit this new hungry little bubs. The nights were the worst, I would put her down and go to bed, and my chest felt like it was going to explode. I would lay there all night looking at the clock, just waiting for her to wake, dreading it. I was having severe panic attacks in the night where I felt like my chest was in a vice, severe night sweats and just running on around 1 hours sleep a night. I became consumed with my sleep but no matter how hard I tried I couldn't sleep. I couldn't eat and lost all my baby weight in around 10 days, everyone was commenting on how wonderful I looked, and I felt like I was dying inside. 

I had this beautiful baby that everyone wanted to hold and touch, and all I wanted them to do was leave her laying in her bouncer quietly so I didnt have to pick her up. I can honestly say I never felt hatred or wanted to hurt this little creature, I just didn't like the fact that she had turned my life upside down. I just wanted my old like back, the one where I enjoyed simple things like having visitors over or reading my favorite magazine. I seemed to be crying everyday, everywhere, in the supermarket I would just break down".

"So I am thankful that I only missed out on 6 weeks of her life. Some days I think about it and I feel cheated that I didn't get to experience all that euphoric feelings that comes with having your child, however I am one of the lucky ones who chose to be open about my PND and get help early. I also joined a PND group very early on, and I really do think that this was the changing phase in my recovery, it made me realise I wasnt going mad and I wasn't alone".

"And whilst at the time of my darkest days, I really didn't think I would ever recover, I am actually grateful that I got PND. This may seem strange, but it really has made me appreciate things so much more, and now I really now what a bad day is. I may have an occasional bad day, but on the scale of things, its never going to be that bad. 

I guess in closing off, the only thing I would like to add is that people are constantly asking me "When are you going to have another one", yes everyone knows about what happened to me as I was so open about it, however just reading my story above may make people realise why I am a bit hesitant to go back again. OK, so it may not happen again, but the thought of going through it all again scares the life out of me. However if it means I can have one more child who is as beautiful, caring and sweet as our little girl, it will be certainly worth it".

(Another excellent resource is "Down Came The Rain", which is Brooke Shields' story of postnatal depression).

1 comment:

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