My life, designed by me.
Post Natal Depression Awareness week recently ran from November 18 – 24, 2012. PANDA who are a bunch of amazing supportive people encouraged people to share their experiences and start talking about PND. I was inspired by the stories of others to finally talk about my experience. There are many other stories like mine on Twitter, just search for #bePNDaware.
As someone who has experienced Post Natal Depression (PND) this is a great opportunity to share with world the tiniest fraction of what it is like to have this awful mental illness that robs you of the ability to be yourself and enjoy your baby.
The signal that something is not right began when the crying started. I came home from hospital feeling exhausted but happy to be home. I left my sleeping baby with my husband and stepped into the shower to wash the feel of hospital from me and inexplicably started crying.
The next few days I struggled to stop the crying. My husband was baffled, what had brought this on, why was I so upset? I felt like I was trapped in a place where I was not me and through the clear yet impenetrable walls of this place I could see how I used to be but was denied access. The crying went on and early evenings a feeling of dread and panic would settle over me. I was so frustrated, this wasn’t fair, I had everything I wanted yet I felt like I was being tortured from the inside and unable to find the culprit.
The crying eventually abated until one morning at 4am when my son and I were sharing a breastfeed. Together in the silence, no sound except for the soft suck and swallow from his little mouth as he drank, with the soft lamp light bathing the room. No different from any other morning at that time. Except this time, I glanced down at my son and I felt nothing. I felt disconnected from him. I started to panic. I was terrified and started sobbing. I placed my son in his cot and sat on the bed and cried. Looking at him would tear me apart. I could not reconcile in my mind the cold feelings of indifference with the rational part of my mind that was trying to tell me that I did love him and that I was not some sort of monster.
This brought on fresh sobs, what had my innocent perfect little boy done to deserve a mother like me? He deserved everything in this world yet his own mother looks at him and feels nothing. That truly harrowing train of thought made me feel like I was a monster. Misdiagnosed as simply an overtired new mum I was told that PND did not present like this. Time went on and managed to gain control over the awful feelings and start to feel love again for my son. I never felt entirely myself but as long as that pervading sense of panic and disconnection stayed away I was content with that.
When my son was three and a half, I had what I like to call, a meltdown. Triggered by the suicide of a friend that had battled PND for years, I started crying again. The feelings of panic started to take over and I was fearful of being alone with my son. It terrified me to feel that disconnection again. The monster was back and this time is felt worse because my son was attuned to me and he could sense I was not right. His wise blue eyes would search mine when I told him mummy was fine because he did not believe it.
The more I tried to fight the darkness the more it took over. There is no adequate way of describing how truly horrid it is to feel as though something has stolen the real you and replaced it with a robotic imposter who does not resemble you at all. To search your mind looking for yourself and finding only dark thoughts and dark places that have taken over where normal used to be.
This time a different Dr listened to me. He gave me medication and I found a wonderful psychologist who has exponentially turned my life around. The memories I have of this experience are etched on my brain indelibly. PND is a terrible ,insidious disease that does not present in the same way for everyone and affects people in different ways.
Mental illness is as individual as the people who suffer from it and we need to talk about it to ensure new parents are not sitting at home feeling like I did and thinking that they are monsters. That they have an illness that can be treated and that it is OK to talk about it. That the dark, intrusive thoughts and feelings of shame and panic are the illness, not a reflection of your love for your baby or your skills as a parent. That you can someday get yourself back from the darkness within.