To the depths of despair and back again…
October was ‘Mental Health Month’ here in Australia, so I’ve decided to dredge up some painful memories in the hope that other Mothers might find some comfort in knowing they are not alone. What I hope, is that this post might help someone take the brave step of reaching out for help or to have faith that life can be beautiful again.
This is my story…
About four years ago I had a breakdown. It was a Sunday morning. I had a six-month-old beautiful baby girl, a 2-year-old boy I adored and a husband I’d had a wonderful relationship with for 9 years, but I was unhappy. I found life in general very difficult as I did all my relationships with others. I cried all the time, wanted to scream, to run away, to sleep, but mostly I wanted to shut out the constant bombardment of negative voices in my head telling me I was repulsive, useless, a terrible mother and that my family would be better off without me. I was not coping, I did not recognise myself and I thought I might be going insane.
Finally, in desperation, I reached out for help and was diagnosed with severe Post Natal Depression (PND), a disease that affects approximately 1 in 8 new Mothers. Up until then, I had quite frankly thought PND was a bit of a myth. With the support of my family and various professionals, I spent the following 18 months getting ‘better’ like my life depended upon it. Because it really did.
I don’t want to tell you about all the struggles I had – trust me there were many – what I would like to give you instead, is hope by sharing some of the lessons I learned from PND. It amazes me that now I can look back at this dark time in my life and actually be grateful for the insights I gained and for the person I have become. For a long time I was so ashamed of my illness, but now I am ready to speak up and reach out to other suffering Mummas.
Lesson 1: PND taught me about Depression. I honestly used to think that people who experienced Depression were simply choosing to be unhappy and that they could snap out of it at any moment if they simply chose to. Ha! If only it were that simple! Depression is a medical condition, an actual disease where there is a chemical imbalance in the brain. It’s a form of mental illness, extremely complex and difficult to understand because we usually cannot see it. We can see a broken leg or the effects of cancer or a kidney infection, which are all more socially accepted forms of illness than mental illness.
Lesson 2: PND taught me about kindness and compassion. That we need to reach out to other Mothers and love and support one another without judgment. We all love our kids and want the very best for them. We are all doing the best we can at the complex job of Mothering, for which there is no instruction manual. Women have the power to tear us down but women also have the power to build each other up. Be kind.
Lesson 3: PND taught me that Mums are the heart and soul of their families. We set the tone in our home. When we thrive, everyone thrives. When we struggle, everyone struggles. If we want our kids to be happy, confident and resilient individuals, then we ourselves need to model these attributes.
Lesson 4: PND taught me about the importance of self-care. Having small children who constantly rely on you can be a selfless, thankless job and most of us Mums put ourselves last in the line of care. I am often the one leaving the house without having had breakfast or a shower because I have been flat chat getting the rest of the family fed, dressed and organized for the day. A Mother who is exhausted and unfulfilled and whose life only revolves around her children day in and day out can reach a place where it is hard to keep giving and giving in a calm and caring way. We need to recognize that time spent engaged in activities that allow us to take off our mother ‘cap’ and be our true selves, feeds our souls, even if it is just for a few minutes everyday.
Lesson 5: PND taught me that recovery is absolutely possible, but that there is no quick fix. For me, a holistic approach to PND was imperative and fortunately, successful. Once I better understood the disease that I was up against I fought hard, every day, to get well. I had regular visits to my doctor, psychiatrist and family support officer. I attended a PND support group, took anti-depressants, began journaling, chanted positive affirmations, changed my diet, took herbal supplements and started exercising. I began reading and studying mental health and began reintroducing nourishing activities that were just for me. It took me 18 months to come out the other side as a new and improved version of myself.
Lesson 6: PND taught be to focus on and appreciate the beauty, wonder and joy in my life as a Mother. I feel and relish the good times in my life now so much more intensely that I used to. PND set me on the path of the journey I am currently on, which is all about learning how to cultivate an attitude of joy and appreciation and is the very reason, the inspiration, for me creating this blog.
Motherhood is not always milky kisses, toothless smiles, laugher, bliss and elation. It can be a dark and scary place where we get lost in self-doubt, fear and anxiety. But we can get through it. We can learn to see the rainbow through the fog and eventually step out into the light.
For some more PND thoughts and inspiration check out my Post Natal Depression board Pinterest