(Everyone’s struggle with depression and anxiety is different, unique to them and valid. Everything shared in this post is just my own personal feelings and experiences)
“I’m fine. Im just tired”
How many times have you found yourself automatically responding with “I’m fine. I’m just tired.” whenever anyone asks how you are? Too many times to remember because it’s easier, right? It’s easier to say you are fine rather than to spurt out all the reasons why you’re not. It’s easier to say you are tired rather than admit that actually, you just physically don’t have the capacity to function right now. It’s easier to keep everything bottled inside because how can you even begin to explain how you’re feeling to someone else when you don’t even understand it yourself. It’s easier to say you’re fine because maybe, just maybe, that’s how you can convince yourself that you are.
“Its just the stress of 3 kids under 5. I’m sure it will get easier.”
As a mother of 3 children, I had read countless leaflets over the years on Postnatal Depression (PND) and the signs and symptoms to look out for. I was a seasoned expert on the subject. I thought it would feel obvious and hit me like a train if ever I found myself wandering down that path but in reality, PND crept up on me so slowly that by the time I realised, I was already drowning. I’d had countless chats with my midwives and Health Visitor at every appointment, and each time I was asked those dreaded questions, “In the past month have you often been bothered by feeling down, depressed and hopeless/having little interest or pleasure in doing things?”, every single time, I knew the answer was yes and yet I just answered with the words “I’m okay, just a bit tired but that’s life with 3 kids under the age of 5, right?” and I shrugged it off. But deep down, I knew I wasn’t okay. Every time I said the words out loud while fighting back tears, it was just me trying to convince myself and everyone around me that I was fine. I constantly felt like I was silently screaming for someone to help me, wishing someone would just see through the facade I’d become so good at creating, praying someone could help me put the broken pieces of myself back together again.
“I had scared myself and my children that night and something had to change.”
I remember the day I finally admitted I needed help like it was yesterday. My husband was at work and I was at home battling the bedtime routine with 3 children by myself. It hadn’t even been a particularly bad day, but I was tired. Tired from using every ounce of energy trying to convince myself and everyone around me that I was fine (I was not fine). I had managed to get our youngest to sleep without a hitch, however our middle child was going through a phase of fighting bedtime and he was already making it obvious that he had no intentions of going to sleep on time that night either. As predicted, within 5 minutes of being put to bed, he was up again. We played the game of me putting him back to bed and then 5 minutes later, him getting up again for about an hour before I well and truly lost it. I’m not proud of what happened next and I still think about it to this day and feel so much guilt about it, but I was broken. I saw red and I burst into his bedroom like a woman possessed. I scooped him up, shoved him back into his bed and I screamed and shouted at him, inches from his face, to stay in bed. He started to cry and I just turned around and left him in the dark, slamming the door behind me. And in that moment in time, I resented him. He was two. Those feelings of resentment floored me and I collapsed onto the floor and cried, uncontrollably, to the point where my 5 year old came upstairs. He silently came and knelt down next to me, put his arms around me and said “it will be okay Mummy”, and then he gave me the tightest hug and wouldn’t let go. And that broke my heart. I had scared my children and myself that night and something had to change. I messaged my husband and admitted I couldn’t do this anymore. I needed help.
“Why is it so hard to admit when you are struggling?”
The morning after the night before, I got in touch with my local perinatal mental health team via a ChatHealth texting service called ‘Mums Mind’. Mum’s Mind is a confidential service ran by public health nurses (health visitor/school nurse) that offers support and advice to mothers across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland who are struggling with mental health issues during pregnancy and baby’s first year. Although they aren’t a crisis service, they are able to signpost to other support from GP, health visitors and psychological therapies and that is exactly what I needed. I was still scared of physically saying the words out loud to someone so this offered a compromise and they helped me find that courage to make the appointment to speak to my GP.
Making that phone call to my Medical Centre was by far one of the hardest things I have ever done. It took me 10 minutes just to input the number into my phone, and another 20 minutes just to press ‘call’. My palms were that sweaty, I thought I was going to drop my phone and my heart pounded so hard, it felt like it was beating out of my chest. When making the initial appointment, the receptionist asked what the nature of my call was so that she could book me in with the most suitable person. When I finally managed to stutter out the words between tears “I’d like to make an appointment to speak to a doctor about postnatal depression please”, I could instantly hear the tone of empathy in her voice when she replied. It was like a silent acknowledgement that she understood how hard this phone call had been for me and she made me an appointment with a female GP for later on that day.
And so began Day 1 of one of the hardest journeys I have ever made.