Once again we're shining a light on pre and postnatal depression. I've had both and I'm one of a huge number of mums (1 in 5 suffer) who has gone through this experience. One of my missions in life is to help raise awareness through eduction of both ante and postnatal care givers and also mums. There are lots of things we can do to help prevent and cure this illness and too many suffer in silence. This is my story...
I’m very open about the fact that I’ve had OCD most of my life, that I suffer from anxiety and sometimes depression, that mental illness runs in my family and that my postnatal depression led to me starting Bare Biology. However, writing in detail about my experience fills me with slight horror. Actually, fills me with lots of horror. And it’s because there is a bit of me that is somehow ashamed and embarrassed. The irrational part of my brain thinks I’m somehow not as ‘strong’ as other people, not as ‘fit’ or not as ‘good’. Being hard on oneself is a classic symptom of depression and anxiety, so it could just be my internal voice or it could be what society expects. I think it’s a combination of the two.
The first signs of my postnatal depression
I talk about my postnatal depression kicking in after the birth of my second child, my son Oscar. But now I realise the anxiety element of it started after the birth of my first baby, Grace, and worsened when I was pregnant with Oscar. I can remember walking along the river Thames with Grace in her pushchair and being terrified that I’d be taken over by some evil force that would compel me to throw her in the river. I would get vivid visions flash into my head and would actually ‘step away from the edge’, just in case. I also developed an irrational fear of Grace vomiting, and would literally go into a blind panic if she looked peaky. She was quite a pukey child for various reasons, so I was in constant fear. It sounds ridiculous now, but I was consumed with anxiety and it was no fun at all. If I heard that a child at her nursery or a child we’d been in contact with had been sick, I’d practically hose her down as if there had been an Ebola outbreak and would spend hours trying to persuade myself that she hadn’t caught the bug. I hated myself for being so ‘weird’ and was desperate not to pass my fears on to Grace, so I was constantly berating myself and trying to hide it from her and from others.
The depression element kicked in after my second child
After Oscar was born, the really low feeling kicked in and then the overwhelm. I would have moments when I couldn’t make a single decision and would be paralysed by a simple task. I couldn’t think straight and everything seemed monumentally difficult. At the time we had really noisy neighbours and Oscar didn’t sleep well, so I was suffering from horrific sleep deprivation. One day, I totally lost it with the neighbours and went into a blind rage. I would walk to the beach with Oscar in his pram and would sit for ages on my own with him, thinking about how useless I was and how everyone would be better off without me. It all sounds melodramatic now, but I literally felt wretched. I’d look at other mums and families and wonder how they could seem so happy and so relaxed. I was wound up inside like a tight ball of wire and couldn’t see joy in anything. I remember my husband’s birthday when he had his brothers and their wives over for a late, boozy dinner, and I was desperately trying to be sociable, the good hostess and the good wife. But I just wanted to scream at them all to be quiet, to go away and to stop having fun in front of me. I felt so confused. I wanted to be normal again and have a laugh but I also wanted to disappear and make everyone go away. I felt lonely as hell and I hated myself, with a passion.
I got help and I got better
I eventually asked for help from my health visitor and GP and went to a support group for mums with postnatal depression. I also overdosed on oily fish and fish oil, which most of you already know about, and as a result, Bare Biology was born. A combination of lifestyle changes, talking therapy and making some other mum friends really helped me pull through.
I’ve also found starting and running a business has helped my mental health. It’s strange because it is stressful and pressured, and it certainly gives me cause for anxiety at times, but keeping my brain engaged and giving me a purpose outside of being a mum has really helped me. I’m also on a never-ending quest for self-improvement and I know that things like meditation, exercise, eating well, limiting caffeine, sleeping enough and taking time to relax do really keep me on track.
Don't be afraid to admit how you feel, it's the first step to getting well
Do read the articles in this mini guide and do the questionnaire. Contact the PANDAS foundation - they are there to help. Talk to your GP or midwife and don't be ashamed. It's an illness just like any other and you don't need to suffer in silence.
Melanie Lawson, Founder & CEO, Bare Biology.