A series of experiences from everyday people showing the importance of telling our stories and sharing our experiences to normalize all things mental health, bringing it out of the shadows and into the light. The more we share, the more we understand, and the more we understand, the more we can help each other come out of the shadows and into the light.
“Postnatal depression can be violently gut, mind, heart and soul wrenching. Contrarily, it can also feel like you are wading in deep calm thick waters of limbo. Surrounded by the darkness and nothingness that has become your mind, just managing to keep your mouth above the water to draw sometimes slow and steady, sometimes great gasping breaths.
While it’s common for new mothers to feel exhausted and irritable, most are motivated by the joys of their new life and bonding with their new baby. However, women suffering from postnatal depression lack any motivation and often can’t see the joy through the trees.
I cannot speak for everyone who has been through this as each person’s experience is extremely different to the next. I can only speak what I have felt and learned, which is what I attempt to do here in the hopes anyone reading can show the next struggling mother they come across with a little more empathy and grace.
I speculate recovery from depression as similar to addiction – something if not tended to and cared for consistently, that can and will rear its ugly head. I say this because I don’t write this piece claiming to be fully recovered, I am certainly 1000% better than I have been at times, but I must watch my back…
When looking back on my mental health journey after my beautiful baby girl was born just over 2 years ago now, I can see most of my struggles stemmed from the fact that when a baby is born, so is a mother.
The moment that glorious sacred soul was placed in my arms, the old me died. Quite literally. Every self assured part about that woman who had found herself through 28 years vanished. The old me was extremely blessed – a successful and motivated career woman who was super fit, healthy, social and confident. A woman who after a troubled 14 year relationship had finally found her freedom, liberation and peace. A woman who had FULL control of her life and where it was heading.
A woman who had no idea what the journey of motherhood was indeed all about…
My own birth journey (which is still unfolding) has been one hell of a labour. At this point in time, it can be categorised into two distinct learning phases. The first being about a letting go of control – surrender and release. The second being about isolation – dealing with shame, asking for help and rebuilding connection.
In order to describe my experiences in a practical sense, the best I can do, is say there were days:
….when the control freak in me made myself that stressed and busy with cleaning and preparing “the right” food, I would not allow myself to sit on the floor and just play, be present for and idolise my little girl for all the magic that she was.
…when I could not get out the door with my baby as the thought of packing nappy bags with “all the things” (and later “healthy” snacks), nappy changes in public toilets, nappy explosions in the car, cries and screams in the car or pram, not knowing when or where I might need to pull out my boob to feed – on my own – with judging eyes staring – was just too much.
…when I was so ashamed of how I now looked and how my “baby brain” and its inability to hold a decent conversation about anything but the lack of sleep we had had or what my baby’s bowel movements were like that I closed myself off from anyone. I simply had nothing to offer anyone now.
…when I finally built up the courage to get out of the house and see an old colleague only to have my baby scream bloody murder from the moment I had her in the car seat, causing my nerves that much distress I could not pull the car over to park without having an accident so home we went both in a river of tears. Just one of many “failures”.
…when I built the strength and practice to get out of the house with my baby so much so that I then became addicted to going out and about, shopping, getting coffee and avoiding the silent, isolated prison I had let my home become in my mind.
…when I felt utterly trapped, imprisoned and utterly drowning in the (impossibly perfect) standards of care and responsibilities I had set and that I could never delegate them as a good mother (or so I believed).
….when I felt enraged from my husband’s snoring or rolling over and laying his arm over my (aching) back in the middle of the night, or offering to hang the clothes on the line….the list went on and the guilt piled up.
…when I thought my family and friends were angry at me for not being in more contact now, for living too far away, or even for the years in the past that I had not been the best version of myself for them and for that I deserved these feelings of abandonment, isolation and desolation.
…when I wanted to run screaming from a mother’s group or playgroup meeting because there were so many people and children who all seemed to know, support and love each other and yet there I stand (so willing to be the same for them) alone with nothing to say.
…when despite having the man of my dreams by my side who provided me endless support, would come home early every day to our dream home, take us out to breakfast every weekend, crack dad jokes on the daily and making all the pretty pictures, I could find no joy in anything.
…when I was utterly buried in stigma of mental illness and the sheer shame from people who just don’t understand how you “got it” especially when you have “the perfect life” and there are so many others who have it SO much harder than you.
…when I was that empty and numbed out – days, maybe weeks would go by spent with my daughter breastfeeding (who at that age most would consider too old to still be breastfeeding) from me all day while watching Peppa Pig as her mummy was a vegetable either scrolling through social media (in a vein effort to feel connected) or in the end simply staring blankly out the windows because she could not bring her body to move from the couch.
….when my doctors “strongly encouraged” medication, yet could suggest no other services, alternatives or support only adding to my feelings of sheer hopelessness.
…when I would think about how my own mother raised 4 children in the middle of the bush with no support and did the most gracious amazing job of it, yet I couldn’t be happy with my blessed situation.
….when my husband kissed us goodbye and wished us a good day as he headed to work whilst I was fighting the tears in my eyes and swallowing the lump in my throat trying to protect him from my pain of being left alone again or sometimes from the burning resentment I had that he could leave the house on his own for the day.
…when I thought a lot. Too much. And every thought was how I had become a terrible person, a worthless, nothing to offer mass of cells barely surviving let alone thriving to the point my daughter deserved to see in a mother.
…when I had been woken every 40 minutes throughout the night for a number of months and my baby was taking 3 hours to get to sleep at night. When I got that agitated, anxious and angry I wanted to hurt myself physically just to relieve the pressure and pain boiling inside my veins.
…when the guilt and shame had overcome me so much, I honestly thought my family would be better off without me here bringing them down. That I was simply unworthy of being a mother and unable to care for this new pure and magnificent life full of so much potential.
That was crunch time. That was the day, thank the heavens and universe for its timing we were admitted to hospital.
This was a lifeline. During a 4 day stay I quickly realised that in order for us to thrive, I needed to let go of control, surrender and accept support.
I will always have in my heart the guilt and disappointment of what I missed when I was sick.
That said, I can now say I am proud of how far we’ve come. How much peace I have found. How I have shown my daughter that no matter what, you keep fighting, you keep trying and one day you’ll find yourself joyfully jumping through the waves rather than gasping for air.
That you have power over your mind and you are not your thoughts.
That the best friend you have always been searching for is actually inside you.
She is in your heart and soul and wants so desperately for you to live, to thrive and to love. ”
@adoptamama on Instagram
Lifeline: 13 11 14