Today is World Mental Health Day and talking about my experience with post-natal depression and anxiety is difficult but if I don’t and someone else is feeling this way and thinks it is normal that is not okay. After my third daughter was born I lost myself for a while and it was genuinely the most scary time of my life.
The alarm sounds and I wake from a broken sleep. I don’t even know what time I eventually got to sleep, plus the baby woke four times.
An ache controls my entire body.
I immediately roll through the list of all the things I need to do straight away. I have to feed the baby, change the baby, wrangle toddler, acknowledge husband, dress kindergartner, smile and act happy. It’s a list I do everyday.
Getting up is difficult, my mind is throbbing yet my body doesn’t feel refreshed after waking, instead it feels like I have run a marathon through gallons of mud. The pressure of today feels like actual, physical weights holding me onto the bed. I know I just want to stay here and roll into the soft protective linen of my doona. It’s safe here. No one needs me here.
I hear a yell from the hallway. It’s the toddler demanding to be fed.
I feel the strain of all my muscles as I pull myself from bed. My heart starts beating a little faster, I start again remembering all that is required of me. Is it so hard getting up, my body aches but my mind races.
A loud beep comes from my phone, it is a reminder that this afternoon we have swimming lessons. An immediate panic takes over me. How do I take wet swimmers off the kindergartner while keeping an eye on the toddler and baby? The baby crawls so quickly now, she is probably going to end up floating in the pool. Do you think everyone looks at me and knows that? Are they just waiting to point and laugh? Where is the toddler? I can’t take the pram down the stairs so how do I carry the toddler and baby? The toddler will need to go to the toilet, how will I carry the baby as well. Plus, I need to watch the kindergartner more because she said last week I didn’t watch her enough. Do I not pay her enough attention? I’m tired of swimming and I’m not even there yet.
I remind myself I also have to go to bank, they shut at 4 so it has to be before swimming. I will only be 30 seconds but I can’t leave the kids in the car because the Police will come, but if I take them inside will the bank robbers shoot them? What do I do?
I need to make lunch, the kids had toast for breakfast so if I give them a sandwich for lunch they have eaten too much bread, good mums wouldn’t do that. I should cook. What am I going to cook? You need to cook, good mums cook. Cook something, you need to feed them otherwise you’re a bad mum. Also, remember to make another milk formula bottle because you don’t make enough milk for your baby because you’re a bad mum. Good mums can feed their babies, because, it’s natural.
Also you need fuel, make sure you take the kids inside when you pay because what if a fire starts and you’re stuck inside paying and the kids are trapped in the car outside? I would have to watch them die while only 10 metres away.
The husband is going to be home from work soon so I need to clean up. Does he have work clothes for tomorrow? Where the hell are those socks I found earlier? Shit, I put his overalls in the wash earlier and didn’t hang them up, fuck how hard is it to hang up clothes? How stupid are you?
That’s the baby howling again, she only slept for 25 minutes. Why didn’t you feed her more before putting her down? That’s right you don’t make enough milk. So it’s your fault she didn’t sleep longer. She needs to be changed, shit, she has a scratch on leg. How did that happen? Was it there before? Why didn’t you notice it? What if it is infected? She is probably going to end up at the hospital needing antibiotics and they are going to ask why you did notice it earlier.
Back in the kitchen to cook dinner, I have to make sure we eat vegetables because the kindergartner ate cruskits with vegemite after school, that’s not nutritious. She needs to eat five serves of fruit and vegetables. I grab the tomatoes. She hates tomatoes why did you get out tomatoes? How about you actually remember what she likes, she is your daughter after all. How could you forget that?
It’s finally bed time, you still haven’t ironed the kindergartner’s uniform, plus you need to put some sort of status on the blog, if you don’t you will lose all your followers. Plus you have your succession law exam in 5 weeks why haven’t you started preparing for that? You’re probably going to fail anyway.
I climb into bed, the husband deserves some attention, that’s what good wives do, why aren’t you a good wife? It’s not his fault you’re tired, just be a good wife. You don’t deserve to feel good though so just make it about him. When you do all the jobs properly then you warrant feeling good.
What a shit mother and wife you are.
I lived just about every day of my life in this panic for the 8 months following the birth of my youngest daughter and at the time I had no idea that the way I was feeling wasn’t normal. I genuinely believed that I was thinking rationally. I didn’t know what parenting three children was meant to feel like so maybe that’s how it should feel.
Sometimes it isn’t postnatal depression that takes over rather postnatal anxiety. I honestly felt crippled each time I was meant to leave the house. I often found myself spending 10 minutes tightening and adjusting the baby’s seat belt because I just knew that that was the time we would be in a crash. It’s thinking the worst case scenario is going to happen every time. Anxiety takes over your entire body, it is heart palpitations so strong that I wanted to vomit, its irritability that makes you angry at the smallest thing going wrong. It is the feeling of failure even before you have begun.
My biggest regret and something I will have to spend every single day of my life living with is the fact that I don’t remember most of my daughter’s first eight months of life. I spent so much time worried that I genuinely don’t remember enjoying her. She was just something else that needed to be managed. I will regret that for the rest of my existence. I tell myself it wasn’t my fault, that I couldn’t control the way I was feeling but I honestly feel like I let her down.
I know now that all I had to do was ask for help, my husband saw me drowning and after a long few months of endlessly trying he was finally able to rescue me. It’s really hard to rescue someone that doesn’t know they are drowning. I remember sitting in the doctor’s waiting room and wanting to leave, it was my husband that made me stay. Talking to the doctor was the hardest, yet more rewarding thing I ever did.
As a mother your worst critic is yourself and once you ask for help you will realise you aren’t alone, behind the smiling faces at school pickup and the ladies pushing grocery trollies at the supermarket are women who are feeling exactly the same way. The village is there is you can find the way to look for it.
I will never be the same person I was before but somehow I know that one day I will be stronger than before. I’m just waiting on that day to finally come. You see that’s the hard part about postnatal depression and anxiety, and the part that no one tells you, you never really know when it’s gone. Now, when I get upset I find myself asking if it is because I genuinely have a right to be upset or whether I am being irrational again. I have taught myself ways not to spiral like before. Every day I will just keep going because really what’s the alternative?
If you are experiencing anything like this, I implore you to seek help. You can feel so much better than the way you currently feel. I have never experienced any other type of mental illness in my life and postnatal depression crushed me. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. I promise.
You can reach out to:
The Perinatal Anxiety and Depression (PANDA) helpline on 1300 726 306 or contact Beyondblue support service on 1300 224 636
You can also contact your local GP or Community Health Care Nurse.