Chelsea had a high-flying career. After becoming a mother, she checked into a psychiatric ward.

This post includes discussion of suicide and postnatal depression that may be distressing to some readers.

Whenever Chelsea Pottenger talks about her experience with postnatal depression, there's one story she always tells. 

During her stay at a psychiatric hospital, she played a game where you try to work out whether you're the 'craziest person in the room'.

One day, while standing in the laundry room, Chelsea looked over at another patient - she hadn't washed her hair in months. But as this woman pointed out, Chelsea's pants were on back to front.

They were both playing the same game and burst into laughter.


Up until then, Chelsea, 41, tended to put her clothes on the right way.

A self-confessed high achiever with a type A personality, she won a full scholarship to play basketball in the US and was named 'Salesperson of the Year' at a global company multiple times.

But after giving birth to her daughter Clara in 2015, she considered ending her life.

"I've always worked really, really hard," she told Mamamia

After trying to fall pregnant for six years, Chelsea and her husband Jay were elated when found out they were expecting.

But then, as the author and speaker shared, "something ironic happened".

"After giving birth to her, things changed significantly, and that's when I started spiraling out of control."


Chelsea had a smooth-running C-section. On day one with her daughter, she experienced that newborn cuddle oxytocin-filled euphoria.

On day two, there was a miscommunication with the nursing staff about her medication, and she was given a double dose of Endone.

In her words, Chelsea was "off her face"; her nipples were raw from not being able to feel Clara feeding, and she had burst stitches from vomiting due to the medication.

On day three, she was transferred to a hotel hospital room. She thought maybe the change of scenery, better food, would make her feel better. It didn't.


"As we arrived at the room, I started noticing my mind going to some pretty dark places," she said.

"This is on day three. I had premonitions of jumping off the balcony."

"That was a real shock to me," she added.

That night, Chelsea started spiralling into insomnia. And it was then she noticed her relationship with Clara changing.


"Because I was in so much pain from the breastfeeding, I started to view her as a source of pain," she said.

The new parents put their daughter on formula thinking that would help. But the damage was done.

Chelsea started experiencing a heightened sensitivity to sound (a symptom of postnatal depression) and became paranoid.

Then, like nothing had happened, she went back to work - just four weeks after giving birth - perfectly groomed and her clothes immaculate. 

At their six-week checkup, Chelsea told the doctor everything she knew they wanted to hear during the postnatal depression check. The only thing she was honest about was her lack of sleep, and she was prescribed sleeping pills.

When Clara was 10 weeks old, Chelsea's friend was getting married overseas. She decided to go, thinking some time away from home would help her head.

"As I was driving [to the airport], I was having these dark, despondent thoughts," Chelsea said.

She started thinking things like, 'I'm sure they're going to be do a better job looking after Clara', and 'Maybe the plane's going to go down'. 

Then Chelsea had a panic attack in the car.

"That's when it got really dark - when I got down into that suicidal ideation place, thinking that was the only way out," she said.

As she regained her ability to breathe, Chelsea decided to turn the car around and return home. Her intention was to write a goodbye letter to Jay and Clara. 


When she walked through the door, Jay asked: "Are you okay?"

"I could finally be honest with him," Chelsea said.

Fortunately, Chelsea's cousin is a psychiatrist who specialises in postnatal depression. She told Chelsea about the St John of God Hospital's psychiatric program for mothers.

She and Clara were admitted the following day for a five-week stay.

Soon after arriving there, Chelsea learned how similar other women - and their situations - were to hers.


"They were all very high functioning, type A personalities, who are used to doing things at a certain level. And when they can't master motherhood, which you can't, they just crumble," she said.

After a week on suicide watch, getting off the sleeping pills and onto the right medication, the doctors started focusing on Chelsea's bond with her baby.

Clara was in there with her - and although the new mum felt she didn't want her child there, it was the best thing for both of them.

"I'm so grateful to the doctors for doing that," she said.

"A few weeks later, I had this complete influx of love for her and I totally understood that mother love."

At the end of the five weeks, Chelsea felt like her old self - there was still work to be done, but she was getting there.

When leaving the hospital, her psychiatrist suggested she study psychology. She also encouraged Chelsea to move out of Sydney, away from the grind of the city.

These days, Chelsea, Jay and Clara live in a beach town on New South Wales' South Coast. 

Chelsea is studying psychology and is the founder and director of EQ Minds - where she works with businesses and professionals to take care of their mental wellbeing.

She's a keynote speaker at various events and works with some of the biggest brands in the world, like eBay and Google. 

Her reasoning for moving into this space is simple.


"I never want anyone to ever end up in a hospital bed like me," she said.

Chelsea Pottenger's book, The Mindful High Performer, is available now.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, 24-hour support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

Feature image: Instagram/@chelseapottengerofficial