pregnancy

'I spent months battling postnatal depression in secret. Then the cracks started to show.'

This post deals with postnatal depression and might be triggering for some readers.

It was fear of the unknown. Fear of things being out of my control. 

Up until the day I found out I was pregnant, I was in control of everything that happened in my life. 

It was the fear of losing the baby, fear of something being wrong with the baby, fear of what would happen to my body, fear of being a terrible parent. The fear sprung into my head like a little baby rabbit, that would breed and become a rabbit warren of negative emotions.

Our pregnancy was planned like everything else in my life. Little did I know that being pregnant would somehow disrupt the chemical balance in my brain and a dark cloud would begin to hover over my head, growing bigger, darker and scarier throughout my pregnancy, looming over me for many years post birth.

Watch: Jessica Rowe speaks about her experience with postnatal depression. Post continues below  


Video via Mamamia. 

My body began to change, I could feel everything happening. The lower abdomen bloating and cramps, the tiredness, the intense smells, the hunger, the flood of emotions. I got to six weeks and the morning sickness hit me like a phonebook to the face. 

Everyone is so wrapped up in the physical changes that happen when you become pregnant, no one stops to ask how you really are.

Never did anyone close to me question my mental health. Maybe because I hid it so well. I put on a smile every day and went about my business. I just dealt with it. I got through each day naively believing this was a normal feeling. I would walk in the door when I got home, put my dressing gown on and go to my safe place.

I was terrified, anxious and deep down, a huge mess. These feelings grew inside me from my gut up to my head and hung over me in my growing dark cloud. Sometimes, that cloud would be a little wisp of fluff and I wouldn’t need that fake smile because it appeared naturally that day. Other days it would be a big, dark, threatening storm cloud, making it too loud and daunting to leave the house.

My husband and I had agreed not to find out the gender of the baby. This was on my mind every day, eating me up. I hated not knowing. I felt so disconnected with my son when he was in my belly. The one time when we were physically connected, I felt no emotional connection to him at all. My little cloud was there, just hovering, just imposing on my privacy. I didn’t see it then, but I knew that this wasn’t how I was supposed to be feeling. I never expressed the fact that I wasn’t ok. I kept it inside, deep inside. I was in denial.

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The day I had my son was the day my life as me finished and I became someone else. That someone else I am still trying to come to terms with nearly five years since the day I became a mother. I couldn’t recognise myself. I was a deflated, dishevelled, emotionally unstable mess. I loved him at first sight, I was in awe of him, but I was scared of him. All the visitors left and it was just us. He was so quiet, but my mind was racing. It was loud; all my thoughts chaotically bouncing around my head like a pinball machine.

My cloud had been forced to the back of my mind. Squished against the back wall of my brain by my strong mothers’ instinct. Pinned there by his throat, dared to move. I had more important things to worry about. My son, my life, was now not about me, but for caring for him. I had a job to do, and this job would be solely mine.

I was in survival mode; I was just getting by. My husband began to say to me, "what’s wrong? You’re not yourself." I shrugged it off. My façade was failing, the cloud was growing and the person closest to me could see it.

I had support from friends and family and I am so grateful for everything that everyone did for me. They would cook for me, come and help care for my son and stay with me at night. I was happy to accept help for these physical things, but I was not about to accept help for anything that was going on in my head. That was my own, secret battle.

The cracks were beginning to show. I wasn’t myself. Anger outbursts, anxiety, obsessive behaviour and irrational thinking took over.

The sound of my son crying was agonising; it would give me goose bumps. I would get angry at him if he didn’t sleep like he was ‘supposed to.’ I had to walk outside and leave him crying multiple times so I could sit and burst into tears, sobbing into my hands alone. It would infuriate me when things didn’t go the way they were planned. I would think too far ahead and dread things that hadn’t happened yet.

On This Glorious Mess, Leigh Campbell and Tegan Natoli open up about their very different experiences with PND. Post continues below. 

I saw enough people to ensure no one was suspicious of the fact that something was wrong. I put effort into looking good on the outside so no one would ask if I was ok on the inside. I was now fully enclosed in my dark, thundering cloud. Smiles were rare, usually only at the sight of my son. He was my light in that darkness. His face, his milestone moments kept me going.

My husband was my crutch. He held me up. He knew I wasn’t ok but all he could do at that time was prop me up. He told me multiple times to get help, speak to someone. This continued for months. He would force me to go to social events, force me to go on camping trips.

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I'm so thankful for him, because he was exactly what I needed at that time. Each time he would push me out of the house, I would be pushed out of my cloud for a split second and I could see the light, and I would smile and laugh, then the cloud would draw me back in and surround me entirely.

After I finished breastfeeding and my son began to sleep most nights, I started forcing myself out of that cloud for moments. Fleeting moments, but the happiness wouldn’t last. I got involved in a local bootcamp, we started to eat better, I had lovely new friends, and I began a new career. 

Until a slight inconvenience would trigger me, or my son’s routine would change, or a minor stressful situation would arise. Then I fell apart.

At just over one year post birth, my husband had had enough. He could no longer hold me up. I can see that now, but at the time it was all his fault. When you are unhappy, you push the ones closest to you away. You are unhappy, so they don’t deserve happiness either. How dare he be able to just go mow the lawn; how dare he have the freedom and carefree mindset that I so desperately wanted. I detested him for it, and our relationship suffered immensely. 

I was mourning my old life. I was used to that freedom my husband still had as a father, and as a mother you don’t get that. Mothers can't switch off like fathers can, I thought.

He yelled at me one day. Yelled. He said, "I can't bare you anymore, go to the GP now." I heard him; it was the first time that I actually heard him. I went to my GP and did a mental health plan. I was referred to a local psychologist. I walked into her office and after a five-minute conversation she said to me, "I’m putting you on medication today. You have postnatal depression."

I went home after that diagnosis in tears. Those few days before I began my medication were my darkest. I was so ashamed; I was a failure. My dark, heavy cloud had grown quiet. It was no longer noisy, it was heavy. Incredibly heavy. 

The weight of it held me down now, it held me to ransom, daring me to move. I could no longer see any light. The sight on my son’s face would bring me to tears – he deserved better, he deserved someone that didn’t need medication, he deserved someone stronger than I could be.

My psychologist explained depression to me something like this: "Your brain is a glass cup with a crack. You are pouring all the good chemicals in it like serotonin, and dopamine and all the good endorphins, but the cup is leaking so nothing stays in there long enough for you to feel it. The crack only gets bigger and the damage to your brain becomes more permanent. Medication is a bandaid that helps the crack heal."

I had to start on medication immediately because I wasn’t thinking straight, I was completely irrational.

I began on my medication, and the first tablet was hard to swallow. I was too proud; I was so upset that I couldn’t fight it alone. But if you had cancer you would take medication for that, wouldn’t you? I just had to keep telling myself that.

I began to feel better. I felt lighter, my cloud lifting off my shoulders. I was sitting at my desk at work and I suddenly realised I was having a great day. Actually, having a really fantastic day. I was so overwhelmed with joy that I said to my colleagues, "I started taking anti-depressants and they have started to work, I feel great!" 

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They looked at each other, not really knowing what to say. They were supportive and happy for me, but I guess it was something a bit out of the ordinary to hear in the workplace. I couldn’t help it, I was ecstatic. I was incredibly proud of myself and I wanted the world to know. 

It shouldn’t be something out of the ordinary to talk about, but unfortunately it is. I sort of wear it as a badge of honour now, in the sense that if by telling people it helps them, then I will tell the world. 

Image: Supplied.  

Life began to get better, happier and healthier. Our relationship improved and our family life improved.

I stayed on my medication throughout my second pregnancy, and six months post birth. Then things got hard again 18 months after the birth of my daughter. I am back on the same medication. It's an uneasy feeling knowing. It's a little disappointing, but definitely not shameful.

Again, it was hard to swallow the first tablet, but I need to accept that I did everything I could without them. I went as far as I could: I lost weight, I changed my unhealthy lifestyle and really gave it a good crack at attempting to help my body the best I could. I guess I still need that bandaid for now. 

Medication for me was my last resort. Something I was at first backed into a corner to take, but in the end the best thing for me.

My medication is something I tell a lot of people about; I don’t hide it. It helps me think clearly and handle what life throws my way. I don’t know when I will be ready to come off them, but for now, they keep me from being imprisoned within that darkness that still haunts me in my memories.

If you think you or someone you know may be suffering from depression, contact PANDA – Post and Antenatal Depression Association. You can find their website here or call their helpline – 1300 726 306.

Feature Image: Supplied. 

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