Warning: This post deals with topics of postnatal depression and postnatal psychosis and may be triggering for some readers.
I don’t dwell on what might have happened had I been sent home on day five after my daughter was born. But whenever the news throws up sensational stories reporting murder, infanticide, or suicide, and there is even a slim possibility the perpetrator might have been psychotic – then I think about it. Because that could have been me.
When our daughter was five days old I was two days away from being swallowed whole by my first psychotic episode. Thanks to luck and private health insurance, I wasn’t at home. My maternity midwife could see I wasn’t right on the day I was due to be discharged from the maternity hospital. Instead of being sent home I was referred to a private psychiatric hospital with a MBU (Mother Baby Unit). So, when it hit two days later I could be diagnosed with postnatal psychosis immediately, started on high dose anti-psychotic medication, and transferred to the hospital’s Special Care Unit (a high security locked ward), while my baby went home to be cared for by my husband and my mother.
For me, the postnatal psychosis also turned out to be the first episode of bipolar 1 disorder, but because I received the appropriate care at the right time, I recovered from that and subsequent episodes, and now lead a happy, highly functioning life.
But if I had had a less switched on midwife on duty that day, or no private health insurance – what do you think might have happened?
I would have gone home. I would still have been swallowed whole and lost touch with reality. My husband would have been there. But would he have noticed the seismic shifts occurring inside my head? Maybe. Maybe not. I couldn’t have communicated them to him because I was convinced the inside of my head represented reality, and this was a first episode, so I had no insight.
What if we ran out of milk or toilet paper? I can’t know for sure, but I suspect my husband would have deemed it safe to duck out to the shops. He might only have been gone fifteen minutes.
Watch: The facts on postnatal depression.
Had I been home with my baby daughter when my husband briefly left our house, I have no idea what the psychosis might have told me to do. But I do know I would have believed it and followed its instructions to the letter. Not because I am stupid, immoral, or monstrous. But because I had a severe illness that had gobbled up my free will, my beliefs, my logic, my opinions, my normal emotions, and my knowledge of the world. My husband may well have come home from the shops to a scene no one should ever come home to. And I would have been cheap fodder for the headlines.
I don’t disclose any of this to make you uncomfortable. I disclose it because I am fed up with not having a voice. I am fed up with main-stream journalism not representing the truth for most of the brave, resilient, human beings who live with the threat of psychosis, bear its scars, or who have lost lives to it.