I have always struggled with depression. I think it’s my hormones being a bit rubbish as it seems to have really come on when I hit puberty. I can tell you, 18 years of on and off depression for no reason can be a hard addition to normal life. But nothing, nothing, compares to post natal depression. I’ve never felt anything like it and it was, for me anyway, so much worse than any depression I’d experienced before. It just seemed to go on and on, for weeks at a time, with nothing particular making it better or worse.
One particularly annoying thing about depression is that, unlike nearly all other illnesses, no one knows what to do to help, and that includes yourself!! If I could give Daddy Bear a handy list of things that would help me to feel better, a lot of things would have been solved a long time ago! But unfortunately (for everyone), whatever people do or say tends to be the wrong thing.
I have had all sorts of help along the way. I’ve been on antidepressants for 3 and a half years, taking them through 2 pregnancies, and have been on the lowest dose all the way to the maximum dose and everything in between. It has suppressed my emotions, given me heartburn, made me sick, and meant that I can’t cry, but it had definitely stabilised me and for the moment is the right thing to do.
When I was pregnant with Archie Bear it hit me like a ton of bricks. Since then, I have had the following help, mostly from the NHS.
- Perinatal counselling – specifically for pregnant and new mums. This is when I learnt about mindfulness and first realised how hard I was being on myself.
- Antidepressants, and monthly updates with my wonderful GP
- Extra visits and checkups with my health visitor
- Free baby massage lessons for me and Teddy Bear (organised by the health visitors)
- The Crisis Team turning up at my door was a particularly bad moment, but perhaps the moment Daddy Bear truelly realised how bad it was
- I was referred onto social services the same day as the Crisis Team, again, not a good time
- An assessment from the Early Help and Prevention Team
- Counselling sessions with PIPS – the Parent and Infant Psychology service
- A volunteer helper for a few hours a week from a charity called Homestart
- CBT counselling from IAPT, a nationwide initiative from the NHS called Improving Access to Psychological Therapies
- We were granted a free childcare place for Archie once he turned 2, so he’s in a local nursery 15 hours a week which has given me a break and some time to recover
Looking back at that list, there’s a lot of help out there, and a lot that I have been fortunate enough to receive. But, and this is the main point of this post, I didn’t get any of it without asking. At one point (around the social services point) I was so, incredibly sick of telling my sad story to the next person on the phone, to the GP, to yet another counsellor or therapist, that I very nearly just stopped asking for the help that I knew I needed. I was fed up with people asking me if I’d thought about killing myself or harming my baby that I thought I would’ve preferred to just stay depressed than go over it again and again.
And I’m not saying that all those things were a silver bullet, even all of them together didn’t ‘cure’ me, but they did teach me an awful lot about myself, and gave me the tools I needed to help myself get through the dips when they do happen. I’ve learnt some important preventative measures that I can take too, spending time doing things that I enjoy, having time to myself, taking life slower and steadier, putting my phone down and being more present with my kids and my husband. But everyone will have a different list, and everyone will need different help.
But please. Please. For your family as well as yourself, please ask for help. And if your GP isn’t helpful, ask to see a different one. You can actually refer yourself online for some NHS counselling. Some days I felt like I couldn’t face opening my eyes, let alone getting out of bed and being responsible for 2 small human beings. The smallest things would tip me over the edge, the plastic spoon pushed away just one too many times, one ‘no!’ too many, and then Archie Bear started to just ignore me about 2 weeks after Teddy Bear came home. The guilt and sadness I felt was overwhelming. I didn’t ask for help until Teddy Bear was 4 months old. I can’t actually remember a lot of those 4 months. They were a sad, hazy blur full of desperation, tears, and a hopeless feeling of being on a speeding train with no way of stopping or getting off. I actively disliked being a mummy, and couldn’t think of anything good in my future to look forward to. Then I felt guilty for not enjoying it and that made it all worse.
Just knowing there are other people out there feeling the same way made me sit up and book a GP appointment. The rest is history. 14 months after Teddy Bear came home, I now feel like the fog is finally lifting and I have some pretty good days! There is hope ahead for you if you are struggling at the moment, and please encourage your friends and family to get the help they need and that is so readily available!