TRIGGER WARNING: this story contains information about self harm.
I am normally quite a private person and, therefore, I never thought I would be talking so openly about my journey through Anxiety and Post Natal Depression. I also never thought that the birth of my beautiful baby boy, would lead to one of my greatest challenges. But I’m a better, healthier and happier person, having faced that adversity. I hope that by sharing my story it will give hope to parents facing the same challenges that, even in the darkest days, recovery is possible.
I clearly remember the home visit by my Maternal and Child Health Nurse, three days after coming home from hospital. I was instantly drawn to her warm smile and knowing eyes. She sat next to me on the couch as I attempted to breastfeed. She helped me relax, which helped me attach my son, and she gave me some great tips. Before long, we began chatting about how my husband and I had set up our baby’s room, and about my labour and the birth.
Although being quite a private person, the MCH nurse made me feel comfortable enough to also share that my eldest sister has bipolar disorder, and that my elder brother suicided at the age of 25, after a long battle with schizophrenia.
She gave me a big cuddle and said she would stick a PANDA sticker next to my name in my son’s little green Health and Development Record book. This would remind her to take extra care of me at my MCH visits, as given my family history; I was predisposed to postnatal depression. I shrugged it off, little knowing how right she would be.
Not long after, my mental state started to go downhill. I was exhausted, yet had trouble sleeping. “Sleep when baby sleeps” was just not happening. I was kept awake by night sweats and terrible racing thoughts. “Could something fall into my baby’s bassinet and suffocate him?”, “Maybe his nappy is on too tight and could cut off his circulation”, “Maybe someone could break in to the house and kidnap him”, “Maybe he’s too hot, maybe he’s too cold”. These thoughts would play over and over in my mind.
I had a constant sick feeling, which put me off eating, and I lost a lot of weight. I was irritable and angry, snapping at the smallest things. I felt hopeless and dead inside. I began to isolate myself from family and friends. I would often close all the blinds, after my husband left for work.
As my mental state deteriorated, I had trouble bonding with baby. Some days I couldn’t even bear to look at him. I felt like he was not my son. Other days I would just wish that someone would take my son away from me, and that I’d be rid of all my internal pain. Yet I constantly worried about him. I wouldn’t let anyone outside my immediate family touch or hold him, and I’d check his temperature almost every hour. I became so overwhelmed and exhausted that I started to plan my escape. I just wanted it to all end.
My husband and the rest of my family noticed things didn’t seem right, and urged me to speak to my Maternal Child Health Nurse or my GP. Yet I was too afraid that I would lose my son. That my horrid thoughts would send me to a mental ward – or worse yet, prison – and that I’d never see my son again.
I’d have panic attacks, or go silent as my thoughts took over. My sister would call me daily and calm me down. I felt comforted knowing she was on the line. My mum lived next door, and most days would come and just sit with me. I was afraid to be alone with my thoughts. My husband would secretly call my friends and ask them to visit. They’d bring me lunch, make me tea, and even helped me start my son on solids. They knew something wasn’t right, but I think they were too afraid to say something that might “tip me over the edge”.
Then one day, I explicitly told mum that I was contemplating suicide. She knew I was serious, and she was determined not to lose another child that way. She immediately phoned my GP, and luckily I got in to see her that day. Yet, I was still afraid that the GP would have me locked up, and my son taken from me. So, I went under the guise of him being unwell.
Luckily, my GP saw through this. She asked my mum to leave the room and began asking me questions. I finally broke down and told her everything. She wrote me out a Mental Health Care Plan, a script for antidepressants and a referral to a psychiatrist.
When the psychiatrist diagnosed me with Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Postnatal Depression, things started to get better. I got medication to help with my anxiety. For the first two weeks it exacerbated my suicidal thoughts, which is a common side effect. Mum monitored me while my husband was at work, and then it started to really help.
I also saw a psychologist at Tweddle Child and Family Health, with support under the Mental Health Care Plan. At first, I resisted this treatment. I was still too afraid to speak up about my horrid thoughts. But as I began to trust the psychologist, I realised the therapy was helping me work through my issues, including my brother’s death. I was very lucky that my husband came with me to my initial visits, and still loved me in spite of the person I had become.
I now know that this treatment played an important role in my recovery – not to mention the love and support of my GP, my family and close friends. I only wish that I had spoken up sooner. I really want to get the message across to anyone who is struggling: please get help as quickly as possible, so that recovery is not delayed.
I can’t tell you the exact day that things started to shift for me. But I can tell you what I started to notice. For one, I began opening the blinds, one by one. I felt the fog lift, and I began socialising and making friends with new mums in my area. Most importantly, I saw my beautiful baby boy wanting his mummy so much. I realised how precious he is to me, and I felt an overwhelming sense of love and happiness that I longed for, and had so missed.
If you or someone you know needs help, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 website: http://www.lifeline.org.au, beyond blue on 1300 224 636 website: http://www.beyondblue.org.au or PANDA on 1300 726 306 website http://www.panda.org.au