This week is Maternal Mental Health Week, already I'm seeing social media flooded with amazing organisations and individuals speaking out and sharing their experiences.
More than 1 in 10 women develop a mental illness during pregnancy or within the first year after having a baby. If untreated, these perinatal mental illnesses can have a devastating impact on the women affected and their families.
If you're familiar with my story you'll know I suffered from PND myself so I know only too well how difficult finding support and working towards recovery can be.
My first (and only) pregnancy was not an easy journey. Getting pregnant had been a challenge after 4 years of trying and several rounds of IVF. That positive pregnancy test was worth the wait, and I was over the moon to be expecting. But even the most longed for adventures can have unexpected turns.
About 4 weeks into the pregnancy my hips started hurting and I had a painful ache in my groin. After it became unbearable I was diagnosed with Symphisis Pubic Dysfunction (SPD). Towards the end of my pregnancy, and for the first three months after my daughter was born, I was confined to a wheelchair, in constant pain and couldn't sleep more than a few hours.
I do wonder how much the SPD really affected the path that I was to take. Often, the cruellest and hardest thing to understand about Post Natal Depression is that it can affect the woman who seems to have it all. The new baby, the loving husband, the wonderful home... no need for depression, isn't that right? Aren't you just being ungrateful or un-motherly to not be over the moon? I am not sure whether the SPD contributed to the depression (and I cannot say that without it I would not have suffered), but I am guessing it didn't help. Being in constant pain, exhausted from no sleep and unable to walk or 'be a proper mum' was so hard for me.
In some ways I was 'lucky' as I had suffered from depression in the past and had friends who had suffered from PND when their babies were small (and more importantly had shared that they had) and so I started to recognise that I was feeling the so-called baby blues and they were NOT disappearing as I was assured they would.
I knew hormones were still raging in my body long after birth... it took 18 months for the hormones that created the SPD to leave me able to walk pain-free.. and I knew that I wasn't feeling right mentally as well as physically. To this day, I am so thankful that I found the courage to ring my health visitor. To tell her that something was wrong. To tell her that I didn't think that the way I felt was normal and that I needed some help. The even better thing was once I had it out in the open I was promised, and given, help and I could tell that it was a priority which is reassuring in itself. Lots and lots of women do not pick up the phone. There is an invisible barrier that keeps many out. There is no shame in admitting you don't feel OK.
I was diagnosed with Post Natal Depression and at last I had something to get my
head around. I had a name for the way I was feeling and I had a reason why I was finding things so very hard. There was a reason I felt a strange distance from my beautiful baby, a reason for the fog I found myself in. I was cut out to be a mum after all, I just needed a little help. I came to understand just how huge motherhood really is. There are so many changes, and so many huge, vital responsibilities attached to it all. Coping with the after effects of a long struggle to conceive, a long and difficult pregnancy and the barrage of hormones and emotions took its toll on me and I was ill.
I was ill. Depression is just an illness. I also have an underactive thyroid - that is also an illness which means I have to take thyroxine every day but I don't see that as shameful... Depression is just an illness.
It is not the same as a broken leg, because it is not something you can see straight away, but it is an illness all the same. I did not have an outward physical scar and I was very good at hiding my illness well. But I was ill, I was suffering and I did need help. Luckily for me, I got it.
Counselling was a turning point for me and a place I could express my feelings without condemnation or judgement. Nothing I said was poo pooed. I learned to accept who I was and to accept Post Natal Depression as my illness too. I took steps to change situations that felt oppressive or scary and I developed coping strategies to get me through each day, slowly, at a time.
I also went to the doctor and was prescribed anti-depressants and those helped me pull myself back out of the pit I was in so that I felt well enough to want to get better. They get a bad press but they do a very useful job and it is NOT a sign of weakness to take a medicine that helps you deal with an illness. This is something I am very passionate about.
One other coping strategy was based on invaluable advice given to me by my doctor- to get some exercise. I was even prescribed a gym pass but it was too much to do in the early days so instead it was suggested I do something easy and to get outside into the fresh air every single day. To take my lovely baby out into the word (once I was able to walk) and enjoy the fresh air, the birds tweeting and the fact that life carried on around me. As an aside, it was this daily ritual that led me to invent SnoozeShade, and to turn my life around completely...
The truth about Post Natal Depression is that it can strike anyone, at any time. You may appear to 'have it all' and while that may be true, that does not mean you will escape its clutches.
You may be a strong person; Post Natal Depression is not picky.
You may be a devoted mother; Post Natal Depression doesn't mind.
You may be too busy to be ill; Post Natal Depression can be patient.
You may not believe depression would pick you; Post Natal Depression can change your mind.
Post Natal Depression can sweep through your life and shake up everything that you thought you knew to be true.
That is why we're breaking the silence, and inviting you to share your story with us. We want to change the way this illness is portrayed and the stigmas attached to it. Most importantly, we want to encourage you to be brave this week. Share articles on social media, reach out to friends who may be struggling. Let them know it's okay to talk, they don't have to be strong, you are there.
Better still, offer to help them access support. Picking up the phone to your health visitor or GP can seem like an insurmountable task. You can offer to sit quietly with them, to advocate for them, to hold their hand.
To access support in your area please visit this link.