When I was first diagnosed with having post-natal depression I had absolutely no idea what this illness was all about. I had no clue how debilitating it was going to be. Using the phrase ‘coping’ with PND sums it up perfectly. I was ‘coping’ I wasn’t living, thriving, blooming… I wasn’t any of the things a new mum should be. I was fumbling my way through each hour of each day. I couldn’t even think straight. The only thing I could do was put the tiny bit of energy and brain power I was left with into to looking after my two beautiful children. I was under no impression that having two children to look after was going to be easy, but I had no idea how hard it would be, let alone trying to do it whilst suffering with post-natal depression…..
So to try and fight this illness I decided to arm myself with knowledge. Let the research begin…..I looked online and did a lot of reading up on many different sites, some written by mental health professionals, some written by Mums with first-hand experience. These are the main strategies I found…..
· Rest – get as much sleep as possible.
· Exercise – try to get out of the house for some fresh air and exercise each day.
· Eat well – having a healthy diet will give you more energy and boost your mood.
Whereas all of the above sound like simple things to do, these were in fact the things I struggled with the most. When you find it hard to summon up the mental and physical energy to get out of bed each day, then leaving the house seems totally unachievable. Leaving the house would involve getting everything together that the children may possibly need. Then, the biggest issue would be getting myself into a presentable state.
‘Sleep when baby sleeps’ I think that this is a brilliant piece of advice, but when you have two children’s sleep schedules to juggle, getting them to synchronise was pretty much impossible. On the rare occasion that they did sleep at the same time, I would rush around and do all the chores that I didn’t have time to do while the children were awake. I knew that I should be resting but the housework was getting out of hand and it was really irritating me.
Eating a healthy diet was something I had got in to the habit of while pregnant as I was ‘eating for two’. I found this very hard to maintain once Mr A arrived. I would generally just grab whatever was quick and easy to eat as I was so busy tending to the children’s every need. Alongside the post-natal depression I also suffered from intense anxiety which I meant I physically struggled to eat. The anxiety robbed me of my appetite and the muscular pain I had in my chest and throat made it very hard to swallow any food at all.
Despite struggling with the above advice, I did try to stick to it as much as I possibly could. Once I got into a routine with Mr A and Missy B, day to day tasks became a little easier. I got to a point where I was on auto pilot; I was going through the motions.
People often ask me what advice I can give to other Mums who are struggling with post-natal depression. The first thing I would say is that it will get easier. However, it will take time and hard work to get there. Just taking antidepressants, in my experience, was not enough. It took me three different types of antidepressants and many unpleasant side effects before I found the medicine that suited me best.
There are also many other self-help strategies that can help you to cope with this illness. With regards to these strategies I would say to choose ones that you feel are achievable. Time is often something new mums don’t have a lot of, so chose something simple and easy to ‘learn’. I found mindfulness was a great help with managing my anxiety and anger. It took a while to perfect the art of mindfulness so with any new tactic, give it time to work.
This may also sound very obvious, but, breathe….. When suffering from the severe anxiety and panic attacks, it was easy to let the panic rise and my breathing would become erratic and uncontrollably fast. This would result in me feeling very dizzy and tired as well as getting numbness and pins and needles in my hands and feet. As my anxiety stemmed from leaving Missy B at nursery, these panic attacks usually happened whilst in the car on the way to nursery. Not an ideal time to be feeling dizzy and out of control. This is what prompted me to find a tactic that worked for me. Breathing and talking myself down worked really well.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Whether this is help with household chores, childcare or grocery shopping. I found the mundane day to day tasks that were so essential to the smooth running of the household were the first thing I would give up on when times got really tough. The main thing I was always forgetting was to buy milk. My family were quite often called upon to dash to the shop to pick up milk for me.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness at all. Never be afraid to ask your doctor or health visitor for more help. If the treatment you are receiving isn’t working for you, ask them what other options are available to you.
The thing that helped me the most was peer support. As much as friends and family can help out and offer support in so many ways, I do believe that you can only truly understand someone’s struggles if you are experiencing or have been on a similar journey as them.
I also found that starting my blog was a massive step for me on my way to recovery. It was a big step to take as I am committed to being totally honest about my experience and struggles along the way. This is a very personal thing to lay bare for all to see, but it’s a decision I have never once regretted. Some may find reading my frank blogs a bit uncomfortable but if they help just one person then it’s totally worth it in my mind. To spread my story far and wide I decided to sign up for a Twitter account. By doing this, I came across the most amazing group of people. They are so strong and courageous and have all had personal experience of post-natal depression. By using #pndchat or #pndfamily in your tweet you can link up with others and receive the most amazing support and advice from all of these fabulous people. I also found twitter a great way to offer my help and support to others who were not as far along their journey as I am or are perhaps having a setback. Helping others has really helped me with my own personal recovery.
As I write this, I am aware of sounding quite negative in places as to what can and can’t work whilst trying to cope with post-natal depression. Don’t get me wrong, to get to where I am today was a massive struggle. Even now, 16 months into my pnd journey, I am nowhere near where I want to be with my mental wellbeing. I am, however, in a much better place than I was 16 months ago. There are many ups, downs, twists and turns. Many of them quite unexpected and have no pattern to them at all. However, every day I am proud of how strong I have become whilst having this illness. I have found a level of strength within myself that I never though exited. Just when this illness gets tough I have to get tougher. Each time I think I can’t cope with this anymore, I keep on coping. These tough times will get easier; you will become stronger and stronger with each day that passes. You will find medicines, strategies and support that will make everyday life more bearable. The balance will come with all of these things and you will no longer be just ‘coping’. You will be ‘living’ again. The change may be so gradual that you don’t notice it happening but this time will come. This will get easier.