Postnatal Mental Health: A hindsight perspective
I'm not sure when I first *clicked* that something was seriously wrong. Looking back now, I can see that it slowly crept up; but at the time, the changes were so subtle I didn't realize I was falling down the rabbit hole. In fact, I was rather stubborn and so for months, I refused to admit there was even a possibility I was slipping.
But now I can openly say: I'm Bunny, and I have postnatal distress.
Postnatal distress (PND) is the umbrella term for postnatal mental health struggles, ranging from the baby blues to post natal psychosis at the more severe end. I struggle with depression and anxiety and have done for over a year now. It's been an up and down journey, but the beauty is that by going through it myself, I can use my experiences to hopefully help others who are in the same boat. 1 in 5 women will suffer PND at some stage after becoming mothers, so I am definitely not alone in this.
In the beginning, I just felt worn out - which is very common when you have a tiny human to nurture! Then I started having days where I just felt low, and I attributed these to the tiredness. I started feeling worried that either my kids or my partner and I were seriously unwell but that we didn't know it yet. I worried that my baby was going to stop breathing in his sleep. Gosh, writing about it a year later, and I'm still tearing up about it! I'd be upset if he woke during the night and I'd be anxious if he didn't. I'd lie awake at night watching the monitor, going in and checking that his chest was still rising and falling. I stopped eating, stopped cleaning… I stopped leaving the house if I could help it, and got angry at my partner for leaving to go to work. I felt like I didn't fit in with our friends anymore, I felt like people didn't want me around. I worried that when we were out in public we might get attacked. When I was at my lowest, I felt like if someone were to walk in and find me dead, they wouldn't care - and I was sure no one would bother coming to a funeral. In hindsight, I'm amazed and heartbroken that those thoughts were so frequent that I thought they were normal.
I had my suspicions, of course. Whenever I read stories about other mums with PND I'd get really emotional and upset - but then I told myself it was just because I'm a very empathetic person (which is true). Then I'd google PND symptoms and get really sad again, but still didn't want to admit it. PND was something that happened to other people, people in difficult situations, people who had reasons to be depressed. I felt ashamed at the mere thought that I wasn't coping, I was sure that if I let people know, they'd look down on me or think I was crazy. After all, I had everything I wanted - great kids who I adored, a wonderful relationship with an incredible and supportive partner, a home, food on the table… I had no reason to be unhappy. So on top of everything else, I had immense self-guilt as well.
Eventually, my partner convinced me it'd be a good idea to talk to my GP. “It doesn't have to be a major deal,” he said. “Just have a chat, start the conversation and see what happens.” So I hesitantly made an appointment.
I sat in the waiting room, still Googling PND symptoms, still thinking “that's not me”. The second she asked, “how are you?” I burst into tears. I cried and cried, then hastily tried to tell her that I was OK, I was just really tired. Thankfully, she didn't believe me on that one. She confirmed a diagnosis of PND, and after discussing which treatment route I wanted to go down, booked me into counseling the following week. I walked out of her office feeling so much lighter. I now had something to work with. That's the key, I think; feeling heard and feeling empowered.
Alongside my counseling and with the support of my loved ones, I made several changes to my life in order to manage my PND holistically. I started making sure I ate properly, I went out for walks with friends, I started meditating and repeating calming and reassuring mantras to myself.
And I talked about it.
I talked as much as I could because then it became less of a ‘thing’ that had a hold over me. It meant people could understand if I struggled with some things. It meant I found out that so many of my friends - strong, brave, funny women who I looked up to as mothers - were struggling too. It meant I found a whole new village of strong women, triumphing over their own battles. We're now able to hold each other accountable for looking after ourselves and support each other when we can't.
Through all this, I've managed to find myself again. I'm still on the journey, I still have days where getting out of bed feels unbearable. But now I know why - and I know how to get through it.
If you've never experienced depression or anxiety, it can be a tricky one to get your head around. Even if you have experienced it, it can still be hard to comprehend, particularly while you're going through it. But if you think you might be developing it - or even if you just have a tiny feeling in your gut that something's not quite right - go and talk to someone about it. There is no shame in needing help, and there is no need to struggle alone. Parents have a wonderful way of banding together when one of their own is in need - so find your village, and let them in. Because you deserve to feel happy, you deserve to be safe and you deserve to enjoy this beautiful gift of parenthood.
Written by Bunny Kim