For as long as I can remember my anxiety has always been around. It has always held my hand (and heart) in its grasp and successfully snaked a pathway through my life. It has entered many a life decision, both major and minor, and has held an invisible place in my relationships with family, friends and loves. Anxiety invited itself along to any social setting I found myself in and happily littered my mind with unhelpful and negative thoughts.
It has only been in the past 10 years that I’ve made a conscious effort to try and rein it in. This has included speaking to my doctor about it and finding out more information to try and understand it and the possible triggers for experiencing anxiety in my everyday life. My doctor referred me to a psychologist so that I could try addressing an anxiety management plan. That’s when I realised that I wasn’t just dealing with anxiety on its own. Both anxiety and depression are mental health conditions which often accompany one another.
Although reluctant at first, I agreed to taking an anti-depressant. Initially the path to taking the medication was a long one. I hummed and harred about it for some time. I had mixed feelings about it and I was worried about how long I would be on them. Months? Years? My reluctance being borne out of my own stigma against mental health. I’ll be honest, I had my head buried in the sand for a long time on mental health and didn’t even know it until faced with my own struggles and the mental breakdown of a family member (which I’ll write about in a future post).
So when hubby and I discussed having our first child, I spoke to my doctor about stopping my meds. I was also in a ‘good’ place and felt as if my life was on track. My doctor agreed to it and we discussed a plan to safely reduce my intake. I did not feel comfortable about being on the meds at the same time as trying to conceive. However, my doctor did advise that the particular meds I had been on would not be harmful to the unborn child. One thing she reiterated with me on several occasions was this: the mental health of the mother is important. After all, how can the child be nurtured and cared for by a mother who is not mentally healthy?
Fast forward to my pregnancy. Despite suffering nausea throughout the entirety of my pregnancy, I had nothing to complain about. I felt the healthiest I had ever been in my entire life! I was eating a well balanced diet and was looking after myself. It was as if my anxiety and depression were from another lifetime. Both conditions hardly got a look-in and I felt mentally and emotionally well. Life was great! After all, we were awaiting the arrival of our little one – what wasn’t there to be happy about?!
Unfortunately though, postnatal depression arrived promptly after the birth of my son. It synchronised its arrival with my emergency C-section and coursed its way through my veins at the same time as I could feel myself coming out of the epidural and anesthetic. I remember how sick I felt and looking at the tiny baby placed in my arms and thinking “What the…?”. Couldn’t they see how crook I was? For no reason I felt angry and resentful. I wasn’t feeling crash hot and I remember saying out loud to no-one in particular, “I really don’t feel so good. Can you take the baby please?”. I remember repeating it several times to no avail.
Now I wish that I could write here that I was able to address it right away. That I recognised it and called it for what it was. After all, I’m qualified in both depression and anxiety right? Unfortunately, I ignored it; kept my head down and tried to keep going. I didn’t even know that postnatal depression existed. That there was a name for what I was feeling at the time. The alarm bells were going off in my head, yet I chose the path of selective hearing and continued to stick my head in the sand.
I felt confused and ashamed and a whole myriad of other feelings all at once in those first few hours, days, weeks and months after giving birth. I felt so many things: inadequate, like a failure, guilt, irritated, resentful. I was often close to tears, felt low, lost interest in activities that I usually enjoyed (I love reading but I couldn’t bring myself to even consider it), unable to cope with everyday life. I withdrew into myself and wanted to get away/escape from everything. It was a terrible experience not just for myself, but also my hubby.
Why on earth was I feeling like this? What was wrong with me? Fear weighed heavily on my mind and I labelled myself a bad mother in the first couple of weeks. I should have been happy and overwhelmed with love for the tiny human which hubby and I had created. Instead, I felt a war raging within me. It was a very lonely and confusing time. Postnatal depression had snuck up on me and then decided to hang around uninvited.