Four

If someone had looked me in the eye more than five years ago and said, “You will go through a difficult time after the birth of your first child and feel a sense of loss of self and your identity” – or words to that effect – I would have scoffed at them. I would have raised my eyebrows and questioned such a negative futuristic vision of personal experience. Disbelief and disdain. In my eyes, motherhood is supposed to be a happy and momentous occasion; not riddled with issues such as depression (how green was I?). Now, on the anniversary week of my first-born and only child turning four years of age (the Saturday just gone), I look back at where I’ve been and how far I’ve travelled in this life and I can honestly say that I’m better off for the learning curve that postnatal depression has provided. The personal insight has been invaluable and I realise that I wouldn’t change a thing. And so it is that I mentally pat myself on the back and celebrate this milestone – my son turning four years old. I’ve come a long way.

Milestones can be found everywhere in our lives. From the moment we celebrate reaching our 21st birthday, getting our first car, landing our first job, having our first child and so on. There are so many firsts and they all deserve a mention and, for some, deserve equal celebration. When it comes to depression and anxiety, it really is no different. Each day is a milestone, each week and month that you manage to get yourself out of bed and insist that your mind also “get up and at ’em” is in equal measure something that should be celebrated; to give yourself a ‘pat on the back’ and a good talking to in the bathroom mirror for being able to ‘raise yourself up’ to everyday living.

These days, as my son screams around the house on his little four-wheeler “car”, I manage to remember at times not to yell at him or have a negative outlook on some of the things he does. After all, yes he is only four, but I celebrate this because there was once a time where everything seemed too hard and I wasn’t coping; trying to operate as a functional human being with a brain that was riddled with the heavy weight of depression. I can fully appreciate that my son’s brain is still developing and he has a lot of things about life to learn. Having said that we are at the stage of his development where he has learnt the art of fibbing. He’s also learnt to suddenly push all of my buttons – all at once! Such is the life of a toddler…and I’ve become accustomed to his now daily worship of the word “No”. He uses it so often that it is painstaking to hear anyone else use the word, including myself! (But that’s another blog post…).

There are still days where I find myself mentally struggling with the prospect of facing the day ahead. Most often than not, those days that I struggle are due to not getting enough sleep. Sometimes it’s simply because I haven’t honoured myself in pursuing some ‘me-time’ or downtime away from my child. Even if it’s just reading a chapter of a book (reading is one of my favourite things to do, but is considered a luxury these days) or taking some time out to catch up with a good friend for a coffee. But those off days are far and in between now. I celebrate that fact too.

In the early days of my parenting journey, my perspective was skewed by negative thoughts fuelled by broken sleep and a hormonal tidal wave that I had absolutely no control over. Sadness enveloped me tirelessly each and every day. I look back at how I used to be and think to myself how blessed I was to have the support of my family – in particular, my husband and my dear, dear mother. I still have their support now. However, I am on the mend and able to identify the ‘signs’ – not enough sleep, not eating properly and so on. I may not always do the right thing by myself, but I know to look out and after myself. I am coping much better and better equipped to ‘manage’ my depression and anxiety symptoms, as they flit in and out of my every day life.

Is there something you can celebrate? It doesn’t have to be earth shattering or worthy of a fireworks display necessarily. It can be absolutely anything under the sun. From little things, big things grow.

The Daily Grind vs Influenza

Woe is me. As I sit here and write this, my head hurts. The last few weeks have been a struggle: both mentally, physically and emotionally. Why? Because I don’t make a very good sick person.

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This year the flu hit our household pretty badly. Talking to those around me from my doctor to friends and the other mothers at my son’s playgroup, I’ve come to understand that we’re not the only sufferers. Many others have been hit by the flu bug this year and have struggled to get through it and then back to ‘normal’ health. Nonetheless, I have honestly, truly, really struggled. We all have.

My hubby, who is usually a tower of strength, was knocked for six and also found it difficult to get through the daily grind. The only silver lining here was that our 3.5 year old was struck down by a virus for only a few days and then thankfully made a quick recovery. Amongst the three of us, he is the healthiest one. The flip side of this meant that the poor little guy always wanted to go out and/or play, but mummy and daddy were feeling so poorly that we couldn’t take him out anywhere!

To add insult to injury, I didn’t just suffer the usual suspects: sore throat, tiredness, coughing, sneezing, stuffy nose, fever, and so on. With all the coughing that took place, I also managed to pull several muscles in my ribs on the right side of my body. As I sat in a chair opposite my GP regaling my sorry state, I felt silly also explaining that the simple act of coughing so much had caused me to pull muscles! My pain scale was about a 7 out of 10 when standing or sitting still but quickly escalated to 12 out of 10 when moving! Driving to and from anywhere was a one-handed affair with much grimacing. I didn’t realise how many muscles worked together from both sides of the body to perform the everyday simple tasks that keep a household running!

Dotted throughout our fluey indoor hiatus, the Perth weather was going through its transition from winter to spring. So despite the rainy weather of winter, there were some beautiful sunny days which we couldn’t take full advantage of due to our ill health. It made me feel worse. The waiting. Wanting our bodies to be rid of infection. This brief intermission from our normal daily lives was making me feel, to be honest, quite depressed.

To keep on top of my anxiety and depression, I decided to seek counselling from a clinical psychologist in order to assist with my recovery and management of my mental health. However, due to the flu, I had to reschedule my appointment. Ever since I was first diagnosed with postnatal depression, it would have assisted me greatly to seek professional help right away. But my stubbornness, or my pride, or my feelings of shame and embarrassment took over instead and I put off the inevitable. That is, until about a year and a half ago. Then I took a sabbatical of sorts because I felt ‘well’ and thought I didn’t need to see the psych anymore. However, after about a six month break, I am ‘touching base’ once more. It feels good to be able to know when I need to get a bit of a top-up in my mental health. It feels empowering that I can do something for myself.

When I finally made it to my rescheduled appointment, my psych stated that it wasn’t just going through the flu itself, but the recovery process that also takes a toll. She stated that most people after the flu were discovering that their bodies were extremely tired. I felt so validated when I heard her comment. Admittedly, I was mindful throughout my session of not wanting to complain too much. This is why keeping up with everyday life these last few weeks has sometimes felt overwhelming for me. Life, after all, hasn’t paused or stopped and waited for us to get well. It has continued to go on. So instead of whinging or complaining, I’ve been doing my best to keep pushing on to get through each day.

I hate being sick. It slows me right down and I resent that. My frustration levels were getting quite high when I couldn’t do simple tasks and/or I could feel the lethargy and tiredness taking over. Funny thing is before getting sick I was so over doing the daily grind day in and day out. I so desperately wanted a break from it. But when I was really sick and feeling down, I just wanted to return to the daily grind with my usual gusto and energy. I just wanted to get things done!

The verdict: Give me the daily grind any day…

Depression, Anxiety & I walk into a bar…

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.