Postpartum psychosis: You WILL get better, and you can lose weight!
I had PP in February 2016. It started during labour. I was sectioned, treated in a mixed acute ward and then spent over 3 months in a Mother and Baby Unit. I have been battling with postnatal depression since my psychotic episode, and I only stopped taking olanzapine a couple of months ago.
When I was in the Mother and Baby Unit, I remember the staff saying to me, ‘You WILL get better!’ I was so poorly, and so lost, I really couldn’t imagine it. But here I am today: Loving being a Mummy and a Wife, surrounded by proud friends and family, enjoying my job, feeling positive about the future and I’m even starting to think about having another baby!
Here are some things that have really helped with my recovery:
Medication - I would not be where I am now without the medication I have been prescribed over the last couple of years. Olanzapine saved my life - within a few days, my very intense, dark and disturbing hallucinations and delusions significantly reduced. I was still psychotic for a while, but at least I could move and communicate again! I did struggle for a long time with the sedative side effects of Olanzapine. I also had some side effects when I stopped taking the medication - sweating, not sleeping and physical symptoms of anxiety. In terms of anti depressants, Sertraline didn’t work for me, so I am now taking 300mg of Venlafaxine daily. I finally feel like my ‘true self.’ I used to say ‘old self’ but I think that motherhood has really changed me. Having such a serious mental illness is bound to have changed me too!
Family - I am so lucky to have an amazing family support network. My husband has been incredible - so patient and understanding. He had to act as my carer for a long time, as I really struggled keeping up with daily tasks on top of looking after my son. My parents, brother and my in laws have also been a huge support. I was so paranoid for a long time about what I had said and done during my psychotic episode, but they knew that it was all just because I was extremely unwell. They have also been a brilliant gauge for how I have been on my journey of recovery. They have noticed changes in my mood and well-being before I have!
Friends - I have friends and colleagues who still don’t know that I had PP. it’s a lot to go into, there is so much stigma around mental illness, and so little understanding about PP. My husband and I hadn’t heard of it before we had our son! I have two very close friends who had children around the same time as me. They were my rock. I could talk to them openly and they helped me to understand that motherhood is hard for everyone! They encouraged me to take my son swimming, to go to play grounds, to soft play areas, even just to a cafe! Those ‘normal’ things were a huge challenge for me, but we did it together!
Talking therapies - Over the last two and a half years I have been supported by a Community Practice Nurse from the Early Intervention team. I have also accessed CBT, over the phone counselling, support from Occupational Health and I attended a Mindfulness course. Through these sessions, I have come to recognise that I had a predisposition for depression and anxiety, but I kept it to myself. I have now decided to be more open about how I am feeling, and I can recognise when my mood is dipping. The APP network has been a huge support too - sharing and reading about similar experiences has really helped me focus on my recovery.
Nutrition - Like many others on antipsychotic medication, I gained weight (two stone) since having my son. I tried various ways to lose some weight, but I found it really difficult. I was under-eating through the week and then splurging at the weekends! I think I was using alcohol to self medicate. At times I had a drink to try to slow down my racing thoughts, at other times I thought a drink might cheer me up! Now I am more mindful about my drinking, as I know it can leave me feeling low the following day. My husband and I recently downloaded the ‘My Fitness Pal’ app. It has really helped us learn about nutrition and how to have a balanced diet. We have lost half a stone each so far! I’ve also started having probiotic drinks every day as apparently there is a connection between gut health and mental well being. I also take magnesium to help with fatigue, and for my hair and nails.
Exercise - Walking, and getting fresh air, has really helped me, even in the early days of my illness. In the past I have attended Zumba, Pilates, Aqua Aerobics and Body Combat sessions. I enjoyed the classes but never felt a massive impact on my weight or fitness levels. This summer, my husband and I signed up for a course at the gym. It is based on weight resistance training. I never thought I’d enjoy strength training, but it’s a great way to see and feel a physical difference, and measure progress! I never thought I’d say anything like this, but today I felt so proud when I was able to deadlift 40kg (that’s over half my body weight).
Self compassion - For me, PP really knocked my confidence as a Mum. However, as time went by, I tried to be less self critical. Trying not to over think and over analyse so much has helped me feel more natural with my relationship with my son. I now try to enjoy the moment using mindfulness techniques, such as really focusing on what is happening at the time, rather than worrying, or dwelling on the past. An example would be reading my son a story at night - previously my mind would be wandering, but now I try to enjoy the feeling of closeness with my son, focus on the illustrations, and we have fun making up voices for characters, and talking about the story.
Taking pride in my appearance - The weight gain had had a big impact on my self image. Throughout the illness I also looked tired, and felt very flat and lethargic. One day, I made the decision to stop feeling so bad and negative about it, and make the best of myself. I now have regular manicures, bought some new make up and I love going to have my hair done and highlighted every couple of months. I enjoy the ‘me’ time and I feel happier with the way I look. Rather than putting pressure on myself to get back into pre-pregnancy clothes, I treated myself to new items which would flatter my curves. I tried to focus on the fit, rather than the dress size! Bravissimo do great clothes for ladies with a larger bust and I love the prints and styles from shops like Oasis and Dorothy Perkins. Recently I treated myself to some glittery shoes and handbags. I finally feel like I’m starting to get my sparkle back!
Music - I have always been fascinated by the therapeutic powers of music. I was given a CD and iPod player for my room in the Mother and Baby Unit. It helped massively! They gave me a relaxation CD and I also loved searching through my favourite songs on my iPad. ‘Hold Back the River’ by James Bay will always remind me of my pregnancy, having my son and finally defeating PP! The music and lyrics meant a lot at that time. I will also never forget how special the communal singing sessions at the Mother and Baby Unit were. It has inspired me to take some training in Music Therapy, and I would love one day to be able to run my own Parent and Baby Singing and Story group.
Art and Journaling - I can not even begin to explain how fast my thoughts raced during and after my psychotic episode! At the time, I described it as the sound you hear when you search through and tune into different radio stations. I struggled to hold a conversation as my train of thought would suddenly switch. I would just ‘zone out’ and stop talking. In the early days, I frantically wrote notes and lists on scraps of paper. I think it was my way of trying to gain some control and understanding of what I had been through. Other Mums in the Unit were doing the same! I was encouraged by the Ward Manager to start a creative writing journal. She gave me a lovely lined notebook to write in with brightly coloured hearts on the front. I thought the cover had been specially designed for me! At the time, colours were so bright and vivid to me and I thought that each colour had special meaning or significance. There was an Art Room in the Mother and Baby Unit. I spent a lot of time in there. As a ‘girly girl,’finding the glitter glue was a very exciting day for me! I still keep my journal and I love expressing my thoughts and ideas, especially using bright colours!
It’s been a long and tough journey for me, and for my family and friends, but we’re getting there! Thankfully most people do make a full recovery from PP. I have come out of the other side and I am stronger, more honest, more resilient and more self aware. I know the importance of self compassion, and I am in awe of the power of unconditional love.
Here’s to love and laughter, and happily ever after!