**Please note: If you are feeling fragile or vulnerable, please read with caution. It may contain content that would be advisable to read once you have recovered**
My PP story...well, it’s a bit of a rollercoaster really, but one that finishes at the top instead of the bottom! I guess it starts with a happy pregnancy (apart from 6 months of ‘morning’ sickness, indigestion & all the other delightful, normal things that go with pregnancy). We’d been married for 10 years, travelled plenty, had busy jobs & lifestyles & felt very ready to make our family bigger. I’d never suffered with depression or had any mental issues in the past, so becoming ill was really the last thing on my mind.
It all went wrong in a catastrophic way, on the 4th day after the birth. Actually, the stress, worry, nerves, pressure & anxiety started at the birth, but I guess that’s the normal bit. My husband also had a health scare at this time, which greatly added to the stress (he got the all clear though on the fourth day after the birth). The stress didn’t let up at all but continued to intensify & after 4 days without any sleep at all & haywire hormones, my mind shattered spectacularly.
I turned from a confident, intelligent woman into a complete gibbering wreck – only temporarily though I must say! I was extremely confused, totally manic & my mind was racing so fast I couldn’t think, talk or even walk properly. It was meltdown. I was rushed to A&E & after being seen immediately, I was moved to the maternity ward that I’d left just a few days before – at least I knew my way around! In my mind I was in labour & giving birth again & I felt every painful contraction, one after the other as if it was really happening. It was terrifying & the excruciating pains were very real - but of course there was no second baby. I was medicated & placed in a private room with my son & closely watched 24/7 by a Crisis Team. My memories of this time are hazy & disjointed (a bit like my mind at that time), but I clearly remember the confusion, overwhelming exhaustion & absolute terror. I had no idea what was wrong but saw a consultant the next day who diagnosed Postpartum Psychosis. What on earth was that! Even the nurses didn’t seem to know; one told me I had postnatal depression. But I was far from depressed - now I was really confused!
Luckily the nurses were comfortable treating me there with the 24/7 support & monitoring of the Crisis Team, so I could stay & wouldn’t be locked away in a psychiatric ward & separated from my newborn as I feared. I felt like a prisoner with someone sitting outside my door & following my every move, which put even more pressure on me to be a ‘perfect mum’ & prove I could do everything right before I'd be allowed home. It was exhausting fighting to control my mind & it took every ounce of spirit & determination.
I suffered delusions, paranoia, scribbled notes frantically, had strange thoughts & did some very odd things. I vividly remember most of these but there are a lot that I don't remember doing & was told about later. My mind jumped around & raced so fast, I developed a stutter & had to concentrate just to string an intelligible sentence together. I felt like a toddler learning to walk, talk & feed myself all over again & having to concentrate to do the simplest things. On the second day after I was admitted and after I was medicated, I experienced a euphoric 'high'. I remember lying back on the hospital bed thinking that it was the most amazing feeling I'd ever experienced! Until only recently I'd always put this down to the strong medication I was put on & not as part of PP - at that time in my mind, something that felt that good could only be drug induced! I wish somebody had explained PP & what had happened instead of having to piece it all together myself years later. What I found incredibly tough at that time was that, not only was I recovering physically from childbirth, learning how to be a mother & how to care for my baby, learning how to breastfeed (along with all the worry & anxiety that brings!), change nappies etc. - I felt I was also fighting for survival. This wasn’t how motherhood is supposed to be, this was a living nightmare!
I very tentatively returned home after 2 weeks where I was closely monitored daily by the Crisis Team & later, the Early Intervention team. I was terrified of a relapse & twice I felt my mind starting to speed up & race just as it had before. I was so scared the nightmare was happening again, but I was fully aware of the early signs & luckily it calmed on it's own. A psychiatric doctor, CPN (community psychiatric nurse) & my health visitor regularly came to visit me for treatment & assessment. I also had a nursery nurse visit to help with the bonding. Where was my unconditional motherly love? This wouldn’t come until a year had passed, but then it came tenfold!
After 6 months I was treated by a clinical psychiatrist to help with the severe depression that had developed. I never thought it was possible to feel so low & after 3 months of being buried in the blackest of all pits, I attempted suicide. It was a wretched time & one I had to live day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute just to get through it. But I did & life is sweet once again.
I felt I missed the first 2 years of my baby’s life, my one & only baby – I grieve for this & it hurts. I know many do go on to have another successfully, (not that I failed - my son is wonderful & the centre of my universe!), but it was my decision not to have another baby & for me & my family, it was definitely the right one.
The third year was a magical year for me (I got myself back), my husband (got his wife back) & our son (got his mum back). It was a year of discovery & delighting in the simple things that non PP women take for granted. I still felt very fragile throughout that year & felt I was rebuilding & redefining myself somehow, but it was a very positive one. We had lots of special family times; simple thing like picnics & days in the park were amazing & times when I got to know & love my utterly gorgeous son. I lost the 3.5 stone in weight I’d gained & earned my karate black-belt back – I was myself again.
Throughout my illness, I didn’t have the strength to communicate & couldn’t reach out for support on forums but I did scour what others had written. As information was scarce, these posts were precious & forums were a lifeline for me to help me to feel ‘normal’. The more I recovered, the more I could communicate on them & eventually I became a moderator to support other women. It was really a no-brainer for me to support others going through the same & raise awareness of PP once I was well. I always felt that I never wanted anyone to feel as lonely, isolated & desperate as I’d felt & knew that in a small way I could help make a big difference. I always felt that the treatment I received, although it was relatively good in my area, was still very lacking & far from perfect. It always seemed so far behind other illnesses in terms of recognition, treatment, awareness & stigma. It shouldn’t be like this & in my own way, I wanted to help change it.
As this was something I really believed in, I took part in a peer support research project with Warwick University, called Mums4mums. It was a rewarding experience & I still keep in touch with the mums I supported to this day. I love it when I hear that after they’ve recovered, they’ve also gone on to support others too!
I also took part in various other research projects & through this, became involved with APP. With my digital marketing, new media & drawing office background it was a natural progression to volunteer my time & use my skills for a cause that I was passionate about.
Amongst other things, I helped with the creation of various leaflets & posters, held a ‘purple karate party’ to raise funds & assisted at the Midlands Perinatal Mental Health Conference. I was later asked to become a Trustee on the board of APP, a position I felt privileged to take on.
As I’d previously worked with several media & website agencies, it seemed natural that I’d be the one to help develop the website. So with software I’d not used before, I spent many hours putting the text & images in place. It was a steep learning curve but very enjoyable & satisfying seeing such important content in place. I was really pleased when I successfully gained the Google Adwords grant which allows APP to advertise for free & helps us greatly to spread the word.
In order to further reach out to people, I set up APP’s Facebook & twitter pages. As this is how so many of us communicate nowadays, this seemed an ideal medium to connect with more people everywhere. In just a year the number of followers has steadily grown & we’ve been able to interact & build relationships with increasing numbers of people from all backgrounds, professional interests & cultures than we’d been able to before. (Many thanks for all the support!)
Anyway, here’s to the Piccadilly Circus bit! Well, it was Christmas time & after the success of having a tweet re-tweeted by Jamie Oliver to over 4 million people, I thought I’d try something else. I tweeted Coca-Cola in response to a marketing campaign they were running & it paid off! APP had a Christmas message displayed on the giant Coca-Cola sign in Piccadilly Circus – it was literally shouted from the rooftops & there for all to see! I smiled for days & for me it was like final celebration of how far I’d come, literally from the Pits to Piccadilly Circus!
Actually, many positive things came out my PP experience. I feel stronger & more confident than I was before - I conquered this, I can conquer anything! I feel so much wiser & definitely more understanding of things others live with daily. I also know my husband is my hero & my rock and I respect him so much for hanging in there. I’ve met many wonderful people & formed lifelong friendships through PP. Overall, I feel happier & calmer & I value the truly important things in life – time with my loved ones.
I’m really looking forward to the future & a time where PP is known, understood & accepted everywhere, when quality services are provided to all, when there are no more PP tragedies & when science has the answers to our many questions. It’s a long wish-list I know & perhaps I won’t see it all in my lifetime, but maybe in my son’s. I think PP is one of the biggest life challenges we’ll ever have to face, but getting through it proves how tenacious & amazing we really are! x
Here’s a link to my ‘Pits List’: app-network.org/wp-content/...
and also the Piccadilly Circus message on Facebook: facebook.com/photo.php?fbid...