Tuesday, November 18, 2014

My foray with Post Natal Depression.

{Ben three hours new}

Out with the placenta, in with the Dolly Parton boobs. When your hormones change, flood in, it may catch you. I'm not talking the endorphins, they're the happy hormones. No, the despair, the dread, the frustration, the lonliness. Thoughts of what have I done?

Other times the little black cloud rolls in slowly. One little grey wisp at a time. Sneaky. Harder to notice, unobservant to the gradual changes. After all becoming a mother (for the first time or the eighth time) comes with a suitcase of upheaval. When life is already trying to find it's new axis, the seemingly smaller problems fly under the rated. In the beginning the little thoughts don't rate on the priority scale. 

Post Natal Depression.

This week is Antenatal & Postnatal Depression Week. Statistics show 1 in 7 women are diagnosed with Post Natal Depression. I believe the numbers are greater than that. How many women just keep going, even when they know their real self is hiding somewhere. Lost in all the mist.

That was me.

After Ben was born, & I've written about Ben's first year before, it was so far from how I imagined life would be. Our baby was not the happy, content little boy I imagined during pregnancy.

{A very familiar sight}

He cried. He was so hard to get to sleep. He screamed. When he did sleep, he didn't sleep for long at all.

There was already so many changes during that time - leaving full time work to stay home full time, Doug changed employment which also meant a change in working hours from a flexible shift roster to a Monday to Friday working week, plus work was now further away too. He left earlier & was home later. All of a sudden I was home by myself with Ben from 6am to 6pm. Add in Ben's aversion to sleeping & constant crying, I became an ideal candidate for PND.

Initially I tried to convince everyone around me that I was fine. I was coping & happy. It was easy to know all the right things to say to the community health nurse when she would ask how I was, how my moods were. The new mothers survey - occasionally I felt a little sad [tick box] but over all I was happy [tick box] at least that was what my manipulated answers indicated. I was still convincing myself that I was fine, I wasn't ready to think that I wasn't coping. To admit failure. I didn't open up to anyone about how I was really feeling. Not to myself, not to Doug, which is silly but true. That is what post natal depression did - it changed me. I fought internally against myself all the time. Every thought became a battle. Sometimes I would be desperate for help, for someone to really see the conflict inside my mind. But when asked how I really was, the mask came on. I was my own worst enemy.

I felt bad that Ben cried. A lot. Doug didn't do well with all the crying too, & after spending a long day at work & then driving home in peak hour traffic, I wanted to have it all together for Doug once he was home. Instead of a hot dinner, I had to pass over a screaming baby, because I just needed half an hour without grasping for ways to calm our baby. Again, silly but true. It changed my normal rational thoughts into something else altogether.
It was me who really wanted to start our family, my maternal clock was chiming loudly, while Doug was happy wait another few years, so when life wasn't perfect, I took all the problems on myself. Thinking I was the one who signed up for this, not Doug. My thinking was skewed (screwed). I felt guilty, accountable, for everything that was wrong with our baby, though none of it was my fault. This was the depression, the little dark voice telling me I had made my bed, now I had to lay in it. 

Slowly I began to lose myself. The way I was feeling, I thought it was just a new mum thing.

When I thought of post natal depression images of women not being able to get out of bed came to mind. Constantly crying. Ignoring their baby or wanting as little as possible to do with him. Failing to bond. Crouched in a corner or against a wall. Shutting out the world & everyone in it.

I didn't have problems getting out of bed each day. I didn't cry without good reason or desperation. I loved Ben & interacted with him (though at times it was with a forced smile. A happy mask because I didn't want to scar our child with buried memories of an expressionless Mum gently shaking a rattle in front of him) I only sat against a wall when I was listening to Ben cry while taking a break from trying to rock him to sleep. I went to our local mothers group. We went for walks & family dinners.

I didn't have post natal depression - according to my thoughts of what post natal depression looked like.

But I did.

I knew I did, but I was in denial. I thought it would go away as Ben got older, got easier.

Maybe it would have, maybe not. I honestly can't say if I could have continued on the way I was feeling, without reaching for help.

My GP was great, we started a treatment plan for Ben's reflux, which was quite severe & a root cause for many issues we were having. I started taking anti depressants, along with regular visits to track & document my depression & Ben's reflux. I was advised that there may not be any noticeable differences for up to three weeks, so when within four days of commencing anti depressant medication I felt great, coinciding with Ben being a little more settled than usual as we got a handle on his reflux, I thought to myself 'Ha, I don't have depression, it's just when Ben has a bad day, it's hard. It's not me after all.'

Without seeking medical advice first, I stopped taking the anti depressants. Two days later I crashed emotionally. I was back to how I felt two weeks earlier. Flat, unenthusiastic, sad, at times desperate. For what I can't specify. Perhaps desperate to feel like 'me' again. Desperate not to feel useless when our baby cried & I couldn't calm him. Desperate not to be stuck how I was feeling.

While I was back in my grey mist, Ben was still more settled & sleeping a lot easier. So it wasn't Ben. It was me as well. That was the moment I accepted I did have post natal depression.

Immediately I started taking the medication again & when we went back to the GP a few days later I told him everything that had happened. It was a relief, to find 'me' again. All those martyr thoughts evaporated, if Ben was crying I knew it wasn't because it was something I was or was not doing, I didn't get so tangled up in obsessing over nap times. I let go of the happy mask I was clinging to as a life line & let every one in. 
After four or five months, with Ben's reflux as good as it was going to get without invasive treatment, I slowly weaned off the anti depressants. 

{In the post birth bliss, before the getting lost in the grey mist of depression}

That was ten years ago. The emotions I felt during those horrible months still haunt me, settle over me like a heavy cloak when I think back to those heavy months. My heart beat picks up, the dread in my chest returns, the itchy nose that preludes the tears. The feeling of precariously teetering on an emotional ledge. It wasn't until I was out the fog of depression that I could clearly see exactly how bad I really was, how much I had ignored the little warning signs & over looked all the persistent, small negative thoughts. 

After that hellish & displacing experience I swore that if & when we had another baby I would would never go back to that lost version of myself again. I would seek help the moment I thought it was more than the 'three day blues' or lasted longer than a week.

In the weeks & months after Rianan was born both Doug & I kept a very observant eye on how I was feeling, how I reacted, how present I felt, & also following the births of Jack, Blake, Will & Clay. Thankfully it was a one off, because while at times I have felt sad in the post natal months, it was never anything close to that depressed fog that slowly absorbed who I was.

If you think that maybe, just maybe, you don't feel like who you are, if there are some dark clouds hanging around that can't be shaken off, or wonder that maybe you might have antenatal or post natal depression - please speak to someone.
Your doctor, your husband, partner, friend, mum, community health nurse, strangers on a parenting forum, anyone.

Because that grey fog, it really, really sucks.

Places to reach out for help

**This is just my side of our story with post natal depression. I haven't touched on how my depression affected Doug. How much he took on & tried to help, even when I wouldn't let him. That's another post for another day.
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