PND and believing you deserve to get help

Recognising the problem

I’ve been procrastinating over writing this post for a while. I’m hoping to publish a series of guest posts on parental mental health, which I’m kicking off with my own contributions. I’ve published my story of anxiety after having my first child, and a guest post on new mums and mental health generally.

But this post – the story of the PND I experienced after my second child – is the most difficult. World Mental Health day is on 10 October and it’s given me a kick up the rear end to share this story. I’m not sharing it to get sympathy, but because of the fact that I doubted myself. I doubted that I was sick enough to get help. I thought I ought to just get over it.

There is a huge problem in our society in which mental illness is not taken as seriously as other types of physical illness, including within the National Health Service. It is well known that there is not enough help for mental illness on the NHS. It is not clear what help is available and much of the help that is available sits at the top of a long waiting list.

On top of this, many still feel that admitting to struggling with mental illness carries a stigma. This is particularly a problem for women suffering with postnatal depression.

“What if they think I’m a bad mother?”

“What if they want to take my baby away?”

“What if the medication means I can’t breastfeed?”

My story

For me, I was not worried about the stigma, nor intimidated by the difficulties of getting help. It was taking myself seriously that was the problem. I didn’t even realise that I needed help.

I was over the moon at the birth of my second son. I had a natural birth – the thing that I’d wished for and had eluded me with my first. I was also happy that with the second child, I felt that my family was complete. I did not enjoy pregnancy and was incredibly happy to know it was finished and I never needed to do it again. And of course, my son was beautiful, as babies always are.

It’s hard to say if there were any number of factors that contributed to my PND. My baby spent time in special care for feeding problems. Some other things happened to friends and family that upset me, and then we had a house guest that came for a week and stayed for a month. My son was born in November, but by the time February rolled around – that darkest month of the year – I was in a dark place.

I spent every day on my sofa crying. I wasn’t even sure what I was crying about. I felt insecure. I didn’t want to leave the house. Also, I felt so incredibly angry. My older son, who was about 3 years old at the time, was having some difficulties getting used to having a baby brother and that was affecting his behaviour. So he was a little more challenging than usual and I was less equipped to deal with it. I used to bite my bottom lip so hard to stop myself from shouting and exploding with anger. It seemed like my bottom lip was permanently stuck under my teeth. I felt guilty for being angry with my son.

It took me a long time to take my feelings seriously. I blamed myself and my own lack of self-control for the feelings of anger. I called myself lazy and weak for not wanting to leave the house. I felt foolish for feeling sad so much of the time. I had everything I wanted, so what excuse did I have to be sad?

I didn’t think there was anything a doctor could do for me. I thought I just needed to grow up and deal with it. Having a baby and a young child is hard work. I thought it was par for the course. And I kept suffering.

And then one day a leaflet dropped through my door. It was for Ieso Digital Health, an NHS service that offers Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) via secure instant messaging on a computer, smartphone or table. It said that you could refer yourself to the service, and it didn’t matter if your symptoms were mild, moderate or severe.

The penny dropped. I realised I desperately wanted to talk to someone about how I was feeling.

So I took the leaflet to my doctor and asked her to refer me to the service. It turns out that was the wrong thing to do, and I could have just signed up online without even going to the doctor. In the end, she referred me to a different service that involved talking on the phone instead of online.

I found CBT difficult in a lot of ways, especially over the phone. I think I would have preferred hiding behind my laptop screen. The idea of CBT is that it helps you examine your patterns of thinking so that you can see how they’re being unhelpful to you, and this can empower you to change them.

In some ways I didn’t like it because I felt like I was being blamed for how I feel. But I made an effort to engage with the therapy, and it did help me channel some of my angry feelings when my son was winding me up. The therapy helped me remember logically that he wasn’t doing it on purpose – he was only a young child – and that I had the power to choose how I reacted to it.

The sad and insecure feelings were more stubborn. They hung around until I ran out of birth control pills and forgot to refill the prescription. Within a week of stopping the pill, I started to feel better. I decided to stop taking them altogether and I’ve felt better ever since. It may have been a coincidence, but recent research is showing that depression can be an adverse effect of hormonal contraceptives.

What I’ve learned

My story exemplifies a number of challenges we have around mental health, and maternal mental health specifically. These include:

  • Helping women to take their feelings seriously – to not to be ashamed or afraid to talk about how they’re feeling and to ask for help.
  • Taking mental health as seriously as physical health.
  • Raising awareness of the symptoms of PND and other maternal mental health problems so that people will be equipped to recognise when there is something wrong – not just in themselves but in their friends and family.
  • Increasing the availability of appropriate mental health services on the NHS.
  • Increasing awareness of how to get help on the NHS, and the range of services that are already available.

The leaflet that popped through my door saved me. It came at the right moment. But we shouldn’t have to rely on chance for people to receive the help they need.

If you are feeling down, angry or anxious, please speak to someone. The Mental Health Foundation has a useful list of some of your options for getting help. And if you see a friend or relative struggling, please don’t look the other way.

I would like to publish as many stories about maternal mental health as I can to spread awareness. If you would like to write a guest post with your own story or perspective, please email me: themumreviews (at) gmail.com.

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Blog Toast Tuesday: 20 September 2016

Welcome back to #blogtoast Tuesday, my weekly feature where I offer a congratulatory toast to two blogs that I like. Virtual booze does not have the same effect as real booze, but perhaps my modest praise can take the edge off your day in much the same way.

The Unsung Mum: For the underestimated and unacknowledged rad mum

I’m realising that my very favourite blogs are funny and poignant ones that highlight the hard bits of parenting with a self-deprecating sense of humour, and try to make us all feel better about ourselves. The Unsung Mum is doing this right.

Her posts are written in the third person and feature hilarious illustrations that appear to have been drawn in Microsoft Paint or suchlike. They are usefully labelled in case you are in any doubt about (for example) which bits of a picture are shit and which bits are chocolate.

I particularly enjoyed “How to rid yourself of the mothers’ group Twatty McTroll Face“, about those women both online and IRL who make you feel bad because you use disposable nappies and don’t make your own hummus – and how we can defeat them.

Her most recent post, “The Unsung Mum and the PND disaster” describes the things that went through her head when she suffered with PND. I relate to a lot of it, but also appreciate her very wise statement that PND comes in many different shapes and sizes. The most important bit is how she says it was a friend that helped her the most, telling her “it’s okay not to be okay”. It’s a good reminder of what we should all tell our friends sometimes when we think they might need it.

Our Rach Blogs

In a Twitter conversation recently, Rach told me that people don’t like her (her exact words: “I’m like thrush”). Based on how interesting her blog is, I find this hard to believe. But then again, people don’t like me either. And I only sometimes like people.

There are lots of things I like about this blog, and as one of its features is Top 10 lists, I’m going to be all thematic & shit and list the reasons I like her blog. I’m only doing 5 though (I don’t have time/too lazy to do 10).

  1. She writes feminist stuff. Her recent post, “What do you mean you don’t want kids?” was brilliant. Nobody thinks being childless or choosing childlessness makes a man less of a person, so why are people always implying that about women?
  2. She questions everyday bullshit. I like this one where she wonders why we always say sorry to each other for stupid things like pressing the same lift button at the same time. I’m not British-born so I work harder than anyone to say sorry all the time (to prove my Britishness), but maybe I should stop that.
  3. She writes about mental health and PND awareness, a topic that is also close to my heart.
  4. She is a good writer. Every post unfolds just like you’re reading a really good column in a really good newspaper.
  5. She covers an eclectic range of topics. I’ve read a lot of advice in the blogging world that says you need to make sure you stick to a niche, but I’m sceptical about that. It’s my blog and I’m going to write what I want. I’m glad she does that too.

Please do join me in toasting the best blogs by tweeting your favourite this week with the hashtag: #blogtoast (and if you mention @themumreviews I will retweet you – it’s win/win!) – or let me know just what you think of me in the comments!