It’s a scary word, and it’s an even scarier place to be.
This has been hard to finish. Talking about it, even now 6 years on is difficult.
When I fell pregnant with my first son, no one openly discussed post natal depression. It was briefly brushed over in antenatal class as a possibility, but no one admitted when things were hard, or spoke about how common feeling this way was.
My sons father and I had broken up when I found out that I was pregnant.
I had just graduated and we were both working in Queenstown. I loved my job and I had a beautiful apartment that I lived in alone. I was enjoying grown up life.
The pregnancy was unexpected and I decided pretty quickly that I needed to move back to Napier to be closer to my family. He decided to come too, to try to make things work between us for the sake of the baby.
It was a difficult 9 months. A baby wasn’t enough to fix the relationship, no matter how good our intentions.
Alex’s entrance into the world was traumatic. A birth story that spans across 3 days before he arrived with the assistance of forceps, and then 3 more nights in the hospital trying to learn to breastfeed with an unsuccessful latch.
I wasn’t expecting to struggle to bond with this new baby. I only ever heard/read that new mums saw their babies and instantly fell in love, that everything after that flowed naturally. I didn’t know there was an alternative. I kept waiting for it to hit, for everything to fall into place and feel magical, but it didn’t.
We went home and things got worse.
Alex had reflux and he would cry for hours after every feed. I would cry too. Constantly. The stresses and worries of being a first time mum were multiplied by my relationship problems. I felt as if my own mum would be disappointed if she knew the way I was really feeling so I pushed her away. Things were dark and I felt like this baby deserved more than me.
I was a mess, I didn’t know what I was doing, I felt disconnected from everyone around me.
I had failed at breastfeeding, something I thought should have been the most natural thing in the world. The coffee group that I was part of was full of mums in their 30’s, happily married and living in homes they owned. I was envious. I was 22, living with my mum again and my relationship was a mess. I didn’t know how to admit what I was feeling, so I stopped attending.
I felt alone and scared. Postnatal depression hit hard.
Suicidal thoughts brought comfort. I felt like this baby would be better off with a mum more in control, more competent. Happier. That could never be me.
I needed help, but I didn’t know how to ask for it. I didn’t know what was wrong or if there was a way to fix it. Everything felt fuzzy, it was difficult to really focus on any one thing and I was in a constant state of anxiety. The world seemed so loud. I felt like a disappointment.
I took care of Alex on autopilot. He always had everything he needed, he was fed, bathed and changed but there was no feeling behind any of it. I resented Alex’s dad for not being more involved and I hated myself for not being more in control.
After a failed attempt at an overdose, I ended up under critical watch in the hospital for 7 days. I was under 24 hour supervision.
I had hit rock bottom.
I was put on a course of antidepressants – I felt ashamed of needing pills to cope with my life. It was something else not spoken about enough and I didn’t know it was ok to need a little extra help sometimes and I didn’t know I wasn’t the only one.
While I struggled with the fact that I needed them every day, they helped. The sadness felt numbed. I began to feel somewhat normal and regained some control.
I asked Alex’s dad to move out and I felt relieved that it was over.
I bonded with Alex around the 6 month mark and it was the beginning of a turn around for me. I had fallen in love with my baby. I felt like I could deal with everything else – at least I finally felt what I should have right from the start. Colour began to return.
Life moved on, as it does. I moved to a new city, entered a new relationship and made new friends. I felt like my life was getting back on track but I was still ashamed of what I was going through and I felt constant guilt at how things had begun.
I tried to come off my pills too soon. I had felt like they helped, but something didn’t feel right. I never spoke to anyone about them, or about how they made me feel and so was not aware that there were other options and I relapsed.
It was nowhere near as bad as before, but it was back.
I took a break from my new relationship and focussed on getting everything back to a manageable level. I went back to my doctor – we decided to try a new kind of pill and it seemed to agree with me in a much better way.
My relationship survived the break, although through its entirety, as wonderful as he was, he never understood what I was going through and that was tough. Depression is difficult for people to understand when they have never experienced it. It’s more than a bad day, a case of the blues, or just needing some fresh air to clear your head and cheer up. It’s a black cloud that hovers over everything. An unbearable weight on your shoulders that you can never shake. It’s lonely and dark, filled with guilt and self loathing. It’s not a choice.
There wasn’t a magical cure for what I went through. Life was a constant battle with myself. There were periods where I needed to fight to get out of bed, to get through normal days. There were times that every load of washing was a struggle, every meal that needing preparing felt like a marathon being run. I had to fight, hard. Every single day.
After 3 years, my new relationship ended. Our priorities were different and while we loved each other, we were fighting more and more because of that and neither of us was happy anymore.
I was alone with myself again and I was terrified, but it was just Alex and I and I had to wake up every morning and tell myself I could do this. For both of us.
I needed to come to terms with being on medication – I read more, and I found that mums were opening up about what they had gone through and I felt relieved to know that I wasn’t alone. There was hope.
My brain was dealing with an imbalance and it needed help leveling some things out. And that was ok. When I realised this, things started to improve much faster. I had stopped telling myself I was a failure and started telling myself that I was strong – I focussed on how hard I had worked and how far I had come. Over time I learnt not to let myself feel guilty for feeling down or having bad days. It didn’t mean that I wasn’t making progress, it meant that I was human.
A mixture of finding an amazing support system at work, the right medication and dosage and being a little bit kinder to myself, I found that slowly I wasn’t having to fight so hard to get through normal days. The washing was under control and dinners weren’t mountain climbs. In fact, they started being fun. Alex and I would decide on dinners together then prep the ingredients together, and then he would sit on the bench and sing to me while I cooked.
On my darkest days, I could never have imagined getting to that point. I felt happy. I was enjoying being a mother.
Alex will be 7 in August and is the most amazing little man. He is happy, bright and beautiful. We have the best relationship. He is kind and caring and compassionate and was recently told that he has to stop pausing to ask if other players are ok during his football games (my heart!!). He has the most beautiful soul and I love him more than I could have imagined possible.
I have been off antidepressants for just about 2 years. I still deal with anxiety, but it is at a much more manageable level now.
I have an amazing partner, and a second son now too! Despite all of my worries, he was born and I fell in love immediately. Watching Alex develop a relationship with his new brother has been the most beautiful thing in the world. Going through newborn life like this makes me feel like I was robbed of the magic of a new baby the first time around. It’s a sadness that will never shift.
It has been a long journey to this point, filled with ups and downs and learning to love myself again. I still have bad days. I work through them as best I can – I force myself to talk when I start to feel overwhelmed. I have an incredible support network and I feel so relieved to see how much more open society is becoming about mental health and the importance of speaking out.
When you are trapped under the cloud of darkness that depression brings, it can be easy to isolate yourself for fear of being a burden to the people around you. Fight that. Talk. As much as you can. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and don’t ever feel ashamed of feeling down, or feel bad for not managing perfectly all the time.
Depression can creep up on anyone – it doesn’t limit itself to new mums. There are people who can help, and they are all easily accessible. You’re never alone, and you’re not a failure. Do whatever you have to, to fight your way through it because there is a light at the end of the tunnel and it doesn’t have to always feel this way.
If you, or someone you know is struggling, here is a list of contacts that are always available to help xx
Depression Helpline, free phone 0800 111 757
You can also text them (4202) or email them using this form.
Anxiety Line 0800 ANXIETY (2694 389)
Crisis assessment and treatment teams (CATT)
Crisis teams (called CATT or PES) provide 24-hour, seven-days-a-week assessment and short-term treatment services for people experiencing a serious mental health crisis. If you think you or someone you know has reached ‘crisis point’, you need urgent help. Emergency teams (called CATT or PES) provide 24 hour, 7 days a week assessment and short-term treatment services for people experiencing a serious mental health crisis that could include urgent safety issues. Contact your local Mental Health Services immediately.