I have this really vivid memory lurking in my mind, it has been well over a year since this day yet I remember it all as if it happened this morning. Alex was about 2 or 3 weeks old, I was bathing him in his tiny little baby bath and chatting to Oli at the same time. For a mere 5 seconds I looked up and met Oli’s gaze while we were talking and when I looked back down at my baby, Alex had his face in the water. In just a matter of a few seconds he had silently rolled his head to the side, his head was still resting on my palm but his mouth and nose had become submerged. A matter of seconds, that’s all it was. I took him straight out of his little bath as he cried and thrashed his body around in my arms. He was scared, I was terrified. I got him dressed, cuddled him close and while I was feeding him I reached for my phone. That was the day my phone began to mentally torture me.
Mental health after pregnancy – social media made my anxiety and PND worse
Alex was completely fine after his minor incident in the bath and as he contently slept in my arms, I did the thing paranoid, anxious and depressed new mums should never do: I Googled what had just happened. During my heart-breaking journey through forums, news articles and medical warnings about children drowning my anxiety began to reach the point where I kept having to check Alex was breathing, even though he was right there happy in my arms. I managed to drag myself out of the terrifying depths of my Google search and went to bed, full of dread that Alex was going to be dead when I woke up. The next day I was scrolling through Facebook and was met with a news article that had somehow made it’s way into my newsfeed, amongst the updates and photos from my friends and family. The article had a headline that caught my eye immediately, I was still on edge from the day before and when I saw the words ‘secondary drowning’ my heart sank. The story was about a child who had been swimming happily on holiday and 24hours after returning from fun at the pool he had drowned. Apparently it is possible to ‘drown’ hours after being in water if you manage to get some water on your lungs. Well, obviously my anxiety sky rocketed and I was convinced this was going to happen to Alex. I was scared for days that something bad was going to happen, all the while trying to outwardly appear fine and under control as I hadn’t yet found the courage to tell anyone I was suffering so badly with my mental health.
As if Facebook knew how I was feeling and wanted to torment me further, more and more news articles began to flash up in my news feed, each one pushing my anxiety up even higher and I was left feeling as though my baby was just never going to be safe again. For every 10 updates from friends and family, there was a mum posting in a mums chat group an article she’d read about the dangers of car seats/cot bumpers/prams/choking – the list of potential ways I was being told my baby could die was just unbearably overwhelming. There is not a single doubt in my mind that Facebook made my anxiety and post natal depression worse. I know I was struggling anyway, but this constant horrific barrage of stories and articles about awful things happening to babies just like my own unequivocally had a negative impact on my mental health.
It wasn’t only Facebook though, social media in general has on many different occasions affected my mood and mental wellbeing. I am better now, but when I was suffering with post natal depression I would go on to Instagram and as I was scrolling through everyone else’s photos I felt as though everyone else was happy in the world apart from me. I would see photos of mums holding their babies with smiles on their faces, captioned with tales from their lovely and joyful day. I would see photos of toddlers kissing and hugging their baby siblings and feel shit because my three year old was showing no interest in the baby at all. Everyone was smiling and everyone was happy and after 10 minutes on Instagram I could easily be left feeling inadequate and like a rubbish mum for days as I wasn’t smiling like everyone else.
Some days Twitter would grab my attention and I’d spend some time scrolling on there. People seem to tell it as it is a bit more on Twitter, which can be a blessing in some ways but also makes an easy breeding ground for keyboard warriors and internet bullies. Luckily I am yet to have to deal with the horrible experience of being trolled but that doesn’t mean Twitter didn’t also manage to play a part in ripping apart my self confidence and negatively impacting my mood during those months where I was suffering with my mental health. This time last year I probably had around 3000 followers on Twitter, not loads but not zero either. Occasionally if something was troubling me, I would try and sugar coat the issue slightly, pop it in a tweet and ask if anyone else was feeling the same. I understood I was opening myself up for potential trolling but I didn’t care, I just wanted to know that there were others out there who understood how I was feeling. As it transpired, most of the time there wasn’t. Every time I checked my notifications and not one of my 3000 followers had replied to say they too felt the same, my heart would sink a little deeper into the painful part of my chest and tears would threaten to spill from my eyes. Despite having followers on all different platforms, there were times social media made me feel so alone.
I am not holding Facebook, Instagram and Twitter responsible for the troubles I faced when Alex was a baby; it is unfortunate but I think getting post natal depression and anxiety was just part of my journey into second time motherhood. However, I do believe social media is responsible for intensifying my low mood and making my mental health worse during what was already a difficult time in my life. In the end I ended up deleting the Facebook app from my phone for months, the articles and good intentioned warnings from other mums about terrible tragedies involving babies just got too much for me. I wised up on the reality of social media in general too, the majority of people are only sharing the smile and the happy times online but that doesn’t mean they are not having the tough days too. I have also been guilty of holding back the complete truth of what is happening in my life and instead painted a very rosy and perfect lie over on my squares on Instagram. I don’t do that anymore, if things are shit then I tell my followers that I am feeling shit. If I have had a bad day then I will tell you, just like I would if it had been the best day ever. I never want anyone to feel lonely and anxious because of what they have or haven’t seen on social media and if I see a new mum reaching out for solidarity or reassurance online then, if I have been there too, I will a hundred times tell her that she’s not on her own.
I have written this post in collaboration with Head Talks, an amazing website full of useful resources to help inform, reassure and inspire people around the subject of mental health and wellbeing. Head Talks was founded by Oliver Chittenden (find out his story here) who wants Head Talks to be a safe online place for people who want to have healthier relationships with themselves and their loved ones by focussing on improving their mental health.
Fashion blogger Roxi Nafousi was interviewed for Head Talks about her opinion on social media and the detrimental effects it can have on our mental health. You can watch the interview, Beyond The Perfect Image, here and Roxi shares similar advice to me – if you are not feeling mentally well then it is best to stay well away from social media.
Today, February 1st 2018, is Time to Talk Day. So, wherever you are and whoever you are with, make sure you take some time today to have a conversation about mental health and wellbeing. Stigmas can only be removed and change can only be made if we all make an effort to raise awareness of the many mental health issues thousands of us suffer with every day.
If you feel like you may be suffering with post natal depression here is a list of resources and charities that can help and support you.
If you found this post useful you may also like to read the other posts about anxiety, post natal depression and mental illness over in the mental health section of my blog.
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. I have collaborated with Head Talks as raising awareness and helping people will mental health issues is something I am passionate about.