Since having Alex back in October 2016, I have learnt quite a bit about mental health. I have learnt that just because you haven’t experienced mental health problems in the past, that doesn’t mean you never will. I have discovered someone can outwardly seem like they are coping just fine but on the inside they are feeling unbearable pain they feel they must keep as a secret. One of my most recent learnings is that we can relapse and recovery is never as straight forward as we would hope.
In January, after months of feeling like my old self, I started to feel really low again. That familiar weight of sadness had crept back in and was resting, heavy and unwelcome on my shoulders. I had started to feel like I was loosing control of my thoughts again, anxiety was seeping through my mind and drowning my normal train of thought with terrifying ‘what ifs’ and worse case scenarios. Unlike when Alex was a newborn, I recognised something wasn’t right really quickly and after a week of daily crying sessions, I knew I needed to get to the doctors as soon as possible, suffering with post natal depression was without a doubt the hardest period in my life and I was not prepared to get dragged back down into the dark again.
Mental health after pregnancy – my first month on Sertraline
After speaking with my husband Oli and spending a whole evening in tears, I phoned up the doctors the next day and made an appointment. When I was struggling with PND last year, I saw a couple of different GP’s and my health visitor but none of them were able to reassure me and make me feel better like the lovely lady I saw last month did. I always find it hard to talk to my doctor about mental health issues but I decided to focus on an empty chair across her office, just past her shoulder, and I opened up and pretended no one was listening.
I told the doctor how I was struggling with intrusive thoughts again, how the thoughts about something awful happening to the kids were still there but now I was also getting flashes of something else that was scaring me and making me fear I couldn’t trust myself. For weeks on end, whenever I was just happily going about my day, I kept having images pop into my mind of me killing myself: jumping in front of cars, cutting my wrists or overdosing. It is hard to explain what this experience was like; I don’t want to die, I love my kids, my husband, my friends and family and I do love my life – that is why I found these thoughts so terrifying. I was scared somewhere dark in my subconscious, I didn’t want to live anymore. What if these thoughts kept coming and one day I just stopped fighting them and accepted what they were showing me? What was the matter with me? Intrusive thoughts are a by product of anxiety but also do a fantastic job at making you feel incredibly anxious. I explained all this to the doctor, finishing by telling her I just want my normal happy brain back.
My amazing doctor listened, told me that being a mum is incredibly difficult and so many of us suffer from heightened anxiety when we become parents. She even went as far as to tell me that every single person will think about killing themselves at some point, even if it is just one fleeting moment and then the thought is forgotten about, life can feel too overwhelming for all of us at times. I was prescribed Sertraline, a common SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) anti depressant. My dosage is one 50mg tablet a day and the doctor was confident they would help in reducing my anxiety (therefore hopefully stopping it becoming so overwhelming I become depressed again) and that after 4 weeks I should start to notice a positive difference.
First few days on Sertraline
I take my tablet every night before I go to bed. You can take it any time during the day but I was worried about it making me feel sick and decided that if I took it just before going to sleep, I wouldn’t notice any of the potential nausea. The first morning after taking it I woke up with a killer headache. I had a piercing pain above my left eye and it lasted for most of the day. I immediately put this down to the tablets but it could just have easily been a coincidence as it hasn’t happened since. That first day I also just felt a bit off, I wouldn’t go as far as to say I felt ‘high’ but I just didn’t feel right, a bit dizzy and off balance at times. Again, this hasn’t happened since so I can’t be sure if it was the Sertraline or if I was just a bit unwell that day.
The second night, I got into bed, grabbed my glass of water and my tablet and had a bit of a wobble. I felt scared, these pills I was going to be taking for the next few months were doing stuff to my mind, they were going to change how I think and alter actual chemicals in my brain. Although all the changes were going to be for the better, I couldn’t help but freak out and I considered just stopping them before I had even really begun. Oli had a word with me though and, as always, managed to calm me down and help me see things clearly. He pointed out that I have not been opposed to putting things into my body in the past that have mind altering abilities. I mean, how many times did I used to go out drinking when I was younger and loose pretty much all control of my mind? We’ve all done it and not given it a second thought, well, until the next morning when we wake up with a horrendous hangover that is. I quickly pushed my fear of the anti depressants aside and started to see them as the helping hand that they are, instead of something to fear.
Sertraline side effects
I can’t tell you what they side effects of Sertraline are as I have been advised by my doctor not to read them. I am actually really grateful she told me not to look as I know what I am like, I would have read them all and then been overanalysing every little change in my body, blaming all the negatives on the tablets and maybe even convincing myself to stop taking them ‘just in case’ I suffered any of the bad side effects. Despite not actually knowing what the common side effects of Sertraline are, here is a list of some of the things I have experienced since I started taking the tablets
- Increased appetite
- Difficulty falling back to sleep if I wake in the night
- Jaw clenching
If I don’t put on about a stone by the time I finish taking these anti depressants then I will be very surprised, I seriously can’t stop eating. I never feel full anymore and could easily snack the whole day away if I allowed myself. I have normally been really good with my diet, 3 healthy meals a day and maybe a couple of snacks but that’s it. Now I am hungry again half an hour after a meal and could probably eat two lots of tea each night if I allowed myself. I am trying to keep an eye on what I am eating though as I don’t want to end up feeling miserable because I’ve put on too much weight.
If one of the kids wakes me up in the night I really struggle to get back to sleep once I have settled them. This never used to be a problem, I have always been able to switch off the second my head hits the pillow. Now, if I am woken in the night then my brain goes into overdrive and sometimes I feel as though if Oli was awake he would be able to hear all my thoughts whizzing around. I am very lucky that both my boys, for the most part, sleep through the night and I don’t have to deal with this problem too often.
A couple days into taking Sertraline I noticed I was clenching my jaw quite a lot and it was aching most of the time. I did turn to doctor Google for this and apparently jaw clenching and joint pain is common when taking anti depressants. I am not really sure why this side effect occurs but it has settled down now and I am not finding myself unconsciously clenching my jaw as often. As for the exhaustion and nausea, this was so bad in the first couple of weeks that I actually took a pregnancy test as the last time I felt that tired and sick was when I was pregnant with Alex. For the record, I am not pregnant, I think the tiredness and sicky feeling must have been due to the tablets and I am pleased than this has passed now, falling asleep on the sofa in the afternoon is not ideal when you have two little boys to look after.
How I feel after a month on Sertraline
I have just finished my first month on Sertraline and according to my doctor I should be starting to feel some of the benefits by now. Apart from one awful night where every time I tried to go back to sleep all I could see was me taking a knife to my wrists, like something from a horror film, my intrusive thoughts have rapidly diminished. For over a year, not a day would go by that I didn’t have a disturbing thought about something awful happening to the boys, myself or my family and over the last few weeks, there haven’t been any. Alex had a meningitis scare and for the whole 4 days he was in hospital, my mind didn’t once start conjuring up all the worst case scenarios and I surprised myself at how well I managed to keep my anxiety about his wellbeing at bay and just focus on getting him better.
I have even purposefully been trying to think of all the things that would usually trigger my anxiety, as an experiment to see if my brain is starting to change how it works. When I allow myself to think of the things that would normally scare me, now I just sort of feel nothing, numb I guess would be the best way to describe it. I am finding it all really strange if I am honest, how just a month a go just thinking about driving over a bridge was enough to get my heart racing and make me feel hot and sick because I was terrified the car was going to somehow go veering over the edge and the kids were going to drown. But now, when I think about driving over a bridge, it just feels like nothing, my body doesn’t start freaking out and my mind doesn’t start catastrophizing and immediately assuming the worst is going to happen. To not have to deal with the physical and mental effects of anxiety every single day is such a welcome relief and makes me wish I hadn’t waited so long to get the help I so obviously needed.
The first couple of weeks taking anti depressants weren’t exactly fun. The side effects, while not completely debilitating, were an uncomfortable inconvenience but definitely worth persevering through as now I am in a place where I am beginning to feel the benefits from taking the anti depressants. I had a review appointment with my doctor, she is pleased with how things are going, has prescribed me another 6 weeks worth of Sertraline and encouraged me to read some self help books about overcoming anxiety using CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) methods. I have two books I loaned from the library that are pretty heavy going to read but are really helping me to understand more about what anxiety actually is and how to change the way I think to help me overcome it. I don’t want to be taking anti depressants forever and I think it is really important for me to learn some coping strategies in case I start to feel overly anxious again in the future.
Did you suffer with any mental health issues after pregnancy? Have you ever taken anti depressants, what was your experience like? I think it is really important to have open and honest conversations about mental health, we can only raise awareness and break the stigma if more of us share our experiences. If you are comfortable to do so, I would love for you to share your thoughts in the comments.
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.
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