I never thought I would suffer with post natal depression. Then again, I doubt many women think they will get it either. It is not what you think about when you are pregnant is it? You are too busy thinking about the little human growing inside you, planning for their arrival and imaging the life as a family that is waiting for you just around the corner. Thoughts of whether you will feel sad for months on end or if you will feel completely overwhelmed by it all aren’t really common place amongst the excitement over adorable baby clothes and decorating the nursery.
Well, I didn’t consider I would get PND anyway. But I did and it is not what I had expected it to be.
Post natal depression, it is not how I imagined
I always thought post natal depression meant you couldn’t love your baby, for me that is not the case. I thought sufferers of post natal depression were suicidal, that is not the case for me either. The media made me believe if you suffered from PND then you thought about hurting your baby, you thought about hurting yourself or you just sat in the dark and cried for months. I was misguided, misinformed, and I was naïve. Post natal depression is not black and white, it is not a one size fits all condition. For some women post natal depression shows itself in one way and in others it comes to the surface in a totally different manner.
Post natal depression caught me completely off guard. I didn’t see it coming, I never expected it to become a part of my life, I thought I was too happy to ever get depressed. I am happily married, have a lovely family and children who are my world, what have I got to be sad about? And that is my naivety to the complexity of mental health, displayed neatly in that last sentence. There doesn’t need to be a reason, depression can hit any of us at any time, sometimes circumstances and situations can cause it and other times it can just show up uninvited.
My second baby was about 2 months old when I realised something wasn’t quite right. Again, my misconception of post natal depression led me to ignore my symptoms for weeks, convinced I must just be feeling down, the baby blues maybe, as post natal depression crops up within the days after birth doesn’t it? You can’t be feeling happy for almost 2 months and then suddenly just get it can you? Post natal depression isn’t like the flu, you don’t just ‘catch it’. Often it can begin as a slow burn, something you can just push aside and try to ignore, but as time wears on the sadness and anxiety shout louder, refusing to let you carry on with life as normal.
Before I was one of them, I thought sufferers of post natal depression were sad all the time, crying all the time and they were easy to spot because they rarely smiled. This is not the case at all. Over Christmas I fake smiled my way through countless family gatherings, I pretended to be happy when I wasn’t. I lied to everyone around me every time they asked how I was and I said I was ok. No amount of forced smiles or ignoring the elephant in my brain could stop the sadness and anxiety that was constantly niggling in my chest, picking at me and dragging my mood down to depths I wasn’t willing to go. Just because someone is smiling doesn’t mean they are happy, don’t assume a new mum is coping just because she says she is ok – it is hard enough admitting to yourself that you are struggling, let alone telling friends and family that you are depressed.
The smiles though, they are not always fake. It is possible to be depressed but to also have times of happiness. I mean, I have post natal depression but I still have days that are full of fun, my kids and my family make me laugh for real and I do still use my genuine smile too. Having post natal depression just means for me there is always this unhappiness within me, sometimes it feels like it consumes me but there are other days where I can manage it. There are lots of days where I can tackle the sadness head on, lock it away and go about my day, genuinely enjoying my time with my family and not even giving it a second thought. Those are my favourite kind of day, some time really soon I hope to be able to keep that sadness locked away for good.
Having post natal depression for me doesn’t mean I am suicidal or that I can’t bond with my child. For me, this horrible mental health condition shows itself in the form of intrusive thoughts, anxiety and tears that just can not be explained. It is a constant weight on my shoulders (thankfully now not as heavy as it once was), it is the dull shadow that is cast over my days and is the reason I look at my baby and sometimes feel sad. The sadness is not because he makes me unhappy, he doesn’t, it is because for the 7 months he has been on this planet he hasn’t been able to see the real me. I am not a miserable and anxious person, in my heart I am happy and positive. I love to laugh and to smile and take pleasure in everything life has to offer, unfortunately there are days the person I really am and the person this depression want me to be start to blur together; a mess of heightened emotions and feelings. Mostly I am sad for my youngest child as he hasn’t had the same baby days as his big brother, a time when I was able to be the happy mum I always wanted to be, not this tearful imposter.
I have also learnt that there is no easy cure. Talking helps, it really does help if you can find the courage to get the words out. Anti depressants can work for some, I have turned these down for my own reasons but there is no shame in taking pills to feel better. You’d take paracetamol for a headache, wouldn’t you? Self care is important, time for yourself doing something you enjoy can work wonders. Unfortunately, I have also come to realise that you can start to feel better, almost like your old happy self, only for post natal depression to resurface again, once more unannounced and very much not invited. At this moment in time I am struggling again, I have that uneasy feeling and can’t budge that niggling in my chest. I am hoping this is just a small bump in the road back to happiness and I can work through these feelings again.
I guess all I am trying to say is this, our mental health is complex and it is hard to understand what someone else is going through. If I could show who I am now to the person I was a year ago, that past version of myself wouldn’t think they are looking at someone suffering with post natal depression. What we perceive something to be and what it actually is can be two completely different things. If you are a new mum and think you might have pnd but are reluctant to seek help because you don’t feel how the media has made you believe you should feel then please seek some support. Like lots of illnesses, post natal depression is not the same for everyone, you can love your baby and have never even contemplated hurting yourself or your children but that doesn’t mean you might not have this very common mental health condition. Post natal depression affects around 1 in 10 new mums, there is no way all those mums feel it in the same way.
If you think you have post natal depression, click this link for a list of charities and helpful resources and please speak to someone about it. Bottling up these feelings will only make you feel worse. If you want to read more about my struggles with post natal depression then you can find all my posts about it in the mental health section on my blog.
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