I've written a lot about perinatal mental health in the past. For Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week (which is this week) I wanted to write something really positive. I truly do feel totally better following that bleak period of my life with 2 under 2 and a bad bout of late onset PND. I might even consider myself a good mum now, which is an utter revelation! Because of this I wanted to reflect on what being “better” really means.
During those bad times with PND I was angry, sleep deprived, frustrated, not understood, was self-harming and felt like a failure. It was horrible. But following my diagnosis, I began to slowly get better. This was for a mixture of reasons. Firstly, I finally began to understand myself. I realised I was poorly (not just an awful person as I believed for ages) and could therefore get better.
The diagnosis freed me to be able to talk about my feelings without a fear of judgement or blame (because now I could blame it on the illness, not myself). My husband allowed me to sleep while he sorted the kids out at night time for about 2 months (absolute hero, I will never ever be able to thank him enough for this). I had a prescription for some medication. I had no qualms about taking the medication but for me, knowing it was there was enough to help. Lastly, my youngest baby began to get better (she’d been poorly with a condition that made her cry and be restless so much of the time) and therefore she slept more. As she slept more and became more comfortable, so did I.
The change to “better” happened slowly and gradually. I didn’t wake up one morning and think “Yes! I’m better!”. It happened much more slowly than that. But there were small, positive indicators I noticed over time that hinted at the fact I was getting there.
I wanted to share some of mine and others’ “indicators” of recovery, so that we can reflect on what “better”, “getting better” and the “road to recovery” may look like.
- “I started to realise I had begun to wear mascara again. I hadn’t done this for months. This small act meant I was beginning to look after myself again. I cared about myself again. It felt good” – Sally Bunkham
- “For me it was laughing and not feeling guilty. To genuinely feel joy again!” – Clara Wilcox
- “It was being able to keep my anxiety and worry at a minimum. I was regularly working out and got dressed 80% of the time. I felt my confidence slowly rising as I was remembering how to look after me once more and I was happier in my body and mind” – Loulou Storey
- “I moved house and realised I'd packed my anti-depressants in a box and hadn't seen (or taken them) for a week! I think the new start and the excitement of that gave me a positive feeling about the future – something I hadn't had 12 months before so I knew I was okay again” – Amy Downes
- “For me it was appreciating the beauty of a blue sky in January. It (literally) felt like the clouds had finally parted after two years of deep depression following my divorce. I got a tattoo to remind myself that I never wanted to feel that way again” – Hannah Martin
- “The point where I knew I was starting to feel more like myself was when I went for my first run in over a year. I used to love running but as I sank further into myself I completely stopped. Getting out in the fresh air and doing something that I used to love made me realise I was starting to feel better” – Anon
- “I was encouraged by a health visitor to keep a simple diary with smiley or sad faces, depending on how the day had gone. For many months I felt a nothingness….neither happy or sad…just nothing. But I carried on keeping the diary and a few happy faces started appearing each week (instead of the ‘nothing’ faces). I knew I had started to heal. 7 years later and I am still healing. The goal isn't “happy every day” it's “FEEL IT ALL” – Mary Meadows
- “For me it was when I found myself singing whilst hanging out the washing!” Leanne Howlett
- “I started noticing the colours of trees and flowers. I also remember seeing the longest day (21st June) as a great day as it's summer and not that ‘the days just get shorter from now'” – Emily Tredget
- “I still have ups and downs, but I always know I'm in an “up” when I sing stupid “doop-boop-a-doop” nonsense songs when doing really mundane things like going upstairs or emptying the kitchen bin” – Anon
- “For me it was when I reached out and started to get help. Being assigned a mental health midwife went a long way to my recovery. That and I no longer wanted to hurt myself” – Emma
- “I remember after only a few days on Sertraline, after 3.5 years of PND, my son got chicken pox. I actually felt like a good mum for the first time ever, and that day I knew I could fight this darkness. Still makes me cry to think of over a year later” – Hannah Clarke
- “My ‘Birth Matters’ appointment was instrumental in my recovery – I was listened to, sympathised with, and most importantly offered full support and a plan for if I wanted more children following my third-degree tear and traumatic fast labour. I left feeling like a weight had been lifted” – Lucy Flower
- “2.5 yrs later I had a second child & realised how different the experience was” – Anon
Thank you so much to all the ladies who shared these beautiful moments and experiences with me. If anyone reading this is struggling I really hope it helps to see that others who have been where you are now have got better, and you can too.
I’ve written this blog in honour of Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week. For more information about it, and to access support, please click here.
This blog was written by Sally Bunkham, founder of mumsback.com, who provide luxury hamper gifts for mums focussed on the yummy stuff denied in pregnancy. £1 from every hamper sold goes to PANDAS Foundation.