If you follow me on twitter you will know I make no secret of the fact I suffered from severe post natal depression. I sometimes think of them as my lost years. I lost myself in the grey fog, drifting from day to day, like the Marie Celeste, the signs of life present, but the person somewhere far away.
I even reached the point of wondering if I wished the journey to continue, sometimes it seemed the only thing I could still do was call time, step off this mortal coil and sleep, without waking. I never took that final step, but in the darkness I found the idea I could have comforting. Having talked to others who have suffered from depression, and post natal depression, I know I am not alone in having found that comfort.
Part of being lost was not knowing who I was meant to be. The media portrayal of the perfect mother, and the competition in everything from first smile to whose home was most organically baby proofed did not help. I loved this vulnerable, sweet smelling bundle that relied on me for everything, but I was not sure I was doing it right. Imagine that, imagine wondering if you were loving wrong? That’s how post natal depression felt for me.
I am unsure if people consider that their counsellor may have sat contemplating a bottle of pills, wondering if today would be the day. Or spent the morning crying simply because being awake is so painful. I am aware that for some the idea of a therapist who has been broken is too challenging, they wish the assurance of knowing they have never drifted, lost and alone. I cannot be other than me however. If admitting that the darkness stalked me puts someone off contacting me for therapy, so be it.
I want, no, I need to write this on World Mental Health Day because there is still so much stigma around mental health issues. Even at my lowest I, and there is no other word for it, I lied. I lied to my Health Visitor, I lied when she tested me for post natal depression. I lied because I feared if I was honest I might be considered an unfit parent. I lied because the stigma around mental ill-health is so pervasive and powerful.
It might be worth saying a little bit here about what post natal depression is, or perinatal depression as it is now sometimes called. Perinatal depression covers the fact that sometimes the symptoms appear before birth, and often don’t appear until up to six months after the birth. PND is not “the baby blues”, nor is it inevitable, just lack of sleep, a change in routine, or someone struggling to juggle work and parenthood, although all those factors can exacerbate PND. Part of PND that seems to be common is a lack of belief in your ability as a parent, a feeling as you look at others you are not measuring up. This can make admitting how you feel and that you need help incredibly difficult.
I feel compelled to write this today because I can, because I made it. Depression in all forms is still so often hidden behind a smiling mask. With a combination of counselling and medication (yes I certainly believe in #MightyAndMedicated, sorry if again that shatters preconceptions) I started to discover who I was. A night class as a small step to remembering I was a person led to another, led to a college course, led to me qualifying as a counsellor. It may well be true that without the depression I would not be qualified now, who can say. I do know that, as I look back, as a hill climber looks back over the path they have taken, there are still shaded paths I do not wish to walk down again. However the view is one that has made the climb worth it, even the painful moments, the moments I stumbled, and the moments when I felt like giving up completely.
If you are suffering from perinatal depression there is help there, and I know, all too well, how hard it is to ask for that help but there is also peer support, of the sort that I wish had been around to provide a light in my darkness. If you are on twitter #PNDChat #PNDhour run by @PNDand me is a wonderful community. PANDAS, who run lots of local groups, explain here the different types of treatment and support available.
There is, I am aware, a certain risk in writing such a personal post, of saying, yes, I have struggled with mental health issues. However unless I speak out, and say, this is my truth, how can the stigma around mental health be challenged?