I thought was pretty clued up with all elements of mental health and wellness. Even before it was on my personal radar, I had sat through hours of lectures during my Psychology Degree; I knew all about serotonin and locus of control. I naively thought the academic knowledge would somehow protect me, I would know all the warning signs.
I was so wrong.
I was diagnosed in my twenties with “severe PMS”, now known as Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder or PMDD. Clinically, I become depressed for the latter part of my cycle. Sometimes I can manage it with early nights and chocolate, other months I am having panic attacks over assumed undercooked chicken and unable to sleep. It’s unpredictable and an often-unspoken part of the realities of having female hormones cycling in your system.
For a time, it was managed with anti-depressants to cope with my moods in the run up to my period. In reality, they just dulled my general life experience; not a great way to live. I made the decision to come off them within six-months of starting, as we wanted to start a family. Whilst PMDD remains part of me to this day, I hadn’t realised it can be a risk factor for postnatal depression in the future.
My mental health really took a turn for the worst after two baby-losses; one at 9 weeks in 2009 and another at nearly 21 weeks in 2010. Our second was technically classed as a “termination due to foetal abnormality”, as our little boy had a condition that made him “incompatible with life”. Having to go through birth, my body flooded with hormones but I had no baby to nurse. This, combined with the intense grief that followed, spiralled me into post-natal depression.
As a bereaved mother I was offered counselling support, but on reflection, it wasn’t the right one for me. I needed something suited to my logical nature, to see through what had happed to us as a family. not to try reassure me that I shouldn’t feel a certain way. This carried on for weeks, and didn’t help the internalising of blame, shame and anger that I was feeling.
Over time, I became more emotional detached from our little girl, who was 4 years old at the time, was experiencing nightmares, and panic attacks. I tried to distract myself from what I was feeling by signing up to things; a Project Management Course at work and a Cake Decorating class in a local education centre. In my distressed state, I believed if I had no space in my brain for the negative thoughts, they would go away.
There is such a misconception with how Depression looks; I was coping externally, painting on a face every day at work and being productive, so many people thought I was OK. Because, OK is good enough when you have been through baby loss.
It was an off the cuff remark during a counselling session that was a turning point for me. I was starting to become carless in my driving, and had mentioned that if I “just crashed my car into a wall and broke my leg, people would see how I was feeling and leave me alone”. The Counsellor encouraged me to visit my GP as I was talking about harming myself. I never thought of it that way; it was just the reality of how I was feeling.
One Depression check list later, I left the Doctors with a prescription for Prozac and a referral to a local Bereavement Charity, Edwards Trust. The combination of the two changed my life; it possibly saved it. Through talking therapy, pharmaceutical support and time, I got well. But, I know am aware that I have a potential to slip back into depression. I was offered a mental health midwife when I was pregnant with my little girl, my “Rainbow”, which was reassuring; I discovered from my Health Visitor that returning to work can often be a trigger for Post-natal depression, so I watch for signs when I returned to work.
I am now eight years on from this and pay so much more attention to my mental health; I have stopped assuming I know what Depression and Anxiety look like. From personal experience, it’s not degree text book. It doesn’t just happen within the first few weeks of a baby’s birth. It’s not apathy and sadness. But most of all, it doesn’t define you.
Clara Wilcox runs The Balance Collective, a social enterprise which support parents to create a work-life balance that works for them. She is a Coach, Mentor and Blogger. She is due to release her first book late 2018. Find out more on www.thebalancecollective.co.uk
Every week we will see a new #OneMum4EveryMum feature here on the blog, inviting fellow mums with experience of maternal mental health to share their story. One of the most important things when talking about our Maternal Mental Health is keeping the conversation going by sharing our experiences, our stories, our fears and in turn our kick ass bravery in standing up against the taboos surrounding the illness and showing Every Mum out there that its not only OK to talk about mental health but it is vital in ensuring we all get our right to Enjoy Motherhood! Therefore, if you fancy sharing your story (no matter what part of it you are currently on) and in turn your kick ass bravery in turning up to the fight every day, then I would LOVE to hear from you! Please email me firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing your stories and standing together and being a One Mum 4 Every Mum.
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Want to read more about the realities of motherhood and be empowered to take care of your maternal mental health? Then please check out the new book from the founder of The Every Mum Movement, Olivia Siegl, called “Bonkers – A Real Mum’s Hilariously Honest Tales of Motherhood, Mayhem and Mental Health” available on Amazon.