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Linda's story

A real story written for anybody who needs to read it- my encouragement for you to seek the help you deserve.

I initially wrote this in the lead-up to my son’s first birthday. I didn’t really know how I should feel; whether to be happy to have had a year with our son, devastated that I spent a lot of that year anxious and depressed, or proud to have simply survived. Should I tell the truth?

Although I didn’t try to hide the struggles I had been through, a lot of people still didn’t know. After all, when I had my daughter three years earlier, I didn’t struggle anywhere near as much as I did with my son. With my daughter, I knew about postnatal depression; but I hadn’t felt it…the crushing, all-consuming feeling of it.

So, 12 months after my son was born, I was at a loss. Do I spend his birthday telling the truth about how hard it was and risk focussing on the negative? Or do I celebrate how much he was and is truly loved and celebrate the positive? Happiness can be a choice after a point.

Strangely enough, I saw a post on social media on his actual birthday that spoke about the power of reaching out and asking for help when struggling and the power of sharing stories.

“It said: “It is those of us who have been broken that become experts at mending.” ”

I don’t think I’m an expert at mending by any stretch, but while I was playing with the kids and celebrating my dear friend’s baby shower, I remember thinking that I should share my story in case it reaches someone who needs to hear it. After all, I had been broken, but I was also feeling mended, more and more mended each day.

I wished I could go back and tell myself that not everything has to be questioned. Being happy doesn’t mean the struggle was, or is, any less, it’s just not as big anymore. 

In the first year of our son’s life I had experienced more doubt than I ever had before. It was doubt in my parenting ability, my ability to be a wife, step-mother, sister, daughter, friend, teacher; every role that I have and value in life.

Thoughts were continuously filling my mind:

Does he get enough undivided attention, or too much independent play?

Does he get too much attention, not enough independent play?

Do I hold him too much? Or should I let him settle himself more? Or do I let him cry too much?

Do I care too much about the cleanliness of the house, or should I let it be messy and spend more time playing?

Do I over-plan days filled with “play” and over-stimulate, or do I stay home too much so they both miss out on experiences?

Do I cry too much?

Do I smile enough?

Do I care enough?

Do I show him that I care enough?

Am I good enough?

These thoughts (and many more) were all-consuming, increasing self-doubt and decreasing self-worth. They made me question every action, decision and feeling. They made me work harder at everything. Everything was a chore.

I remember reading books to my baby with tears running down my face, thinking, “They say if you don’t read to your child everyday, it’s detrimental to their development.” So even though I just wanted to crawl into a hole, I kept doing it.

I remember thinking of hanging up washing as a relief, because I could cry without anyone seeing. I didn’t have to make up an excuses about why I was so terribly sad.

I remember feeling so isolated from those who love me, that I started to think my family was better off without me; there’s no way I was doing everything right. Nothing I could do would ever be good enough for these people that are absolutely incredible.

I knew something was wrong very early on. These thoughts, that quickly became obsessions, hadn’t been there with my daughter. Yes, as a new mother I had concerns –the usual, “What do I do here? What can I do better next time?” –but nothing that was so consuming, nothing that left me feeling so horrible.

I spoke to my husband about how I was feeling. He naturally didn’t understand at first, because he knew I was enough –more than good enough – and he told me so, often. I didn’t hear it though, or I wouldn’t believe it. He also didn’t really see how I was feeling; I was usually fine when he was home, because he shared the load with me and it wasn’t just up to me to make sure that the kids were happy.

Despite him struggling to understand at first, I persisted; I sought help. I told my Maternal and Child Health Nurse (MCHN) how I was feeling. She gave me that quiz, the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS), which made me feel horrible for answering how I was feeling.

I told little fibs, making my answers slightly “better” than how I was feeling so that she wouldn’t “judge me”. Based on the result, I went to see a psychologist and I started implementing strategies that I was taught there. Things started to improve, but the anxiety didn’t magically go away.

“It’s very easy to find “reasons why” you’re feeling this way.”

People said, “You don’t have to do everything, I can do X, Y and Z for you,” or “But you’re doing an amazing job: take some time out for yourself, do something for you every day!” While I did these things, which were helpful and kind, for me,a little help or taking a moment for myself was a band-aid solution.

I said to my husband:

“I know the house is under control, but I don’t feel calm, I know I’m not responsible for everything, but I feel I’m failing, I know that my best is good enough, but I don’t feel successful, I know our kids are loved enough, but I feel like I owe them more, I know that I’m loved, but I don’t feel I’m worthy of it.”

My anxiety was escalating to a point where my body couldn’t handle it anymore. I crashed and ended up in a depressed state.

“Thankfully, my husband reached out to my dear sister-in-law, who had experience as a volunteer for PANDA.”

On her advice, he took me straight to the GP (after considering the Emergency Department) and I was put on medication.

I put myself into a state of recovery. I didn’t make plans to see people if I didn’t want to, which meant that I didn’t have to have my mask on.The mask served all those around me, with the idea that I was loving every minute of life with my new son, but it didn’t serve my recovery.

I had short family trips out. I started learning piano and I started drawing to make some artwork for around the house. I kept my mind and hands busy,because I found that my mind wandering wasn’t good for me, and reading didn’t use the pent-up energy in my body.

“I surrounded myself with things I wanted to do, not just what I felt I had to.”

And strangely, no one really noticed. The daily chores around the house still got done, we were fed, clothed and clean. Friends accepted my, “Nah, I can’t catch up, I’m not feeling too well,” responsesgraciously. I allowed myself to collapse and do nothing for a month.

Thankfully, with the support and understanding of my husband, the medication and continued behavioural therapy with the psychologist, recovery was possible! I now consider myself better.

“ I say that I “suffered” with postnatal anxiety, not “suffer”; it’s in the past tense for me.”

I still have days where I worry that I will slip back to that terrible place. I still remember the first “down day”, about a month after I came off the medication completely. I was absolutely terrified that I was going back to where I was. Thankfully, I had strategies in place to help me. Recovery is a work in progress and something that I’ll probably never be “over”, but something that I can cope with.

When my firstborn, my daughter, was one, I remember people congratulating me for surviving the first year of her life and I thought, “That’s an odd thing to say, it wasn’t really a struggle”. When people said it to me at my son’s first birthday, I truly appreciated the comment. It seems that postnatal struggle is something that until I’d been through it, I couldn’t really comprehend it.

I have spoken to some friends of mine – some who had no idea that I had struggled with postnatal anxiety and depression – and they said they’ve benefitted from implementing just a few things, likeI did, such as speaking with a counsellor, a GP, or PANDA services.

“So please, don’t struggle through this alone.”

You deserve to enjoy as much of life as possible. If the people you’re talking to don’t seem to grasp the magnitude of what you’re saying, it might not be because they don’t care, but because they don’t comprehend the internal struggle.

Eight months ago, I thought I was a lucky one to be able to seek help.

Now our son is older, I know now that it wasn’t just luck.

I’m proud that I sought help.

I’m more proud that, when that help wasn’t enough, I kept seeking more help.

I’m beyond proud that my son and I smile and laugh everyday and that I’m around to see it and be a part of it.

So, to all those new parents out there, if you are feeling stretched, overwhelmed, or unhappy with yourself, seek help! And if that doesn’t work, seek help somewhere else.

“Keep trying until you find a professional that will help you.”

Helpful Information

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Postnatal depression: Signs and symptoms
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Connecting with your baby
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How to get a mental health treatment plan
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How are you going?

Everyone’s experience of pregnancy, birth and parenting is unique and brings different rewards and challenges. Our mental health checklist can help you to see if what you’re experiencing or observing in a loved one could be a reason to seek help.