Snoo & Me has talked a lot recently about her struggles with depression, and it's made me think that I've never really given enough blog space to my own struggle.
I suppose these days I can consider myself out of the worst of it. Of course, I never know when the black dog may be back again, scratching at the door in my mind...
PND was not my first brush with depression. I personally believe I've suffered with it throughout my life. I was diagnosed with depression before, sometime in 2005 I think. It's hard to remember now. I took time off work and had counselling but didn't take medication. I was too scared to try it. The counselling helped. I changed what was wrong in my life. Things improved.
Having a history of depression does seemed to be linked to the likelihood of being diagnosed with PND. On top of depression, I am a naturally anxious person with very strong OCD tenancies when under pressure and stress. I don't use the term OCD lightly. When times are bad I have been known to keep a record book with the measurements between things in rooms to make sure they are in their "correct" position and haven't been moved. At best, I like things tidy and in their place. At worst, I won't be able to sit and relax for moving things around and making sure they "look right".
I remember being anxious as a child. I worried. I remember not being able to sleep for worrying. I worried about homework. It didn't help that at the age of 6 I was bullied by a teacher who stood be up in front of my class and stated that "you are too stupid to teach and I refuse to help you". I was mortified. I'm sure even now, when I'm low, I hear her voice at the back of my mind. I also worried about the safety of my family and I. I kept a suitcase packed under my bed every night which included a change of clothes, some food, soap, a book and whatever was most precious to me at that time (bless!). This bag was to be grabbed in case of fire. I had also decided that the safest escape route from our house if there was a fire was through my bedroom, out onto the roof and then a small jump to the ground. I figured it was my responsibility to save my family as well. I think I really was a very worried 6 year old!
I'm giving you the background history here... I think it might help to explain how I behaved after I had Ethan..
I was ecstatic to be having a child. It was what I'd always wanted. Pete and I had got married and decided to try for a baby as soon as we were back from our honeymoon. We were pregnant within 2 weeks of trying. I think I thought it would take us 6 months to a year. I think the shock of getting pregnant so quickly was the start of it! There was hardly time to breath.. We were booking in with the midwife only 5 weeks after getting married. It was a roller-coaster.
I really wanted a water birth. I went overdue by 13 days. There were no birthing pools available in the hospital. Not the greatest start. I didn't dilate. Not unusual. 20 hours of labour and I was only 1cm. Because I was so overdue, I felt I had no choice but to accept the drugs to kick start dilation. I went from 2cm-10cm in half an hour. I'd been given pethidine under the assumption that baby's delivery was 4 or more hours away. Ethan was born dopey with drugs. I was out of it. He couldn't latch. He was a boy. I was convinced I was having a girl.. These were all contributing factors I'm sure.
Staying overnight in the hospital was like some form of purgatory. All night long buzzers going off. People shouting and chatting. Surrounded by bewildered new Mums. Stifled crying, mostly mine. Ethan lay there in his cot, still in a drugged sleep. He hadn't fed properly. I lay there watching the hour and minute hand on the clock. Could not sleep. Tears ran down my face. I was soaked in tears, the pillow beneath my head drenched. Whenever he woke, he cried. I didn't know what to do with him. How to hold him. How to feed him. I was so, so scared. I felt at that moment my life was over. I sat in that hospital bed ignoring the crying baby, rocking forwards and backwards chanting "what have I done, what have I done".
I remember Pete coming to pick us up the day after Ethan was born. He was so happy to be a Dad. I felt I had to keep plastering this fake smile on my face. I wanted to go home but at the same time, I didn't. It rained all the way home. That seemed appropriate. When we reached home, there were bunches of flowers, balloons, cards and gifts. I didn't want to look at them. Didn't want to acknowledge what was happening.
I walked in the front door, dumped Ethan in his car seat in the living room (he was sleeping- the last sleep he'd have for a long while) and got down on my hands and knees. I swept the floors with a dustpan and brush. Control. I needed control. Something I knew how to handle.
That first night at home was terrifying. Ethan woke that afternoon and did not sleep again until 6am. This was a pattern set to continue for a good while. I breast fed him constantly and yet he lost weight. He lost more than 10% of his birth weight yet the midwife decided not to re-admit us to hospital. She felt his latch was OK. My milk never came in. I spent a 46 hour stint of breast feeding where I only had one 2 hour break for sleep and a bath. Ethan only ever slept at the breast, but I couldn't sleep at all. I couldn't eat. There was a permanent lump in my throat and anxious knots in my stomach. It would take me 10 minutes to chew and swallow a mouthful of food. I lost all the baby weight in 4 days. That was nearly 2 stone. Anyone will tell you that's not normal and not healthy. Within a week and half of giving birth I weighed less than I did before getting pregnant.
We ended up moving in with my parents to help me cope. My nipples were in such a terrible state from feeding that a health visitor who had been working for 25 years stated they were the worst she'd ever seen. No one could get Ethan to sleep.
Finally we gave up the breast feeding. One day on formula, Ethan slept and smiled. It was amazing. He changed, but the damage had been done to me. In some ways, this stage was even harder. Ethan had become a much more "normal" baby (although he still only slept for short periods, had colic and reflux) but I still felt I couldn't cope. I managed to struggle on until Ethan was about 2 months old. I broke down. I'd just come down with mastitis for the 2nd time, despite having given up breast feeding a while back and was feeling terribly ill. I started having a panic attack and ended up at the Drs being diagnosed with PND. It was like a crushing weight dropping on me at the same time as another one being lifted. On the one hand, hurray, support and an answer.. but on the other hand. Depression. Medication. One of the worst things about being diagnosed and given medication is when they tell you it will take 6 weeks to work. At that point, you feel you can hardly get through one more minute, let alone 6 weeks.
I don't know how I got through really. Pete was always fantastic, taking time off work to help when he could. My parents were rocks. Even though I don't think they truly understood and didn't really like me being medicated, they were supportive. Though Mum would often comment negatively if I talked about being happy to be on my drugs for a while, or if my dose was upped. I know she was happy when I came off them..
Coming off AntiD's is another thing.. the first time I came off, it wasn't managed well by my Dr. I ended up somehow being advised to go cold turkey. Coming off them cold turkey is like coming class A drugs cold turkey. Sweats. Panic attacks. Paranoia. Heart palpitations. Anxiety. Stress. For me, the first time, it wasn't the right time. I ended up back on a higher dose after 2 weeks off them. Of course it takes weeks for them to kick back in again. That was another dark time when Pete needed to stay off work. I had no interest in anything. All I could do was walk around crying.
The biggest turning point for me was when Ethan hit his first birthday. For the first time I couldn't look back and think "this time last year, I was free, Ethan wasn't born". It was a turn in the road. An acceptance.
I finally made it off the drugs last summer. It was very hard at first. It takes a while to get back to knowing what normal ebbs and flows in emotions are. And getting PMT as well - I found my drugs levelled that out for me! The drugs keep you quite mellowed out. Not completely, but you don't quite experience the full range of emotions. Things aren't so raw. Which is what you want. It's what you need so you can heal. It's quite hard adjusting back to controlling and understanding your moods and emotions yourself.
Now.. I feel better. I still have anxiety. I always did and I probably always will. It's not as bad as it was. Usually it's worse if I have a busy day ahead. I can cope though. I feel like things are slipping out of my control at times, of course I do, but I can recognise the signs now and usually step back in time and calm my day down. Take out the things we don't "have" to fit in.
Am I scared about getting PND again if I have another child. Yes. Very much so. But I made it through once.. I can do it again.
I have to.