When my baby was born, I was on high alert for the signs of postnatal depression. I lost my job at 7 months pregnant and had the odd low patch in my 20s, so I suspected I could be vulnerable. I then had a long and risky labour and some complications, when my nine-pounder crushed my bladder on the way out and I had to have a catheter inserted so my muscles could repair themselves. I hobbled around for two weeks with my own wee strapped to a bag on my thigh. Cute.
Despite this, I felt generally well and was very occupied with breastfeeding and making scones for visitors. My heart was racing all day long and I didn’t really sit down to rest, ever, but I thought that was normal busy mum stuff. I knew I wasn’t sad or suicidal, so I pushed myself to keep going. I wrote lists in my phone about everything, so I could be prepared if ever the mythical ‘Parenting Police’ came to check I was doing things correctly. Look at these notes! Look how well I’m doing this! The fear of screwing up lead to insomnia and weird sweating. I was working so hard to be good at the job, and I started to panic about things going wrong on a massive scale. I was fairly sure the end of the world was coming and we definitely didn’t have enough cans of chickpeas. How would we make hummus after the apocalypse? I replayed the worst bits of my labour over in my mind, torturing myself for not doing it well enough. I lay awake at night imagining horrific, bloody accidents and planned my funeral in careful detail.
I fed my baby every 1.5 hours for months and months, which drained me in every way. I lost perspective and started seeing each day as just a series of repetitive 40-minute segments. I also started really worrying about how much I loved my family. It didn’t seem like I loved them enough. I felt heavy and foggy and I couldn’t identify if I actually had any ‘love’ feelings. What did that mean? Was I dead inside? Could I get up right now, walk out the front door and just keep walking?
My heart was racing all day long and I didn’t really sit down to rest, ever, but I thought that was normal busy mum stuff.
I was afraid to go out, but I went to brunch and coffee dates because I didn’t want to seem like I was going ‘postnatal’ and frankly, I didn’t know how to stop and relax anymore. I was aware that I was very irritable and edgy, and I knew I’d lost control of something. I wasn’t stupid, but I didn’t have time for an emotional breakdown. I made and cancelled doctor’s appointments, convinced I wasn’t unwell enough to justify the $90 fee. I knew I had no business feeling unsafe, in my nice apartment with my big TV and fancy vacuum. I imagined women with real problems looking at me scornfully. ‘How very dare you’ they would say, and I would have agreed with them.
My workload increased, and I started getting visual migraines, but I kept pushing for the next two years. I didn’t stop until I collapsed in a Japanese supermarket on the world’s most stressful holiday. I didn’t know what I felt anymore except fear. I was exhausted and terrified every time we left the hotel with a toddler who kept bolting off. The lymph node in my groin suddenly swelled up and burned like fire, I couldn’t move for the pain. It was my body’s way of issuing a final demand: ‘SIT THE FUCK DOWN, WOMAN.’ I spent the next two days in the hotel bed feeling so depressed I thought I might close my eyes and turn to stone. We flew home and I went straight to a doctor.
From the outside, I don’t think it was obvious what was going on, although I’m sure some other mums saw flickers of recognition in my behaviour. We’re all pretty busy pretending to be amazing, it can be hard to know when to butt in on another woman’s life and ask “so, do you go into the laundry and scream into a towel, or is it just me?” Adoring pics on Facebook have the world fooled into believing the highs of motherhood consist mostly of cupcakes in the backyard with clean little cherubs perched happily on our laps. The lows are far less photogenic.
If you suspect you have anxiety or depression, it’s important to remember that you are not a list of symptoms. You’re a human. There’s nothing wrong with your wiring or your soul, and the people who love you can help once you get the words out. ‘I think I might have anxiety.’ Say it, text it, spell it with Twisties. They will support the bejesus out of you, because they love you. It might be uncomfortable for them to hear you talk about the heavy stuff. But tough shit. You’re not a robot, you’re brilliant and complicated. Knowledge is power, so make an appointment for a chat with a pro. I didn’t know about the Parent and Baby Wellbeing Program that Bupa offer for members when I had my son, but I wish I had. They are helping new parents get through some of the harder days in the transition to parenthood, with a program designed to provide support for parents with new babies to help them adjust to the changes that being a new parent brings.
Knowledge is power, so make an appointment for a chat with a pro.
Managing anxiety and postnatal depression is very possible, and doctors can recommend a range of support and different treatment options. For some people, therapy and yoga works. For others, it might be medication and keeping a journal. Fresh air, swimming, walking and meditation can all be helpful. tried lots of different things; it’s a work in progress, and I’m not ‘all better now’, but I feel more settled in my gut and my heart than I ever have.
The language around mental health is sometimes very aggressive. Anxiety is not a beast that needs to be slain in order for us to get back to being ‘normal’. I didn’t get anywhere close to understanding my anxiety until I stopped eyeballing it like an enemy I needed to destroy. I have anxiety, but I don’t suffer. I’m not unhappy. My son is the love of my life and brings me more joy than I could ever repay to the universe. I don’t need or want to stay in bed, and I have a lot of success to be proud of. I work hard and I’ll carry on because that’s who I am and I have a rough gauge of what I can handle now. Life is up and down and nobody has all their shit together, all the time. I joke about anxiety a lot, because what else can we do but laugh? I know it’s not funny when you’re frozen in the shower for an hour or crying at the self-serve checkout at Woolies. The shade can be so dark and cold, we have no choice but to dance in the light when we can.
Sophie from The Young Mummy recently sat down with Monty and talked about her struggles with anxiety, you can watch this very honest chat here: