I wouldn’t say I was a selfish or unkind person before this experience but I certainly lived in a bubble. I felt sympathy for anyone struggling with mental health issues but, as I had no experience of it, there was a voice deep down that still said “Why can’t they just snap out of it?” If I heard of a suicide on my train journey to work I’d just be irritated that it would delay my commute.
Having experienced anxiety, depression and some OCD symptoms I find myself hugely empathetic to anyone else who suffers from similar issues. And not only that. Strangely, I find I’m softer and more empathetic to many issues I wouldn’t necessarily have understood before – I think because I’m now very aware of the fact that when someone acts in a way that doesn’t seem right or in a way you don’t expect, you can never know what problems they are struggling with in their lives, or their minds.
Letting go of worry
I’ve been a worrier all my life. If my husband was 30 mins late home I’d have my thumb hovering over 999. Imagining (and usually voicing!) the worst case scenario of any given situation came very naturally to me. Anxiety is just an extension of worry, I suppose. It’s when your worries become so powerful they take away your rationality and consume your mind. The only way to recover from anxiety is to, at least partly, recover from worrying too. Through CBT I learnt to rationalise my thoughts again and now I use that technique to counter my everyday worries too. It doesn’t always work, but I’m learning.
On a similar vein, I sweat the small stuff a lot less. Small irritations that would have made me angry or upset before no longer have that power – I’ve seen how difficult just living each day can be and everyday woes pale in comparison.
I’ve always been a glass-half-empty kinda gal. But, like with the worrying, you can’t be negative and still expect to recover from depression and anxiety – it’s simply counter-productive. Dwelling on the awfulness of the illness only prolongs it. Learning to be more positive and optimistic has been my biggest challenge by far, and definitely a work in progress, but I also think it will be the tool most useful in my future life.
I’ve reconnected with writing in a way I never envisioned I would, and this has brought a huge amount of happiness to me. And the fact that I’m now branching out to other topics brings me a lot of happiness, and keeps me connected to me.
Connecting to others
I’ve met people through social media, blogging, and simply sharing my PND story in real life that I never would have had the opportunity to speak to had I not been looking for likeminded people.
The pure relief I feel when I’m overcome with love for my son almost knocks me to the ground. When you spend weeks, months really, wondering if you’ll ever love your child the way you expected, every fond moment with them is an enormous blessing. Similarly, the gratefulness I feel for my wonderful husband, family and in laws in the way that they have supported my recovery is huge.
Living for the present
As I’ve mentioned several times before, I’ve always lived for the future. I’ve always been waiting for my life to begin. One good way to battle anxious thoughts is to bring yourself to the present moment, rather than imagining the near or distant future, and this is a good way to bring more happiness to life in general.
I lived a pretty charmed life before I had Caterpillar. I had very few problems or worries (except the imagined ones mentioned above!) and therefore didn’t feel like I was a particularly strong person, because I’d never really needed to be. Surviving PND showed me I posessed strength I didn’t know I had which makes me more confident about surviving other difficulties that I may encounter in the future.
I have learnt so much in the last two and a half years – both about myself as a person but also in terms of mental health. I find the experiences, research and treatment of mental illness fascinating in a way I doubt I would have otherwise and this has made me thirsty for more information and to educate myself further.
I never had much of a plan about what I wanted from life after raising a family, now I know I want to either write or work in mental health, or perhaps a little of both. Without the experience of PND, I’m not sure where my future life would take me.
What have you learnt from traumatic experiences that has helped you develop as a person?