Postnatal Depression & Anxiety was easily the most difficult experience I’ve ever had to face. If you’re struggling right now you may feel completely alone, frightened and hopeless – I know I did. Today’s post is a simple one but hopefully a helpful one too; I’m sharing 12 things I wish I’d known when I was unwell.
1. You’re not alone
First and foremost, please remember there are many other parents out there struggling like you are. I know it often feels like all other new mums are coping brilliantly and loving every moment of their lives but I can tell you from experience this is not the case. PND & Anxiety affects 10-15% of women, according to official statistics, and we suspect this number is actually much higher (more like 25-30%) when you take into account those who don’t seek help, or do so after their child’s first birthday.
Ask your children’s centre, health visitor or perinatal mental health team if they know of any peer support groups you can join (there’s a great nationwide list here). Failing that, reach out online instead. There are lot of supportive Facebook groups you can join or why not take part in #pndhour – a weekly Twitter chat hosted by PND & Me.
You can find my Facebook page here or you can always email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. Your baby won’t be taken away
Fear of social services and losing access to your child is one of the most common reasons parents struggling with PND or Anxiety delay seeking professional help. It’s really common to feel this way but I want to reassure you that this is not the reality. As long as professionals can see that you’re getting help and support for your illness they will endeavour to encourage your bond with your baby as much as possible and would only ever seek to remove a child as an absolute last resort (and usually when there are more factors involved in addition to a maternal mental health issue). The professionals looking after me did everything they could to support me and my family at home.
3. Thoughts are not reality
One of my most distressing Anxiety symptoms was Intrusive Thoughts; these are persistent or obsessive thoughts that are often unpleasant, violent or scary and cause lots of repulsion and distress. Mine focused predominantly on harming myself or my son. Learning, through therapy and research, that simply having these thoughts does not mean you’re going to act on them and, actually, the fact that you’re so appalled by them likely means they are the opposite of what you want to do, was really helpful to me.
For ideas for how to overcome, reduce and manage these thoughts take a look at this post.
Read more: Intrusive Thoughts: Horror Movies In My Mind
4. Feeling unreal or disconnected can be normal
Another distressing symptom for me was a phenomenon I now know as derealisation or depersonalation. This is where an extended feeling of Anxiety leads to you feeling disconnected from yourself, others or the world around you. It can be incredibly unpleasant. However, learning why this happens and that it’s actually just the way a tired, anxious mind protects itself, helped me to feel less frightened.
Again, find out more about overcoming derealisation here.
5. Professionals aren’t going to judge you
With the exception of a couple of questionable GP appointments, every professional I encountered during my illness was incredibly supportive and understanding. For example, when I first found the courage to mention my intrusive thoughts to my therapist I was terrified of what she would think or say. In reality, she wasn’t shocked in the slightest, she had heard similar many times before, and totally normalised how I was feeling – giving me lots of useful ideas for managing the thoughts.
Read More: 10 Things To Expect From CBT
6. Loving your baby sometimes takes time
It’s very common to hear mothers talk about the euphoria and overwhelming instant love they felt for their baby moments after giving birth. This is certainly what I expected. Sadly, after 12 hours of labour followed by a traumatic emergency c-section I mainly felt sick, exhausted and relieved. I was protective and proud of my son during those initial days and weeks but I didn’t feel the overpowering love I had been promised and was expecting.
The truth is, for some women, it takes time to fall in love with your baby. This is a difficult fact to admit, even now, but it’s the truth. And the more I speak up the more I hear from other mums who felt the same. If I’d known this was a possibility before giving birth I wouldn’t have been so devastated or felt so guilty about my feelings, something that ultimately was both a cause and symptom of my Postnatal Anxiety.
If you have a new baby and don’t feel the way you thought you would, please try to stay calm and guilt-free. For some, falling in love with your child can take as much time as falling in love with anyone else – but you will fall and fall hard. The love and bond I have with my son now is extraordinary, and possibly even stronger for my struggles.
7. Motherhood might be more difficult than you imagine
Similar to my point above, I assumed motherhood would come naturally to me and I’d be happily following my instincts for the most part. However, those early weeks and months were more like a baptism of fire in my case – littered with constant self-doubt and worry. Being a parent is the hardest job in the world and, most importantly, an emotional rollercoaster. For every hair-pulling moment there’s a beautiful one too but most of the beautiful moments come later for some of us, once the ‘fourth trimester’ has been, frankly, survived. Many people say life as a parent gets easier with time, I would always use the word better instead.
8. Positive thinking is powerful
Thinking positively can be very tough when you’re unwell but it’s also a huge part of long term recovery. It took me a while to learn and accept this, and I realise now life would have been much easier if I’d got onboard with positivity early on.
9. You’re ‘Mum’ but you’re still you
It can be easy to lose your sense of self during the first few years of motherhood but it’s really important to both nurture the old you and develop the new post-baby you. This could mean anything from developing new hobbies to cultivating old friendship. Whatever it takes to remind you who you are outside of your role as a mum please do it.
10. Stop pushing Anxiety away!
I dubbed my Anxiety recovery method The “Let It In” Technique. Anxiety, and all it’s symptoms, feel so unpleasant, distressing and uncomfortable. Our instinct is to fight against it or run away. Unfortunately, in order to lessen its power and overcome these feelings we must train ourselves to react in opposition to our instinct. Read all about how to do this here.
11. Recovery takes time
Here’s the bad news; sometimes full recovery can take a long time. I wish I had an overnight cure for you all because I remember how awful PND & Anxiety can feel and how long the days are, but I’m afraid recovery can be a long process with lots of ups and downs. The good news is that the worst of your illness will likely improve fairly quickly and you’ll be able to get back to enjoying some areas of life while full recovery in the longer term continues.
12. You will get better
Finally, the most important point. I know it feels like you’ll never get back to your old self and you’ll never feel happy and well again but I promise you will. Full recovery may not look like you expected it to look but it’s wonderful all the same. You might be feeling like the only person for whom recovery is impossible but I can assure you all survivors feel that way and we’re all eventually proven wrong. Hang in there.