Archive for the ‘Recovering from PND’ Category
by Mothers Helpers Founder Kristina Paterson
It took me 18 months to go and get some help for the way that I was feeling. 9 of those months I was anxious throughout my pregnancy but the midwife didn’t pick up on it. In the first week after my baby was born, I had a new midwife, and she said to me that if I was still crying by day 7 (hours of crying every day), then I’d have to go and see the doctor as I may have postnatal depression. So I forced myself to stop crying. I didn’t want to have postnatal depression. And I didn’t want to have postnatal depression for the next 9 months that I avoided seeking help. I did go and see a counsellor, but it had little impact on me. I knew that if I went to the doctor, he would diagnose me and offer me medication that I didn’t want to take. This inability to be rational and problem-solve clearly as well as denial of the full extent of the problem is very common for mothers who experience antenatal or postnatal depression. It’s even harder if this is your first baby and you have nothing to compare your experience to. I left it till things were really, really bad before I got help. By that time my energy was so low that I could barely manage to get myself off the couch, I had to summon all of it just to attend to my baby’s needs, the entire 12 hours or more of caring for my baby on my own while my husband was at work overwhelmed me.
When I finally went to the GP, I of course was offered medication, which I accepted. And I felt better within a few weeks. I didn’t know at the time that medication was not a miracle cure – that within 12 months, the medication would stop working simply because I had not made any changes to my life. I didn’t know that recovery from depression required an holistic approach. I didn’t know because nobody told me and there was nothing out there that helped me to understand recovery from depression more fully or to help me make those changes.
The consequences of depression that was not diagnosed and not treated for such a long time was devastating for me. I developed chronic (life-long) depression. Most of the time I am well, but it means that I have to take medication and commit to holistically caring for myself in order that I stay well. Antenatal and Postnatal Depression was definitely a contributing cause of my marriage breaking down and subsequent separation. Tragically, it is likely to be a contributing factor of my 6 year old son’s development of an anxiety disorder – the impact of which we are still wrestling with on a daily basis. I can almost bear my own suffering in this whole story, but watching my son suffer is really unbearable. Every family has their challenges, but the challenges I have faced are preventable, and I want to prevent this suffering from happening to you and your family.
I don’t write this to frighten you. The last thing I want to do is cause you more anxiety. I write this because I want so much for you to get help for your depression and anxiety. It is crucial not only to your own wellbeing, but to the wellbeing of your family. Please go to the GP. Please consider treatment. Please find out more about how you can recover holistically from antenatal/postnatal depression and anxiety. Mothers Helpers runs courses throughout Auckland and an online course that is available to anyone in the country. These courses have proven to help the majority of mothers to recover from PND, and all of them their condition has improved.
It would be fair to say that for some mothers who have developed perinatal depression/anxiety, the “temperament” that researchers speak of that make some mothers more prone to developing it than others is not only that we’re naturally a sensitive soul, but we can also place high unrealistic expectations on ourselves – setting ourselves up to fail and becoming disappointed with ourselves time and time again. Whether you are recovering from your first episode of perinatal depression or you are challenged with the ongoing management of chronic depression, dealing with those unrealistic expectations is vital to our wellbeing.
As a person who now manages chronic depression (quite likely as a result of delayed diagnosis and treatment of my antenatal and postnatal depression), I certainly have these characteristics as part of my temperament and learning to deal with those high expectations is something that will be a life-long challenge for me.
In those days, dealing with a newborn baby – I expected that I would bond and absolutely fall in-love with my baby… I was blindsided (and later grieved the loss) by my traumatic birth and the hospital’s negligence by significantly delaying the opportunity for me to hold my baby post-birth, the breastfeeding problems I experienced and how I was at high risk of developing postnatal depression. I expected that I would be able to breastfeed well. I expected that I would find things a lot easier than I did. I expected that I would be able to cope with everything, despite a strained (and failing) marriage and insufficient support and my mother going into hospital for chemo the same year my baby was born and my marriage dissolving. I didn’t know where to go for help, but I also expected that I should be able to manage this all on my own without help and I felt that I was failing because I wasn’t coping and it was hard to admit it.
These days, I am well and high-functioning and very often I forget that lurking in the background is a mental illness that I will have for the rest of my life. I still don’t want to have it. I would still like to ignore it and pretend it didn’t exist. I still have these high expectations of myself to achieve this or to meet demands as if I do not have a mental illness that I have to be mindful of. And then the old “black dog” lingers on the edge of my yard (ironically I have an actual black dog but she’s rather nice and cuddly and has a habit of licking me rather than biting me although she is a puppy and still chews a lot of my son’s toys which is really annoying.)
It’s not about being a victim and letting depression define you – living under the banner of “I can’t” – it’s about being realistic and above all, it’s about being kind to ourselves. I have chronic depression. The unrealistic expectations I have of myself to be super-human is ridiculous.
If you want help for the stress or depression/anxiety you are experiencing, please fill in this online form
~ Kristina Paterson (Founder of Mothers Helpers)
Mothers Helpers is in the business of preventing the serious consequences of postnatal depression. Take a look at our other pages to see what those might be. One thing I’d love to be able to prevent is what I call chronic depression. For many people, depression does not have to be something they live with – if treated early and treated well, they can make a full-recovery. And they can prevent a relapse from occurring. But there are those who live with depression and for those of us who do, as John Kirwan often says, wellness is the goal.
So what does wellness mean to you? To me, it means that most of the time I don’t spiral into a pit of despair, invariably, I’m able to cope with what life brings, I am a fully functional human being – able to contribute to society, hold down a job (and one with a lot of responsibilities), care for my son, continue my studies. What it doesn’t mean is that I’m bullet-proof or that I never suffer from lows. In fact, I still have times where the stress is too much, that depression is interfering with my relationships and I’ve become more irritable and argumentative than usual, or that I’m very sensitive to the words and actions of others and the spiral of negative thoughts begins to take me down to that familiar place.
Despite our theme of last year’s Postnatal Depression Awareness campaign “Breaking the Silence” to a large extent I still live with depression in silence. I rarely talk about it with other people and when I do, they are carefully chosen trusted people in my life who I know will understand me, who will not judge me, and who still believe in me. I continue the silence because I am afraid of being labelled as “a person with a mental illness” and therefore dismissed and the other things that are true about me, ignored. That I am a business woman with skills in leadership, management, governance, education and experience in the medical field (among other things). That I’m a brave person who will stick my neck out at the risk of being criticized for the sake of others or what I believe to be an important and worthy cause. Or that I’m a kind person with enormous compassion for those who suffer and a passion to do something to help them. And so much more. The fear is that if I announce my struggle to someone that they will not see any of that, and suddenly I’ll be defined by the mental illness that I have.
It’s because of my silence and the silence of others afraid to share that depression is so misunderstood. It calls for leaders like John Kirwan to be brave in their conversations and become more open about their experience. When depression is misunderstood and not discussed, it remains a stigma, people are still afraid to seek help and support and don’t get the information and treatment that they need – as if depression is not isolating enough on its own! A big part of the pathway to wellness is community and support…
I live with Depression. This means that most of the time I am well and do not suffer from symptoms. I cope with a lot of stress as ongoing long-term stress is what led me here – but I’m working on changing what I can and accepting what I can’t. I contribute a great deal to my community. I am a smart, intelligent woman with something to say, and I love to laugh and have fun too. I’m a devoted mother and a kind and loving person. I have always been outspoken. I learn by talking and interacting – much to my school teachers’ dismay (and sometimes the impatience of my university lecturers). I need to contribute. Sometimes that means I blunder my way towards unwanted attention/trouble and people easily get the impression that I’m made of tough stuff when I’m actually made of goo. When depression and that aspect of my personality get together, it seems they go looking for an argument. It’s the “irritability” symptom of depression that has never really left me, and comes out when I’m overwhelmed with stress. And the resulting conflict sends me into a spiral. Like a child, I must learn to avoid unnecessary conflict wherever possible, I must learn how to challenge thoughts that are so negative and accusing in their nature when conflict occurs to prevent the spiral spinning out of control, and I must get myself out into the garden or to the beach for a walk in the sunshine to stop it in its tracks. But hiding my struggle away does not serve me. Perhaps if I were to speak about it, I might gain some understanding, some grace, some compassion – perhaps even some support?
Mothers Helpers Founder
What an understatement! The reason why Mothers Helpers provides mums suffering from postnatal depression (with no support system to help) with volunteers to help with childcare and housework is simply because we know how vital having a regular break is to recovery. Motherhood is relentless. It is a 24hr/day, 7 days/week job. For many of us with young babies or with babies that don’t sleep well, even night times are not our own to get sufficient rest. But too often, mothers have an expectation of themselves that a “good mother” is some kind of martyr/heroine/supermum that getting our own needs met is plain selfish. And here’s where we need to challenge that kind of thinking.
I’m not going to discuss where that thinking comes from or how we can challenge it. If you’d like to read more about Expectations, check out an earlier post I wrote titled “Expectations”. The first step to getting a break is to recognize that you need one, to accept that your needs are important too, and to give yourself permission to have a break. Many women with postnatal depression have anxiety about leaving their baby with someone else to care for them. This is normal. The best way to work through this is to start small with someone you know and trust and gradually build it up from there. The second step is to assess your current resources to see how it can be achieved.
So many mothers truly believe they have no options. But you have more than you think. Let’s first of all take a look at your current resources:
Now that you’ve identified the current resources you have available to you, ask. It is the hardest part and so many mothers are so afraid to ask for help or for a break or for their own needs that they let things go on the way they are for month after month, year after year. But you cannot afford to do this. Your mental health is important. It affects you, it affects your family – your marriage/relationship and your child. You owe it to yourself, and to your family to take care of yourself and get better. So pluck up the courage and ask – and do it once. What I mean by that is, ask them for a regular day and a regular time and stick it in both your diaries or on both your calendars – so that you don’t have to pluck up the courage over and over again to ask for help. It will be too hard and you’ll stop doing it. Do it once and organize it so it’s a regular thing.
Now here’s some resources you probably didn’t know about or you’ve never considered before:
Now that you’ve established a way to get a break, it’s really important that you use the time wisely. Don’t spend it running errands, paying bills, or getting the housework done. This time is for you, and it’s important. Here are some ideas:
And yes, mum, your needs are just as important and you do deserve it! Talk to your partner and get his support. Help him to see that this will help your recovery from PND.
Those more at-risk of developing postnatal depression have one or more of the following:
If you are currently pregnant, Mothers Helpers can provide you with a wide range of support to keep stress to a minimum with an aim to prevent postnatal depression. If you’ve already had your baby and you have any of the risk-factors above or any of the symptoms of PND (we can test your symptoms), Mothers Helpers can provide you with support so that you can recover more quickly and more fully.
By increasing support and directly addressing the specific stress you are dealing with, together we could prevent you from experiencing postnatal depression.
It helps to look at your health holistically. Many people try to treat mental illness including Postnatal Depression using one method of treatment. The reason this is not very effective is because human beings are made up of physical, mental, emotional/psychosocial, spiritual and cultural aspects of ourselves. These are all connected and impact on one another. The best way of healing and recovering from mental illness is working with each of these. Mothers Helpers does a holistic assessment and helps you to recognize where you are experiencing stress in each of these areas and gives you resources, help and support as well as goal-setting with these.
We talk about your specific situation and the specific issues you are facing. But there are common problems that mothers with postnatal depression experience, and so here are some ideas of what will help you to recover from PND:
So often mothers diagnosed with postnatal depression end up on medication and that is the only change they make to their life and find that not only are they taking a long time to recover, they risk relapse. This is because if the stress that was there at the beginning is still there 6 months/12 months later, it continues to put them at risk of depression.
The reason why the combination of counselling and medication is recommended to be the quickest road to recovery is twofold: Medication will give you sufficient wellness to motivate you to see a counsellor, and to deal with some of the difficult topics you will need to discuss in order to get well. Counselling will discuss some of the stress you’re currently under and what has likely contributed to your depression, and ways you might find change – whether its internal or external changes that need to be made.