Each week for Maternal Mental Health Month I will be bringing you a story of a real mom’s struggle with mental health issues. These moms so graciously volunteered their stories in hopes of inspiring others through their journey. I owe much appreciation to the writer of our first story this month: Erica.
When did you notice or realize that your struggle were beyond “normal” baby blues?
6 weeks post birth. My mum, visiting from the UK, left to go home. Around the same time, I made a decision to stop breast feeding because it just wasn’t working out. I felt my world fall apart. I didn’t know what I was going to do without my Mum around, and hadn’t felt I’d ‘bonded’ with my son, either. He didn’t sleep very well, and I wasn’t getting enough rest. I felt tired, isolated, anxious and lonely. I cried most of the day, wasn’t sleeping well, and stayed home rather than face going out.
At what point did you decide to seek help?
6 or 7 weeks post birth. My husband encouraged me to go to see my GP [general practitioner]. I had a few, what I call ‘breakdowns’, which at one point in the middle of the night, had my husband debating whether to call the ambulance because I lost control and became terrified of what was happening to me. Unfortunately, the GP I went to see, didn’t really talk to me about my options. He prescribed me with antidepressants and shooed me out the door. I took the antidepressant for a week, felt awful, and stopped. I can’t recall if I was my decision to change GPs, or whether someone else told me to, but I did. My new GP proved to be a much better support, and referred me to a counsellor straight away.
The second time around, with my second son, I started seeing cracks in my moods during pregnancy. Because my first birth and first year of motherhood hadn’t gone to plan, I started to get anxious about how I’d cope with baby #2. This time, I was able to seek help sooner. I went back to my GP to organise a mental health care plan and referral to a counsellor. After a few sessions it was established I’d suffered from anxiety for most of my life, I hadn’t actually realised until that point. After baby #2 was born, I coped a bit better than I did the first time, but unfortunately PND [postnatal depression] reared its ugly head again. After many months of counselling, it got to the point where I needed medication. At that point, I felt suicidal, that my family would be better without me. After initially rejecting the idea of being medicated, I accepted that’s what I needed to do to help me out of my dark place, so I started taking antidepressants.
Describe your journey to recovery. How have things gotten better?
Weekly counselling helped me immensely. Much of my weekly sessions involved tears and lots of them. Slowly, that changed. I could confide in my counsellor in a way I couldn’t with anyone else. Because I had no connections with him in terms of friendship or family, it helped me talk about what was really going on in my mind, and helped me understand (to some extent) why.
After a few months, I changed my weekly visits to fortnightly then monthly.
I stopped keeping my thoughts to myself, and worked on releasing some of the guilt I had of burdening my loved ones with my woes. Communication has always been a little difficult for me, but I’ve got better (although forever working on it) and find I can talk more freely than I used to with my family and friends.
Baby #2 is now 2.5yrs. I am still taking antidepressants but I’m down to minimum dose. At some point I may not need to take them anymore, but right now, I’m running on about 95% and feeling so much better.
What was the most helpful thing to you during your struggles?
When my baby reached 6 months, I made the tough decision to quit my job because I wasn’t coping. My baby was in childcare three days a week and I worked in the city; an hour commute each way. When I didn’t work in the city, I still worked, with my son at home with me. My baby didn’t sleep well at night because of reflux, which meant none of us were getting enough rest, nor enough time to recover.
The job I quit, wasn’t just a job, it was my everything.. before kids. I had a fulfilling career, in a job I thought I’d be in for the rest of my working life. All of that changed when my son arrived and my priorities changed, but when I quit my job, I felt so lost and didn’t understand my purpose anymore. Was ‘being a Mum’ all there was for me? Was it enough? I hadn’t planned for that.
My husband said to me “you need to get a hobby”, and I laughed in his face. A hobby? When would I have time to find a hobby in between the daily chores of motherhood? Well, I did find a hobby, I started to write. A blog to start with. My blog give me a creative outlet and something I could focus on, other than my daily struggles through motherhood. My blog gained momentum and recognition. I made blog friends, and taught myself to sew. I started to get paid to share my words so I made my blog my job, and that made me happy. I found my purpose again, and new doors opened, which I hadn’t thought possible. 8 years on, and I’m still writing; not just a blog, but for agencies and websites, too. I didn’t find a new job in the same field of work I did prior to having kids, instead, I changed my career and turned my hobby into my job. Lucky me.
What also helped me in the early months, was getting out of the house. Even in my sleep deprived, anxious state, I went to playgroups, music groups, mother’s group meet-ups, sometimes to the café by myself, just to break up my day. A year down the track, I found an occasional care centre; a community run facility offering low cost, short term childcare. I enrolled my son into the centre, and slowly got both of us used to the facility before I left him in caring hands for a few hours a week. Those few hours, increased to 5 hours, and eventually x 3 days a week, when he got a little older. Not only did I meet some amazing friends (who are still my amazing friends, today) through the centre; other mothers who didn’t have local support nearby, but the short break meant the world to me. Doing a little creative work, or simply running errands during that time, gave me the opportunity to appreciate being a Mum. I couldn’t wait to see my son at pick up time, to see the smile on his face, and jump back into my important role as MUM again.
Do you have any advice for moms in seeking professional help or outside support/resources?
If you sense you aren’t coping, or think your ‘baby blues’ aren’t going away, please talk about it. See your GP and get a referral to see a counsellor/physcologist. If you aren’t confident with your current GP, change. Ask your friends for a GP recommendation if you’re not sure. When you see your GP, ask for a mental health plan to see a counsellor, or speak to your counsellor about it because you should be entitled to receive a rebate for sessions from Medicare [in Australia]. If you are really lost and don’t know where to turn, call the PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia telephone counselling service) helpline. I did, on more than one occasion, and can’t thank them enough for helping me through my most difficult days.
What would you like others moms to understand and learn from the most about your experience?
Don’t keep things bottled up and don’t think you are burdening other people with your troubles. I know it’s hard, but you have to talk to your friends or family. When you find someone you feel comfortable to talk to, even if that person happens to be your counsellor, keep in regular contact. Don’t isolate yourself, get yourself out of the house, even if you are tired and anxious. Don’t let the walls close in. There is light at the end of the tunnel. You will be OK.
Erica was born and raised in England, but now calls Australia home. She lives in Melbourne Bayside with her husband and two young sons.
Erica writes all about sustainable fashion for her personal blog Recycled Fashion, and she specialises in writing entertainment and event reviews for WeekendNotes all things kid-related for KidTown Melbourne and Melbourne Mums Group.
Erica’s number one passion is to write, although op shopping, travelling and craft related activities all fall a close second. Erica might live in the coffee capital of Australia, but she is 100% fuelled by chai lattes and chocolate.
Erica is a qualified in Business and Finance, although for a large chunk of her working life managed a volunteer travel business, saving little corners of the world in the name of wildlife conservation research.