My year after PND - Written by Nami, Melbourne KCP Franchisee
This week marks a full year for me not being on anti-depressants. It has not been marked with celebratory drinks but with a simple acknowledgement and gratitude for my good health.
I began my medication with such resistance; a very different approach that I normally apply to my health and wellbeing. Tonsillitis? Book a doctors appointment. Broken limb? Straight to the hospital! Postnatal depression? I was driven to my GP by my husband who, with equal measures of support and tough love, refused to watch me deny the professional help I needed any longer. I very reluctantly handed over the first prescription for anti-depressants to the pharmacist. I felt like I had failed. Now I understand that this was simply me taking my first step toward being a better mum – it was just a different path I had to take to get there, compared with the journey I expected to have.
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I was diagnosed with PND in June 2010, when my son was 3 months old, and I believe the traumatic labour I experienced with his birth triggered the depression. As the PND slowly but surely crept up on me, I became truly convinced I was not doing a good enough job as a mother or wife, and suggested to my husband that if he chose to leave me he may well be happier. I began to shy away from all social occasions, simply so I could avoid general conversation about how (expectantly wonderful) my life was as now as a glowing new mother. Sometimes when visitors came over to have cups of tea and ‘see the baby’ I would stay in my room and ask my husband to tell them I was catching up on sleep. With the benefit of hindsight I now understand I had signs of depression during my pregnancy, but didn’t know how to recognise them – I thought I was just hormonal. There were several occasions that I found myself in my (unborn) son’s room, big belly, teary and sad, but unsure why.
With advice from many, and varied medical professionals I chose to stay on my medication throughout my second pregnancy with my daughter, and remained on them up until a year over her birth. This decision was based on the simple equation of benefits outweighing risks and I resisted any kinds of social pressures to go off them until I knew, in my heart of hearts, I was well and truly ready.
In the early weeks without medication I was fearful that the PND may catch me out unaware, but I had learnt many skills along the way that would help me manage the trickier days. I would always share any ‘odd’ feelings I was having with my husband or even close work colleagues (externalising any emotions for me always helped), I joined the gym and (surprise, surprise) found that exercise was also a massive boost to my mood - as hard as it was some days to get motivated. This would also mean I’d have to leave the house (“break state”) and see or talk with other people. While I was once the reigning queen of multi-tasking, I am now mindful what I try to fit into a day. On my days at home with the kids I have a strict rule to only schedule one thing out of the house, whether that’s a doctor’s appointment, mother’s group, or a trip to do the grocery shopping. I can now recognise the difference in feeling sad as opposed to depressed, stressed as opposed to anxious, tired as opposed to emotionally lethargic.
I am aware that PND could roll around again, but I trust that this time I will know better than to simply try to ‘fight it’ on my own, or to believe that if I ignore it enough it will go away. I hope – if there ever is a next time - my only concern is my will to be well – and to not query whether I have failed or succeeded as a parent. Because I’ve asked my kids that question, and they’ve answered it for me 100 times over.
cope.org.au provides information and advice about emotional health, to support each stage of the journey.