~It has taken a long LONG time to decide whether I should write this post or not- feelings of shame and guilt are still pretty rife over here, ridiculous as I know they are. But the biggest hurdle has been reconciling the fact that I was diagnosed with Post Natal Depression whilst being a qualified doctor- and more than that, a doctor training to become a GP. Surely I should have spotted the signs, been immune somehow. I initially felt like an utter twot. But then one evening I realised, after hearing yet ANOTHER story on instagram about someone feeling ignored by their doctor when they were worried they had PND, that my job made writing this a professional responsibility.
So, it’s a bit lengthy (whaaaay), and more serious than most my other stuff but here it goes… (don’t worry, normal service will resume soon, I promise)
We undoubtedly had a pretty rough ride with our second daughter who from 6 weeks old would scream to the point of vomiting in the car, was inconsolable in the pram and had to nap in the sling. ALL. THE. TIME. (For full details on this sh*t storm, read my last blog post here). Our concerns about allergies were flippantly dismissed without a second thought at our 8 week GP review and we left the room with a screaming daughter and heavy hearts. I’d been to a health visitor clinic in tears a week earlier and had the same response, but with an added “Maybe you just can’t cope with two under two”. Yes, a health professional actually said that to me.
In a nut shell, turns out she was allergic to egg through my milk which I discovered after 4 months of a dairy, soya and finally egg free diet (a cake ban as a sleep deprived, on the edge mother is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy). Once egg was out of the picture, she was far more settled and even napping in the cot. I got an hour or two a day without a baby strapped to me for the first time in 6 months. Some actual, real life breathing room.
But then the toddler started pre-school, and within 2 weeks both the girls had almost constant temperatures and illnesses. The baby was un-put-downable. For six weeks. SIX WEEKS. Then she really hit the motherload. She developed a 4.45am alarm clock (cheers, Daylight Savings Time). That was it- awake for the day, day after day, from 4.45am. Car journeys were still hell and she still wouldn’t nap in the pram so I was essentially housebound, and started opting out of social gatherings. My life became so very, very small. I noticed I was becoming obsessed with her naps and sleeping; documenting minutes slept, minutes awake, minutes between, the anxiety mounting day on day. It became an all-consuming exercise. I was knackered, but I was also getting low. As soon as I heard her happy but dreaded chattering at that pitch black, ungodly hour of the morning, I’d start to cry. I even started waking at 4.15am every single day, like I’d developed my own internal alarm clock that I couldn’t override (a classic symptom of depression, yet I swore blind I was fine).
I was miserable. I was being a rubbish wife, a passable mother at best, and I was hating my day-to-day life. The guilt became palpable- guilt that my friend couldn’t get pregnant, guilt that the lady on instagram I followed had a stillbirth, guilt that so many people out there would have killed for two healthy daughters, and here I was saying I hated my life. Guilt that a better person would be able to rise above this and just crack on with life. If I could have run away and hidden somewhere forever, I would have done.
After yet another row with my husband that I WASN’T depressed; that if she’d just sleep past 5.30, that if she’d just go in the car without screaming, that if she’d just go in the pram, I’d be OK, I realised that the point was I WASN’T OK. Regardless of the reasons, I definitely wasn’t OK. I’d forgotten what OK felt like.
It took every ounce of strength I had to swallow my pride and book the GP appointment, but I knew I owed it to everyone around me, even if I still felt like there wasn’t anything anyone else could do. The receptionist asked what my ‘issue’ was, and as I uttered “I think I have post natal depression” my voice cracked, and I burst into big, sploshy, heaving tears (poor woman, it took about 5 minutes before I could speak again). But I felt immediately lighter as my appointment was booked for the following day, that maybe someone or something could help after all.
I went to the appointment alone (my first mistake) and I bared my soul to that GP. I told him the things I’d been scared to say out loud, the things I hadn’t wanted to admit to myself. I cried and he appeared to listen. Then he simply looked up and said this (and I’ll never forget it): “Why are you letting a 7 month old rule your life? Just let her cry. She’ll quickly get the message.” I just stared at him in silence. I told him again how I was feeling in case I’d not been clear enough, maybe he hadn’t heard me properly. But he continued to give me parenting advice. No questions about any worrying thoughts, any worrying feelings towards the girls. Nothing.
I gave up. I nodded quietly as he continued to dole out his pearls of wisdom, got up and left. I didn’t feel low. I didn’t feel angry. I felt completely numb. Numb and empty. I didn’t have the energy left to cry, to rage, to shout, to talk. I had nothing in the tank. In my mind, that had been the last hope of making things better, and I was done putting myself out there. My husband asked how it had gone and I just shrugged and said the GP didn’t think I was depressed. His face dropped. I could feel his heart sink. We felt so utterly alone.
I don’t really remember the following two weeks; they’re a blur; twilight-like days of blankness, sleep walking through life. But somehow my husband managed to convince me to see another GP. It was another exercise in pride swallowing, as the only GP with availability was someone I was going to be training alongside when I returned from maternity leave, but my self-esteem felt pretty non-existent by this point so I managed to override the voice telling me that to seek help was failing, and I dragged myself along to the surgery.
And that 20 minute appointment changed my life.
She really listened, she told me that what I’d been going through sounded really hard, she told me that I’d done well, that I’d done the right thing going to see her, that she had lots of options to offer me, that she wanted to see me again in two weeks, that she was always there if I needed to see her sooner. She honestly saved me.
Now I feel like a different person. I feel like I have reserve for the tough times, although I still have days where I silently scream into the washing machine cupboard and want to quaff gin from the bottle. I am still badgered by the notion that a stronger, better, more maternal person could have got through the trials and tribulations without breaking, but I choose not to listen to that voice. Because being a mum is relentlessly hard. It’s a physical, emotional and psychological marathon that literally never stops, it just develops and evolves. It is the biggest blessing I’ve ever been given, but that doesn’t stop it being hard.
I try to talk about my PND openly and without apology, because it isn’t anything to be ashamed of, and that fact it’s hidden in shadow and shame may be why the first GP didn’t have clue how to talk about it. I would still say to anyone struggling to make their GP their first port of call, but I also encourage you to have a look at this post by an amazing lady called Michelle who is a mum, a psychologist and writes a beautiful blog, Dear Orla. It lists a wealth of alternative resources if you feel you’re hitting a brick wall when seeking help.
If all else fails and you feel like things are unravelling, talk to anyone you trust- friends, family, colleagues, just get someone to listen. Those modern day guardian angels are out there, and the more we spread awareness and talk about this, the more will be there to catch those who are falling, before they hit the ground.
Big love to you all. x
PANDAS website is a good starting point if you’re looking for some information on PND and support: http://www.pandasfoundation.org.uk