(And no, I do not mean Party Next Door, the rapper, cause apparently that’s actually a thing)
As I sit here, watching J eat his vegemite sandwich (eat, or more accurately, smush and rub and chew on a bit then throw it), I think about the fact that he is one tomorrow and I get so emotional. Its been a big year.
It’s the year I became a mother of two. It’s the year I had to be rushed into surgery to have an emergency caesarian. It’s the year I was incredibly lucky to have a stay at home husband for months. It’s the year I became a mother to a son. It’s the year I said goodbye to our beloved husky, Jazz, and our little pony, Archie. The year I learned more than I wanted to know about allergies and gave up all dairy and egg products for eight long months.
It’s the year I was diagnosed with, and sought treatment for, post natal depression.
My story: around 4 months after the somewhat traumatic birth of my little boy, I went to the GP because I’d been having increasing bouts of anger, sadness and, most frightening to me, continual feelings of detachment and numbness. Feelings like I was watching my family on TV, like I had no actual connection with them. Feelings of despair. So I went and saw the doctor and described what was going on. She asked some questions and she had me do the oh-so-familiar PND checklist and unsurprisingly it indicated I was ‘more than likely’ suffering from PND.
Since the day I sat in the GPs office and listened to her diagnosis with equal measures of relief and despair, I have shared this news with some of my nearest and dearest directly, slowly, over the course of a few months. I’ve alluded to it with others, and on this blog, and hashtagged ‘pnd’ on my instagram a few times. It’s not something I’ve spoken too openly about, not really, not in the amounts I’ve wanted to, except with my incredible husband and of course my very skilled psychologist. I’d like to say that’s because it’s no big deal, it’s a tiny part of my day, it never occurred to me – but that would be untrue, and I promised myself this would be a very honest post.
The reality is, I’m still ashamed. Ashamed and feel like somehow I’ve failed, am failing, every time I feel a slowing in my progress. Every time I feel a rush of that detached, numb sadness wash over me. When I suddenly started having panic attacks again in January / February, after not having had one for years and years, I felt like I was going backwards at the speed of light. Crushing, when I had been feeling like I’d made such progress.
Why am I ashamed? Well, partly that’s because I look around and see so many other amazing mums around me, mums who are struggling like I am, only they actually have tangible, serious issues they are dealing with, so in my mind, their struggling is justified. Or worse, mothers I see with enormous hurdles and draining challenges they face every single day and they are coping better than I cope with my small, normal, day to day issues. I look at myself, on the days when I was at my lowest, and take stock of exactly what was going on at that time and I think to myself, ‘How pathetic that you can’t even cope with that, and yet so and so copes with this really well.‘ Big sigh. Even reading back over this makes me feel sad.
In my head, the lovely, logical, left hand side of my brain, I know that it is an illness. And that yes, I struggled to cope with things that normally I would handle no worries, but that’s directly due to the illness. That other mothers around me simply have a greater capacity to cope, specifically because they do not have PND, so comparing myself to them was always going to end badly.
But the other side of me (thank you, right brain) just feels defeated and ashamed and sorry. Sorry for being the burden to my husband, sorry for being the downer in my family and my group of friends, sorry for the times I couldn’t be the mother I wanted to be for my kidlets.
No-one talks about it. Its not like having any other kind of longterm, treatable illness. Not often would anyone ask me, ‘How are you going with your PND?’. I rarely bring it up, except on this blog, with anyone bar my husband. I might say, “I’m having a bad day today,” to a friend, but I don’t even know if they know I’m referring to my PND, or if they just assume I mean a ‘bad day’, like anyone and everyone has from time to time. I feel awkward bringing it up and I wonder if those around me feel awkward bringing it up, too? Don’t want to offend me? Or perhaps, when they’ve asked me the general, ‘How are you going?’, they actually mean how is my PND going but I just don’t hear what they are really asking. Or maybe they get updates from my husband…. Who knows?
I know of mothers around me who are suffering PND, too, and we talk about it to each other – but do they feel the same sense of invisibility that I do? The shame, the hesitation to voice any thoughts or feelings or progress or set backs? Maybe, and I hope this is true, they are a bit stronger than I am and they do talk openly about it with their nearest and dearest.
None of this is to say that I haven’t had support from those around me. Its a solid wall of support, I know all of those I call my ‘village’ have my back 100% and think absolutely no less of me for this phase in my life’s journey. I know that and do not doubt it, ever.
And those around me who I’ve never directly shared my diagnosis with (God, I nearly put diagnosis in quotation marks, because I am still so quick to be dismissive of it and myself), well, how could I expect them to discuss it with me? If it’s something I’ve avoided talking about then, as people who are kind and caring, they would naturally avoid talking about it with me too, no matter how curious they were. Or how much they wanted to ask me, ‘Are you OK? How are you doing with your PND?’
And – even more importantly, I think, if they wanted to say – “I have PND, too,” or “I think I have PND – how did you know? What did you do? How can I get help?”; well, my silence about it would make it very difficult for them to start that already confronting conversation wouldn’t it?
So, hear it is. The end to my silence on PND. I have it. I’m beating it. I love my kids fiercely and I want to be the best me I can, for them. And for my husband, I want him to have a whole, happy woman beside him on this crazy ride we call parenthood.
There is so much support out there for PND, if only we can stop thinking of it as something to be ashamed of, to speak of only in hushed voices or minimally. We should regard it like any other treatable illness – recognise the signs, seek diagnosis, get treatment, get well. Talk about it. Ask about it.
For anyone, man or woman, out there suffering from this illness, whether a mild or severe case, know that the feelings you experience are not yours alone. They are symptoms of the illness and they will go away with the right treatment. They are not “fault” any more than a runny nose is your “fault” when you have a cold.
You can do it, you are not a bad person, it is an illness and those around you love you still, and more, for fighting this battle that only you can win.
Check out the PANDA website, its one of the best in the world, at http://www.panda.org.au/
And be kind to you. Sounds simple but it’s truthfully one of the rarest things we do.