Post partum Psychosis: You are not broken
Laura Dockrill has written a blog post for Mother of all Lists to share her experience with other mothers facing the same difficulties of post-partum psychosis after the birth of her son.
This week my baby turns 6 months old and I feel like it’s an achievement in more ways than one.
I don’t usually do oversharing on social media but the more I’ve spoken about this experience AKA the WORST TIME OF MY ACTUAL LIFE the more I’ve realised the urgency of writing about it.
More women and their partners have opened up with their own experiences that have just felt too ashamed or embarrassed to talk about it. It’s not easy to admit that the worst time of your life was when your baby was born.
Social media gives a very shiny exterior of life to be frank and it’s not the full picture, so I wanted to unlock some doors and be honest- I’ve been somewhere I can’t unsee and- in case there is anybody out there struggling – to open up a dialogue and say it’s ok.
You are not broken… Alrighty… I’m gonna be brave…so here we go…
Since having my baby boy in February this year I’ve been suffering from and battling against post partum psychosis. A rare and unpublicised illness that effects 1 in a 1000 women and is seen as a medical emergency (don’t worry I had never heard of it either until it tried to ruin my life).
In my case it was built upon post natal depression and exhaustion and escalated into a phase of what I can only describe as hell; mania, mood swings, insomnia, delusions, paranoia, anxiety, severe depression with a lovely side order of psychosis.
My pregancy was a dream, I was totally prepared to be unprepared and have no history of mental illness and yet this cruel and savage sickness completely and unexpectedly swallowed me smashed me and my family against the rocks.
I just want to hug that naive pregnant me that would be up in the middle of the night, stroking my swollen tummy, eating bagels and drinking tea watching episodes of One Born Every Minute and say ‘hold on tight girlfriend, you have NO idea what is coming your way.’
My labour was horrific.
I won’t go into it too much but I basically tried to give birth in every way possible, it was the opposite of what I ever visualised. It was scary and dangerous and we believed that one of us was not going to make it through. I ended up having an emergency c-section and then found out our son was extremely underweight because even though I was 2 weeks overdue my placenta had failed him and he was starving inside me.
My doctor believes that my traumatic birth could be what triggered my illness. We were then kept on a ward for five days where we basically sobbed and ached and my baby fed from me for 24 hours straight for the entire time. Although I was so grateful I could breastfeed, especially after a Caesarian, (because the milk can be sometimes delayed after this operation) there was no respite.
I just remember thinking- what the hell have I done?
Home became like the Walt Disney castle, I couldn’t wait to get back and just climb into bed and be all cosy. But the second I got home and into bed I was drenched in this terrifying overwhelming sense of fear and dread. Like that Sunday night before school feeling times a million. I felt like I was dying. My breath was short and tight, my heart was pounding out of my chest and my stomach churned.
I turned to my partner and said ‘something’s not right with me, I don’t know what it is but I’m not ok.’
I refused to believe I had Post Natal Depression because I didn’t feel ‘depressed.’
I could still appreciate the crisp white blanket of snow outside, the way it silenced the world and I still looked forward to gobbling down a salty cheese toastie, then I realised that I knew absolutely nothing about depression because what the hell does depression even feel like? How do you capture it and label it? How do you quantify it or understand something so intangible?
My ignorance and denial encouraged me to stridently continue even though I knew I was struggling.
I thought that time would heal. We pushed through the next few weeks but I knew I wasn’t right, I was hiding the congratulations cards and my own air made me feel sick, my baby was feeding non stop- I barely had time to eat or wash and didn’t sleep a single hour- this is all the usual new Mum stuff I know- but this wasn’t me, I felt like I had pushed out my personality as well as a baby.
Friends kept saying ‘just try to enjoy it- get a take away and watch Orange is The New Black on Netflix’ and I was like I DONT KNOW WHO I AM how am I going to use the deliveroo app?!
I didn’t recognise myself and I felt like an intruder in my own life, like a fraud and a complete failure.
People suggested I had the baby blues but this wasn’t crying a bit too much at an episode of The Simpson’s- no, no, no, naaaa darling- I’ll just put it bluntly- I was suicidal, I would lie in bed begging my mum to let me go, I don’t even know how she dealt with that.
I had fallen out of love with my life and couldn’t see how I would ever get to know it again.
I thought I was going to hurt myself in some horrendous way and I was doing everything to try and avoid that plus I didn’t want my family to see me crumble away before their eyes and watch me turn into an anxious wreck.
I wanted some control. I was a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. Sleepless nights turned into a mania where I felt like I was doing everything in frantic fast forward.
I was dazed and couldn’t take in the simplest information.
I would write weird scraps of stuff down on odd bits of paper about my sons routine to try and remind myself but they meant nothing. And then I would be hit with extreme lows where I felt like the world was caving in. I went from wanting to do everything for my little boy to completely ignoring his cries.
My living room turned into Glastonbury festival where my whole family basically moved in with blankets and shopping bags full of baguettes and fruit and set up camp to help us but I was so sick I couldn’t even comprehend why they were even there.
I couldn’t eat, couldn’t drink, had to take loads of medicine from my birth, Hugo had to inject me every morning and my stitches hurt. My pupils became big black holes. My skin so pale it looked blue.
I started getting severe anxiety attacks believing I was having a heart attack, that my stitches would split in the night, that my baby was going to die because he was so small and if I didn’t feed him 24/7 it would be all my fault. That I was a terrible person and an awful mother.
My family would just reassure me over and over again but I couldn’t take anything in. I was a broken record on repeat bullying myself. I can’t even describe the quality of the feeling, just this ugly shade that shadowed over my head and completely consumed me.
My psychosis took a dark turn. I still can’t exactly work out what exactly happened or what form it took on, all I know is I was completely terrified, lost, confused and scared for myself and my son and that I didn’t trust ANYBODY- I even accused Hugo of kidnapping our baby.
After my intervention- which was the worst night of my life- I was hospitalised for 2 weeks away from my son, bleeding from birth, breasts leaking milk and fully out of my head. I had no idea where I was. I would sit in group therapy all day every day feeling like my baby had been torn out of my arms.
My personal compass had gone, my maternal instinct had vanished.
I was an insecure self hating soulless shell with no confidence, I lost all faith in myself. I felt like I had done something terrible in my past and I was being punished for it.
I forgot who I was to the point that Hugo would have to send me photos of myself and my friends and family to remind me who I was.
My sister would record voice notes on my phone to try and trigger my memories. Any messages of love and support I got from friends I thought were lies. Even though Post Natal Depression and the psychosis are both treatable even when my doctor said I would 100% recover I remember thinking ‘maybe others do but not me, this is me forever.’
Nothing makes sense when you are entrenched in the throes of it.
I thought I was going to be like the woman in Jane Eyre that’s trapped in the attic. It was like being the main character in a horror film and I was breaking my loved ones hearts as I declined and unravelled right in front of them. I thought I was a burden and I didn’t want to be alive anymore because of that.
Hugo, who had never even held a newborn, was essentially now a single dad and I was his Zombie girlfriend eating apple crumble with a plastic spoon in a hospital cafeteria yet everyday he bought our son to see me in hospital and only ever smiled and was fun and brilliant with him.
During these visits I tried the hardest I could to be a ‘mum’ but I felt cold and numb, unworthy, incapable and overwhelmed by my new role and yet Hugos loyalty, patience, kindness, belief in me and strength was jaw dropping. His threshold for absolute horror and chaos is gigantic. I just love him so much.
I realise this post could make me appear really vulnerable but it’s making me strong, there is strength in that.
Talking about this has been a huge part of my recovery and I was constantly searching for any stories that offered me hope or salvation in this dark and testing time so that’s why I’ve shared this and to raise awareness of this awful sickness and to confront the stigma attached to post natal depression and the pressure put on women to become mothers.
I tried to hide my illness from my family and friends because I was so full with shame and guilt because there is a huge expectation on women to be perfect beautiful glowing mama queens that are all encompassing wonderbeasts that can manage anything and hold it all together whilst wearing one of those hippy wrap around slings, in cool Nike trainers and red lipstick but it is HARD and FALSE and sometimes- like in my case, way too big to hide- now I know hiding it is the worst thing you can do.
You have to talk. Birth and motherhood is a shock to the system and traumatic and we shouldn’t have to suffer in silence. It’s not cosy big fluffy jumpers, scrolling through instragram and tubs of ice cream.
Pregnancy is like being an oven making the most precious important cake in the world and everybody is looking through the little glass window licking their lips waiting for the cake to come out and once the cake comes out everybody cheers and runs off to eat it and the oven is left and forgotten about, turned off, waiting to cool down on its own before being dumped out on the roadside once it’s broken.
This was not something that yoga and art class could fix- I was beyond unwell. I was in a black hole where the whole universe was a threat to me. All I knew was doom. Trying to get better from a severe mental illness with a newborn to care for seemed impossible.
Now with the support of my family, an incredible psychiatrist, medication (which I really hated the idea of taking but now recognise them, for me, as necessary and I am grateful to whoever invented them) and psychotherapy I am healed and recovering more and more each day.
I am happy, confident and strong. I am myself.
Yes, you do have to put your child first but I had to prioritise getting better so that I could be a good mum and that meant doing whatever I needed to do to get well like trust strangers, trust a whole host of meds with horrible side effects like weight gain, tiredness, grogginess and meant I had to give up breastfeeding, be away from my child for 2 weeks to even begin trusting myself again and work at rebuilding my relationships.
By leading a very simple and small life to try and focus myself, sacrifices from Hugo and my family to support me, a lot of time trying to fall back in love with my bedroom and to recognise that I was safe and that there was nothing to be afraid of, to face my triggers rather than avoiding them and at last we’ve got here.
I used to hate these photos, had them hidden away in a drawer with all the other baby stuff I couldn’t bring myself to look at but now I love them because they shows me how I’m just NOT a fraud or a failure at all, that I’ve overcome this massive mountain. And that makes me a bloody CHAMPION boy!
Mental health is no joke, I had a peep into another world and let me tell you it was a scary place.
Take care of yourselves, be patient with others and above all be kind. If anybody is suffering don’t delay on talking to somebody, it can escalate and easily get out of hand, you’ll soon find out that not everybody’s life is as dreamy as it seems and you’ll have more in common with everybody else than you once thought.
It’s nothing to be embarrassed about, it’s a chemical imbalance, an avalanche of hormones and it is NOT your fault.
I did not ‘have a breakdown’ or ‘struggle’ with motherhood- I didn’t freak out because of a few sleepless nights and dirty nappies and ‘couldn’t cope’- I’ve nannied kids before I know how to take care of a baby…I wasn’t deluded in thinking this mothering business was a doddle.
I just got really sick.
And if this post can relate to anybody that is feeling even a shimmer of this and it resonates with them then please speak to somebody and get help.
I’ve never held onto anything as tight as my life. I was so desperate for help, I felt like I was racing my own life- trying to save myself before the ‘psychosis me’ did something stupid to me and I’m so glad I cried out because now life is back swwweeeeettt again boy!
I often pinch myself at how beautiful life is. But do not get me wrong and think in any way this not a continuation of an internal war, it isn’t just popping meds and waiting to turn into Mother Goose Mary bloody poppins overnight.
I have to fight for my happiness most days to feel like I did before, steer my head like a big wonky ship during a tempest.
Only last week I went out for a posh meal to celebrate giving up medication to only then relapse when my period was due and my hormones spiralled, in the heatwave I didn’t sleep for three nights and I got complete terror anxiety that the psychosis was going to come back.
Since, I’ve had to go back on medication again to feel secure and will admit that I felt like a failure at first, it was a massive set back for me, but this is a journey- it doesn’t have a definite ending and could leave me fighting anxiety about not sleeping my whole life or ringing my doctor in a panic once a week, who knows maybe I’ll be boomeranging on and off meds forever?
But this is where I am now.
How did I end up where suicidal thoughts were just normalised? Yes, just from having a kid. These are the bits nobody talks about.
Now as long as I’m vocal and honest about my emotions and what’s going on in my brain- which at times is hard- particularly to my loved ones, it keeps me safe and that is what’s important.
When you’re somebody people describe as ‘crazy’ or ‘mental’ or ‘whacky’ in your everyday life when you do actually get sectioned and become unwell, the irony is not so funny anymore.
10% of women suffer from depression after giving birth and only 10% of those women are treated for it.
You don’t have to brave it alone. You don’t have to act like a hero, you already are one.
There are a few thank yous I have to do to those starting with my true love Hugo, my one and only spirit sister Adele, my baby love E.T Daisy, my amazing parents and their partners, my partners family, my brother Hector, Siobhan, Penny, Buzz, Elbow, Anneka, Sabrina, Soufian, Bob, Wesley, Rupert and the wonderful Mums I’ve met along the way. I love you all so much. You saved my life.
And of course to my precious little baby, you are six months so kind of happy birthday to you mate, I hope one day you read this and know how proud I am to have you, you were crowd surfed to the stage, you’ve healed all my wounds, I love you. We made it. X
More information from the Royal College of Psychiatrists:
Postpartum psychosis is a severe episode of mental illness which begins suddenly in the days or weeks after having a baby. Symptoms vary and can change rapidly. They can include high mood (mania), depression, confusion, hallucinations and delusions. Postpartum psychosis is a psychiatric emergency. You should seek help as quickly as possible.
Postpartum psychosis can happen to any woman. It often occurs ‘out of the blue’ to women who have not been ill before. It can be a frightening experience for women, their partners, friends and family. Women usually recover fully after an episode of postpartum psychosis.
Postnatal Depression is a depressive illness which affects between 10 to 15 in every 100 women having a baby. The symptoms are similar to those in depression at other times. These include low mood and other symptoms lasting at least two weeks. Depending on the severity, you may struggle to look after yourself and your baby. You may find simple tasks difficult to manage.
Sometimes there is an obvious reason for PND, but not always. You may feel distressed, or guilty for feeling like this, as you expected to be happy about having a baby. However, PND can happen to anyone and it is not your fault.
It’s never too late to seek help. Even if you have been depressed for a while, you can get better. The help you need depends on how severe your illness is. Mild PND can be helped by increased support from family and friends.
If you are more unwell, you will need help from your GP and health visitor. If your PND is severe, you may need care and treatment from a mental health service.