Sadly, I am well equipped to share this story.
Having already lived with the darkness of anxiety and depression for more than 15 years, I fell instantly into the high-risk category during my pregnancy. In a way, I was grateful for that, as I was closely monitored and well supported throughout and beyond those 9 months. It is a complex story to tell, even more so as time passes and the crispness of the memories fade a little each day.
It is never any less important to tell this story, with so many new parents slipping into the dark place of perinatal anxiety and depression. Although each of our stories is different they all share some of the same threads, and it is those similarities and the honest sharing of them that will ultimately become hope for others. You are not alone.
As Digital Manager for Gidget Foundation Australia, I am passionate about the role of telling our stories.
Gidget Foundation Australia is an amazing national charity, founded by the friends and family of Gidget. Gidget was a beautiful new Mum who took her own life in the darkness of postnatal depression. Her friends and family volunteer their time tirelessly to raise awareness and funds so that their loss can save other lives.
I was so blessed to have had my depression and anxiety so beautifully managed for many years, so when my longed-for pregnancy threatened this stability, it was a time of many mixed emotions. I spent regular time with a Psychiatrist at the Royal Women’s Hospital, Sydney, in the lead up to my pregnancy and also for many months in the postnatal period.
Perinatal anxiety and depression often feels like something you should be able to snap yourself out of it, are you really struggling with this at a time when you should be high on baby love? As anyone who has experienced either of these things will know, ‘snapping out of it’ is wishful thinking as well as one of the worst things you can ever say to someone. Similar to saying ‘get a life’ .. which actually happened to me once!
It is a bit surreal even with the best planning and support, I can only imagine what it must be like for someone who has never been touched by anxiety or depression. It creeps in slowly and sits alongside the feelings of euphoria, threatening your perfect little baby bubble.
I think for me the most challenging part was learning to let go of the intense sense of foreboding I felt during my pregnancy, I was so frightened of my depression, anxiety and panic attacks making a return during what was such a positive and anticipated time of my life. A lot of things were stirred up for me, I spent a lot of time reliving past grief and trauma whilst also working extremely hard to take care of myself and my unborn baby.
For the first few weeks after my beautiful boy was born I was on a high, and so relieved that I had survived the pregnancy and lengthy, challenging birth so well. It was during some of the long dark sleepless nights my panic attacks returned and I was taken by surprise as I thought that the worst was over!
Thankfully I was under constant care and for many weeks we played around with my medication at the hospital, and sadly needed to introduce some things that meant my breastfeeding was cut short. In hindsight it was a valuable lesson in taking care of yourself as a Mother, and that this is absolutely essential for the wellbeing of your children.
If I had not been screened and supported so well I am scared to think how differently things may have unfolded for me during that postnatal period. I am not ashamed, embarrassed or hesitant to tell my story. I believe that this is how we will reduce and hopefully remove the stigma around mental illness.
Anxiety, depression, panic and PTSD are all still a part of my daily life. It is likely that this will be my forever reality. I am not a victim, I am not interested in pity. I am interested in owning my story, turning it around for myself and others. I love these words from Brene Brown: “I now see how owning our story + loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we will ever do.”