M Is For: Mental Health

When I wrote a timeline from pregnancy test to breakdown for my therapist, it wasn’t surprising that I’d fallen apart. It started with private genetic testing during pregnancy because our baby might’ve had serious chromosome defects, an anti-natal diagnosis of a serious heart condition, ongoing growth issues, then eight weeks in hospital after an emergency section at 31 weeks, watching my five month old baby be resuscitated, and finally his open heart surgery a few weeks later. It was a long, ridiculously hard couple of years.

While it was going on, I was the epitome of organised. We were early for every appointment, we went to baby classes, we visited people, we even used cloth nappies amid all the chaos. I felt so grateful for all those who helped & supported us (including the amazing Gin Mummies who cleaned for us that time), and I figured that once it was all over I could relax and life would be back to normal.

As Nate’s 1st birthday approached the cracks were starting to show – I saw a private counsellor a few times, but all the Timehop bump pictures reminded me of that long, slow decline in my placental function that meant he had to come out, and fast. I threw myself into planning his birthday party & naming ceremony – because that would be the milestone that signified life beginning again, right?

But that didn’t do the trick. I went back to work already on antidepressants and feeling wobbly and anxious, as though I was walking a tightrope blindfolded with a wheelbarrow full of bricks across a flaming ravine. I went back to a job I used to love, to find I’d been moved departments, and to a new manager who – when I shared my worries – told me it was “not [her] job to be nice to me”. I managed three months before I had a full-on breakdown. The world crumbled around me and I was very, very frightened by what was happening in my head.

I went to my GP and I cried. He’d already referred me to Mind ten weeks previously and said he would chase it – in the meantime he signed me off work and doubled my medication. I focussed on doing small things to give me a boost, and that Christmas was coming.

Christmas came and went, and at my first session with Mind (sixteen weeks after the initial referral) the little bits I’d already fallen into exploded and I was sent to A&E in an ambulance because I was going to kill myself on the way home. I felt like I was asking all these professionals to help me and there was nothing available. Even with everything that happened when Nate was tiny, this was one of the worst days of my life. I was so scared. I tried to run away in A&E and was corralled by my Mum and paramedics like some kind of deranged animal.

The mental health nurse offered to admit me. I really, really did not want to stay in hospital so I was sent home under the care of my Mum & husband, and with an appointment for the crisis team to see me the next day.

The crisis team, and subsequently the community mental health team, were wonderful. I saw a consultant psychiatrist within days, had new meds, and they kept a really close eye on me. I was in day treatment three days a week, and had mountains of homework which I diligently completed each day. If I was going to have a breakdown then I was going to take the opportunity to properly get well again rather than just patching myself up and limping on – I was still getting full sick pay and the opportunity to focus on just healing yourself doesn’t come very often.

I had a wonderful psychologist who taught me all about Compassion Focussed Therapy – a wonderful, gentle approach which took the sting out of all the mummy guilt and helped me accept myself. It turns out that what had made me so acutely unwell was the struggle to stay well no matter what, and the fear of what would happen if I gave in. Ultimately, when I let go and trusted I would be caught, I didn’t have as far to fall as I’d feared. I started rebuilding myself, and I realised I’d been neglecting my mental health for ages because I was too scared to look at it. Now I stand tall with all my crazy on display, because that’s who I am, and I’m not ashamed of it.

I was made redundant while I was off sick, which was a huge kick in the teeth – I was hardly the confident, shining professional I wanted to be for job interviews. However, I was only officially unemployed for a month before landing on my feet with a great organisation and a genuinely lovely team. It literally is part of our jobs to be nice to each other, and that’s made a world of difference.

What I can’t believe, looking at myself now, is that only seven months ago I was going to kill myself because life felt so bleak. Sure, I still have symptoms of PTSD, and struggle with public transport. Sure, I still start the day with 20% less energy then I used to, and end up using half of that on the basics of functioning. Sure, I’ve shed a few good friends along this journey – but I have found a whole lot more, and I’ve discovered that being heartfelt and vulnerable has its own strength, a certain power in it. None of us are super humans who can deal with life’s dramas alone, and neither should we have to.

If you need support with post-natal PTSD please visit:

http://www.pandasfoundation.org.uk/postnatal-ptsd-or-birth-trauma/

For more information about Compassion Focussed Therapy please visit:

https://compassionatemind.co.uk/

This post is part of our A-Z of Parenting series where we take a look at the whole alphabet of things that can go right – or wrong – with parenting. A new letter is added every couple of days. Check out what’s happened so far here.
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