When I was pregnant with my daughter I had health professionals mention the importance of been aware of the signs of post natal depression, I was worried, I had suffered severe depression in my late teens and worried that meant I was doomed to suffer post natal depression. I talked through a plan with my husband, what would we do if I became severely depressed, who would help me with the baby, what help would I seek? I felt prepared. Nothing had been mentioned about post natal anxiety or OCD triggered by becoming a mother.
When the big day came I was fine. I had the three day blues but apart from that there was no depression. I threw myself into been the version of a perfect mother I had in my head, I created and stuck to routines like a military sergeant, I worried about germs, tummy time, positioning, breast feeding, nappies, getting enough fresh air and transporting my gorgeous little girl around to as many baby groups as I could manage. I didn't allow my husband to drive on the dual carriageway with us in the car and she never left my side. Out and about I wore her in a sling and would get very protective and defensive over my little bundle on my front, especially of a stranger trying for a peek. At one point a lady in the hospital walked up to us and touched her tiny hand without asking. I smiled and was polite but inside I freaked. we were in a hospital, my head told me there could be all sorts wrong with this lady, what germs had she touched my child with!? I rushed to the nearest bathroom and began washing her little hands and mine. Hand washing and germphobia was a big part of my life, this was before coronavirus and I took hand gel with me everywhere I went, making sure I used it after everything I touched especially if it had been touched by anybody else.
I agonised over the smallest decisions like which food to feed her when she began weaning, which toys she should be having, which groups I was taking her to and was I depriving her of anything on the days I couldn't do as much due to my disability. Throughout this entire time I was convinced social services were about to sweep in and take her away from me. I had no reason to think this, she was not involved with social services, she was a loved and very well cared for child, the health visitor was very happy with us and yet I wouldn't let any health professionals take her out of my sight or even hold her for fear they would take her and I would be powerless to stop them. Even after all this I just accepted I was a bit "neurotic" and didn't realise I was struggling with anxiety.
Things came to a head when she began sleeping through the night. I should have been happy to get more sleep but I stopped sleeping unless I could see her. My husband bought me a video monitor so I could see her chest rising and falling and so I'd sleep, I'd wake up five times a night to check on her or at the slightest noise but over time that eased. During the day I would have intrusive thoughts about bad things happening to her and how I'd deal with them, they were like little horror movies playing out in my head. I was doing everything I thought of to be a good mother yet I was struggling to function through lack of sleep at night and plaguing nightmares by day. Despite all this I didn't feel depressed, I was fed up, tired and a nervous wreck but not depressed. I finally crumbled and told my husband "I need help!" The problem was I was convinced that as soon as I uttered the words "I think I need help with my mental health" to a GP, my child would be whisked away from me and I would be labelled an unfit mother. I couldn't have been more wrong.
I finally agreed to see a GP and she was awesome, she took me seriously and gently explained about post-natal anxiety, it's not spoken about as much as post-natal depression but can be just as debilitating. I was given some medication known to help with post natal anxiety and OCD and my health visitor referred me to Home-Start, a lovely charity which helps parents who may be struggling, they made sure I didn't feel isolated by sending someone to come and see me once a week, it was someone to ease the burden, someone to talk to and someone I trusted to lend a hand without judgement.
Slowly I got better, I had counselling and as she grew and I became less anxious I began to have less intrusive thoughts and was able to take a few steps back from been wonder - mum! Once I reached that point I realised I had put so much time and energy into been mum and trying to be perfect I had totally lost myself. I had pushed aside every aspect of myself, my own health, well-being, creativity and spirituality all to make more room to be mum. My entire day and every waking moment revolved around my daughter and there was no room for me, I had burnt out. There was no balance and it had not done my daughter or me any good. She needed me to be at my best so I could give her my best. I had forgotten the saying, as clichéd as it is: "you can't pour from an empty cup"!
Now my daughter is almost three, everyday I make sure I get some time for me, even if its five minutes for a coffee in the morning. I now make sure if there's something I want or need from the day I fit it in around meeting my daughters needs, I matter too and have my own needs and I'd forgotten that. It's not selfish to meet your own needs too. I now know there is no such thing as a perfect mum, as long as my daughter is loved and cared for she's happy and so am I, that all that matters.
Mental illness can happen to anyone and it can be hard to realise your unwell in the thick of it. Despite having a background in counselling psychology it took me a year to realise I needed help. If anyone resonates with my story I'd urge you to ask for help, even if it's just to tell a family member or partner that you're not coping. I feel if I had been around other mums who were going through or had been through the same thing as me I may have realised I needed help sooner and felt reassured about seeking that help, I also would have felt less isolated.