The taboo surrounding post-natal depression has been all but smashed to pieces in the last 15 years or so. We’ve made very fast but long-awaited progress in a lot of areas of mental health, if not in treatment then at least in attitudes. It might not feel to sufferers like the stigma surrounding their condition has lifted but from the outside looking in we know there’s been huge growth in what we’re talking about, what we’re bringing to light and how we normalise conditions that were previously ‘other.’ I have very much felt like I’m back on the inside, recently, unable to connect with ‘normal’ and feeling totally and utterly other. But I don’t think that feeling has been entirely without reason, because we’re still not talking about antenatal depression.
This week has been a really, really tough one. I think it’s been the first week where my inability to cope has completely ruined Dan too. And when he breaks I break double. I’m not going to go into the nitty gritty of our home life and how miserable we’ve both been. But let’s just say that unhappiness has had the majority rule, and we’re usually a very cheery household.
Yesterday, however, we had a bit of breakthrough. We talked. And we’ve talked before, we’re not ones to repress. But yesterday we really talked, and it was brutal. The trouble with antenatal (much like post-natal) depression is that it comes with all these other knock-on emotions, as a result of the issue but also exacerbating it. At my lowest, recently, I feel worthless, completely demotivated and unable to care. I have sat for an hour or more, staring at the same spot, unaware of time passing because I don’t want anything. Not even the banality of nothingness can touch me, I am numb. Then there’s the sadness, which is possibly worse, a crippling undone feeling that I convince myself won’t ever go away because it feels so completely everything. I’ve had depression before, I recognise these feelings, but in that moment when I’m so engulfed in the black cloud, I don’t remember feeling better again. And then there’s the guilt, the shame and, worst of all, the self-hatred. Everything about being pregnant is new and surprising and alien, but nothing feels more alien to me than not being a nice person. I know I’ve been unkind recently. I am just not me at times. I’ve never been a jealous, resentful or bitter person, I’ve never coveted things or even felt like I’ve been dealt a raw deal. In fact most of the time I consider myself pretty lucky. Mentally I’ve just lost my way the past few weeks, and I don’t like this me; it isn’t me.
Although it is easy enough to say that’s just not me, I think an important part of mine and Dan’s breakthrough this week was being able to admit, This Is Me. This is who I am right now, it might not be pleasant and it might not be true to myself, but it’s what’s happening and it isn’t permanent. Never forget that this isn’t permanent – it’s so easy to forget that. So I told Dan the frightening and unreal thoughts I’d been having, in this here brain that isn’t me but really is me. I told him that I have felt unable to care about him at times, and sometimes felt like I simply don’t, or can’t love him. I’ve told him that I‘ve wanted to disappear and just not exist just to make it easier for him. I’ve told him about the times I delay coming home in the evening just to save him from being around me. I explained that I wanted him to suffer too, I resented him not having to change, physically and chemically to the extreme that I had and would. None of the feelings I’ve been experiencing are fair or just; and the guilt and shame of having those thoughts, and the constant fear that I won’t love my baby isn’t needed. I’m not doing this because I’m a bad person and I know I’m going to love my baby, I know that. Dan listened to me, and he told me how he’s been feeling, and that made me break with sadness, because I never, ever want to hurt him, but to be honest I’ve not been thinking about him.
More than anything he made it clear that he understands – and I don’t think he meant for a second that he knows what it’s like, he’s not pregnant and can’t be and it’d be gross if he pretended he’s got the first idea – but he made me feel totally normal for having what are, frankly, bat-shit thoughts. I know he’s been suffering too, I just didn’t want to think about it, or anything for that matter. We’re a week away from our 20 weeks scan and I truly believe this will be a turning point, but I am still going to talk to my midwife about counselling. I think it’s easy to ignore the extreme lows when you’re not in one, hoping that the last one was just that. Sadly it’s never that easy with mental health issues and I’m old enough and ugly enough to know better. I spoke to my midwife in my first appointment about feeling low and I feel confident about speaking up again. I am determined not to take this condition with me through the next 20 weeks and if I can get on top of it now I think I have a much better chance of dodging, or at least dealing with, post-natal depression.
Is anything helping?
Today I went for my third swim of the long weekend, and so gave in and bought myself swimming membership. It’s been so nice to be swimming again, I used to do a lot of training as a kid and have always found it incredibly comforting as well as being a good workout. It’s also a great place to be alone with your thoughts, free from any other distractions, even music or podcasts. Just the splashing of the other swimmers around you and occasional shrieks of kids in the training pool if you swim during the day! The ritualistic element helps me focus, and even the water itself feels very cleansing, you leave something behind in that pool. Metaphorically, I mean – I never pee in the pool. I would really recommend swimming for anyone who is finding their pregnancy difficult mentally. I fell out of love with the gym when I first fell pregnant, my hormones were too raging and my self-esteem was too low to be around other women all bendy and stretchy and looking like a bunch of goddesses out to humiliate me with their non-pregnant bodies. (Yes mental I know shut up.) Running is a bust because I can’t get further than a few metres without needing a piss and I already cycle for 90 minutes a day commuting so it doesn’t really feel like extra exercise. But swimming is my saviour and I will keep this cheap, healthy and meditative therapy up for as long as I can because I think it really is making a difference.
Being honest with people. And anyone who makes you feel like you can’t be needs to take a good, hard look at themselves. Talking is vital, it’s been really hard for me to do, I just want to be better and say no more about it, but you have to talk first and it has to be honest. Writing has also helped me a lot. I’ve never felt like I could write a blog, I wanted things I authored to be more profound and exceptional than what is essentially a bit of an online diary, but now I don’t care about being the next Margaret Atwood. I just want to vent a bit and hopefully help a few people along the way.
Just remember people aren’t talking about depression in pregnancy like they are PND, so you’re going to have to be brave and speak up if you’re suffering. I know I’m bigger and better than depression, but I know I’m only human and that’s why it’s been so important for me to admit I’m part of this. Until you own your role in your mental health, you can’t make it any better. So this is me.
Love and strength to you.