Recently someone I know told me that they had PND. This person is one of the strongest and most selfless people I know and all I could think when I heard this was that I wish there was something I could do to help her the way she helped me. However, the one universal truth of PND is that no two people’s experience is the same. Still it is important to have the discussion and I think that slowly we are getting better at acknowledging it and understanding the nature of this common experience of motherhood.
Still, for those who don’t understand either someone else’s experience or perhaps are having trouble coming to terms with their own, here is a little analogy that I found helpful.
(I am not a health professional. I am only commenting from my own perspective on my own experiences. If you are suffering from or think that you might be suffering from PND you should seek professional help.)
1. I fell over playing soccer and hurt my ankle and now it is very painful. I went through an incredibly traumatic experience known as having a baby and now my life has changed and I’m in pain.
Nobody wants to suffer from mental illness but the pain is real and just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean its not there. It is also not your fault if you suffer from PND. It doesn’t make you a bad mother any more than hurting your ankle makes you a bad soccer player. It is simply a misfortune that happens to some people sometimes. There might be extenuating factors like a wet soccer field or poor visibility (lack of support, a difficult pregnancy etc) but some people never hurt themselves playing sport and they are lucky, some people do.
2. I really really want to get back to playing soccer as quickly as possible but my ankle is injured and every time I try it hurts too much. I want to feel better but I don’t and it’s beyond my control.
Don’t expect to be able to ‘snap out of it’. If you can then that’s great but this is very rare. Like any pain, it takes time to heal. Wanting to feel better is often not enough. Imagine trying to ‘convince’ yourself your ankle is ok and just running on it straight away. You might injure yourself even more by ignoring the problem and pretending it doesn’t exist.
3. I need to do special exercise to help my ankle ligaments to heal and become stronger. It’s hard to find motivation but I need to do them every day to get better. I need therapeutic help to feel better such as counselling, exercise and support groups.
It might be really hard to take the first steps to recovery. Identifying that there is a problem and that it’s not your fault are important steps but giving yourself the time and space to take measures to help yourself are important. Maybe it feels impossible to leave the house but even just going outside once a day is progress. There are supports out there and its important to use them, even though you might feel like there is nothing that will work, you might as well try – there’s nothing to loose and everything to gain. No man is an island and all that. It sounds trite but it’s true.
4. My ankle hurts so I might need to take some pain relief. Medication might be helpful.
It’s not for everyone and should be a decision taken in close consultation with your GP and health professionals but if medication becomes necessary you are not a failure or a cop-out. Sometimes strength lies in knowing when you need a little help to get by. New motherhood is not a time when you have all the time in the world to focus on yourself. You are already required to give your all to someone else and that is hard enough. You don’t have to be a martyr. You just need to get by until you can get better.
5. One day I will be able to play soccer again but I might have to strap my ankle for a while. The journey takes time but it’s worth taking the time you need to heal.
Adjust your expectations. The chips are down for you and if you need some extra help that’s ok. If you are anxious about something and it’s important to you then it’s important. For example if you are worried about taking a long drive with a baby and would prefer to break it up over two days. Just do what you need to do. It’s not worth pushing through to ‘see how it goes’ you and your baby are not an experiment. If it’s something little then maybe its ok to test your boundaries but if it’s important to you, don’t feel bad to ask for what you need.
This is very general I know, but I hope its helpful to someone out there. PND doesn’t make you a bad mum. It doesn’t happen to anyone in particular for any rhyme or reason. Getting help doesn’t mean you aren’t tough. It’s the smart thing to do and helping yourself will help position you to be a better mother and partner and to get you where you want to be.
Please don’t suffer in silence. It’s too easy to pretend that everything is ok to seem like you’ve got it all together. In today’s society image is everything and we all want everyone to think it’s all dandy but by pretending we do each other a huge disservice. PND is a common side-effect of new motherhood. It happens to so many people and feeling like you have to hide it and suppress it is very dangerous. Depression is a serious illness and it requires treatment.
The day I took this photo I was sad. I was at the beach for the first time in nearly two years but I couldn’t go into the water because B was napping in the ergo and I couldn’t put him down. It was then that I saw that although things were tough right then, one day I would swim in the ocean again.
In the words of A.A. Milne, ‘You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.’
All my love,