Picasso had a blue period. Women do not.

When I was 9, I awoke with a fright with a stomach ache akin to being kicked repeatedly in the gut with a thumping in my nether regions. I wandered into my mum and dads room crying with my mum assuming I was trying to get a day off school. I woke up that morning to see blood in my pants and went down to see my mum as she smoked her fag with the dog barking its head off. She announced I was a woman now and left me some pads the size of a metre long pencil case on the bed.

When I got my period I genuinely thought I was dying. Actual blood was coming from my front bottom and would do until I hit the menopause and to ensure I didn’t destroy everything in my midst, I was now to wear a cotton wedge in potato sack knickers for the next 40 years.

Most startling however, was that what was coming out of me was red? Bright red. Like actual blood. Which was most confusing because although blood is red when it comes out of the body everywhere else, when it comes out of the area hidden by our pants – the VULVA – then its blue. Like pen ink. Or mouthwash. Or wash liquid. It’s amazing that women’s bodies are so royal that when we bleed from where we wee and birth babies from, it’s such a majestic shade.

Except it isn’t – it’s actually red. And there is loads of it. Half an egg cup full my arse. For years we have seen adverts for sanitary products on TV where we see something that looks like washing up liquid poured over pads to show how effective they are. I have watched things on You Tube that test the absorbency of sanitary towels that bang on about how they used a liquid made out of corn-starch to match the consistency of period blood – but its bloody blue. Not bloody red.

WHY ????? Blood is red. It sometimes can have a lovely brown tone to it which is great for matching your autumn / winter outfits should you need to blend in but the general medical consensus is that red is its unique identifier.

The crimson tide is however, hopefully starting to change. There is a new advert for sanitary products that will show a woman in the shower with blood coming down her thigh  ( showers are so relaxing for women eh ) and most horror inducing of all, is that the sanitary towel will be shown absorbing a liquid which looks like the offensive fluid that is , cover your ears , blood.

Here are some people’s reactions to the advert. Note that someone comments blood down leg in the shower is a bit much. Lucky they don’t endure thisin reality isn’t it eh? https://youtu.be/oiQiFyTClbg

Blood is normal. We don’t see adverts for plasters with Stacey the teenager hurting her finger after being whacked with a hockey stick, with blue blood all over her arm do we? When Reg bangs his finger with a hammer, he isn’t covered in blue washing up liquid is he ? No – they are fashioned with a blood like substance to make it realistic. So why is blood more shameful when it comes out of a Vulva? Maybe it’s because we are all so scared of Vaginas and Vulvas because we can’t even say these words in public without someone shooting a glare at us and saying ‘don’t you mean your tinkle? ‘.

We live in a world where girls are brought up to think that using the correct terms for their genitals are dirty and naughty. ‘Mummy, my vulva hurts’ would be looked at in despair that translates to ‘don’t use that word ‘but if little Layla says ‘Mummy, my uppsy daisy hurts’ then she is carted off to the doctors. Tinkle, button, mini, la la, special area, cookie, girl bits, flower, foo-foo and nunu are all names given to the area in our pants which is fine and dandy but it’s the fact that the real words for it are hushed over and actually actively concealed. Much like the real colour of period blood in the public domain.

As an aside, nothing beats when I heard a woman referring to the vulva as a Cherry Bakewell. As a cake expert, I can advise that Cherry Bakewell is a tart made out of short crust pastry, jam and sprinkled with almonds. I have just checked and my vulva isn’t sprinkled with almonds, at least not today. I wonder if it should be served with a cherry on top?

When we watch medical dramas, much is done to make them as realistic as possible. As someone is wheeled into theatre having been fake crushed under a fake bus, there is ketchup coloured goo spurting out of them. The Daily Fail once wrote an entire article about the 375 gallons of fake blood used in the BBC medical drama Casualty. Do you know that there are 15 different types of fake blood used in Casualty including congealed, clotting scabbing and dried? You know, to ensure it’s realistic. For those of us blessed with the monthly menstruals, congealed and clotted blood is familiar to us but this is never shown on period adverts. Instead, thin bright blue easy pouring liquid is neatly dredged onto a sanitary towel with no clumps or drips anywhere. How I wish my period was like that instead of large spots of blood that have escaped onto my jeans.

I turn on the TV and I see guns being waved around. I walk into the kids toy department and see 987 different types of fake guns on shelves and I struggle with the fact that we don’t bat our lashes at depictions of things which cause such horror and destruction in the world but throw our tampons at the TV screen in horror if we see a mixture of vegetable oil and food colouring being used to portray a fluid that is present in all of our bodies. It’s simply not reality to show blood as blue.

My reality is bleeding a red river. My sanitary towels have at times helicoptered out of my pants, down my leg and fallen out and there is no way on earth I could skip around pound land in white hot pants and a crop top like the adverts show. When I get my period, I may as well have swallowed a bowling ball as my stomach grows to the size of a 2 yr. pregnant elephant. I adopt a wardrobe of black leggings and pants up to my elbows and lay on the sofa surrounded by raw cookie dough mix whilst feeling like I could throw a saucepan across the living room as the air I breathe is sending me into a rage. I find I have destroyed the mattress protector having leaked all over the bed even though I wore a sanitary towel the size of a window ledge in my pants and I come to the conclusion I should just stuff a pillow up myself for the next 2 weeks . There is no way I could perform the splits on the tube whilst rollerblading during a tap dance.

When I was 18, I was talking to my friend May in college about whether I should wear my leopard print bell bottoms when we went clubbing that night. As I stood up, I saw I had leaked right through my turquoise capri pants. I am aware that you may need to pick yourself off the floor with the thought that I was wearing turquoise trousers but my horror was that the white table I had been perched on had blood on it and anyone who walked behind me would either thing I had a terrible accident and needed taking to casualty or that they would be very aware that my sanitary towel had failed its one job and I was leaking everywhere. After a bit of remodelling and home surgery on my outfit, I emerged with a cardigan tied around my hips and my handbag attempting to start a new craze worn backwards.

My reality is the pad sticking to the side of my knickers so they don’t actually catch the blood,  the wings not winging and instead sticking to my leg, the pad riding halfway up my back as I have dared to walk more than three paces and my constant asking of my partner to check if I have leaked. Some peoples reality on their period is that they can slice a backhand on the tennis court whilst clad in a g-string so the adverts appeal to them but the one way in which we are all joined is that our blood is red. As much as I would love it to be royal blue, being the queen that I am, our blood is red.

I sometimes look at adverts depicting women and think, why is that woman shaving her legs when they already have no hair on them? If I don’t shave my legs at least 3 times a week, I can make an intricate French plait of the regrowth. Leave it more than a few days, and a normal razor won’t cut it and the forestry commission’s industrial grade lawn mower is needed.  I would buy the razor on the advert that shows it cutting through a forest on a set of legs that also has some stretch marks thrown in for good measure. As getting a razor over those blue streaks aint easy.  When we see an advert for men shaving their bards off, we don’t see Fabio the muscle bound hunk shaving an already smooth chin do we? No, we see him shaving a beard off and then looking delighted with himself.  Why is that woman dying her roots blond when they are already blond? Why is that woman drinking a milkshake to lose weight when she clearly already only exists on a gust of wind and a glass of air? Why aren’t women depicted in a normal way?

I read that in 201, Kotex was told it couldn’t use the word vagina in its adverts. It seems that anything that is below belly button level and above knee level is hush hush and doesn’t really exist people. Someone wrote on twitter that they didn’t agree with the advert saying we all know that sanitary products are used for, we don’t need visuals thank you very much. We all know what noses are used for – to smell- but we don’t insist people walk around with their hands over their face do we? What is wrong with showing blood as red, wee as yellow and shit as shit coloured?

Having a blue liquid poured onto the pad just adds to the idea that periods are secret and shameful when they actually a massive normal part of everyday life for women. Quite why there has to be a veil of secrecy over what they are or how they look baffles me. I remember when Steffi Graf had to run off from the Wimbledon court in the late 80s or early 90s. My dad picked up his lamb chop and said she probably on her period and bit into it. I emerged from that incident not even a jot traumatised – hearing the word period didn’t balls me up.

Its 2017 and the world is full of horror and people will say in the grand scheme of things, maybe this is something that isn’t that important. But it’s a small part of the much bigger subject that contributes to the stigma of periods. We have to remember there are places in the world where girls have no pants or sanitary towels and they feel ashamed for bleeding and there is a bigger conversation to follow on from this to be had about that and ensuring girls and women get access to sanitary products, which are deemed in the UK, as luxury items for tax purposes. I wrote this last year about said luxury items –https://smalltimemum1.wordpress.com/2015/10/30/i-so-look-forward-to-that-week-long-period-every-month-when-i-get-to-wander-around-with-a-luxury-item-in-my-pants/ .

Picasso had a blue period. Women do not. There is a school of thought that Picasso based that period in his art on his girlfriend’s unoxygenated menstrual blood and if that was the case , then bravo to Picasso for using reality as a basis for his subject. But most peoples reality is that blood is red and I doubt showing this on a TV advert is going to stop the world from turning or destroy the eyes of the young staring at the TV.

Red is not always for danger.

If you fancy reading more about this, my lovely mate Alison has written a blinding post over on The Motherload which is here – https://the-motherload.co.uk/whoooaaa-bodyform-well-bloody-done/ . Take a bloody look x



I wanted to close my eyes forever but I deserved for them to stay open.

Trigger warning – mention of suicide.

It’s World Suicide Prevention Day.

I never thought I’d know what it felt like to want to die. To feel like breathing and living was the hardest thing in the world. To feel so trapped in my own mind, a mind that once belonged to me, now scaring me into despair. To feel afraid of being alive for a single second longer.

But seven years ago, this feeling hit me. It consumed me. Death seemed to be the only way out of terror of my thoughts. I couldn’t see properly, I couldn’t dress myself, I couldn’t read or write. And I thought I couldn’t stay alive.

Having a baby was supposed to be the making of me. I never thought that within a few hours of becoming a mother, I would experience my first symptoms of psychosis. I had heard that women could feel sad after giving birth for a few days and a few weeks. I had heard of postnatal depression but I hadn’t heard of what was happening to me. When I looked at my baby in the cot by my bed, I didn’t feel a pang of love. Instead, I felt trapped by his presence. Within a few hours of his birth I honestly could feel my mind disintegrating and a wave of fear I had never felt before came over me like a doomwatch. My eyes started the flick back and forth and my body temperature rose. I started breathing heavily and found myself drawn to looking at the windows. Without any force from me, my mind started to try and hatch an escape plan from the hospital- how could I get out and away from the baby? And even more terrifyingly, away from my new life, away from this world. A world that 5 hours before, with my pregnancy belly , I was elated and excited to be a part of.

3 days after having my son, I started experiencing hallucinations. The fear of being trapped forever in this life consumed my every waking moment. I struggled to eat, I could barely speak, I had forgotten how to get dressed. I felt myself float from the sofa to the corner of the room and look down on myself and I was convinced the duvet cover was dancing.

As my mind realized escaping this world wouldn’t be easy, I looked to the sky for answers. If only I could get to the clouds and unzip them I thought. Then I could get to space and be free wouldn’t I? But I wouldn’t be because I would still exist. Where would I go after space? I realized there was no escape and that I was trapped, locked in a life I felt too scared to breathe in. This feeling was the most single most terrifying feeling I have ever ever ever felt.

These feelings lasted untreated for six weeks. My life was a blur with a baby. I ran out of the house naked, I clung to my husbands feet to ensure he never left me and I felt smothered by the air around me. I thought the houses on the street were moving back and forth and I was utterly tortured by fear of being near my own baby on my own. I shook with nerves. I shook with fear. This baby was here forever now and in my mind, I was going to feel like this forever.

Unless I found a way out.

I said I wanted the baby adopted. I hatched what I thought were master plans to get our life back without it. My dear sweet husband was banging on the doors of every doctor , nurse and hospital to get me help while I made endless manic lists of my thoughts whilst screaming for the pain to be taken away.

But my mind could only take so much. Six weeks of terror, hallucinations and fear culminated in a massive meltdown at 3am one night. A visit to an out of hours doctor , after being dressed by my husband ended when she asked me if I had planned my own death. Of course I hadn’t and I will tell you why – I was so confused at that point, I barely knew my own name. I thought the baby had been sent to test me, I was scared to go to the toilet, I couldn’t remember how to do a wee. I was scared of noise, of air, of breathing. I was so scared of living , that my brain could not think of anything else.

She said if I hadn’t planned my suicide, I was considered low risk and to go home. Astounded, my husband didn’t accept this. He wanted his wife back. He wanted me back for us , for our baby, for our life. Seeing me like this wasn’t just hard for him though and everyone else but mostly, it was horrific for me. I was in an absolutely desperate desperate state and he could see that. He knew how much I wanted to not feel like that for one second more.

The next morning I woke up and declared I wanted to die. That this was my last day and that I could take no more. That morning I walked into the bathroom thinking it has to end there ,with my husband banging on the door desperately trying to coax me out. That was the day I felt like I wanted to die and my pain would be over.

I wanted to close my eyes and stay asleep.

But I didn’t die that day. Two hours after being in the bathroom, I was hospitalized in a psychiatric mother and baby unit. I had screamed until my mouth bled before my admission and was convinced I could smell burning flesh as I walked to the ward. But walking through those doors gave me a wave of hope.

It was warm. The nurses were kind and calm. I was spoken to gently and with care and my baby, the baby I feared, was in the unit with me. I got a diagnosis – postpartum psychosis and I started medication. The walls slowly stopped moving, the fear slowly started to fall away. Slowly slowly, I dreamt less of being away from the world and more and more, wanted to work to stay in it.

It took a week of a nurse being on duty outside my room 24 hours a day, for me to be able to close the door and be on my room with my baby on my own without feeling utter terror. It was a tiny step but the most significant turning point in my illness. And in my recovery.

And recover I did. I never ever thought I would feel like me ever again. To be so deep in fear that you forget what life can be like is awful but it does get better. I promise. It may take time but you will be okay.

With the help of my husband, my little boy,doctors, medication, therapy, a stint in the psychiatric unit and working to recover ,I’m here . And I’m alive. And I am so thankful. Because I deserve to be here .

Be kind ,be calm, be nice to someone you know is suffering. Open your ears and arms to someone you think may be in fear. Listen to that person in you don’t know who just needs a friendly hand. And that can be anyone’s hand.

If you are experiencing feelings that are making you feel that you can’t take anymore, go to casualty. Call 999. Go to your doctor. Call a crisis team. Call the Samaritans on 116 123 and tell your thoughts. You deserve to be here. Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful and you are worth it.

You are worth being alive xx

The NHS pages on suicide contain useful information and signpost to help and support. They are here. Please read them xx
http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Suicide/Pages/Getting-help.aspx .

My balls ache. And I didn’t even realise I had them.

You often hear the as old as a leather headbag line when someone says they haven’t been well … shhhhhh ‘mentally’. You get “ Oh but you look great, you would never know.” Or “Oh but I saw you liked Kim Kardashians latest instagram post. If you were that ill you couldn’t do that”. The last few months I have been well aware of the public face of all is well in my world of Eve. In reality it hasn’t – I’ve been off work since the end of april with stress. The reasons for my stress have been difficult and it’s something I will be keeping to myself. Because in the end, for me, it’s the effect of the stress that I’ve been working to deal with that is my priority now. So so much more has happened , but some things will remain mine to know about.

Having had psychosis and anxiety , I thought stress for me would be a lesser known cousin that I could destroy with my she-ra mental health powers. How wrong was I . Stress is a total and utter ballache that hurts so bad , I wanted to cut the balls off. Except I don’t have them. I had to find balls I didn’t own even though it felt like a million of them were flying at my face. And stress while having to carry on like all is well, means the balls hit you in the face and knock you over when you least expect it.

I found myself turning into a coping robot – my child was delivered and collected from school each day. My dear  friends Leena and Nellie acted as on call babysitters for my dear child when I needed to visit the doctors but I showered , dressed, wore my best fringed ankle cowboy boots and even re-applied my crystal finished acrylic nails. Nellie held my hand as i sobbed hysterically about life and was my shoulder to lean on throughout.  I collected Joe everyday with a bright smile and regales of ‘” Ooohhh look at your amazing picture of people falling out of an RAF plane and the swat officers running underneath them. What’s that ? An assassin you say ? Oh how cute and marvellous Joe. Here is an ice lolly”. I bought packets of spiralized butternut squash to continue on my quest for supermodel thighs and phoned the mothership every two nights and duly listened to her moan at me for not sending a birthday card to the lady who lives 8 houses down in another country and why can’t you just write all the birthdays down Evelyn ? I sent flowers on obligatory days and answered all the requests that came through to me. While I was doing the UK Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week.

And then I would close the bathroom door. I would turn on the shower and I would cry. I cried so hard one day I put my fingers through my hair and as they left it I realised I was holding a clump of it in my hand. My hair was falling out. Having been blessed with an already ample forehead akin to the side of a mountain,this was somewhat disastrous and does nothing for what I still assume is my lost modelling career. Ponytails were now a total non option on the school run. I lost some of my hair when I had Postpartum Psychosis and had to live with a fringe that grew upwards upon the hairs return and I looked like something you would want to pinch the cheeks off and give a lollipop to. I sat in the bath one day in my clothes with the shower falling down on me for over an hour and wondered if and when the feeling would wash away.

I then got my period. Thanks for the extra info Eve I hear you say. And you’re not special as we all get them. But then I got another period .And then 2 more. The doctor sent me to blood test after blood test and I weed on a fair few sticks but it seems my body just went totally haywire and had a technical fault . I felt like I did when I was 9 and got my first period. 9. Yes , 9.Life has been a complete barrel of drunk laughs for me from birth. When I hit puberty, it was as though my thighs had been spread with a mixture of butter and cottage cheese, got four boobs as what puberty hit girl knows about bra measurement and wrote swimming in PE and white trousers off until eternity. I also felt murderous to anything that wasn’t made out of sugar for the next 27 years.

Back in the stress diagnosis on 2017, I found myself staying up until 3am as going to sleep was hard knowing I would wake up wired, but a stressed wire where I had to function on a basic level. Hello Mr Checkout man in sainsburys. Yes Joe is still collecting the lego cards. Oh how kind , 35 packets because you like him, wonderful. Hello son, please can you not lay on the floor of the cornershop because they have run out of rump steak. I know mummy feeds you the food of a king but for once, lets accept the organic cows ares still in the field.

To have a stress filled situation in my life that I have no control over has honestly felt like I have been drowning at times. I went through 3 weeks of fainting which terrified Joe and John. After one such incident, John picked me up off the lego helicopter I had collapsed on and spoke to me gently when I came around. “ Are you okay baby” he asked. I opened my mouth to respond but realised I couldn’t . For around 15 minutes , I wasn’t able to form words. Joe was laughing and then became scared – “Daddy, what wrong with mama. Why mummy making funny sounds, make it stop daddy”. I can remember trying to say what’s wrong and feeling very confused why I couldn’t . I had tears going down my face but couldn’t express my upset verbally – John cuddled me until it passed but it was utterly terrifying.

And food. Food decided it didn’t like being digested.  My body was rejecting everything i was eating which resulted in a half a stone lighter me. Usually, this would be grounds for a fist pump but not at the moment. I have to sit for 30 minutes after each meal to allow for my dinner to stay put and not have a punch up with my stomach acid. That stomach acid made cuts at the side of my mouth – if you attempt to cover these with make up, you look like you’ve orally caressed your toothpaste and its dried out. Lovely.

The GP said my body was shutting down. The hair loss, the bleeding, the constant fainting, the no thank you to my lunches- it was saying I needed to rest, to burst all the balls. And so I did. I stopped everything . I got signed off. I stopped it all and that’s what I needed to do. I’ve spent 2 months recouping and focusing on the importance of recovery and self care. I’ve spent 2 months reclaiming Eve . To the naked eye , I always have been. If I hadn’t been off work, no one would know something hasn’t been right. I wasn’t covering it up – I still want to wear make up and false nails but the make up has helped with the terrible black eye bags.

And I am still Eve. I can still drink 87 glasses of wine and butterfly across the dance floor while shouting about how school attendance awards are a total ball ache whilst googling ‘how come I didn’t realise I dropped a stapler in my bra’. That doesn’t go. But that doesn’t mean someone isn’t ill. I have spent 2 months cancelling dinners with friends. My beautiful friend Sarah came over from Australia and I was due to meet up with her and all my uni girlfriends for dinner and I just couldn’t go. They would have all hugged me and been super supportive ( and have been) but my head wasn’t in the place to do it. I’ve ignored my phone , voicemails and social media until around 3 weeks ago when I felt like I was ready to step a little back into the world I lived in before.

I turned my laptop on for work last week. The first time in just over 2 months. I’m on a phased return and I have missed work enormously. I like going in and eating all the biscuits and toddling around in my pink high heels whilst doing very important work type things. I sit at my desk and yell out helppppp like a 3 yr old when my excel spreadsheet isn’t letting me type in capitals. Some nice poor soul comes over and presses caps lock for me. I could play skittles with the diet coke cans all over my desk and I have 7 pairs of shoes hiding in my drawer that I may have bought on the joint account. Thank you royal bank of husband. You haven’t seen the shoes but they are nice and will remain living at work. My best friend now works in the team and its all a jolly good hoot. And work have been so unbelievably supportive during this time , I will personally buy them all a luxury holiday upon my return. If I ever become a millionaire. They may have to settle for a bag of mini eggs and some bakewell tarts.

They have heard me cry, yell and act in despair and cuddled me both virtually and in person. A few little messages here and there but no pressure to respond and that’s what I needed. My brain was so consumed with the stress in front of me that I couldn’t and still occasionally at times cant respond. My lovely manager calls me each week and if I didn’t answer it was okay. Everything was okay.

I feel incredibly thankful to my team for picking up my work with I literally just walked out on and I haven’t been able to answer any questions about how or why to do things. And so with the tiny amount of work I am doing to reintroduce myself back into my normal world, I am enjoying it. I of course wanted to dive straight back in in a dazzling swimsuit and glitterball earrings but the doc has told me to calm my self down. Though it may feel like I can take great strides, small steps are the name of the game at the moment.

These last couple of months have reminded me both how fragile the mind can be but also how strong it is also and how things do get better and they do get back to the normal you know. With the help of the lovely Dr Stephanie, my own GP , my therapist Rosie , all the happy pills, John , Joe and my friends, things are slipping back into place. I have been to the pub. I like looking at johns nice big strong back.I’ve sworn at the train track clogging up the house. I went for a curry. I had some long island ice teas. Just not everyday.

I also found out I had been awarded a British Empire Medal in the Queens Birthday Honours for Services to Mental Health. I am so grateful to whoever nominated me – it’s such a kind thing to do and I truly love supporting people , particularly mums, with their mental health. I felt happy, nervous, a little panicked when I was then asked to do a press conference as one of the 6 people chosen to reflect this years recipients.

The week before, I had been exhausted and then week of the press conference , I was choosing a pretty dress with flute sleeves to wear . I then went to Kensington Palace and sat in a press conference and spoke about my work. I sat next to Doreen, a pearly queen who has done so much charity work, she could write a book longer than the phone directory. I want to be Doreen when I grow up because she is ace – she told of her colourful and selfless life, with all its ups and downs, while sat there looking amazing in her button covered outfit.

The picture attached to this blog shows the difference in my face from one situation to the next. While I was in my pretty flute dress, I was still unwell. I just didn’t ‘look’ like people think you should look. Whereas the other photo of me looking utterly horrific was when I had just had a meltdown over not being able to collapse a scooter while on hold to Boots the Chemist , while ordering Joe a lamb shish having had 3 hours of broken stress filled sleep. I then had to load the boy, the bloody scooter and the kebab into a cab to take Joe to football practice. When we got there , I kicked the scooter, threw it on the grass and collapsed on Leena and asked her to take over everything. She dutifully handed me a diet coke, sat with me for the hour and loaded me , Joe and the scooter in her car and delivered us home so my brain didn’t have to attempt to work out how to do all that myself.

Being so aware of my mental health means as soon as I saw the signs, I took a step back. I knew it was no time to be brave trekking into work everyday . For the first time maybe ever , I told people I couldn’t do certain things and its only when I stopped I realised how bloody bananas life can be at times.

Life now is racing towards marvelous again but it may be a little while before normal service resumes completely and that’s okay as it will happen. Sometimes, it may look like something is all glittery when actually it isn’t all gold. What you see on the outside might not be an entirely accurate portrayal of how things are underneath . But I guess what I have also realised is that in the face of stressville, I still exist. I can still be me. And emerging from this, I think I have learnt more about myself than all those other encounters . I’ve definitely learnt that scooters are the worst invention of all time and don’t respond to being kicked repeatedly.

Maybe that I need a vajazzle . Just to seal the stay away.

The life and times of a knicker frown and how it’s not easy to turn upside down.

IMG_0383Its mental health awareness week and the theme is survive or thrive. For a long time I have thrived. For a long time I barely survived. I thought I was taking a nose dive but I came through giving everyone high fives.
For a long time I talked about recovery from my maternal mental illness. Postpartum Psychosis stole my mind, my breath, my clothes ( I went through a stage of ripping them of in wild abandon) and almost my life. I spent 6 weeks after the birth of my son consumed by such fear and terror, that the only way out I could see was to not be alive anymore. The feelings I experienced made me feel trapped in everything- shut doors, closed windows, zipped up coats, the steam in the bathroom after a shower – all signified me not being able to breathe. I would dream of escaping the house to feel free and when I did , I still felt smothered by the air. The clouds showed me I was trapped in the world and I wanted to cut through them and float away. Away from the pain of feeling so frightened of my own mind. I felt betrayed by nature and wondered why my own thoughts were playing such evil tricks on me. Why was it telling me I was scared of my baby? Why was it giving me visions of being buried alive ? Why did it seem intent on destroying me, my family and my life?
But recover I did. Medication, a nice extended break in the psychiatric mother and baby unit, 87 hours of 3 different types of therapy, meditation with practical mindfulness books on the bus, books on how to handle becoming a mother in the loo so I could learn about my mind whilst doing a wee and booby feeding my then toddling child and the healing nature of time allowed my mind to return. It took around 3 years to feel like me again. I looked like me , if 2 stone heavier, I drank gin like I had used to ,I could dance to my ragga ragga ragga mix tapes like I had pre child and finally , my mind was thinking and feeling almost like I had before.
I was recovered from the psychotic episode that had affected my life so terribly when my son was born. But I didn’t emerge fresh as a daisy – I emerged with battle scars and a little rough around the edges. I no longer wanted to fill the garden with endless juice extractors or thought my mouth was covered in cling film but I did feel a little scared of life. I felt pants of panic in my chest I never experienced 3 years previously. My hands had a slight tremor like I previously thought only affected my mum because she was old. My right shoulder developed an almost unstoppable twitch that people would stare at in work while I spoke to them and would occasionally say ” are you cold Eve as your arm is jumping? ” and my mother would insist I see the doctor on a daily basis as she was “concerned about that twitch because surely everyone is looking at it” . My scalp itched and flaked with my new friend psoriasis and I would twist my eyebrow hairs with my fingers.

In 2013, I was formally diagnosed with PTSD as a result of my psychosis. The flashbacks to my illness and the effect it had had on my life was becoming a total ball ache as everyone around me had to adjust how they lived their life to suit my fears  – I couldn’t go in lifts so would happily walk up 9 flights of stairs to get to a ministerial meeting in work and find myself arriving after everyone else. I would walk in in my 6 inch stilettos, my pink fluffy pen, a receipt to write notes on as I forgot my note pad and my lipstick in hand , panting like a dog on heat with sweaty boobs.I couldn’t sit in cars that didn’t have doors at the back meaning I would plonk myself in the front seat of people’s cars and pissing off someone’s wife or husband. I couldn’t sit on planes or buses unless I was in an aisle seat. Getting on a cheap airline flight turned into a bartering game as I attempted to negotiate moving seats with a plastic spoon wielding two year old. I couldn’t get the tube from certain stations with my pram as I didn’t want to get in the elevator . I couldn’t go to the toilet on trains or in shops as I didn’t want to lock the doors in case I got trapped. My son became a well practiced 3 year old ninja , who would do his wee first and then stand against the door with our shopping bags aspiring as a barrier so no one would walk in . If they attempted to , he would yell” wee alert going on in here and you don’t wanna see that lady” if anyone attempted to push the door.

EMDR followed. I followed my therapists finger around the room to regress to my traumatic thoughts and worked hard to remove and replace them. It worked. I found myself (almost) free of the trappings of feeling trapped and on with my life I could go.

Kind off. Diagnosis number 3 was for Generalised Anxiety Disorder. I had become used to catastrophising about everything in life. My chest had become over familiar to thumping like a rogue finger in a DJ booth and panic attacks became such a normal part of my life that I could have put them down in the occupation box on a form.

Over the last 3/4 years, I have worked reallllllllly hard to handle my anxiety and most days , I feel like the Eve I was before 2010. I am medicated and will always be so to keep my mind in this place because I recognize this place and like it.  But a few times a year , I turn into doomwatch and a cloud of anxiety comes over me that scares me , as it feels like it will never go.

When those times hit, I feel like I cry a river of tears whenever a door is closed. My forehead buries itself into the towels in the bathroom, my back burns as I slide down the wall. The worry and panic that I experience tell me that I will always feel like this and the feeling that this will never ever go whizzes around me and wraps me up like metaphorical Egyptian mummy. The are moments where it feels okay – I wake up and don’t have the pounding in my chest. I find Johns feet with mine and wrap them around them to feel safe. I snuggle into my little boys squishy little arms that are all warm and his sweaty hair and feel like it’s all okay, that I am loved. But then in the day at some point, it seems like all hope is lost. Like the really is no way out. The mood is up and down like a broken knickerband and as much as I keep pulling my pants up, they fall down again. But I won’t allow my pants to come completely off,as if they come off, they have won. The pants need to stay on. They may roll down occasionally but I will pull them back up. They might get to my knees or my ankles but there is no way they are ending up off. I won’t let that happen . I won’t let anxiety win.

Today I feel like I am surviving and thriving. My pants are firmly on and up but I won’t lie – they are rolling down a little at certain points in the day. I cuddle John , I snuggle Joe, I spend on hour in the cross trainer staring at Dr Pimple Popper on You Tube, I do what I can to get me through the day.

My mind at times may wander but I know that I’m okay. My pants are pink with a bow on and they aren’t going anywhere . Even if I have to wear them over my tights or leggings to stop them rolling , I will do it.

Like an anxious superhero.

The chronicles of 19865788 Lego blocks while not wearing socks.

In three days, it’s my sons 7th birthday. My baby is no longer that and last night , as I looked at him in bed , with his superman pants sticking out of the bed covers, football socks pulled up to his knees, and handmade reward signs for “bad man wanted , dead or aliv” stuck all over the house, I cried. John came over to me and said he is lovely isnt he ? I said he is, and he wiped a tear from my face. Well , it was more than a tear- a monsoon was gushing out of my tear ducts and I was a blubbering mess. As I felt the salty drops , I said to John “ where has the time gone ?”. So much has happened baby , I never thought we would be here . I never ever thought I could feel such a burst of love for him” and my long suffering pretend hubby said , but here you are Eve , you and your boy , the dream team.

And here we are indeed. Joe’s birthday doesn’t just signify his birth. It signifies me becoming a mummy, John becoming a daddy and also makes me remember that seven years ago, after giving birth , my mind descended into a whirling deep pit of the hell that is Postpartum Psychosis . Seven years on, it reminds me that I am here , I recovered , I survived , I am alive and I am happy. Happy to be Joe’s mummy .

I wanted to write this blog to show my boy I always loved him , even during a time when I could barely remember my own name , I couldn’t remember how to wash myself and when I was lost in a rambling head of confused thoughts. I want him to be able to read it when he is older and know how much he means to me and our family but also to show other mums who may be unwell now , that they will get better and their relationship with their child will be okay . More than okay – it will flourish.

Joe watched when I received a Speaking Out Award from the charity Mind in November . I , alongside my dear friend Kathryn , had worked with the BBC and Mind on a storyline about Postpartum Psychosis on the soap Eastenders and were essentially the experts by experience. Mind and the BBC did a marvellous job of accurately portraying the illness and raising awareness and one of the overriding themes of the storyline was of how much the mum affected , Stacey, loved her baby. It was so important to show this and the charity Action on Postpartum Psychosis stress that as serious as the symptoms of the illness are , they in no way mean the sufferer is evil or doesn’t love her child. In no way at all.

Kathryn and I were very lucky to be presented the award , which was a thank for us speaking out about our experiences which informed the storyline . I had told Joe that mummy and daddy were going to an award show ,that mummy would be getting an award and explained to the in laws how to use the modern invention that is the IPad so Joe could watch the live feed. When we got home at 1am, me shoeless but most definitely not wineless , eating a lamb shish with extra garlic chilli sauce and a naan bread hanging out of my mouth, my mother in-law emerged from the lounge and said that they didn’t know I was getting an award but said that Joe sat there for 2 and a half hours staring at the iPad waiting for mummy. As it got to the end , she had said to Joe that she didn’t think he would be seeing mummy and Joe shouted ‘I will. My mummy said she is getting an award and my mummy doesn’t lie to me” and he plonked himself on the floor again and stared at the screen once more. I then did indeed get it , and my mother in law says she looked at Joe, my beautiful little pocket rocket, who has mastered the art of swearing in a non – offensive way ” Mummy – Donald trump is a right ‘ucker isn’t he” and he had tears running down his face. When he woke up in the morning he said ‘Mummy, I so proud of you – you said my name in your speech!’.

He then asked where his award was , when is he going to look around the EastEnders set and why he can’t drink children’s wine to celebrate . Six hours later , after a trip to the trophy shop, I presented him with his own award and he did a thank you speech for us in the living room while dressed up as his self-invented super-hero pants man ( think 18 pairs of pants tucked into another pair of pants , socks on hands , pair of pants on head) .

He then said he needed to talk to me. He kissed my head , asked if I would play shops with him and then said , mummy, when you collected your award last night , why did you say when you gave birth to me , that you were scared of me ? He looked at me and said , I’m not scary mama and my heart stopped a beat. Joe has always known what happened to me and what happened to us when he was born. He knows mummy had a poorly head that made her think things that weren’t really happening , he knows that mummy was a bit muddled up when she thought about things and she needed the doctors to help make her better and he knows that me and him lived in a psychiatric mother and baby unit so I could recover in a safe warm place . We visit the mother and baby unit and go to the bedroom we lived in while we was there. Joe jumps up and down in the cot he was in and helps himself to the biscuits the nurses hand out he knows the mums who are there have poorly heads but that they are there to get better. But what he didn’t know is that I was scared of him.

I have never been one to shy away from telling Joe stuff. I am the parent who explained where babies came from when he was three – ‘What , daddy put his willy into your vangina ???? and the sperm fish raced to the wombs and broke through ? do I have sperm fish? “

We are the family that explained what body parts are which brought about the following encounter one hazy night at 11pm while I was on the sofa in johns tracksuit bottoms , drinking Buck’s Fizz from the bottle. I think it was a Tuesday- totally rock and roll…

‘Mummy , I can’t sleep.

Cue me throwing the bag of chocolate behind the sofa and sympathetically asking why darling ?

“ it’s just that I need to tell you the right word for the vangina . it’s not a vangina or a front bumper. It’s a vulva. Can you say vulva mummy ? you have it so you should be able to.

Vulva darling. I can say it. Thank you for telling me .

No worries mummy, I thought you should know. It’s not a front bumper. We don’t say that”

And off he toddled.

And then there was the epic time we explained how people can love who they want :

“Mummy, why is daddy’s friend kissing that other man on the lips in a movie star kiss like you and daddy ?

Because they love each other like mummy and daddy do. Anyone can love anyone. Boys can love girls, girls can love girls. Girls can love boys , boys can love boys. Anyone can love anyone. And if anyone says they can’t they are idiots okay ?

Are they dicks mummy , the people who think it’s wrong ? Shall we call them the dicks ?

Yes my love, they are the dicks” .

And after allowing him to self-parent and decorate the toilet seat in toothpaste while I spent half an hour attempting to prise my acrylic nails off, he came up to me and said , mummy see that man Bruce on the TV screen ? See him ? He is not Bruce anymore- he is Caitlin. He wanted to be a lady and is now one , so we don’t call her Bruce. She is a her.  She is happy now and isn’t that good mummy?

I was so proud of my boy , so open , so kind to others, so accepting in a world where a man with orange foundation and three mismatched hairpieces has become the leader of the free world. A man who can’t even run his own twitter account is running the most powerful country on earth. But I digress…..

I have always been open with Joe. I want him to know about everything so he grows up being accepting and being aware of himself, his body and be respectful to others who love their differently to us. We have told him what happened to us when he was born so he understands why mummy had to zoom up and down to Nottingham on a train for therapy , so he understands why mummy took 87 pills before bed, so he understands why mummy needs some space sometimes. But I hadn’t prepared myself for him hearing I was scared of him.

I was never scared of you Joe. You with the little sweaty feet, the lovely squishy arms, the cute punky hair. You were and are the most beaut child I had ever seen. I was scared of the thoughts in my head. No one knows quite why but when I gave birth, something happened to my head. It was like someone pulled out bits of my brain , put them in back in with a load of lego blocks and mixed them around like a bowl on Bake Off. I lost the instruction manual to my brain and couldn’t rebuild myself. My head got confused and starting thinking things it didn’t want to – it was like when we were building the Lego millennium falcon- we were putting the pieces together and it got so confusing – so many bags of stuff and we didn’t know where all the bits went and it took 12 hours to build it properly. My brain was a melting pot of mismatched Lego bricks that I kept standing on without socks and hurting myself. I struggled to build my brain back again but I eventually did – and with your help. Hopefull, it won’t break again .Sometimes , some blocks come off and mummy thinks oh ‘ucking hell, why can’t I glue this together forever, but I manage to get the pieces back to where they belong super quick because I know where they should be. Sometimes the doctor, daddy and you help me to put the blocks back in place as well.

So it’s wasn’t you I was scared of– I was scared of my thoughts. I felt like I wouldn’t be a good mummy and when I realised I was to be a mummy forever, this scared me . You know when mummy says she thinks she wants a new job as the one she is in is doing her head in ? Its like that – but I realised my job as a mummy was forever and I was so confused that I couldn’t change this job if I didn’t like it. But I knew I wanted to like to – I had wanted you for so long . I then realized it wasn’t a job, it was my purpose. I am here to be your mummy.

As you get older , you will see and read things about how unwell I was and you may thing , erm , mother , why did you climb out of the window adorned in blue eye shadow while muttering that the clouds were trapping you and why the dickens did you run past Mr Patel’s house with no clothes on and bite daddy’s ankles so he wouldn’t leave the house ? I am aware that your teenage self in a few years will be embarrassed by me and will ignore everything i say even more than you do now but I promise I will try to not run past Mr Patel without my pants again. I would have preferred to not have done this the first time but I can’t change the past. That’s why the woman across the road has her net curtain permanently hitched up day and night – I think she doesn’t want to miss it , should I ever do a repeat performance.

As mummy’s friend Beth says , motherhood has truly been the making of me , but in a way I never expected. I never thought I would give birth and start crawling around the floor convinced I was being buried alive . I never thought I would be asleep in a bed , filled to my gills with anti psychotics In a mother and baby unit . I never thought I would shake when I saw you .But I did , those things happened , but so did my recovery.

I wanted to recover for you. And we must always remember daddy says – even when I was unwell , so unwell, I loved you. I cared for you, I fed you, I begged for help so I could enjoy you , so I could cuddle you. At times I may not have known who or what I was , but I yearned for you. I remember on my discharge from the unit, holding you in my arms , I knew I was getting better. When we entered the unit , I couldn’t close the door and be in a room on my own with you but just a week later , I did just that. It was the biggest turning point in my illness and gave us the first glimmer of hope I then understood.

A few months later , I would travel to Nottingham twice a week with you in a sling on a train – me and you , together. I would go the therapy and I remember calling granddad builder and crying saying daddy, I am getting there , I am getting better and he said , you are hen , you are and its beautiful , me and your man love you . And we don’t just love you , we adore you.

A year later , I went back to work. I had two days off a week with you and spent those days taking you to clappy sing song baby groups. I never knew I would grow to love singing the wheels on the bus 87 times a week but I did . I would count down until my days off with you so we could hang out . Blobs of play dough with raw spaghetti made by your little hands were spaceships and they still and always will take pride of place on the shelves in the lounge.

Seven years on , I could literally inhale you. You have grown from a beautiful baby to the most wonderful independent , caring child. You won your class school council election with a manifesto saying ‘ I think I should be a school councillor because I am a very nice person’ and my love, you are .You give your sandwiches to the homeless man on the street , you waved a placard around at a breastfeeding in public rally and told a newspaper photographer he was rude , you throw lego at the TV when supernanny is on saying that woman is a bell end mummy , take her away and you stood in front of the TV after brexit and said , mummy, what the uck is going on ? .

I could not be prouder to be your mummy. You may be my first child and my last child but you are most definitely my everything . Being unwell after you were born has shown me how much I love you and how much I always have. I was never scared of you mate , I was scared of what the illness did to me.

Always remember this. On your birthday , when I find you in knee deep in squirty cream and a bowl of jelly on your head , I will remember your birthday as the best day of my life because of the family it has made us. Being your mum is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I quite like your father as well.

I was never scared of you mate – how could I be scared of someone who ,when mummies nail glue explodes in her handbag and solidifies over her house keys , doubling them in size meaning they can’t stick in the key hole and she attempts to chisel them out with and toothbrush and a sanitary towel, decides to do their much needed poo in the front garden and wipes their arse with a receipt. You’re just like your mother mate – resourceful, have no embarrassment levels and a quick thinker.

You will go far my friend and mummy will be with you. Remember what I said at the Mind awards? I said you are truly the best thing to ever happen to me. Even when you decorate the house in four unwound toilet rolls.

If I am ever not with you, I will watch this video. With daddy on the drums and you doing your best Rancid impression and I will think , I make a nice chocolate cake , but Joe is definitely the best homemade thing ever.

” Leave it Aaaht Treacle, this Eastenders storyline can’t be realistic can it?”

I don’t know if you know what I’ve been up to. I don’t know if I said it enough. My mouth that can fit my entire fist in it ( party trick life goals right there eh ?) has been working overtime telling anyone who dares to be my friend , sell me my copy of the National Enquirer, comes to my desk to stare at my acrylic nails colours of the week or who reads my political rants about what I’ve been up to for the last 18 months. Aside from attempting to lose 87 stone whilst eating considerably more than a gust of wind and a glass of air, weeping at the Brexit result , stamping my little heeled feet in horror that a orange pancaked make up face man with a multi colored hair piece , wandering knob and the inability to run his own Twitter account has been voted to run the most powerful country on earth , I have been , as ever , on my mental health soapbox.

My son is soon to be seven. My dear sweet , wild boy with more personality in his leather jacket than your old anorak with a beer stain down it. My little love who is truly the best thing that has ever happened to me. Nearly seven years ago , I gave birth to him in a medicated c section haze, he was held up and looked like he was Jesus surrounded by a beacon of light and then instead of feeling like Mother Earth, I began hallucinating about climbing out of the hospital barred windows, was found crawling around the postnatal ward on on my hands and knees and then became so terrified of my own child, that I couldn’t look at or be in the same room on my own with him.

Six long , torturous weeks past. My hair fell out in clumps, I tried to scrub my skin off in the hope I would be like a snake and shedding a layer would get rid of my angst and I began chanting , going up and down stairs over and over . Bang on six weeks, I hit catastrophic meltdown point where I got on my in laws bed on all fours like a dog and screamed so hard my mouth bled at the sides, I smacked my head into a wall and then locked myself in a bathroom and spent a fair while staring at the razor thinking it looked pretty when the sun hit it. When I emerged , after my terrified husband attempted to break the door down , I collapsed in a heap , sobbing , screaming and shaking. I was in my pants , having not been able to work out how to put my clothes on and I didn’t want to be near my baby.

I was broken. I was a shell of my former self. I was unwell. I was suffering from postpartum psychosis.

I was admitted to a psychiatric mother and baby unit that morning . 200 miles from our home. I walked in , rambling , crying , my mind blown. I had no idea who I was anymore. Six weeks prior, I had been pregnant, vibrant , smiling , the girl who walked around showing people how her fist can for almost down her throat, full of joy about becoming a mother. I had had parties for the baby in my tummy , made from our love and growing with mine. But within an hour of my sons birth, I wasn’t hit by the gush of love you hear about. No. I was hit , with brute force , by an uncontrollable psychotic train. It knocked me off my tracks, and took me off on an unplanned tangent on the journey of motherhood I had planned. I spent six weeks in terror. Lights flashed in front of my eyes, I thought I was floating in the corner of the room looking down on myself,I was convinced the duvet cover was dancing , I closed my eyes and thought my head was In a vice and at my worst, I thought I was buried alive in a coffin. I felt trapped in my body, my life, in my role as a mum to a child who was here forever and I wanted to escape. Not just to Ibiza for a mad weekend but the world. I sat and thought about how I could unzip clouds and climb through them and then had blind panic when I realized I would then be trapped in space. And the fear of what would I do then!?

Since getting better, I have wanted to help other mums. I write my blog, I speak at new mum groups, I am members of online mums groups and am alerted if a mum appear to be showing symptoms so I can signpost her to safe help and support. I never just wanted to be a campaigner . I wanted to provide real help to real mums and provide an in your face awareness of perinatal mental illnesses to a wide range of people. To tell people about it who normally wouldn’t be targeted . So , I don’t know if you do know , but in May 2015, that opportunity came , when a TV soap decided to run a storyline on Postpartum Psychosis and asked my friend Kathryn Grant and I for input, as survivors of the illness. We were personally supported by the charity Mind and the wonderful Jenni Regan worked her socks off , along with APP and Bipolar UK, to ensure the portrayal was safe and accurate. Take a look at Jenni’s blog on the Mind site which gives an insight into how they did this http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/your-stories/eastenders-staceys-postpartum-psychosis/#.WEciNUrfWrU .

So along came Eastenders and like it or not, soaps can get a message across and I think that’s a brilliant thing. Antenatal classes cost more than some people’s monthly salary and not everyone is able to jog along to these to find out about what happens when you lose your mind after dropping your sproglet. We need to cater to the masses as it’s not only millionaires have children. Real people have babies and real people watch soaps. Bar the fact that in soaps someone’s dad is also their second cousins thrice re moved dog and unless you are on Jeremy Kyle, this doesn’t happen in real life often, soaps do go some way to portray real life and in real life women get postpartum psychosis. .The positive effect is a brilliant thing.

When we were was asked by mind to help Eastenders with their postpartum psychosis storyline, Kathryn and I admit we were was pensive. Mental health is so often portrayed in a negative light in the media that I thought, oh god, what if I get involved as someone who suffered and it goes horribly wrong, the character kills her baby and a week later everyone is in the Vic drinking a gin and tonic before throwing chips at each other outside Ian’s chippy. Awareness won’t be achieved and the general public would yet again be fed an awful sensationalised version of an illness that can be devastatingly awful but one that is entirely treatable. Thankfully, Eastenders, with the support of Mind and other charities like Bipolar UK and APP, created a storyline that is so realistic in its portrayal, within a couple of short weeks of it launching, postpartum psychosis was at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

I’ve been mapping social media over the last few months , picking up perceptions of the programme,the portrayal and its impact. In this blog, I will use this anecdotal evidence to show how responsible media portrayals of mental illness can be incredible at opening up conversations about mental health and inform people about conditions they have never heard of , but that could happen to them.

Why is Stacey on her hands and needs scrubbing the oven , which no one ever wants to do and thinks that her baby is the Second Coming ?

Every mums group I am in on Facebook was talking about it – why is Stacey hiding in corners ,why is she turning all the lights off , why is she on the roof of the Vic , why is she smashing all those glasses? Mick will invoice her for them .Is she off her meds and most importantly, what the dickens is wrong with her ? Surely this can’t happen after you have a baby as no one appears to have ever heard of it? Women are happy when they have a baby aren’t they ?

The comments about what on earth was wrong with Stacey were widespread. They ranged from total and utter disbelief ” I think Eastenders have stepped over the line with this crazy storyline . The moment she said Arthur is God, I couldn’t stop laughing” to sadness and sorrow.

Some people have babies and its glorious . And that’s amazing. Some people have babies and its not glorious straight away. They may be sad, tearful and exhausted but after a few weeks this lifts. It’s awful while it lasts but it goes and motherhood starts to work out for them. Others have babies and feel even more sad , even more tearful, even more exhausted and this doesn’t lift easily and motherhood is more of a struggle. It might take them more than a rest to feel better. They might need some medication , some therapy, some help from a charity while their feelings and the muddles in their mind work themselves out. And then some mothers give birth and feel manic. They hear and see things that other people don’t and believe things to be real when they are as unrealistic as could be. Did you give birth and think you were in charge of North Korea? What about thinking you were being buried alive while you were lying in bed? Or think you were locked in a room about to be attacked while trying to find a panic button? Or think that your baby was the son of God? No? Well some people do. People like me.

I manically cleaned. I once spent two hours standing still in the kitchen in fear . I forgot how to get dressed and would stare at my clothes , confused what to do with them. I thought I was on The Truman Show . I tried to climb out of a window to escape my fear. I ordered eight juice extractors and then threw them in the garden. I was afraid of my own baby and ‘I have made a terrible mistake ‘ became my mantra . I had awful visions , thoughts that would pop into my head and I was paranoid of anyone and everyone.

Postpartum Psychosis is a serious illness with dramatic symptoms , so perhaps perfect fodder for a soap opera. What became very clear though , is that Eastenders didn’t have to overdramatize any of Stacey’s symptoms , as the characteristics of the illness are enough. One comment I had about the storyline from a mum was this – ” “You have really changed my opinion on this storyline. Knowing it really does happen and is this extreme , I didn’t know”.

Stacey’s symptoms to PP sufferers was incredibly accurate. The belief that your baby is God is a real symptom, that has affected real life women. When Kathryn and I met Lacey, the actress who plays Stacey, she was really interested in how these symptoms feel completely real to the sufferer. I remember Kathryn saying her visions of being on a gurney felt as real as us being in that room that day. It’s the reality of the mum suffering. It may seem extreme but it’s real. Kathryn’s thoughts on the portrayal are here http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/your-stories/eastenders-my-postpartum-psychosis/#.WEciv0rfWrU.

For details on PP symptoms , please have a look at this from the charity Action On Postpartum Psychosis who are the experts on the illness and are a fountain of information and support for women and their families http://www.app-network.org/what-is-pp/ .

If a mum thinks her baby is flying around the living room, doesn’t that mean she could harm it?

In a word, no.

One of the things that was so great about the first few episodes of the storyline in particular was how showed how much Stacey loves her baby. There is an untrue notion that women with perinatal mental health problems want to harm their baby. Yes, people can get intrusive thoughts and visions but developing postpartum psychosis doesn’t suddenly mean you are a danger to your child and the programme went to great lengths to show this. There was an unfortunate article printed last year about intrusive thoughts with the title ‘ I want to drown my baby’ which of course is not what women who suffer intrusive thoughts want to do. Intrusive thoughts about drowning your baby may pop into your head and they are horrific and very distressing and the reason they are as it’s what you don’t want to do . The title should have been something like ‘ I had intrusive thoughts about drowning my baby’ but of course, it would have got less clicks. And hence , intrusive thoughts are not talked about which they need to be as they are very common , horrendous to suffer and absolutely do not mean the mum wants to carry out any of the things that have shot into her head.

Some of the comments that cropped up on social media were about the fact that Stacey could be a danger to her child such as ” her condition will make her harm her baby” and the ” the reason she has gone into a normal psych ward is people who are psychotic can harm their baby. That baby isn’t safe with her. It’s my opinion and I don’t care what you think”. Said the person with no medical training who uses Google as a diagnostic tool while using Twitter as the second opinion back up service. These comments were based on no real evidence but are a common misconception – mew mum thinks baby is flying around living room while bleaching the net curtains= she wants to hurt the baby.

One person , who wasn’t watching the programme said ” Bipolar is very serious. She could harm her baby” which was responded to by another person saying ” I have Bipolar , I would never harm my children. This storyline is great for raising awareness of postpartum psychosis , which is a different illness to Bipolar.”

As the programme went on , I saw this comment :
“There is a shortage of mother and baby units beds. I’m in a mums group with one of the mums who is working with eastenders as a case study. She says very few mums actually cause harm to their babies”.

Let me be clear. Yes, there are times where terrible things have happened and have done so because someone has a mental health condition. However , this doesn’t mean it’s a blanket rule and eastenders went someway to show how Stacey loved her baby and how she had no desires to hurt or was a threat to him. And she wanted to protect him and be with him. The episode where Martin went away with Arthur had people across the country in tears. It was devastating. Mums who have and had PP, we love our babies. We aren’t monsters and we want to be a mum like everyone else.

Don’t people who are already not right in themselves get this thing?

Again , in a word , no.

Well this was one that made the Internet get into a right old ants in pants tantrum. The episode aired where ( and the programme did this brilliantly ) a psychiatrist explained about PP and how anyone can get it but Stacey was at a higher risk because of her Bipolar.

The National Centre for Mental HEalt and APP have produced this very helpful leaflet https://www.bipolaruk.org/information-on-postpartum-psychosis via Bipolar UK , explaining the relationship between Bipolar and PP :

” Women with bipolar disorder may become unwell during pregnancy but are at a particularly high risk of becoming ill following childbirth. Episodes of postpartum psychosis occur after approximately 25% of births to women with bipolar disorder.
This is several hundred times higher than for women who have not had previous psychiatric illness. Postnatal depression follows a further 25% of births. Therefore, about half of women with bipolar disorder (50 in 100) stay well after having a baby and about half may have an episode of illness.”

I had lots of comments sent to me about this ranging from ” eastenders have got it all wrong. You can’t get postpartum psychosis unless you have bipolar” to someone responding with ” well the doctor on eastenders just stated the fact that anyone can get it”. And the doctor on Eastenders was right.

And what was so good about these debates as they inspired many media stories about PP- Kathryn and I featured in many of them – and they worked to diminish the myths of the illness and to inform people about the real facts.

I don’t have Bipolar and I got PP so the doctor on the soap was totally correct!

This would never happen in real life would it ?

There was lots of talk about whether the storyline was realistic or not.

Reading the storyline before it was screened had me very emotional when I read scripts but then when it was on screen, it was so powerful that I cried for many reasons. Crying because it was so realistic, crying when Stacey looked to the sky as if she was searching for an answer she couldn’t find anywhere else which I would when at my lowest. As she paced the square, her eyes looked sunken with fear as she looked for something or someone she could trust. The scene on top of the Vic with Martin when he told Stacey he would look after her resonated me with me so much – I remember telling the researchers at how I only felt safe with John. I would scream and shout, crying in emotional pain that he had to look after me. One day we were walking down the street and I stopped and looked at the sky. I sensed a danger but I didn’t know what off. I grabbed John and said I need an ambulance, something catastrophic is about to happen, something is coming, I can feel it. John held me, cuddled me and kissed my head. He told me I wasn’t in danger and that he would always look after me and that he loved me. The episode on top of the Vic resembled that fear, that idea that something was about to happen and Martins attempt to gain Stacey’s trust so he could keep her and Arthur’s safe.

On social media, women who have experienced PP came out to thank the programme :

” The programme has been spot on in terms of psychosis . Lacey is always fantastic at these story lines”

” The hallucinations have been filmed brilliantly. The blurred screens, seeing them from the characters viewpoint is very realistic. It’s obvious this has been researched well” .

Some people who had experienced hallucinations said the blurring didn’t work well as when experiencing a hallucination , it’s totally real to the sufferer which is true . I guess the programme needed to find a way where the viewer would be able to differentiate when Stacey was experiencing a hallucination and the blurring enabled that to happen. I thought it was good but it’s personal preference isn’t it? One scene that was absolutely incredible was when she thought her Uncle Charlie was driving her cab. It was extraordinary.

Health Care Professionals came out on Twitter in force to say they felt it’s not an accurate portrayal. Lots of things are being said such as ‘where is the health visitor, where is the midwife/this wouldn’t happen in real life/she has bipolar, a doctor would have told her family about pp when she was pregnant and have said ‘I guess if they show how hcps do get things right, it would be less dramatic wouldn’t it? ‘ Yes it would, as would the real life cases that are left hanging by lack of care from HCPs. This storyline hasn’t just been dreamed up – everyday women are struggling and begging for help and it’s not given. The reality of mums alarming symptoms being picked up is not the utopia some think it is. I get phone calls from gps saying ‘Eve, I have a woman who seems unwell with postnatal sadness, what can I do with her? ‘‘. I am not a medical professional!!!! I’ve spoken to GPs, midwives and health visitors who have told me there is no such thing as a perinatal psychiatrist. HEAD.BANG.OM.TABLE. I went to a perinatal conference last year and someone from a London MBU said ‘we always have spare beds, I’m baffled how women are struggling for help’. I spoke to him afterwards about two women who had been told they were on a waiting list for beds in the unit he worked in. No liaison , no clue.

Health professionals – don’t take Eastenders lack of you as an insult. Some of you are truly wonderful, you have fantastic pathways to care that work, mums se the same midwife all through their pregnancy, health visitors notice that mum doesn’t seem right and she is fast tracked to get help. Hurrah. However, this isn’t always the case . I am on hundreds of mums groups on Facebook, some of them specific perinatal groups where there are countless ‘ I have bi-polar and I am 8 months pregnant and no one has mentioned postpartum psychosis to me / I have told my health visitor I don’t like looking at my baby and she said she knows 16 yr. olds who have babies who are coping so I should as well/ my gp said PND is a modern illness that didn’t exist when he had children and that I should be grateful I have a child as she had a woman in surgery this morning who wants IVF/ I told the midwife I thought I saw my baby inside the pillow moving around when she was actually in her cot and she said to get some sleep / when should the midwife come ? I had a baby two weeks ago and keep phoning the clinic and they say I need to request a visit ? I have and she didn’t show up/ I had my 6 week check and read that I would have to fill in a questionnaire on my feelings and I was so relieved as I have been having scary thoughts of seeing my baby fall down the stairs and I’m scared . but at the six week check there was nothing to fill in and they only saw me for 3 minutes’.

HCPS – use Eastenders as a learning experience , a learning objective even . sling out an email to all your health visitors and say ‘ when you visit a new mum , remember she may be emotionally unwell and may feel like she can’t say. Look out for these symptoms ( List them ) and ensure you tell her you are there to help her if she is feeling overwhelmed or is becoming unwell’. I keep reading tweets saying ‘I’m a HCP and I’m screaming at the TV , where is the Health visitor’ but dont scream at the TV . This storyline is based on real life experiences and heavily lends itself to mine – john recalls how , when Joe was five weeks old our hv said ‘ to be honest, there is nothing we can do. Go to Nottingham , they can probably help you there’. However , the researchers did their work – it’s not just me who was forgotten about , lots of women have been . and I hope the storyline helps to jog the minds of commissioners to even out the postcode lottery of perinatal mental health support so that we can end the scenario of in one area a mum goes into a mother and baby unit the day after her baby arrives after her psychosis is picked up on the postnatal ward by a perinatal psychiatrist, and in the other , another mum is discharged from hospital while her mind is whirling in the air and every HCP she sees says , oh its fine , how much does the baby weigh though ?

Lots of comments I had come through said what this one does – ” I hope this storyline raises awareness amongst doctor, nurses, midwives and health visitors as well’.

Surely if you get PP, Social Services will take your baby away ?

One of the biggest fears about divulging your perinatal mental illness symptoms to doctors is that mums think they will take your baby away. I will say that when Stacey went into the adult without Arthur, I got lots of messages saying this will stop women coming forward because they think it means their baby will be taken from them.

This isn’t what happened with Stacey. Her baby wasn’t removed from her by social services – it went home with its dad so she could go into a ward where babies aren’t allowed and when a place opened up for her in a unit, she went into it with her baby. At no point in the storyline was there a mention of Arthur being removed from her for having PP.

The fear of a baby being taken is undoubtably one of the biggest reason mums don’t divulge their symptoms. It is beyond terrifying to think that by opening up to not feeling like you are in a rose petal covered bubble , that a doctor will say, right then, here take these pills, make yourself a cup of tea and pack the babies bag because Social Services will come and swoop them away at any moment. Without explanation and with a fear that they will never see them again. Health care professionals, need to do all they can to reassure mums what will and won’t likely happen, point them to guidance that explains procedures and also explain that Social Services, if they do ever become involved, actually want to support . A doctor friend of mine pointed me to this page that she shares with her patients when they say they are scared to be honest about their feelings because they are scared their precious baby will be removed from their care – http://childprotectionresource.online/reporting-post-natal-depression/ .

We know that very few mothers are a real risk to their baby but there may be times of course where extra help , support and intervention is needed. But, by helping to soothe the very real fears of mums would undoubtedly mean we would have more of them coming forward early on in their illness and getting help more quickly.

I never knew this could happen. Eastenders has opened my eyes. 

Well it’s certainly raised awareness hasn’t it ? Where do I start???!!! It has been beyond the realms of anything we as perinatal mental health survivors , campaigners and supporters could have wished for. It enabled spin off programmers such as the moving ‘ My baby, psychosis and me’ documentary ( https://www.maternalmentalhealth.org.uk/my-baby-psychosis-and-me/) featuring my brave friend Hannah to be filmed which gave an insight into mother and baby units and the treatments offered in them.

Below are some of the comments I had about the programme and a major theme is a thanks to the BBC for researching it so well , the charities involved and bringing in real life case studies like Kathryn and I in to tell a realistic tale.

” Fantastic informative storyline”

” This whole storyline has been handled amazingly. I can’t keep my eyes off the screen”

” Eve , this storyline has really opened my eyes , thank you to all involved. The BBC , you and Kathryn, the lady Jenni you mention , the charities involved and the actors”.

“The bbc should be applauded , and mind and you and your friend. Your input into this is helping society understand my more and specifically in new mums. Thank you so much”

” My sister was talking about the storyline and she is in awe of it”

” This storyline is so educational and will help lots of parents everywhere.

” I was telling my husband how impressed I was with the storyline this evening and how sad I was for the characters involved . It’s good to know the producers/writers take their roles so seriously and get people with first hand experience involved to help them share such an important thing.”

“Well done for this.i didn’t even know this was a condition and naively put it down to her bipolar”

” The eastenders storyline has brought me to tears and now knowing the involvement of real mums, it has me even more”

” Before eastenders, I had never heard of this illness before and education really is about losing the stigma attached.

” I have been watching eastenders and although this storyline is upsetting, it has been done amazingly. It makes sense they have consulted with real life women. It will raise awareness and probably win them awards”

” It was heartbreaking to watch , my heart goes out to anyone who finds the self in that situation. It’s good that it’s being highlighted by the bbc , it’s more common than we think” .

” I am hooked on the storyline and it will help so many”

” I had honestly never heard of this until eastenders started doing to storyline. Well done for raising awareness”

Stacey needs to be with her baby – the need for mother and baby units 

Perhaps the most incredible thing to happen from the storyline is the awareness of specialized psychiatric mother and baby units. There are less than twenty across the UK and there are a million more times of women who need a bed in one. The night that Stacey went to to the normal psych ward without her baby, mums groups on Facebook erupted in horror. I had been sure to tell admin to tag me in any threads so I could explain things and I shared my blog on why units are so essential.

The outpouring of disbelief and desire to help change this was phenomenal. A woman is 33 times more likely to be admitted to a psychiatric ward after having a bay more than any other time in her life and the NICE guidelines are clear that women should be placed in a specialized psychiatric mother and baby unit. But there is one fairly big problem – we don’t have a lot of them. There are around 700,000 babies born every year in the UK. More than every one in ten mums develop postnatal depression, and 1-2 in every thousand mums develop postpartum psychosis. So , there appears to be a far amount of unwell mums but we only have 17 units across the whole of the UK.

Everyone in the medical world knows there aren’t enough units or beds in the ones that exist. And even though this is the case, units are still closing down . There are no units in Wales or Northern Ireland and it’s been said that overall , about 80 more beds are needed across the UK to support mums and babies during recovery. This means that my story of having to trek millions of miles to get into a unit is not a one-off. There are lots of women with stories similar to mine or even worse, having to take a place in a normal psych unit without their baby,which is ridiculous as it defeats the entire object of everything. Dr Liz McDonald, one of the country’s leading perinatal psychiatrists, calls this“the bleakest of all postcode lotteries” .

One person who messaged me said ” why couldn’t they just send her to one of those was where she can take the baby with her? ” and the point was , they could have , if the was a space , but there wasn’t , just like in real life. If a woman can’t get a place in a mother and baby unit and she can’t be treated at home, she can be admitted to an adult ward , without her baby. And this is what happened to Stacey in Eastenders. And the soap did this well and knew what they were doing when they wrote this part in but I am not sure they realized how powerful this story insertion would be when watched by the public, when watched by mums at home . I saw it unwind on social media and the response was nothing short of incredible . Incredible in the sense that they realized how awful this was and wanted to know how they could help change this.

A main area for concern was the fact that Stacey went into a psychiatric unit without her baby. The programmers had showed her breastfeeding in her sling so mums in these groups knew she was feeding her baby. There was horror when Martin went home with the baby and despair that she couldn’t go into somewhere with him . To put it into context, within an hour of this episode being shown , my blog on mother and baby units had been read 12,000 times.

Below are some of the comments sent to me on Facebook from people I don’t know.

” I know it’s only a programme but eastenders- can they really say Stacey’s breastfed baby cannot stay with her? I know she is suffering from her illness but she doesn’t pose a threat to her son either”

” Eve, have shared the link to your blog about mother and baby units so many times since the Stacey storyline. Seeing people discuss the storyline on Facebook and them not quite getting the reason behind it means it’s essential for them to know why it’s running”

” I know it’s just a programme but surely they can’t take Arthur away from Stacey ?” .

” I had goose bumps and cried during last nights episode . Completely heartbreaking for Stacey. Mental health in general needs to be taken more seriously in this country.

” is anyone else really affected by Stacey on eastenders tonight ? Is it correct that if a newborn is breastfed, it’s still not allowed to stay with you in the hospital? So upsetting”.

The feeling then switched to desire to help mums. The ‘what can we do’ feeling was apparent across the whole of the social media pages I am on. See some of the quotes I had sent to me below:

” this is an amazing thing you are doing with Eastenders Eve.and your friend Jenni and Kathryn and the charities involved you have mentioned. Is there a specific charity people could support through just giving or similar to help women with PP or help fund more mother and baby units?’

” wouldn’t it be time to start a petition to ensure there are enough psychiatric mother and baby units in more places around the country?”

” eastenders is tough going tonight, mum and baby should never be separated . I had no idea this went on. This is awful. How can we raise money for this Eve ? Any specific charities ‘”

In all the groups I am in and across public pages , I posted links to Open House Nottingham , a group run by former patients star of the Nottingham Mother and Baby Unit I was in, who provide peer support to current patients https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/openhouse and Action On Postpartm Psychosis, who started the #realstaceys campaign http://www.app-network.org/realstaceys/ .

There was a brilliant tweet one night which said ” ohh, eastenders just got political in the postpartum psychosis storyline” when Martin told another character about the lack of units across the country and they were right. Yes, this is the extreme end of what can happen but it’s exactly that – if there is no room at the mother and baby inn, the mum can go to a normal ward and her little baby goes home without her. Which is not what should be happening.

If you watched Eastenders you will know that as soon as Martin found out about Mother and Baby Units, he desperately tried to get Stacey a bed in one , calling them up and down the country to try and nab a space as soon as one became free. It was hard watching these scene because this is exactly what John did while trying to get me a bed- we were in London and no one knew of any units, no one knew of any beds and then John, after finding out where units were located thanks to Dr Google, sat and called them , begging and pleading to get me in. His mum then mentioned her friend had told her there was one in the hospital near them and as soon as he heard this , we packed up and got the train thee , me like a zombie on the train, staring into space. A 200 mile journey to get the help I so desperately needed ,a 200 mile journey to keep me alive.

After numerous doctor appointments , locums losing notes and doctors telling me unless I had planned my own suicide I was classed as low risk, I was assessed and went into the unit to begin my recovery. As we walked down the hallway and I saw the signs saying psychiatric wards, I was crying. John held my hand tightly and kissed my forehead. He told me he would never leave me, that he would love me forever and that I was going to get better.

When we arrived in the mother and baby unit, the nurse gave me a hug and told me everything would be ok.they were there to help me , I was safe , Joe was safe and I was going to get better. There were bedrooms, a family room, a living room it’s toys and books,a bathroom with bubble bath and a kitchen with cupboards full of chocolate biscuits,which I took full advantage off and stuffed my face. It was lovely and nothing like I had assumed a psychiatric ward would be. I was shown to my room and saw a cot in there for Joe. He obviously slept in our room at home but john was with me then. No no no he isn’t going to be in he with me is he I thought. I knew john couldn’t stay with me and the realisation that I was going to be in a bedroom on my own with joe was terrifying. I had a massive meltdown. I pushed a chair into the middle of my room and decided I felt safe in it and sat in it screaming . John got the nurse who came in and sat on the arm of the chair and cuddled me. She kept saying it’s ok eve you can do this , we will help you ok? I promise you and kissed me on the forehead.

I was in such a state , I was given some meds which I only knew as magic blue pills to calm me. Once they had , I sat on the bed with john and the nurse talked to me. John explained my terror at being with Joe on my own and she explained that in order for me to recover, I needed Joe with me. Yes, it would be hard but essentially I needed to , with safe support, feel the fear, do it, and work through the problems with the help of the unit. They said I needed exposure therapy meaning I needed to be in the unit recovering but while getting used to Joe’s presence in a safe calm environment and doing things for him on my own.

I was petrified but the nurses knew exactly what they were doing. They were clear Joe would be in the room with me , I was no danger to him but they would gently support me . So , for the first week , I slept in the bedroom next to the nurses office , with Joe in the cot ,with my bedroom door open. The nurses would sit there on a chair and when I woke up screaming , they would come and sit with me and rock me back to sleep stroking my hair telling me I was ok. They would say , Joe needs a feed and stand next to me reassuringly while I lifted him from the cot and would sit on the chair by the door , not crowding me on the bed, but not so far away that I would feel so scared that I couldn’t function.

The first week was long, hard and terrifying. John would be waiting outside the unit doors to open at 9am every morning and stayed until the doors closed at night . He would lay on my bed with me and every so often , I would feel ok to have Joe lay with us . One day, the nurses said , why don’t you have a bath. Joe was asleep and john washed me. At the time I don’t think I appreciated it but now I see what a lovely thing that was and as I came out of the bathroom the nurse said Joe needs a feed mummy and would you like a hot chocolate or something ? Gently gently, I was being guided to start accepting Joe into my life, the thing that would be a constant but what I was so scared off.

The nurses gave me hugs and promised me things would get better. One of them gave me a folder to read which contained letters from women who had been in the unit and recovered. The stories gave me hope. And they had got better.

There were nurses on duty 24 hours a day but in the unit, you are encouraged to spend time with your baby and bond. I washed Joe’s clothes, sat with him in the day, looking out of the window and reading to him and when I woke up in the night having meltdowns, feelings of being out of my body or panic attacks (which were very frequent), I could go to the lounge and talk to a nurse to calm down. My time there was very difficult – I had debilitating moments and felt scared but the help and support of doctors and nurses who understood the illness helped me on my road to recovery.
At the end of the first week there, I did something I hadn’t been able to do since the day Joe was born – I sat on my bed with my door , which had been open for a week , closed. I peered at Joe, I felt nervous but this was massive. With the support of john , the nurses, everyone in the unit, I was on my own in a room with Joe, with the door closed. It was the biggest turning point in my illness and when I emerged from my room , the nurses hugged me. My mum turned up and the nurses told her what I had done and she cried, john told me he was so proud of me. And I was proud of myself. For me , if I had been in a normal psych ward I wouldn’t have experienced that moment. It was my first big personal step to recovery and the biggest turning point in my illness.

My time in the mother and baby unit saved me. It was safe , warm , kind and caring. The staff treated me like a real person and understood my symptoms. They knew I wasn’t a monster and they knew how scared I was. And my fear was of being alive. Being alive and being mother to a child that was here forever , a child I thought was a mistake. I was cared for and nurtured. I was cuddled and given confidence. I had people looking after me who knew how to make me better and my goodness, they did. And the programme showing Stacey experiencing similar showed viewers just how important the units are :

” it’s hard to watch but totally agree there should be more facilities for mother and baby. It’s not fair to rip them apart like that’

” babies should be allowed to be with their mums at all times. Why couldn’t they get a cot in from labour ward for the baby and put it next to her”

” I work on mental health wards and they aren’t the right environment for a baby. Hence why more special mother and baby ones are needed. I think the actress deserves a medal for her acting and I believe if we keep watching it , it will highlight the need for mother mother and baby units in the UK”

My time in the unit was fairly short but my absolute recovery was far longer. I still have and always will now suffer from anxiety but it’s an after effect I can and do manage. Sometimes it’s hard , most of the time , I control it and not the other way around. But the unit kickstarted my re-introduction to being me again , into being well and I to being the mum I had dreamed of being. Because of the unit I got better and I am alive to be mummy to the best boy I the whole world ever.

If you watched Eastenders, my story might be familiar to you. Stacey got a place in a unit, she was pensive about having the baby back in with her but the staff gently encouraged it. They gave her a folder of recovery stories and the staff were kind and supportive. I saw one comment on Twitter saying ” while the action was good during the postpartum psychosis storyline , the hospital was hugely unrealistic”. The team spent an awful lot of time researching units . They visited them and Kathryn and I would get emails from the Eastenders team and the lovely people at Mind and phone calls about positions of furniture and whether flowers were allowed on units. They built a specific set and it looked very like the unit I was in and the ones I have visited.

There was a quote on Twitter that has stuck in my mind. It talked about ” the incredible power of soaps as an agent of socialization. Postpartum psychosis in our living rooms” and it’s so true. This very serious but unknown about illness ,was being played into the homes of millions in real time. It focused on many different aspects – the symptoms, the treatment and the recovery and great care was taken to ensure this was portrayed responsibly and accurately.

I don’t know if the eastenders postpartum psychosis storyline will lead to bette healthcare provision for those suffering but what I do know is that it’s informed millions of women and their families about the condition so should it bolt them out of the blue, they at least know something about it. They at least know there are specific places for them to go to get better and they know that recovery is truly possible. It may not bring us the 80 or so more beds in the units , which it has been determined we need to support those women who are unwell and bring them to a recoverable point but it has served to inform and for that , I and the other #realstaceys are truly grateful.


A spoon full of sympathetic sugar really can help the medicine go down

Sometimes you go to the doctor because a bigger than your average blackhead on your neck looks like it is about to ooze something that could garner 3 million disgust loving hits on You Tube. I don’t know about you , but I have been known to fashion a head torch at 3am to lovingly turn to the husbands back in bed to try and seek out a juicy blackhead for me to squeeze . According to him, the head torch fell out of the camping box above us and my acrylic nail accidentally stabbed him in the back while I was caressing his big strong back , overwhelmed by it in the middle of the night . But I digress…..

You think , hmm, said blackhead is a bit disgusting and is starting to do my head in a bit. I’ve left it a while and didn’t go to the doctor, as who goes to the doc with something that a fair amount of people can suffer from but no one really talks about – you don’t really hear people going ” Susan , look , look at this blackhead booming out of the back of my neck” while at the water filter in work do you ? Unless you’re me maybe . But , it hurts now and you’re finding it hard to cover up and people are starting to notice that you are wearing a polo neck everyday in your windowless office, so no one notices it. You know when you go you the doctor they will may say ,why didn’t you come sooner , ping on the latex gloves and fix your little problem there and then. If you are unlucky, they might say , yikes, that little blighter is gaining some momentum and has surpassed blackhead stage and is now a giant come done and I’m not too sure I can whip it out of your neck here so let’s refer you to the specialist to cauterize it which will fix you up good and proper. Or , at worst , which you most definitely you don’t want to hear is , you have skin, it’s a blackhead , it can happen and even though it’s three foot wide and making your life a misery, you just need to pull yourself together and think how lucky you are that you have skin. Some people would really like skin.

So – why did you wait so long to go to the doctor and pull down your roll neck to reveal your ailment ?

– you were embarrassed and thought the doctor won’t have seen anything so awful in their entire career ?
– You were ashamed and thought the doctor would think you were weak for not being able to get rid of the bloody thing yourself ?
– You were worried the doctor would have concerns about your hygiene and thought they might send you to social services ?
– Not take you seriously and say blackheads are to be expected as you have a face . And to pull yourself together and get on with it. Everyone gets blackheads?

Maybe one ? Maybe all three ? Maybe for another reason ? But its not just blackheads that make us shuffle our feet slowly when it comes to going to the doctor though is it ? What about when we produce a baby and become a mothership and don’t feel the ‘ oh my god isn’t it the best thing ever’ joy the supplement in the Sunday newspaper said it would be? When you are pregnant , we are fed the line that all the pain we go through is worth it , when you see your baby , the moons will align , your heart and head will ping together like sugar and spice and all things nice and life will continue in a more joyous way than ever.

So when this doesn’t happen , your head and heart go a tad haywire. You are a mother now, you have a beautiful child , it knows your heartbeat , your smell, your voice. But you don’t feel quite right. You don’t just feel sad, you feel like your heart is aching in a way you have never experienced. You are beyond tired, you feel scared , you aren’t quite sure if you can do this . This new job you have for life, it’s not just tough, it’s unknown. You have presents and visitors and overly helpful mother in laws coming to stay and bleaching the toilet , ironing your paper maternity pants and eating all your biscuits but you feel more lonely than you have ever felt in your life. Life is whizzing on around you , with balloons and cards clogging up the living room. But soon the balloons start to deflate. And as they do , so do you . Your head doesn’t feel like it’s yours anymore, your mind feels like it’s been taken over and you feel like nature is playing a terrible trick on you.

If your lucky, you may have heard that this can happen when you have a baby. Postnatal depression , anxiety, OCD, psychosis can rear their very unwelcome heads. And rather like your mother in law, they make themselves comfy in your space and don’t go easily. You’ve had enough , it’s time to go now thank you but no no , doesn’t budge. And sometimes it won’t easily without a bit of help. And this help usually comes in the shape of a health care professional.

However , it’s becoming more and more obvious to me, my friends who were ill like me, the fab health care professionals I have met in the last six years since I was unwell and the window cleaner, that lots of mums don’t go to the GP or tell their health visitor when they start experiencing symptoms of Postnatal Depression etc. Scratch when they start – some don’t go or say even after they have been feeling like it for a while. Why the dickens is this I hear you cry? I am a member of approx 37657546 mums groups on Facebook to try and see when a mum feels low and to signpost her to decent help. Aside from being smalltimemum1 , in the real world, I have been known to do a little bit of research and so I thought I would do some digging to see why mums don’t go to the doctor. No fancy sample sizes, no base weights , no blah blah research talk . Instead , just anecdotal evidence from real mums who have suffered. I put posts on some large Facebook groups where I know mums have posted about being unwell and asked them to say why they didn’t go to the doctor or tell another health care professional or if they did , weren’t entirely honest about their symptoms .

This blog is not to throw a pile of used maternity pads at doctors in disgust. Quite the opposite. I want to help mums. And to do that I want to help doctors understand mums whose minds have taken a trip somewhere they don’t want it to be after they have a baby and how their words and actions can impact on them. And I want to do this because when I became unwell with Postpartum Psychosis I encountered many health care professionals who were stumped at what was wrong with me. Some were ridiculous – ‘you have a baby now, it’s what women do, you will be ok soon’. One told me to bake a cake. Some said they had never seen a mum in a state like me before, babbling about cutting through the clouds with scissors and some said, oh my love, you’re not in a good way are you? We need to get you better.

The most helpful were those who let me cry on them , let my poor husband cry on them and who said , I’m not quite sure how to help you but I am going to phone a colleague who I think knows more than me. I’m writing this to give docs a bit more of a clue about how their actions , which may seem inoffensive and slight at delivery time , can have a long term effect on the woman. And what they can do to provide some comfort, some help and some hope to the woman in front of them , who desperately needs it.

There was a brilliant report published last year called ‘Falling Through The Gaps’ ( http://www.rcgp.org.uk/clinical-and-research/toolkits/~/media/0DF1836E7D6B46788519F79E0ACF6EB2.ashx) which surveyed women , asking why they didn’t go to the GP when displaying symptoms of a perinatal mental illness . It’s a brilliant report and I suggest you read it. All of it. And then eat it so it stays in you ( don’t really do that – imagine having to go to casualty with that one). It has a great quote which I think sums up the thoughts of the women of the world – ‘ Once a woman has asked for help and need has been identified, the way GPs and other professionals respond is then crucial to ensure women get the treatment and support they require.’

I was eventually helped when Joe was six weeks old. Hello Dr Ghandi in Psychiatric Outpatients who gently asked me questions about whether I was hearing voices while nodding his head and saying don’t worry, I know this is awful but you will get some help now. Hello to the nurses in the Nottingham Mother and Baby Unit who, upon my walking in , sans knickers with a pair of leggings covering my lady area , yelling that I could smell burning and in the middle of an enormous panic attack at the thought of being in a room on my own with my son, took my hand and gave me a warm long cuddle and stroked my cheek and hair while rocking me on the bed. Hello to Dr Mark, the psychologist who sat and listened to me self analyze about why this happened to me and saw me every two weeks to ensure my rocky road to recovery didn’t turn into a collapsed jelly. Hello to my mental health nurse Gwyneth, who did my EMDR therapy and made me follow her finger around the room so I didn’t fear my memories anymore. Hello to Dr Fraser , my old GP who is now retired who desperately tried to get me help in London when all I faced was brick walls and hello to my health visitor Louise who , upon my discharge from the unit and my return to our home 200 miles away four months later, came and sat with me everyday at home for two hours. Thank you for letting me cry on you, thank you for admitting you weren’t quite sure what had happened to me but sat and held my hand and told me it was going to be ok. Thank you for sorting out Homestart to come and help me get through the day. Thank you for telling me I was a wonderful mummy during the time I felt I had let my own child down. Without all of you , I would not be here , in my living room marveling at my six year olds football skills. I wouldn’t be making a giant Jaffa cake with him after school and I wouldn’t be able to help support other mums who are in the grip of this awful illness.

The medical profession quite simply saved my life. My family and I are forever grateful. But I also know how my recovery could have been started far earlier than it did. I shouldn’t have had to wait for nearly two months after my sons birth for someone to finally listen to me and see what a terrible state I was in. I saw GP after GP, went to casualty, saw different midwives and health visitors , all who didn’t know anything about me and some who didn’t have the time to listen to my husband run through all my hideous symptoms as there were 24 other patients waiting to be seen in reception. I was barely looked at by them. Health visitors came to my house and prodded my boobs and asked ‘ if baby is doing well/ if mum is walking around to help her recovery from her c section’. I was void of a name. I was referred to as ‘ mum’ and treated like just another entity on their very long list of new mums to visit that day.

Women go to the GP when they feel like they have had enough. They don’t want feel like hurling their baby out of the window. They don’t want to feel they would be better off dead. They want to feel happy, to enjoy life again, to not be crying everyday. And to leave the doctors with not any flicker of hope can be truly awful because where do they turn now? They have probably booked appointments and cancelled them numerous times, with nerves kicking in and a fear of ‘ what do I say to the doctor?’ Flashing through their mind all day and night. It’s likely they have scoured the Internet for weeks on end to try and put a name to their thoughts and feelings and the moment they walk into the doctors room if they do make it to the appointment can be so nerve wracking that they can probably hear their heart pounding . They know a magic cure won’t be given to them , they know it may take meds, therapy, time , bad days here and there but they go to the doctor to start their recovery. And when no sense of that is felt when they leave , trust me , it’s awful. You feel like your options are exhausted. You’ve tried to smile, you have tried to live day by day , you tried the doctor and what now ? Where do you go now for help?

Below are some of the reasons women told me they didn’t tell a health care professional how they felt or didn’t return to the doctor after an unsuccessful first trip.

Postnatal Depression ‘isn’t real’ .

“I was told by my health visitor that PND didn’t exist in the 40s and 50s and she doesn’t understand why women have babies if they can’t cope with motherhood. She said that everyday she hears ‘ I have PND’ and that she didn’t hear it this much 15 years ago and it’s Loose Women on the TV putting ideas into women’s heads. So I didn’t go to the doctor as I thought they wouldn’t listen

This is an actual quote from someone who messaged me. So , let’s get this straight – PND is a modern illness that is caused by women wanting to have it all ? In ye olden days , women got wed, got preg, had ten babies and then made a steak and kidney suet pudding for tea. They had no time to be depressed – they had 18 pairs of pants to boil wash ! No time to cry when there is jam to be made for your owner ( husband ) to spread on his crumpet ! Ugh.

We of course know this is ridiculous . It’s been reported that Queen Victoria had postnatal depression and that was a fairly long time ago? Look at this blog about a dear lady in 1850 who it seems suffered postnatal depression and psychosis( http://tmsorangementalhealthcaretreatments.d20blogs.org/2014/02/12/emma-riches-postnatal-depression-1850s/) – not quite this modern illness is it. In short, it’s been around since cave ladies were having a free birth in a rock pool but it wasn’t spoken about. Women were treated for ‘nerves’, had their hands restrained, put in an asylum, hidden from public view and forgotten about.

I’ve heard it all from people as to why postnatal depression is a modern illness over the last few years. Daily Fail articles and the comments sections have some real corkers , such as- wait for it- having a baby outsides of marriage must cause women to feel hysterical as there is apparently no stability. So married women never get it? Hmm. They might as well have said that Postnatal depression is caused by radio signals and for a woman to turn all her electronic equipment off and she may see her mood may improve. I’m no Bill Gates. I can’t even make an excel spreadsheet and have to use a calculator to divide a £20 lunch bill between two people but I am struggling to understand how my wifi password can cause a panic attack. And how turning Radio Four off can stop me from wanting to give the baby to the nice lady next door and walking away.

It’s not a modern illness and for a health car professional to say that is ill informed and dangerous. Not all symptoms show themselves in the same way for some women. Some paint a mask on to show they are coping – dropping one kid at school with another in a buggy to be dropped at nursery while the newborn is strapped to the chest, going to work, cooking four different dinners, waking up 17 times a night to feed the baby . People say oooohhh look at Alison, hasn’t she taken motherhood in her stride- whizzing around and still has her hair perfectly curled in place. But Alison could actually be trying to mask her feelings. The hair and make up could be a cover to how she is feeling and a doctor needs to try and find a way through that so Alison opens up. And so we come to our next section ….

You can’t have Postnatal Depression as your eyebrows are on fleek

One woman told me her doctor said ” I seriously doubt you have postnatal depression . You’re up and out with the baby and have done your face. You look lovely so go out and enjoy your baby” and another said ‘I told my gp for a year that I thought i felt sad and very tearful and has no energy. I told her I had felt suicidal. She said “but you’re able to tell me this and this means you know your own mind. I’m not worried about you”. Not all mothers with PND are wandering around with the look of a life sentence strewn across an overly aged face . Some of them can even put their own pants on would you believe. For some mums , they continue with the grooming they did before baby came along. For some , they apply more make up, iron even more clothes, look swankier than ever because they are trying to mask how they really feel. Inside they feel like a crumpled up bra in the corner but they don’t want everyone to know they are suffering . To the outside world they want to seem to be coping but not to the doctor. They trust that a doctor can see through the layer of foundation covering the cracks in their mind.

However , the Falling Through The Gaps report showed just under half of the GPs surveyed said they ‘received no specific training in this field of work to identify an unwell mum and of those who had received training, just under a quarter had accessed it as part of core specialist training for general practice’. So I can totally see why it’s difficult. Doctors are human, it’s hard to spot things sometimes and we have all had that thing when a friend is sad or low and we say ‘ ooh but she seemed so happy, it’s come out of no where’ . But what you could do is do more than look. Looks can be deceiving , that’s the point of them. Ask questions , glance into her eyes, hold her hand . Tell her it’s ok to be open , tell it that you know having a baby can be hard . Even if your a male doctor who has never had a kid. You might not know what’s it’s like to push a half stone lump of flesh out of your vaginal area or to have major surgery on your stomach to help the baby into the world, but you have a heart and a head. Ask the questions that give you more answers than yes and no and listen to her responses. One woman who sent me some comments wrote ” Mental health is different for us all. Listen to us, listen hard and you’ll hear us telling you”.

Really listen. I was asked if I wanted to flush the baby down the toilet by the first doctor I saw. I actually think in reality that I wanted to flush myself down the loo as my husband liked the baby and I didn’t want to be alive anymore,but as she asked me she laughed . So I let out a fuzzy laugh and said I don’t know. Letting out a laugh when asking your patient if they effectively want their baby to go away forever, as if an answer of yes would be the most ridiculous thing in the world isn’t helpful. And won’t give you a true reflection of the real answer.

Maybe something like this could help ? A fab PND charity in Cheshire called The Smile Group have produced this GP checklist for mums to fill in and hand to their GP should they not know how to or are too scared to verbalize their symptoms. It’s brilliant and has helped many mums. Maybe it could help some health professionals too ? http://www.thesmilegroup.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/GP-Checklist.pdf

I don’t want to go back to the doctor as they said before I can take any anti-depressants, I have to stop breastfeeding.

I don’t wanna go to the docs and talk as I don’t want to feel pressured in to stop breastfeeding to take medicine/ my doctor said he can’t prescribe any anti- depressants until I stop breastfeeding and to come back when I have and he will give me some / my doctor said I can’t expect to be able to take any tablets while I am feeding and to stop reading things on the internet that say I can

I am not a doctor. If I was, I would most probably pin someone’s ears back if they came to see me about an ingrown toenail. I once thought my child had two bum holes when in fact one of them was a dimple so consider yourselves lucky I didn’t have any big ideas about wandering around with a stethoscope. However, knowing some truly splendid doctors now I do lots of awareness raising work for maternal mental health ,I am aware there are some anti depressants you can take while still being able to give your child boobie. For some mums, as it was for me, breastfeeding is key to help them bond with their baby. I couldn’t look at or hold Joe on my own but I could breastfeed him. If I had been made to give it up, it would have been terrible. Thankfully, when I was ill, I went into a mother and baby unit and the docs had libraries worth of info on what meds I could take and I was able to untangle the mess my mind was in while being able to continue nursing Joe.

Obviously , there are some anti depressants you can’t nurse on. And then it’s for you and your health care professional to discuss the best way forward to ensure you get better and what choices need to be made.

But doctors – please please talk to mums who come to you with some care and if you arent sure what you can prescribe , there is a medication fairy called Wendy Jones who knows about medications breastfeeding and who more than happy to talk to health care professionals and or mums – her website is here http://www.breastfeeding-and-medication.co.uk. You can also call the Drugs in Breastmilk helpline on 0844 412 4665 for advice – more details are here on the Breastfeeding Network’s webpage https://www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/contact-us/helplines/.

The doctor said it was normal to feel overwhelmed after having a baby. So I thought wanting to feel like running away was what every mum on the street felt like.

‘The worst thing a GP said to me was ‘its normal’. I believed them and it was ‘normal’ for me to be depressed for a long time. I wish he had listened, I wish he’d said ‘come back if you don’t feel more positive in a couple of weeks’, I wish he’d asked me why I was feeling that way

It’s not normal .Its normal to have the baby blues but these go after a days or weeks. If it lasts longer and it’s causing you to feel like a sack of potatoes that have been mashed while raw, it needs help. It may be common but it’s not normal and it’s not ok to not be well. Mothers deserve more. They deserve to be happy and feeling sad , fearful and at times to the point of suicide,is not normal in any way, even if as a doctor, you have seen four other mums that morning saying the same thing. The Falling Through The Gaps report had this quote – ” At the six week check the GP asked if I felt low and I told her I felt dreadful and she just said “every mum feels that – it’s normal”. I really believe that support in those early months might have changed my life, and my child’s life for the better. I asked for help and felt unheard” .

Read the last sentence again.

She felt unheard. Even though she spoke out.

Do you know how much courage it takes for a mum to come to you and say she isn’t feeling good? As women, we are born and grow up knowing that nature has blessed us with a body to bear the fruits of a loom should we desire. According to nature, we have wombs in case we want to grow a baby, breasts are there as natures way of feeding them and our vaginas are there for a baby to come into the world and so when we have a baby and it all goes a bit haywire, we think , what on earth? My body has done what nature says it can do so why isn’t my mind doing the same ? I would stare at women on the street with a new baby and think , how come you haven’t pulled your hair from its roots yet? How are you smiling ? How can you hold your baby as I can’t hold mine as I shake too much as I am scared of him? We have this perpetuated image of how things should be, having read every single mother and baby magazine going while pregnant . So, when we don’t feel like that and we feel we need medical help, it takes a lot of strength for a mum to book the appointment , attend the appointment and speak at the appointment.

‘I never had a diagnosis after my first baby but I was incredibly unwell, I finally plucked up the courage to see a GP and he told me I had the baby blues and to go home have a cup of tea and a chocolate bar and everything would be fine. It was 18 incredibly dark and painful months, filled with a longing to take my own life, the certainty I didn’t deserve my baby and almost the end of my marriage before I found the courage to step into the Dr’s surgery again. Please don’t treat us like silly little girls and suggest chocolate as a solution to mental health issues

Where do I start with this example??? This is familiar to me as I too was told by a doctor, after my husband telling them I thought the duvet cover was dancing and I couldn’t be in the same room as my son, to make a cake and really spend some time eating it and to enjoy it. As nice as cakes and tea are, a slice of cheesecake isn’t going to stop someone from being scared of their child. If it did, the shelves of Tesco’s would be permanently empty and pharmacists wouldn’t have a job. Its not normal. Can you imagine the absolute bravery it takes for a mum to go to her doctor and say I keep having visions of hurting my baby? Imagine her spilling that all out, how she is afraid to be with her baby in case something happens , for a doctor to say go home home and eat a walnut whip ? Eating a walnut whip will not stop you having visions of dropping your baby. I doubt there needs to be any research into this either , it seems fairly obvious. This mum sums it up here – ” I had my third 3rd baby I started to get horrendous thoughts . I attempted to speak to my gp who was really not hearing me and told me it was normal.”

The doctor snorted when I said I wasn’t coping and made mine feel stupid for not being able to cope

“I was feeling no bond with my baby, i had most of the symptoms of PND including the crying all the time, feeling hopeless, useless etc, feeling like something terrible was going to happen etc. I tried to ask the GP for help (i was about 9 weeks PP) my husband was there too. I told him how i felt and that i feared i was battling PND. He chuckled to himself (the DR) and told me that it was normal for new mums to feel this way, then turned to my husband and said its probably just womanly problems. At this point i just wanted to cry. I didnt ask for help again until i was pregnant with my second child, and my depression came back with force”.

Womanly problems eh? Us hysterical women moaning as we are being forced to do more than wash the pots and service our husbands. Can’t cope with a baby when 97 year old Mrs Smith who lives at number 13 down the road , managed to have 12 babies and always had a smile on her face. Didn’t see her depressed did you? She had no time to be depressed! Pull yourself together woman. Chuckle chuckle vision.

I had a doctor ask me if I had planned my own suicide. I said no . Reason being , I was unable to get myself dressed or go to the toilet as I had forgotten how to. My poor husband turned into my carer and the only reason I was able to get to the doctors was because he sat me on the toilet, dressed me and plonked me in a seat at the surgery . I was in such a state i don’t think I could have planned anything let alone my own death. The doctor, without looking at me and staring at her screen said ‘ then you are low risk, go home and get some sleep. All will seem better the morning’ .

Well that morning I woke up and smashed my forehead into a wall. I told john I wanted to go under a bus and at one point locked myself in the bathroom babbling that the razor I was holding was nice and shiny and peaceful . I refused to look at my son and went on fours on my in laws bed and barked like a dog. As you can see, all that rest the doctor advised four hours before at 3am hadn’t made all seem better had it? I thought I was a jack Russell looking for my lost tail…… I was in a psychiatric mother and baby unit a few hours later.

Reacting in a different way however can prove such a difference. Someone sent me through the following quote and my mood shifted from sadness to joy ask read it. Take a look.

I went to docs after speaking with m HV . Doc said I was over reacting, worrying about nothing and I shouldn’t expect to feel the same about my second baby as I did my first!! I was so shocked!! I told him things i had never said out loud!! I came out, called my HV and within 5mins was back in and seeing a different doctor who was amazing. He saw me ay least once a week until my councillor appointment came through. With my 3rd I decided to take the advice of my midwife and saw a councillor every week through my whole pregnancy x so far so good xx hard work and I use the coping strategies I learnt every day. My son’s (12yrs, 6yrs,22mths) are amazing!! Most of the time;)”

Look at the difference with a different approach. And how positive the mum is at the end. Her happiness, her children’s happiness and her recovery happened because someone listened to her and took steps to help her. This my friends is what good looks like.

I don’t want to tell anyone how I feel as I am worried my baby will be taken away by Social Services

” I never talk to anyone about how I feel and the thoughts I have had continuously going through my head because I worry that if I got professional help , they would take my daughter from me.”

“I didn’t ask for help because I had thoughts of hurting my little boy. I’d heard so many stories about Social Services and I just knew he would be taken away and id be called a bad parent. What I had wasn’t normal at all & I would be taken into a mental hospital.”

You can see that mums are terrified of opening one up. They are terrified their baby will be taken from them and that ‘bad mother’ will be written all over their files. An article in the holy grail that is the Daily Fail ( bear with me , yes it’s awful and I usually take glee in chucking into the bin) said that as many as 35,000 mothers each year are suffering in silence from post-natal depression, with many too afraid to seek help in case their babies are taken away from them. To live your life day after day with distressing visions entering your head on loop is like Nightmare on Elm Street crossed with Groundhog Day. They don’t just go. They seep through and stop you in your tracks. And most importantly, you don’t want them. You don’t like them. You want them to go away go away go away.

“Everyone worries about their baby and whether they’re safe so I thought it was just normal, never mind the fact I was washing my hands to the point they would cracking and bleed from fear they were contaminated and something awful would happen to him. That was just the begining. Negative scary thoughts started ruling my life. I was scared all the time but more scared if telling people what these thoughts were o was sure my son would be taken away from”.

Please please please when someone comes to you with symptoms of something like intrusive thoughts, what you should be saying is , well done for coming , I know this wasn’t easy. You aren’t evil, this doesn’t mean you want to hurt your baby and we are going got get you some support. Reassure them that Social Services, if intervention is ever needed in any case , doesn’t mean their baby will be automatically taken from them and repeat repeat and repeat again that they are not a bad parent but rather they are experiencing the symptoms of an illness. And why ? Because this may be the only chance to . And if you handle that chance wrong , that mother may not come back again. And if you read the first example above , that mother sunk to a terrible terrible low where she admits she almost took her life and she didn’t go to another GP for almost two years. And that isn’t good enough. That mother deserves to lead a happy life with her baby. And she deserves to be alive.

The fear of a baby being taken is undoubtably one of the biggest reason mums don’t divulge their symptoms. It is beyond terrifying to think that by opening up to not feeling like you are in a rose petal covered bubble , that a doctor will say, right then, here take these pills, make yourself a cup of tea and pack the babies bag because Social Services will come and swoop them away at any moment. Without explanation and with a fear that they will never see them again. As health care professionals, you need to do all you can to reassure mums what will and won’t likely happen, point them to guidance that explains procedures and also explain that Social Services, if they do ever become involved, actually want to support . A doctor friend of mine pointed me to this page that she shares with her patients when they say they are scared to be honest about their feelings because they are scared their precious baby will be removed from their care – http://childprotectionresource.online/reporting-post-natal-depression/. We know that very few mothers are a real risk to their baby but there may be times of course where extra help , support and intervention is needed. But, by helping to soothe the very real fears of mums would undoubtedly mean we would have more of them coming forward early on in their illness and getting help more quickly.

The doctor said I was too young to have pnd so I left and didn’t go back. I felt stupid for going and wondered what the hell could be wrong with me.

Hmm. Mental illnesses don’t discriminate . They can affect anyone at any time and seeing as 10-15 women in every 100 who have a baby develop postnatal depression,these women can be any age. Maybe it’s the ‘you are young , what have you got to be worried about attitude’ that is sometimes chucked at younger people that made this line come out ? What should this lady have done ? Counted down , sadly , to her next birthday where her symptoms would suddenly be valid? ‘ happy birthday to me , I’m not full of glee. I feel very sad and don’t want to drink tea’. There was some research done into age of mother and risks of postnatal depression which you can read an abstract from here http://www.morrispsych.com/postpartum-depression-are-older-mothers-more-at-risk/ and it confirms that age alone is not a factor for increased risk. So , whether you are 16 or 65. It can affect you .

It would be really nice to see the same person more than once

A massive reason for no disclosure appears to be because people are simply fed up of having to re- tell their story 87 times to 9767 different health care professionals. So you pluck up the courage to see one doc, blurt it all out, doctor is brilliant, supports , talks and books you a follow up in two weeks where they will discuss meds and you go back and it’s a new doctor. Who reads the screen instead of looking at you and nods while you re-tell your tale of wanting to run out of the house at 2am and never return and then says I don’t think meds are right for you . You think , but the other doctor said such and such. And then the health visitor comes round who is different to the one who came and weighed the baby and she throws in that postnatal depression can’t be diagnosed until12 weeks. When the first doctor said it was after six weeks. And this rings true with the Falling Through The Gaps report says that a few GPs said that information sharing did not work as well as it could.

‘Finally screwed up my courage to go to GP when #2 was a few months old. He seemed embarrassed and gave me a helpline number. Couldn’t face opening up to someone again who might also be so totally disinterested, so just decided to soldier on – probably took about 2 years to find my way out. I didn’t have enough spare energy to fight for the help I needed’

‘I had pnd & ptsd after #1 died, whilst pregnant with #2 I asked for mh referral. 3 times I asked my midwife to refer me, 3 times she told me the notes said they had contacted me & I hadn’t responded. Utter rubbish I’d never been contacted but it made me look bonkers so i gave up asking for help’.

‘I lie, put on a front and hide until I trust. That takes time. Apart from my perinatal team, i never saw the same person twice in 3 years’.

Head bang on table. Everyone is saying different stuff and they all have the common issue of not being able to access the same notes. We know this is a problem that cant be fixed easily but its really confusing to mums , at a time when things are confusing enough , to have different ideas thrown at them by a hundred different people. We all know that on one the Edinburgh Postnatal Scale could score overwhelmingly high and the next day not so much so and team this with two different doctors then it all gets a bit out of control. Being able to see the same doctor , HV or mental health professional ensures a consistency of care . I had an anxiety collapse a few years ago when I found out I was pregnant again. I went from being a very happy mummy to my gorgeous three year old, 2.5 years recovered, to a total wreck in the space of a couple of days . The wee covered pregnancy stick had sent my mind into total panic mode at the fear of going psychotic again and the doctor who knew me and what had happened to me after my son was born,after liaising with the mother and baby unit I had been in advised me to go back on to my meds. I went on these when I had psychosis after much trial and error with other pills and knew they were he ones for me. However , a duty psychiatrist asked me why on earth I was taking these meds and wanted to change them. This was the first time I had met him , he had spoken to me for 3 minutes and had no access to any of my notes. He said he was too busy to hear my whole back story ( it was 4am and I had waited 19 hours to see him) and said the meds he suggested would help but if I didn’t want them , then he couldn’t help me.

This was not helpful. The next day , we travelled 200 miles and saw the treatment team from the mother and baby unit I was in three years earlier. They liaised with a doctor I knew and the psychiatrist who was treating me and I went back on my old meds at a reduced dose. And my recovery began. I felt safe with doctors who knew me and my story.

I felt like the doctor wants to get me out of the door and he kept looking up at the time. Tick tick tock .

‘My first baby, we had her post birth gp check (usually at 6 weeks) and my post birth 8 week check combined at 8 weeks as a time/money saving initiative. My partner wanted to be there for my daughters check up. They did the pnd test where you score your mood etc from 1-5 while he was there (it was 4 and a half years ago so pretty hazy now) I remember not scoring as accurately, and negatively, as I felt because I didn’t want my partner to think I was weak’

All the alarm bells should be ringing . One lady said her six week check, which took place at about 12 weeks ,consisted of the doctor washing her hands , saying ‘things will start picking up now’ and then saying to give the baby orange juice to make him poo. It lasted about 4 minutes and she walked out wondering what had just happened. Gps are beyond busy. They are worked to the god damn bone and we should support our doctors to the very end but when you go in the door and feel like you are being pushed out the other twenty seconds later, it can have a terrible effect on that mother it’s happened to. And she may not come back . The Falling through the gaps Rory talked about the time pressures on GPs said they ‘are noted to act as a disincentive to disclosure’ and this is so worrying.

Great things health care professionals did :

But like I said. This blog isn’t to tear Heath Care Professionals down. Its to inform – as the reality is , we know you have to see about 74 people a day , which is why you whizz through appointments We know you are under so much pressure and that can be super stressful. And we know that you aren’t supported enough , and we support you. So , I wanted to include things form people about the brilliant stuff health care professionals have done to help mums who walkthrough their door search for a kickstart to recovery. I owe my life to the medical profession and know how much you do work to get your patients the help and support they need. The Falling Through The Gaps report showed that ‘women appeared most positive about the care they received when it felt personalised and integrated, when they were involved in making decisions about their care and when it was experienced as wrapping around their needs’.

So , where there is a real sense that women don’t feel listened to at times, there is , of course , many many examples of amazing care. There may be no perinatal pathway in your area, you as a GP may not have much knowledge of mental illness or even more specifically, perinatal mental illness and we know that. We know you work like hell in a system that doesn’t support you in anyway and we the patients support you. But what you can do is show kindness and compassion when a mum who comes to you really needs it. You can even say , look I am not quite sure how we are going to get you help but take a tissue, have a cry, tell me your biggest fear. If you can’t tell me , write it down and show me and I will see what I can do. Sometimes, a bit of understanding and kind words are all that are needed to show that mum it’s ok to go to the doctor and open up.

‘The best thing my GP did was praise me for seeking help. When you’re in a bad place it’s very difficult to view yourself in a positive light so the fact she’d made a point of saying it was very thoughtful. She also highlighted the various ways I could keep myself safe (Samaritans, a&e, back to her, family help) whilst I waited for antidepressants to kick in, including satisfying herself I had a good support network in place. She also liased with pharmacist to work out the best ad’s to take whilst breastfeeding. She really was exemplary in her care, in fact my whole GP practice are fantastic no matter who you get, I’ve been really impressed’

‘My health visitor was amazing and really helped me, took me to the doctors because I didn’t want to go alone/leave the house by myself with a very unhappy cmpa & reflux baby’

‘The one thing the GP told me that I’ll never forget and what helped me through the shittest of times is ‘You are all that little baby knows, he’s been inside you for 9 months and is now in the big world all by himself, he just needs his mummy and that’s okay, but it’s okay for mummy to need time’

‘When I was feeling even worse a few weeks later, I called my HV in tears to tell her what had been happening – she came round to see me in person, sorted a CBT referral there and then and put a complaint through to my GP about the way it had been handled. I don’t think I can thank her enough for how she dealt with it!’

‘I’m currently 35 weeks pregnant and have had antenatal depression during this pregnancy – I spotted it early, self referred to the counselling service after chatting to my husband, updated my midwife and HV and avoided going to the GP. It seems to be under control at this point, but if it comes back as PND after the baby is born, then we know what we’re looking for this time and the best way to get what I need from the system round here’

There is a harsh reality that mums avoid going to the doctor or don’t return to the doctor because of a previous negative experience . and this is so sad as its at a time when its vital for a mum to feel supported and comforted . Without doctors, health visitors etc, I know I am not alone when I say I am alive because of them ,which is why when I hear of a mum not wanting to go back to a doctor for help and is slipping more and more into a state because of a previous experience or because of fear , that I feel like something needs to be done to show mums they can come back.

Perinatal Mental Health Toolkit

I was lucky enough to be able to , as a survivor of perinatal mental illness, review and contribute to the Perinatal Mental Health Toolkit , a resource for GPs which is here http://www.rcgp.org.uk/clinical-and-research/toolkits/perinatal-mental-health-toolkit.aspx . It’s Brillo- pads and I am delighted Carrie Ladd invited mums to view it and review it . It is designed to help doctors support women who come to them displaying symptoms of a perinatal mental illness and contains details on clinical resources for professional, details on medications and breastfeeding, resources that can be shared with the patient and their families, best practice info and details of support in the community that can compliment mums while they are suffering and in recovery, as well as a whole wad of other stuff. I urge you to read it and have a scan if a mum comes into you tomorrow. It’s a wealth of info in one place that’s easy to guide yourself around. If you do have any questions , there is an email address you can message and I think it’s brilliant that there is a specific resource that is bursting at the seams with great info to help not just women, but doctors, who have a hard enough job as it is , seeing so many people day to day with so many different medical issues.

The fabulous Judy Shakespeare did a presentation on International Women’s Day and advised that if a woman consults a GP saying she thinks she has a perinatal mental health problem, she is almost certainly right. It’s a big step to go the doctor or open up to a health visitor about how you are feeling and when it feels like you leave the doctors 4 steps backwards , that can be truly terrifying.

Do not send her away without a flicker of hope or tell her it’s normal when , if you really listen, it isn’t. She might look okay. It it doesn’t mean she is. She is sat in front of you because she wants help and more importantly, needs it.

Blogging about motherhood,the madness it can bring and the muddles I find myself in.