On Monday 22 June , after work , after collecting my son from school and eating three brownies and a lemon ice tea, I’ll be trekking across London to take in the lovely views across canary wharf and Greenwich. How delightful I hear you say. However , I forgot to throw in that I will be taking in these views from on top of the 02 centre, 52 metres in the sky. Tis quite high.
This isn’t my normal after work activity. That normally involves wine and crisps but this is no normal Monday. This is because I am part of Team London for Postpartum Progress’s Annual Climb Out Of Darkness http://postpartumprogress.org/climb-out-of-the-darkness/. Take a look at this and also the website for postpartum progress http://www.postpartumprogress.com.
When I was ill, well actually , not when I was properly ill as when that was going on, I was in terror at the thought of every second, minute and hour. The chiming of the clock would not just signify another hour going past, but another chime to what was the life sentence of motherhood that lay before me. The pure terror I felt about being trapped by this child forever filled me with such dread that I genuinely thought the only way out was death. I could see no end to the fear that I felt. I could see no end to waking up in the morning and feeling as though I was in a nailed down coffin , gasping for hour. Gasping for an air that would lift me up out of my bed, into the sky , above the clouds into space. I began to think , only then will I be free. I would run out of the house saying I felt like cling film was pulled across my mouth and was stopping me breathing. I was desperate for a way out. I had spent nine months waiting for my child to arrive which such hope and glee and when he did, within an hour of his birth, I felt a hazy sense of dread. My mum said I looked glazed over and kept shouting ‘Evelyn , Evelyn , why are you staring into space? Evelyn, put your phone down, the baby is here’. I was looking around the room looking for the exit and wondered if the windows were open. I think I have sub consciously started planning my escape then but little did I know the pit I would fall into just a few hours later.
Over the course of the next three days , I slipped slip into a deep deep fear filled state. I was scared of my baby. He had amazing squidgy arms and the smallest cutest little toe in the world, and the little toe nail on that little toe was so tiny yet so perfect. He did lots of yawning and seemed to like me but I found myself not even being able to look at him. I peered his cot a few times and felt my hands clam up. My head would start buzzing , I would start breathing through my nose , my teeth would feel like they had pins and needles and I would start looking for a fire exit. I felt like I needed to get out. Out of the ward, the hospital and what became very obvious, out of the life I had been dealt. How could I have wanted something so much and as soon as it was here decide I not only didn’t want it , but that I was scared of it ?
I realised I felt trapped by being a mother. This gurgling lump of squidge belonged to me ,forever, and the idea of that sent me into such a spin that I eventually couldn’t be in the same room as him. I would shake at the thought of his presence and the idea that he was now here and was staying here. I couldn’t unbirth him now.
When he was six weeks old I woke up one day, smacked my head into the wall, told john I was getting the baby adopted while pacing up and down the room, screamed so much that blood poured from the side of my mouth, began chanting and walking up and down the stairs over and over and over and crawled around the bed on all fours screaming ‘someone has to help me ‘ while John was on the phone to a psychiatrist at the hospital. This day culminated in john finding me in the bathroom holding a razor saying the sun was hitting it in such a way that it glistened really beautifully. For those few minutes holding the razor, in the midst of that morning of meltdown and the previous six weeks of hell, I just sat there , staring at the floor. I don’t know why. I don’t know what I was planning on doing with the razor. I think I went in the bathroom to get away from everyone ( john was on ohone to the hospital trying to get me admitted , his mum was on the phone to the doctors trying to get my pregnancy notes for the hospital ) and the baby just kept crying for me , my boobs ,my smell and my warmth. I can remember being in the bathroom , I remember it was really sunny,I remember I squeezed a little spot at the top of my arm and I remember opening up the cabinet and picking up the razor. Even though my lady locks down below had reached such catastrophic proportions that the forestry commission would need to come along with an industrial lawn mower to fashion a Brazilian on me , I was most definitely not getting the razor out to prune my nether regions. I don’t know why I got it out. I don’t think I wanted the physical pain of ending my life but I had reached the point where I thought death was the only way out. My son was now born. He was here forever and the idea of that I couldn’t cope with.
The previous six weeks had seen me have continuous panic attacks, I’d experienced hallucinations which made me feel like I was floating in the corner of the room looking down on myself. If only I’d have brought the broom up with me I could have attacked the cob webs while doing cartwheels in the corner. I frequently talk about the day I turned myself into a picket fence housewife complete with powder blue eye shadow , coral orange lipstick and a slicked up born that Mary poppins would break a sweat to steal of me. I also put an apron on and then proceeded to stand in the kitchen for the next few hours holding a piece of frozen stewing steak , chanting . When john returned home , joe was asleep in his bouncer, I looked like I had just let the three year old next door pretend I was a girls world and draw all over my face with a crayon and I think I might have tried to climb out of the window. That was a fun day girls. It surely was painfully obvious that I wasn’t well – I was wearing coral orange lipstick that was that seen in 1985 on women with quaffed fringes hairsprayed into place with concrete strength . Who in their right mind wears coral lipstick I ask you ?
I was eventually hospitalised and diagnosed with postpartum psychosis and anxiety. In the uk we have what I will call a ‘light sprinkling’ which translates to , not a lot at all and we need loads more but the government is shutting them all down anyway , of mother and baby units. These are specialist psychiatric wards where mums and their babies can go to manage the mental illness they are suffering since the birth of their child and to kick start their recovery. My lovely pretend hubby – nearly ten yrs together and a bare finger over here but you know , I really have made him stick through the for better and for worse even in the absence of those official vows and he still loves me god bless him – fought tooth and nail to get me into a unit as we had to endure nearly two months of ‘oh , your wife is just tired / she is wearing mascara she can’t be depressed/ get her to make a cake , that will cheer her up/ didn’t she realise having a baby was hard’ type comments while everyone brushed aside the absolute horror I was going through.
When I went into the unit, my recovery started. I was put on lots of happy pills,anti psychotics and anti anxiety medication which I will now forever say saved my life. I don’t care that I chewed them like smarties, I don’t care that I put on approx 67 stone in weight, I don’t care that they seemed to give me , ahem, sulphur burps (yummy, I’ll be winning miss world 2016 won’t i ) and I don’t care if people say , oh just eat some raw paw paw and cut an onion in half and hold them against your ears. They will clear out the toxins and all your sad feelings will be absorbed by said onion and then you can bury it in the garden and have a funeral for all your old sad emotions. I needed medication and I took it. And it helped me get better . Hurrah to scientists and their magic potions to help us feel better. Without them I don’t think my son would have a mother alive today.
And when I was in the unit, I was able to take the time to focus on my recovery. It forced me to be in joes presence , something I had not only avoided but feared so much that my vision had blurred. In between my panic attacks , I would read . The was a wonderful book called ‘life after birth’ by kate figes which gave me my first glimmer of hope. Then I would read articles on the internet.
I read one that will always stay with me . It said , recovery from perinatal mental health problems does happen but like it’s a game of snakes and ladders. You will have a pile of good days and then a bad one will pop up. But that like snakes and ladders, you may slip down the ladder but you never go back to the beginning. That gave me hope. I would have days where I would think , I’m doing ok, I can look at joe without vomiting , I can lift him up and nurse him and then it would hit me , bam , like a cold fish had just been smacked around my face. I would shake , my teeth would chatter and I’d say , oh god oh god, it’s happening again john , you don’t understand, I’m going to die , it’s him, I can’t be his mum , I can’t do this , I can’t , how can you do it , why aren’t you terrified and then I would have a massive panic attack and all the nurses would have to come into the room and help me calm down. I would feel like it was never ever going to get better but the snakes and ladders analogy gave me hope. I might feel shit sometimes. I may feel more than shit sometimes, I may feel like I want to be six feet under ( I had hallucinations of being locked in a coffin frequently) but you know, that thirty seconds yesterday where I felt ok meant something . It was more than thirty seconds of oh I feel ok, it was thirty seconds of hope . And that’s what I needed to cling on to.
And then I would read blogs and survivor stories online. I saw that people had felt like me. I’ll be honest that I struggled to find anyone saying what I felt , the whole , I’m trapped in life as a mum and feel so bad about it I think I want to end my life, but these were women, admitting they felt awful after having a baby and even though it took a while, they got better. Some thought they were going to hurt their baby, some thought they had developed OCD but what they all had in common was that they had experienced something really shit but that they had got better. This hope was like a carrot dangling in front of me. Or rather like a bar of chocolate saying look how good I look, but you can’t quite grab me , but one day you will and you will devour me.
And I did. It took about 2.5 years but I eventually grabbed that chocolate bar and didn’t let go. It took a lot of meds, therapy which involved me watching a clicking finger move side to side and a stint in a psychiatric unit but I got better . I’m a bloody warrior . I have clawed back from wanting to end it all to wanting to inhale life with my son so much that I could smother him in kisses and still want to give him more. He is my light, my love, my soul. He is most definitely my child. The afternoon after the uk election he stood up in class to tell all the other five year olds about it and how he is so clever. Apparently all was going well until the path where he announced ” and so that means that the conservatives are still in power and David Cameron is still out prime minister. And that is a fucking ballache. ” I can’t think she he got that from. Similar to when I had my annual check up at the doctors and was asked ‘ and so , just for our records as we ask everyone now, how much alcohol do you consume”. I of course said , oh you know I might go out once a month and have a glass of some nice French red wine with a nice fillet steak and he nodded and said good good. My darling child then pipes up ” mummy, you love getting drunk. You walk like this when you have had too much wine”. I mumbled a few yes yes darling , that’s a nice story for the doctor to chuckle and say , ooh what’s your favourite drink joe ? Water , apple juice ? No , my five year old child’s response – ” I like jaguar bombs ‘. I’ll just point out that he doesn’t have jaguarbombs to the best of my knowledge unless the dinner ladies at school have taken to pulling pints while serving up macaroni cheese.
I did climb out last with my other uk warrior mum girlfriends beth bone and Kathryn grant. They both have blogs you should peruse and they fought similar battles to me . We walked across London last year and spent those hours together laughing , remembering and realising how lucky we are . We remembered those women who have lost their lives to perinatal mental health and vowed we would do what we can to help others who had been in a similar position to us. And we have . Us three , along with some other amazeballs people have formed the perinatal mental health partnership in the uk to create an awareness campaign. We are doing some great work and our experiences are and will help others.
And this is where postpartum progress and climb out comes in. Postpartum Progress and it’s founder, Katherine Stone is the most brilliant resource for mothers and their families. It posts hopeful blog posts, easy to read symptom checkers,lists details where you can access support and shows that you aren’t alone. There are whole communities who can and want to help you if you are feeling like it’s all too much. You can and do get better, I promise.
Climb out signifies something beautiful. It signifies you climbing out of despair back to your peak. No matter how low you get , you can climb out of it. And it may be a hard climb , it may be one where you feel like you have no choice but to give up but dig those nails in and you can do it. Take whatever help you need, you don’t have to do it alone. Your friends and family can help you, people you don’t know can help you and you will get there.
I will be climbing this year with beth who is our team leader , Kathryn and another survivor , Tracy Robinson. We will scale the 02 and reach the top and think , that was as easy as drinking a glass of prosecco bra use have climbed harder mountains than that- we beat perinatal mental health problems. I have no doubt that when I’m clad in my delightful blue jumpsuit with a harness around my fandango staring up at the great height in front of me that I’ve agreed to climb , I will shit my pants. But this is fine really as I should be used to it – I have the bladder control of a newborn since having my little sunshine.