I went to toddler group when recovering from my psychotic episode. It had taken all my strength to go there. As part of my exposure therapy, I had to build up spending time with joe on my own each day. It started with walking around the garden with him. This took about thirty seconds and of course seems as memorable as scratching your arse to someone who hasn’t been unwell but to me, it was a truly terrifying but necessary experience. Every day over a three month period, I would have to build up being on my own with him 30 seconds more each day. Sometimes I would vomit with fear, I always shook with nerves and every second, minute and hour, I would wish the time away. Sometimes I would listen to the ticks on the clock and think they sounded like that were ticking along to my life sentence of motherhood, to drive me to even more despair.
The day I decided to go to the toddler group, I was feeling very brave. No one knew me,no one knew that 8 weeks before I had been in the doggy position on my in laws bed, screaming. I’d love to say that john and I had thrown caution to the wind and in the throes of passion decided to have a rumble in the in- laws bedroom jungle and that is what caused me to be on all fours yelling my head off but it wasn’t. That was the day I was hospitalised in the mother and baby unit. I’d woken up and it felt as though I was stuck to the bed with glue. I opened my eyes and couldn’t see properly. I thought I’d gone blind, felt like I had been taken hostage by the world and all I wanted to do was escape. Escape anyway I could. I told John I couldn’t face life anymore. I stood staring out of the window,pulling at my hair and running my eyes frantically trying together my vision to return. But getting myself to specsavers for a snazzy new specs was not going to solve this problem. Reason being, I had become so anxious,my eyesight was actually blurring. I wasn’t imagining it. I wasn’t in the midst of a psychotic episode thinking I was in the North Pole and snow was pouring front of my eyes.
I ran into the bathroom and sat on the side of the bath. John recalls that I was babbling behind the door about how the razors looked shiny in the sunshine and how pretty they looked glistening in this glow. I don’t know whether I was staring at the them thinking I could end my life at this very moment or considering shaving my forest like legs in the absence of a lawnmower that was capable of cutting two foot long leg hair. He was banging on the door telling me to come out and I flicked the lock open. I looked at him and my brain bolted. I ran into his parents room and started pulling at the curtains and scratching the walls. I jumped on the bed and assumed my dog like pose and started yelling. Not just normal screams, but deep deep wails that felt like they had been hiding in my soul for those first six previous weeks of motherhood. I can still remember the salty taste in my mouth from my sea of tears as I shook my head frantically. I fell to my elbows and sobbed ‘please, please can someone help me,I need someone to help me’. John was on the end of the bed on the phone to the hospital , shouting ,trying to speak to a psychiatrist. I can remember him holding the phone up in the air so the receptionist could hear my wails and frantic rumblings and his mum was shouting over him saying I was talking about needing the pain to be taken away. An hour later, I was admitted to the unit and my recovery began.
My life was about to start a new journey , the journey to get better and I didn’t know how long it would be and where I would end up but I knew I didn’t want to feel like this forever. On my discharge from the unit, I found I would be getting daily visits from a community psychiatric nurse and she would be giving me daily tasks to help me get used to Joes presence. And that included getting out and about and braving the big new world ahead of me. And so back to the toddler group. I crept up and thought I could pretend to be the old Eve . I found a woman who was tandem feeding her kids and I thought, ooh, she looks exciting, I’ll go and sit with her. I plonked myself down and put joe on my knee, safe in the knowledge no one knew of the torture of the last two months and I could just be me, Eve , with my child for the next hour. Not Eve , the girl who had been muttering about living in the clouds and who wanted to chop all her hair off and give it to the homeless man to keep him warm. I actually wanted to do that and even now I think it’s quite a nice little sentiment. I’m glad I didn’t though as I think if I had gone all Army and buzz cut my long mane , looking in the mirror to see me looking like an egg with an over zealous forehead really would have finished me off.
While sitting with the nice kind looking lady with the two babies attached to each boob, I began to feel ok. I had really feared this, I thought I would run away when I got to the front door but I hadn’t. I’d gone in. I’d even accepted a cup of tea instead of fuelling my addiction to diet coke so I could seem like all the other normal mums. And then it happened. A nice looking nosy stranger ran over to me with wild abandon,knocking children out of her way, yelling ‘ oh helllloooo. Yes you, I’m talking to you. We were just saying how nice it is that your husband has been given all this time off work while you get over your postnatal depression. We can’t believe you had to go into a psychiatric ward because being a mum is the most natural thing in the world ‘and off she went . It was then that I realised how much of a stigma postnatal mental health is, because motherhood is supposed to be the most natural thing in the world. And here was me, finding it the most difficult thing in the world. I understand why some mums don’t want to take a whole year of work, I understand why some mums feel like motherhood is so hard that they fail to see how on earth it’s natural at all. And yet when people find out that you are suffering with postnatal depression, there is usually a gasp. A gasp because what we expect is that when a baby is born, a mother is born and that mother will take on her new role with glee. We don’t expect her to say, I don’t like it, I don’t want it , I can’t look at it, I’m scared of it ,take it away,take me away.
A journalist recently wrote an article on how stigma towards mental illness doesn’t actually exist. And neither do genital crabs do they? What an absolute dick. The whole Time To Change campaign was built around the fact that people feel uncomfortable knowing that someone has a mental illness and not knowing how to talk to them. That is a stigma right there. It.does.exist. Thing is, with itchy bits, people find it a bit embarrassing and go to the doctor and get something to scratch the itch , get drunk, tell their friends and everyone laughs about it but with postnatal depression, people find it a bit embarrassing , don’t go to the doctor, so don’t get something to scratch the itch and then feel like they can’t tell anyone. I always wonder how people end up on ’Embarrassing Bodies’ on TV with their legs akimbo saying they think a worm crawled in their neither regions and let the camera man zoom in on them. I’d love to see a programme like this but for people with mental health problems. Just imagine ? think how much exposure that would give to mental health and open people’s minds to the suffering endured. We love a bit of exposure , as revealed by looking at my Twitter feed after someone asks the DR on the TV to look at their fandango.
Mental health problems are common, but nearly nine in ten people who experience them say they face stigma and discrimination as a result. Lady stupid who wrote the article on how stigma doesn’t actually exist clearly hasn’t been at the brunt of it. I hope she never has to suffer and face a barrage of comments from Daily Fail readers saying ‘pull yourself together lady,depression is a made up illness’. I think there is this belief that if you are suffering from postnatal illness it is a) not real and you are being an over-emotional woman who needs to pull herself together and get on with things as this is what you have been out on gods green earth for – to create or b) a scary illness which means you want to sell your baby the the travelling circus and that you are incapable of being normal ever again, so people talk about in hushed tones and to you like you are a baby.
This stigma is one of the worst parts of suffering as a new mum because it can mean a complete loss of the life you knew before. And not being able to live that life again. And no one understanding why. My friends were coming to see me and the baby and would say ‘oh you must be so happy’. They would bring some lovely presents, coo over joe and then leave. I spent the time they were with me banging my foot against the sofa, desperately wishing someone to say, are you ok Eve but of course, why would they? It’s just not expected. And I don’t think they are awful because they didn’t ask. You don’t go to your friends house who has had the baby they so desperately wanted and say ‘you hate it don’t you, you look terrified’.
I had a friend who had been trying for a child for a long time that we didn’t know about. She told me I was ungrateful when she found out I had been in the mother and baby unit. Ungrateful , as there were women in the world like her who wanted a child so badly and here was Eve , with a beautiful baby and asking people if they would like to take it home with them . I’d lost babies before Joe and my pregnancy was fraught with terror. I had planned for a stillbirth all the way through. My womb condition meant we knew we would be very lucky for a child at the end of my pregnancy and every week, I was tested for the babies movements and size. I had thought about whether we could take pictures of our baby if it wasn’t born alive , would I be allowed to cuddle it before it was taken away and we hadn’t bought anything baby related until about a week before my c section. We would walk around Babies R Us and my hand would rock Moses baskets and I would skim my finger along nappies. We would always walk out empty handed , knowing we didn’t want to buy anything , just in case the worst situation we had been warned about happened.
I think when I had joe , I was in a state of shock. I’d put so much energy into looking after my pregnancy and was so convinced there wouldn’t be a baby at the end , that when he was handed me , I didn’t know what to do with him. He wasn’t supposed to be here yet here he was, perfect. And I felt completely unprepared. I had wanted him so much. I remember the day I declared to John that I wanted a baby. ‘ I want to be a mummy’ I announced one afternoon when john was putting his socks on. We agreed we would go to Greece on holiday and in our return start trying for a little version of ourselves. Two weeks later, I found out I was already pregnant and had been when I declared my mum intentions to john. Seems I had got ridiculously drunk on our anniversary a few weeks prior, drank five bottles of wine,fell in the bath, banged my head on a loo seat and vomited my night away. Which included my pill. One amorous morning later, it seems my fate was sealed and joe decided to set up camp in my womb.
I wanted him so much. We had parties for our baby in my tummy to celebrate getting so far in my pregnancy. I wrote a card to my bump at 30 weeks and said ‘ keep those little knees kicking little one’. I truly desperately wanted him. Never in my wildest dreams did I think within a few days of having him, I would sink into such a dark deep place that I wanted to die.
The stigma can be further heightened by the reaction of others. After I had been admitted to the unit, I got a phone call from a family member. I had just walked down to the basement of the hospital,past a pile of psychiatric wards, looked like a witch who had come out of the shit side of a fight, with four days worth of mascara smeared all over my face and kept telling john over and over that I could smell burning flesh whirl around the hospital. I convinced myself the ECT lounge was gearing up for me and as I walked into the unit , I fell to the floor in a heap and wailed that I just wanted some wires connected to my head to take all the pain away.
The phone rang and john answered it. It was passed to me and before I even said hello I heard ‘ Evelyn, you know that if you are sectioned,you’ll lose your job don’t you. Don’t tell anyone in work.The job you have worked so hard for. It will all be gone. And then you’ll have no money and then no house. And is joe going to be taken off you?’. Ten thousand questions in the space of thirty seconds and I span completely out of control. I needed to get better. If I didn’t , I would be dead , no doubt about it, but other people were worrying about my job. They failed to realise if I wasn’t in the unit, there would be no me to do that job. I would be a memory, not an actual living being but they were more concerned that people would find out I was in the ‘nut house’ as they so nicely put it. The reality is, I am extremely lucky with my job. Everyone knows I went bananas and it hasn’t stood in my way at all. I am very lucky. This is how it should be for everyone in the workplace but I know this definitely isn’t the case.
There is a very real stigma about being in psychiatric care. People seem to think they need to talk to you in a very slow voice,spelling words out for you like they are a pre-school teacher and permanently smile at you. I found people spoke to me like old people do to children, that awful squeaky voice that goes up and down like me playing an out of tune recorder, age 9. I’m still not quite sure why people think that if you have a mental health problem that you suddenly have the brain of a three yr old.
My mum arrived at the unit and said oohhhh it’s quite nice in here isn’t it. The beds aren’t chained to the walls are they? I said no mother because it isn’t 1876 and Jack Nicholson is wandering around either. She announced she had told my relatives I was in the unit and that a mass was being said for me at the family church in Ireland. I said ‘what the fuck does that mean’. My mum said that everyone had lit candles for me in church and the priest had announced in his sermon that he wanted the congregation to pray for me to ‘accept the role God had given me’. I went ballistic. I said ‘I’m not fucking dead, why are people lighting candles for me? And I don’t believe in God. Does he want the baby ?’. She said that people just couldn’t believe this had happened to me, strong Eve. My mum said that people were asking why I hadn’t bonded with the baby and were speculating that maybe it was because I hadn’t felt his head pop out of my lady garden, maybe it was because he was dangling off my boobs 28 hours a day, maybe it was because I hadn’t been able to get drunk and fall over while I was pregnant. The nurse said, or maybe its just because its happened. Postnatal illness is a really serious thing but no one ever talks about it. And she was right. Another woman said Princess Diana even had it you know and talked about it in that interview where she said she was the queen of hearts. Everyone’s ears pricked up. See, I have something in common with royalty after all. I always knew I was the queen of my own kingdom really.
Let’s be thankful that the awfulness of perinatal mental health problems are being brought to the publics attention, whoever is raising it and I happen to think it’s good to see people who have people on their payroll to wipe their arse admit that even with all the money in the world, they couldn’t avoid the strike of the blues. Surely that’s a sign that it can strike anyone? And this must mean we can start chipping away at the stigma of suffering. Gwyneth Paltrow said she suffered and was ridiculed ‘well if you ate air for breakfast and mung beans for tea wouldn’t you feel depressed’. Just because she may have had a nanny and puts hot cups on her back instead of drinking tea out of them it doesn’t mean she hasn’t suffered.
Postnatal depression does not discriminate. People are snooty about Katie Price having suffered, as if someone with her background isn’t allowed. Just because she has shown her boobs off in lads mags , doesn’t mean her experience is any less valid. She is a woman, she is a mother. A mother who said when she had her son she felt so low she felt like she had a ‘terrible angry feeling’ she couldn’t explain. Why can’t she have felt like a bag of bricks was chucked at her head when she had her child? For those that say stigma doesn’t exist, I’ve found that some people seem to think that only a certain kind of person can suffer from PND. One comment I saw on an article about Gwyneth said ‘ how the hell would Paltrow know what true post natal depression is? She has nannys and no shortage of money/ me time – get a grip’. I know that even if I had had a nanny and oodles of money, I would have still have been hit by the postnatal hammer 67 times around the head. Having enough money to ensure you can get your roots done every three weeks doesn’t mean you aren’t entitled to suffer. True postnatal depression ? Surely , regardless of whether it makes you feel sad and weepy or psychotic and fill you with desires to go and climb the neighbours apple tree , naked , if it’s making you feel shit, then it’s bad enough for you to be able to say , you know, I have it, I have postnatal depression. I’ve had a baby, I feel awful and I’m going to tell someone. Yes, I may an au pair called Helga who irons my knickers, ensures the baby eats purple sprouting broccoli and fit into my skinny jeans BUT I feel like I’ve made a terrible mistake. I may have a lovely shiny smile because of my lovely shiny white teeth that cost me loads of money, but this expensive smile is hiding the fact that I’m too scared to be near my baby. Being rich doesn’t mean you can’t feel down and filled with regret and it doesn’t mean you can just snap out of it. That’s why it is so shocking when we find out a celebrity has had mental health problems after the birth of a baby. It seems like they have it all. And they don’t.
Motherhood is not a contest to see who can be best off. Though the way people stare at you when you say you don’t love it as much as the fake Jimmy Choo you got at Christmas you would think it is. Throw in , and then I started to feel terrified, anxious of being near my child, eat anti-depressants instead of smarties and spend an hour a week talking to a quack about my feelings because I have postnatal depression and the eyes stop staring at you and instead roll around around like a pile of marbles.
We shouldn’t take away from the joy of motherhood. It truly is the best thing that has ever happened to me. From the worst time in my life, the best time has emerged. I am mummy to the most beautiful child. His tummy hangs over his batman pants and he has lovely squidgy arms that my lips sink into when I kiss them. He wakes me up in the morning by stroking my face and says ‘ most beautiful mama ever’. He also pointed at Cheryl Cole on the TV and said ‘ooohh mummy, look at you on the TV, you so pretty’.Yes my dear boy, that is most definitely me. He has brought me so much joy that my heart aches for him when I’m not with him. He has started school now and I spend my day wondering what he is doing and I have this enormous desire to protect and love him more than anything else in the world.
However, I don’t think we should stand by the myth that motherhood is always the most wonderful experience. It became it for me but was catastrophically awful to start with. I don’t want to normalise postnatal depression because doing that means it would get no support. What I want to do is stop the stigma. Allow mums to say, I’m not ok. I’m actually really sad and can’t bear to leave the house. And this does not mean I’m a psycho, this doesn’t mean I’m a terrible person and it certainly doesn’t mean I’m a horrible,evil bad mother.
It is the worst feeling in the world to think you don’t love your baby. Or feel like you don’t want them. And then in order to get support to help overcome these fears, you have to tell someone that you feel this way. And people are shocked. It’s like you have broken the law of nature in the worst way possible. People would plead with me to look at joe, to hold him, to smell him ,to revel in his brilliance. But I couldn’t and I didn’t know why. People said, put him in his pram , wheel him through the park, embrace the new life you have with him. But I couldn’t. I was too scared to be in my own with him. My own child. I couldn’t be in the same room with him on my own. My own flesh and blood who was made out of so much love. I would look at other mums and think , how are they doing it, how are they walking down the street on their own with their child and not feel fear? How can they feel ok? Thank god for John who said, ok , this is bad but we can make it better. And we struggled to get someone medical to actually listen to me. And when they eventually did, I felt like they had picked a scab off and the blood wouldn’t stop pouring out. I had been so so so scared to reveal my darkest thoughts to anyone because it’s just not what you do is it ? You make out it’s all ok when you actually feel like you are dying inside. But when the psychiatrist said its ok eve, what you are experiencing is awful and no one talks about but I do and you don’t need to be ashamed anymore, I felt this hope flickering in me, a hope that a really thought was gone forever.
Postnatal illness is awful. Really really awful. And a big part of making it better is people accepting your feelings and helping you through it. And make you realise that things really will be ok.