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I have slid down the postnatal depression snake. How do I climb the recovery ladder ? How and where to access help for maternal mental illness.

It’s been quite the few years for perinatal mental illness. From the EastEnders postpartum psychosis Christmas storyline , the first ever UK Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week in May to the #mumstakeover event happening late November on the BBC, maternal mental health are the words on everyone’s lips. Which is wonderful.

But for us mums who have suffered or are suffering, it’s on our minds all the time. Being pregnant or having a baby and feeling like a shadow of your former self, has affected women for thousands of years . It’s with us all the time and it’s with us until we recover.

I had postpartum psychosis and anxiety and all I wanted to do was recover. I had my son and fell into a dark deep pit of hell. A doom watch came over me and convinced me my baby was a mistake, I hallucinated about being buried alive and I became so ill, I could see absolutely no way out from the hell I was in. It took almost 2 months to get me the correct treatment and when I emerged from my illness, I knew I needed to use my experience to help others. And this starts with empowering mums with knowledge about their symptoms and how to get help.

Whether you are at the start of what you believe to be or have been diagnosed as having a perinatal mental illness, mid-way through, where the horror of the start may be being chipped away by a sprinkling of golden good days here and there, or nearing the end where the fog has almost cleared, you can see the brightness of life before you with your baby and a smile allows itself to come through and the relief is feeling you want to bottle up forever, you need help and support.

And there is help and support available, provided by people who know what they are talking about and who know what may help you. Everyone’s experiences are different – whether its depression , anxiety, psychosis, OCD, feeling full of sadness , feeling full of fear , feeling alone – but what makes help great is it can be adjusted to help you in your situation.

It may feel like it but you aren’t alone. And it may not feel like it, but you will get better. The whizzy medical bods who like looking at graphs and number porn say that ‘1 in 7 women in the UK will be affected by problems with their mood during pregnancy and afterwards’. All these feelings tend to be termed under the Postnatal Depression in the media etc. but they shouldn’t be – not all the feelings are related to depression. So, the medical bods put these feelings under one banner and call it the perinatal period.

I am not a doctor. I have no letters after my name that signifies I’m a medical brainbox and I can’t diagnose you. I am a mum who has recovered and thought my only way away from my feelings of utter despair was to not be here anymore. But I am. I’m here and I am well and you will be too.

So I may not have a medicalology but what I can do is point you in the direction of good, accredited, proper, real, and decent, not made on the Christmas market type sources of support that can help you.

So, ready? Have a look below and we can go through symptoms and tell you where you can get help. I promise you are going to be ok.

I feel like a sack of potatoes have been thrown at me and I can’t get up. Does it have to be a big sack of potatoes or can it be just a little one? What do I do?

Whether your symptoms are classed as mild, moderate or severe, if they are making you feel bad then it’s bad and you need help. From one end of the spectrum, you don’t need to be psychotic to deserve help. I see lots of women say ‘but I didn’t think I was ill enough’. You’re ill enough if it’s affecting your life. Whether it’s made you feel teary at the exhaustion of being woken up 27 times a night or hallucinate that your baby is God, (or like me, make you take your clothes off and run into the road while clinging to your hubbys ankles), you are woman and you need to roar.

Roar that you need and deserve help. And if you feel you cant, hopefully some of the things in this post will help you take that brave first step.

Perinatal mental health support in medical terms is a bit of a postcode lottery. In one place you might have an amazing dedicated team who fall asleep with the NICE guidelines on mental illness after a baby on their pillow and have a Mary Poppins handbag of amazing treatments to help you. In another place, you might find yourself in front of GP who doesn’t look at you when you pluck up the courage to go and see them and thinks Postnatal Depression is a modern day concoction of middle class mummies who want to have it all but can’t. And then you may find an online doctor who has bought their degree via the University of Con-ville , will only give you treatment options if you buy their book and who suggest a dab of apple cider vinegar on your temples will ease the anxiety away. Avoid these people, stick with malt vinegar and only use it to make your chips taste nice.

Someone once messaged me to say the reason I got ill was because I ate bread. I was unaware eating a product made out of flour, yeast and water and baked in the oven could make me hallucinate , run down the road with no clothes on and fill the garden with juice extractors. Because it’s not true. And I follow a low carb diet, so I seriously doubt a multi seeded sandwich roll resulted in me ending up in a psychiatric unit.

So please continue to eat your cheese sandwiches – you have had a baby and need energy.

For details on mental health in pregnancy and after birth and the symptoms and signs of perinatal mental health problems, please have a look at the links I post. These are proper decent medical pages and will give you good info.

For a good overview of Perinatal Mental Illness, the NHS website below is good and isn’t overwhelming. Maybe bookmark it on your phone:  http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/mental-health-problems-pregnant.aspx  

The Baby Blues

Ok. So , you come home from hospital and alongside having a sore fandango, wearing a lilo in your pants to soak up your postpartum bleeding and being unable to do a poo for fear of your stitches coming apart, you also feel a little bit sad, weepy and very very tired. Doctors tend to call this initial feeling the Baby Blues.

The Association Of Postnatal Illness say that ‘after the birth of a baby about half of all mothers suffer a period of mild depression called the blues’ and Babycentre say 8 out of 10! In normal terms – this means most mums then. And most mums I know have experienced teariness, exhaustion, and feelings of being overwhelmed, but these feelings pass very quickly and usually need no medical support.

Symptoms of the Blues

– Emotional and upset when they have the blues and they cry for no particular reason.

– Tired and lethargic

– Anxious and Tense 

– Difficulty sleeping

Why do I feel like this?

Apparently its bloody hormones. GRR to them. Your body has just produced a baby and it all goes a bit haywire and your hormones start arguing with each other and have a minor falling out. Your boobs are filling with milk and your lovely home is now filled with a crying baby and cards are arriving and you can’t wee without it burning and it’s all just tooooo much.

But….this particular falling out doesn’t last and your hormones sign a peace agreement. The medical wonders say if you have the blues, these feelings may last for a few hours or, at most, for a few days and then they disappear and don’t need to be worried about. If they last longer than this though, seek medical help as it could mean something more serious is happening.

http://apni.org/the-baby-blues/

Antenatal/Prenatal Depression and Anxiety

As the super helpful NCT website says, antenatal depression can rear its ugly head while you are with child. Said baby is still in womb, giving you piles. You could have just found out you are pregnant and instead of feeling like those mums on Facebook who post a pic of their wee stained stick with the words ‘2 weeks pregnant’ while jumping up and down for joy with flowers round their head , you think jeepers, this does not make me feel spritely at all.

Or you could sail through said pregnancy, get to 7 month and suddenly get walloped in the head by the depression dodge ball which you haven’t dodged at all. It’s knocked you down and you find it hard and almost impossible to get-up.

This is a real illness. Don’t feel shame because being pregnant is tinged with sadness – antenatal depression and anxiety are becoming recognized and your GP can help.

https://www.nct.org.uk/pregnancy/antenatal-depression

Birth Trauma and PTSD

Giving birth can be traumatic but our antenatal classes con us into thinking if we master how to give birth on a bed made out of tofu and meditate ourselves into an orgasmic state, then we will simply feel like we are giving birth to a raindrop, hum the pain away and spend the next 20 years talking about how you could give birth every day. Which is beautiful.

But for some, birth isn’t that straightforward and can be a terrifying, anxiety inducing experience which leaves a big emotional mark on the mum. The Birth Trauma Association say that ‘when we talk of birth trauma, we mean Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that occurs after childbirth. We also include those women who may not meet the clinical criteria for PTSD but who have some of the symptoms of the disorder’.

The BTA outline characteristic features of PTSD as including:

-An experience involving the threat of death or serious injury to an individual or another person close to them (e.g. their baby).

-A response of intense fear, helplessness or horror to that experience.

-The persistent re-experiencing of the event by way of recurrent intrusive memories, flashbacks and nightmares. The individual will usually feel distressed, anxious or panicky when exposed to things which remind them of the event.

-Avoidance of anything that reminds them of the trauma. This can include talking about it, although sometimes women may go through a stage of talking of their traumatic experience a lot so that it obsesses them at times.

-Bad memories and the need to avoid any reminders of the trauma, will often result in difficulties with sleeping and concentrating. Sufferers may also feel angry, irritable and be hyper vigilant (feel jumpy or on their guard all the time).

Birth Trauma / PTSD is very real. Giving birth isn’t a bed of roses and can be an upsetting and difficult experience and you shouldn’t feel any shame if you are experiencing it. It can put women off having more much wanted children and that’s a horrible feeling to experience.

The BTA have a really helpful link on how and why you should access support here http://www.birthtraumaassociation.org.uk/help.htm

For more information see http://www.birthtraumaassociation.org.uk/default.asp

Perinatal OCD

Sometimes people call this Maternal OCD. You don’t hear much about this but you should – it’s not as rare as people think and can be distressing. The RCpsych page has piles of very good info so please take a look but as a quick view, RCpsych say the main symptoms are as follows:

  1. INTRUSIVE THOUGHTS. I have put this in big old letters as these thoughts plague LOADS OF MUMS BUT NO ONE TALKS ABOUT THEM. These are basically thoughts or images that keep coming into your mind. These are sometimes called obsessions by docs. They can be very upsetting and you can visualize things you don’t want to see. These are more common than people realize and when I spoke of mine, I found others had them also. Remember, however distressing the thoughts or visions, please don’t hold back from telling medical professionals about them. To treat you properly, they need to know your thoughts and feelings. And I guarantee, you won’t be the first to talk about these kind of symptoms to them.

TRIGGER WARNING

So – let’s talk about intrusive thoughts. This may be triggering, so if you need to stop reading, stop. This blog is for info to help you but if you feel like you can’t read anymore, then put your phone down and stop reading. You can always come back to this when you feel ready.

Ever had that feeling, as you are stood waiting for the 17.58 to Brighton, eating a Mars bar and reading about how to contour your cheeks like Kim Kardashian that you want to jump in front of a train as it zooms past? Yep? And you think, that’s a bit weird, of course I won’t jump in front of the train, and you finish said mars bar and the thought leaves your brain in a second.

When I was younger, I had thoughts of grabbing scissors and hacking my hair off. If I HAD DONE, I WOULD HAVE CRIED FOR 27 YEARS, but I found it hard to shake the feelings. I once chucked the scissors up in the air to put them on top of the cupboard but they just fell down on my head and then I got my husband to put them away as I was convinced if I had them, I would perform a bob on myself reminiscent of a 3 year old cutting out shapes – one side short, the other down to my knees and a fringe that is half way up my head performing the conga.

Well, imagine having these thoughts all the time. About your baby. ARGH. Scary isn’t it?

When you are pregnant, people throw advice at you. Your mum says she fed you on a concoction of evaporated milk and strained prunes when you announce you will be breastfeeding, your auntie says she put your cousin, in her pram, down the bottom of the garden with a fly net over her so she didn’t eat them as she screamed and the random lady in Costa tells you that you shouldn’t be eating a caramel shortbread if you want to have a boy. No one tells you however, that when you give birth, it is possible that your mind can fill with terrifying thoughts that will cover you like a black cloak and refuse to go.

I know of one woman who developed a deep fear of batteries being near her baby. She could not stop the thoughts of them exploding near her baby’s face and so she went around the house and took the batteries out of everything. Her mind was filled with horrible thoughts of her baby’s face being burned by batteries and this impacted on her life in so many ways – she didn’t accept toys from well-wishers that were battery operated, the remote controls were rendered useless and clocks stood at a standstill around the house. Her husband told her it was complete and utter madness to march around the house opening up radios and emptying batteries into the outside bin and her mother in law told everyone her grandsons mother wasn’t right in the head. How nice.

Some mums have visions of hurting their baby and refuse to pick up knives or go in the kitchen. They visualise dropping the baby on its head so avoid holding their baby.

The one that NO ONE DARES TO MENTION are the thoughts of a sexual nature. Mums I have supported or spoken to who have had these thoughts are deeply deeply distressed by them and absolutely won’t tell a health care professional about them – with the fear of their baby being removed from them and them being labelled a paedophile and put on the sex offenders register. They have told me that the thoughts just pop into their brain like a poison that won’t go away and totally grips them. They say they would sit in fear, unable to move with thoughts of “what if I actually do what is seeping through my brain? Am I actually capable of this? The fact that these awful awful thoughts and images won’t go is terrifying and disgusting me” and it makes them want to avoid their baby. They say they think , this is my baby, I love them and I want to protect them from any harm and I am thinking these thoughts , these thoughts of harming them in the worst possible way myself ? Does this mean I am going to do it? Should I even be here as their mummy? Should I go and take them out of the way of my harmful thoughts?

One mum told me she would have flashes of thoughts throughout the day, so much so, that she didn’t want to pick her baby up or change its nappy. She would say, why can’t I just be a normal mum? They make me think that I am evil and disgusting

These are deeply deeply distressing thoughts but I need to say this very clearly:

Thoughts of harming your baby do not mean in any way that you want to do this or will do. Quite the opposite in fact.

The charity Maternal OCD (who are absolutely utterly BRILLIANT) says ‘obsessions can be focused on anything from germs to symmetry. When OCD presents itself during motherhood, the responsibilities for the life and well-being of a helpless infant may be experienced as a chronic stress’ and lists some symptons as :

– Fear of contamination to the mother, child or anyone in contact with the child e.g. perceived risk of HIV, food poisoning

– intrusive thoughts of stabbing/hurting /dropping /touching the newborn baby

 

– Doubts that harm could come to child e.g. bottle steriliser not working

– Perfectionism e.g. everything around the house has to be a certain way

2) Anxiety – usually as a result of the thoughts. Then, thoughts or actions you keep repeating to try to reduce your anxiety. These are called compulsions.

The charity Maternal OCD says that ‘to try and eradicate the anxiety attached to the obsessions, mothers with OCD will act out rituals to ensure their child is safe and no harm will come to them. In fact, this makes the OCD worsen. Although the anxiety attached to the obsession reduces short-term it returns stronger and stronger. This means that potentially the mother is acting out rituals for a significant amount of her day’.

They list some examples of these below:

– Hyper vigilance when meeting new people or going to public toilets, this will include avoidance of touching other people, planning a day out around toilet breaks and using excessive wet wipes and hand sanitisers

– Hiding anything sharp around the house

– Constantly checking the gas is turned off, the petrol pump is working correctly

– Waking earlier than necessary and going to bed later than necessary to ensure the house is ‘just so’

– Constant reassurance seeking from friends, family members and maybe health professionals that the child is unharmed.

If you experience any of the symptoms, please tell your doctor. There is a great article at http://bjgp.org/content/67/661/376tes  which informs health care professionals on how to normalise intrusive thoughts for concerned parents. It states:

  • Intrusive thoughts or images of causing harm to one’s infant are common in the general population.
  • Experiencing the intrusive thoughts makes them no more likely to harm their infant intentionally than any other parent is to harm their own infant intentionally.
  • There is no need to avoid triggers or situations that give rise to the intrusive thoughts or images. Avoiding them actually tends to increase the frequency of the thoughts and/or images   

It also advises that “Intrusive thoughts of harming one’s baby are common among clinical and non-clinical samples alike. However, they may become more distressing and harder to cope with in mothers who are suffering from mental health problems. Such thoughts can be elicited through careful and sensitive questioning (especially emphasising to parents that these are common and do not mean that they will act on them).

Once parents are able to acknowledge and talk about these thoughts and appreciate that experiencing them is very common, they often diminish in significance and frequency. Where they persist, treatment for intrusive thoughts is available using standard cognitive behavioural techniques.”

So please take this as reassurance that it’s okay to open up to your doctor about your feelings.

And this is what you need to remember. Having these thoughts does not mean you will act on them. There are lots of treatments, from CBT to medications to support you through to recovery and help to minimise the thoughts. Maternal OCD have a whole page dedicated to treatment options and emphasizes how these symptoms are very treatable – http://maternalocd.org/about-perinatal-ocd/ .

Maternal OCD also have a great page on how to access help if you have Perinatal OCD and details both professional and peer support – please take a look http://maternalocd.org/finding-help/ .

You aren’t alone with these thoughts and there is help to get you through what is a very distressing time.

Some extra info pages on Perinatal OCD are below.

http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/healthadvice/problemsdisorders/perinatalocd.aspx

http://www.maternalocd.org/index.php

Postnatal Depression and Anxiety

Everyone knows the term Postnatal Depression or PND as its more commonly referred to but even though the term is known about, mums (and dads) feel a real sense of shame when admitting they think they are suffering. You don’t need to feel shame – mother/fatherhood is no picnic in those early days.

As a mum ,you may have just pushed a melon sized person out of your nether regions or had major surgery to evict them from your tummy, you can’t wee for fear of bursting your stitches , you can’t sit down because your stitches appear to have been too thoroughly done by what appears to be the local seamstress, if you have had a c section, it feel like you are going to break in half at any point, a river of blood is gushing out of you for 6 weeks, your boobs look like they have won the golden ticket to the playboy mansion , great auntie Vera wants to come and stay and help out for the first 3 weeks which is worse than the devil coming over to play with fire in the garden and your baby appears to have laughed in the face of evolution and doesn’t ever sleep. People say oh it’s the best thing ever isn’t it and you’re standing there with sick down your top and someone else’s poo under your fingernails and you think what the dickens , I feel awful. I feel like crying. FOREVER.

Symptoms and feelings like those listed below may go quickly like the baby blues, which I talked about earlier. But if they carry on, they could be leading to postnatal depression or anxiety.

What you must remember though throughout all of this is – you are a good mum, a lovely person, a god damn warrior. Social Services won’t swoop your baby away and thinking distressing things doesn’t mean you will act on them. You are going through a hard time and you can’t just snap out of it. At the moment you are in a hole but you will get out of it.

You aren’t awful. Don’t feel ashamed. You are a good mum.

I thought I wanted the baby to live next door and was using up three rolls of toilet paper a day because was am crying so much. Oh god, the tears. They started when my parents dropped us home from the hospital, I clad in DVT socks with legs the size of a squeezable orange carton and the realisation hit me that this baby was here forever and I was in charge of it forever. And the tears then didn’t stop for the next 7 weeks. Wahhhhh . This was a big first indicator that I wasn’t revelling in motherhood.

As the RCpsych pages say, PND or anxiety symptoms can look like these:

Depressed

Irritable

Tired

Sleepless

Appetite changes

Unable to enjoy anything

Loss of interest in sex

Negative and guilty thoughts

You might think that you are not a good mother or that your baby doesn’t love you

You may feel guilty for feeling like this or that this is your fault -You may lose your confidence

You might think you can’t cope with things.

Anxiety

Anxiety can be awful had a deep fear of my baby. The thought that he was now here forever filled me with such fear, that I felt like I was in a constant panic attack.

My doctor asked me if I felt like I wanted to flush the baby down the toilet – she could have phrased it a tad better but I was just very scared of him. I couldn’t dump him like a boyfriend I suddenly stopped liking and I couldn’t sell him like a flat that I had got bored with – he was here forever now and the fear of that consumed me . But my symptoms are only one experience.

Some anxiety symptoms are below – these again are taken from the RCpsych website.

You may feel like:

Your baby is very ill

Your baby is not putting on enough weight

Your baby is crying too much and you can’t settle him/her

Your baby is too quiet and might have stopped breathing

You have a physical illness

You will never get better

You may feel like you won’t ever not feel like this -You may be so worried that you are afraid to be left alone with your baby.

When you feel anxious, you may have some of the following:

Racing pulse

Thumping heart

Breathless

Sweating

Fear that you may have a heart attack or collapse.

http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/healthadvice/problemsdisorders/postnataldepression.aspx

Postpartum Psychosis

Action on Postpartum Psychosis says that ‘Postpartum Psychosis (PP) is a severe, but treatable, form of mental illness that occurs after having a baby. It can happen ‘out of the blue’ to women without previous experience of mental illness. There are some groups of women, women with a history of bipolar disorder for example, who are at much higher risk. PP normally begins in the first few days to weeks after childbirth. It can get worse very quickly and should always be treated as a medical emergency. Most women need to be treated with medication and admitted to hospital’.

I was one of those women .You may have heard of this illness for the first time since the soap EastEnders featured it as a major storyline. The charity Mind worked with the BBC to get the portrayal of the illness right, as did APP and myself and another mum, Kathryn Grant, been acted as consultants to the storyline and met with the researchers and actors to discuss our experience.

It is a scary illness – lots of varying symptoms as shown below – for me, I felt very scared of ‘something’. I hallucinated that I was floating and thought the sky was able to be ripped apart. I was terrified of being in the same room as my son and had bright flashes in front of my eyes. Again though, these are my symptoms. My friend spent a day thinking she was the President of North Korea which was terrifying enough in itself.

As they are the very best source of info on PP, here is APP’s list of symptoms: There are a large variety of symptoms that women with PP can experience. Women may be:

Excited, elated, or ‘high’. -Depressed, anxious, or confused / excessively irritable or changeable in mood.

Postpartum Psychosis includes one or more of the following:

-Strange beliefs that could not be true (delusions).  -Hearing, seeing, feeling or smelling things that are not there (hallucinations).  -High mood with loss of touch with reality (mania).  -Severe confusion.

These are also common symptoms:

 -Being more talkative, sociable, on the phone an excessive amount.  -Having a very busy mind or racing thoughts.  -Feeling very energetic and like ‘super-mum’ or agitated and restless.  -Having trouble sleeping, or not feeling the need to sleep.  -Behaving in a way that is out of character or out of control.  -Feeling paranoid or suspicious of people’s motives.  -Feeling that things are connected in special ways or that stories on the TV or radio have special personal meaning.  -Feeling that the baby is connected to God or the Devil in some way.

Treatment for PP

PP is classed as a medical emergency and if you suspect you have it or your wife, partner, daughter, sister or friend may have it, you need to take her to a GP or hospital. Mums and little’s are often treated together in specialist psychiatric mother and baby units so to avoid the separation of mother and baby, wherever possible, by joint admission. I went into a mother and baby unit. It was fab.My bed wasn’t chained to the wall and I wasn’t made to wear a straitjacket while watching the TV. It was safe, calm, warm and purposeful and it started my recovery.

I’ve written about my experience in the unit here which I hope you will take some comfort in https://smalltimemum1.wordpress.com/2015/11/22/i-need-a-bed-of-strawberry-creams-in-a-place-of-recovery-dreams/ .

Once discharged, the local specialized Perinatal Outreach and Community Psychiatric Team visited me every day at home.

Don’t be scared if you need to go into a mother and baby unit or see a perinatal team at home. They are Brillo-pads and will help you get better x

See http://www.app-network.org/ for more info.

Suicidal thoughts

When you are feeling in such a way as described, suicidal thoughts may come into your head. It is very important here that if you feel like you are going to hurt or harm yourself and or attempt to take your life, you need to see a doctor right that very instant. Health Care Professionals are trained to deal with crisis situations.

Its ok to call the GP urgently and say you need to see a doctor and tell them why – It’s ok to go to casualty and tell them you are having these kinds of thoughts. You aren’t wasting their time. It’s ok to call your local mental health crisis team. If you don’t know their details, google crisis team and the area you live in and a number should come up.

All these things are more than ok – they are essential. You need and deserve help. You can and will get better. You deserve to be alive. People want and need you to be alive. You are a good person and you aren’t well. I reached the depths where I thought suicide was the only way out as I couldn’t see beyond my illness but there are services, medications, support networks that can help you recover and find your happy again.

If you are feeling like death is the only way out, you need urgent help. GP, Casualty, 999. Contact them.

The NHS has a very helpful page specifically for people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts. Take a look if you need to:

http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Suicide/Pages/Getting-help.aspx

I want to get better from my perinatal mental illness – what should I do?

For all of the things listed above, it’s super important to seek help. There are lots of ways of doing this.

– Contact your midwife, doctor or health visitor and tell them you are worried that you may have a problem with your feelings during your pregnancy or after the baby is born. Perinatal means up to 12 months after your baby is born so even if your child isn’t a gurgling little baba anymore, doesn’t mean you can’t be suffering!

-Doctors are used to seeing mums with these symptoms. Most docs are fab, some, as is life, not so much so. Ask the receptionist who is nice, who has a kind ear and who won’t stare at a computer screen while you are with them. If it’s too much to say in person, write it down and pass it to the receptionist if you can.

– If you see a doctor as they are as useful as a chocolate condom, then book an appointment to see another doctor. You can see 7865 doctors if need be. You deserve to be listened to.

– If you are a friend or relative of the person who is unwell, you may have to encourage them to make the appointment and go with them as they may not be aware of, or believe that there is a problem.

Accessing help from Health Care Professionals

It’s really hard to open up to a doctor or health visitor about how you are feeling .So , if you haven’t yet told your doctor about your feelings since having your baby, this may be useful for you.

Dr Stephanie De Giorgio is a GP who suffered from PND herself. During the UK Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, she ran an FB live session to tell people its okay to open up to their doctor, even if they have intrusive thoughts. Please take a look – it’s an incredibly useful session and Stephanie opens up about her own experience and shows you aren’t alone.

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=614322175425689&id=587696788088228

The Smile Group also have this great checklist you can complete and bring to the doctor should you not know what to say or how to say how you are feeling http://www.thesmilegroup.org/help-from-the-professionals/

Medicated and Mighty – what will get me better?

There are many effective treatments for perinatal mental health problems such as medication, therapy and support from charities. The vast majority of women make a good recovery. This is an illness like any other and it is vital that you receive help if you need it, so do not be afraid to ask for it.

Medication – sometimes you won’t need this, sometimes you will.

I thank the medication gods – I took so much at one point I was a human maraca but I got better. I’m still on a low dose now – I see meds like that song ‘Tequila, it makes me happy’. There is no shame in needing meds – they can help the awful fog in your head clear so you can focus on recovery. If you broke your leg you would wear a cast. Wouldn’t you? You wouldn’t roll down the street attempting to not land in a pile of dog poo because you thought you could pull yourself together, think happy thoughts and leg would magically be unbroken.

The charity Mind have a fab page on medication here which you may find useful to read http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/drugs-and-treatments/medication/#.Vsbx1ErfWrU .

Breastfeeding and Medication

If you are breastfeeding but need meds, that’s ok. There are lots of medications you can take while nursing. I was on anti-psychotics and anti-anxiety meds that were compatible with feeding and if you are wondering what meds are ok, or your GP isn’t sure, then the person to contact is Wendy Jones. Wendy is lovely. And super helpful.

I am part of a group called the Perinatal Mental Health Partnership and we ran the first ever UK Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week in May 2017. During the week, one of the main messages we wanted to give mums and families was to empower them with information on how to access support to help their recovery from maternal mental illness.

As one of the main areas of concern from mums is if they can take antidepressants if they are breastfeeding, so we made this little video with the help of Wendy ,which gives info on what anti-depressants you can take whilst nursing. It’s very good and informative and has helped over 15,000 mums!

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=614488795409027&id=587696788088228

Also, Wendy’s webpage is below and there is a tab with her contact details. If you are feeling too anxious to talk to Wendy, she is happy for you to send an email.

http://www.breastfeeding-and-medication.co.uk

Let’s talk – therapy!

You don’t have to be a millionaire to go therapy and you don’t have to lay back on a sofa while someone with a clipboard nods while you are in a puddle of tears. Therapy is amaze balls. It can get to the root of why you are feeling the way you are and then help you develop coping strategies. I had CBT and EMDR therapy – which sounds ridiculous. – I had to follow a flashing light around the room to get over my trauma but it god damn worked. There are loads of different types of therapy so if offered to you, give it a whirl.

Again, the charity Mind have a great website on therapy http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/drugs-and-treatments/talking-treatments/types-of-talking-treatments/#.Vsbz20rfWrU

I wrote a blog on treatment options last year. Take a look https://smalltimemum1.wordpress.com/2015/02/26/tear-up-those-anti-depressant-prescriptions-all-you-need-to-do-is-climb-into-a-magicians-hatnudge-the-rabbit-out-of-the-way-and-abracadabra-youre-cured-in-a-puff-of-pull-yourself-together-smo/

Sources of further help

Maternal OCD http://www.maternalocd.org/ : A charity set up by mothers recovered from perinatal OCD, who can provide support via email, twitter and Skype. For further details please contact: info@maternalocd.org

OCD Action http://www.ocdaction.org.uk/ : A charity providing a dedicated OCD helpline, email support and advocacy service. Contact details: 0845 3906232; email: support@ocdaction.org.uk

Association for Postnatal Illness http://apni.org/ The UK’s leading PND charity provides telephone helpline, information leaflets and a network of trained volunteers who have themselves experienced PND. Helpline: 020 7386 0868.

APP http://www.app-network.org Association of Postpartum Psychosis offers support to those suffering Postpartum Psychosis and their families. APP are the specialists in this illness and for correct advice, please contact them.

Depression Alliance http://www.depressionalliance.org/ Tel: 020 7407 7584; email: info@depressionalliance.org Information, support and understanding for people who suffer with depression, and for relatives who want to help. Self-help groups, information, and raising awareness for depression.

Cry-sis http://www.cry-sis.org.uk Helpline: 08451 228669. Provides self-help and support for families with excessively crying and sleepless and demanding babies.

Family Action https://www.family-action.org.uk/ Tel: 020 7254 6251. Support and practical help for families affected by mental illness, including ‘Newpin’ services – offering support to parents of children under-5 whose mental health is affecting their ability to provide safe parenting.

Home Start http://www.home-start.org.uk/ Tel: 0800 068 6368. Support and practical help for families with at least one child under-5. Help offered to parents finding it hard to cope for many reasons. These include PND or other mental illness, isolation, bereavement, illness of parent or child.

National Childbirth Trust http://www.nct.org.uk Helpline: 0300 330 0700. Support and information on all aspects of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood. Local groups and telephone helplines.

MAMA – The “Meet A Mum Association” http://www.mama.co.uk   Created to try and help thousands of mothers who feel out of their depth, depressed or a little isolated when their babies are born Helpline 0845 120 3746

The Samaritans http://www.samaritans.org/ 24-hour helpline 08457 90 90 90 (UK) or 116 123 (Ireland); Email: jo@samaritans.org. Confidential emotional support for those in distress who are experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including suicidal thoughts.

Mind – Mental Health Charity http://www.mind.org.uk

Sane – Mental Health Charity http://www.sane.org.uk

Rethink – Mental Health Charity https://www.rethink.org

Bipolar UK – Mental Health Charity https://www.bipolaruk.org

Tommys http://www.tommys.org Tommy’s pregnancy information service provides information and resources about mental health in pregnancy

Tommys Midwifery-led pregnancy line http://www.tommys.org/mentalhealth is available for anyone worried about their mental health in pregnancy, or that of another (0800 0147 800).

Birth Trauma Association http://http//www.birthtraumaassociation.org.uk/ supports all women who have had a traumatic birth experience. It is estimated that, in the UK alone, this may result in 10,000 women a year developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).They offer emotional and practical support to women and also their families. They can offer email support to mums suffering, for more information please see this link http://www.birthtraumaassociation.org.uk/support.htm .

Mums Aid http://mums-aid.org Mums Aid provides inclusive and accessible psychological therapies for mothers experiencing a broad spectrum of emotional and mental health difficulties during pregnancy or postnatally.

International Help – Postpartum Support International http://www.postpartum.net/get-help/locations/international/

Peer support 

Peer support can be incredible – talking to someone who has been through what you’re going through and got better can give you real hope. However, do check that if you are going to a peer support group, that they are properly safeguarded with trained staff and volunteers, who have access to clinical supervision and support for themselves.

Please don’t attend support groups being run by mums who are still unwell. It’s not safe. The groups below are a snapshot of what is available across the UK – let me know if you know of anymore.

Perinatal Mental Illness Peer Support Group if you would like to join a Facebook support group for perinatal illness, this group may be useful to you. The admin have Mental Health First Aid training and are recovered mums themselves https://www.facebook.com/groups/1732740973652517/

The Motherload If you would like to join a group on Facebook to be amongst supportive non-judgemental mums, then The Motherload could be beneficial https://www.facebook.com/groups/wearethemotherload/

Association for Postnatal Illness http://apni.org Helpline: 020 7386 0868. Provides telephone helpline, information leaflets and a network of volunteers who have themselves experienced PND.

Cocoon Family Support http://cocoonfamilysupport.org/ The fantabulous Cocoon Family support is a London based charity. It supports those affected by postnatal depression, and mothers who are struggling to deal with difficult emotions before and after birth. They provide a safe and supportive environment where families can get together with others who may be feeling similar to themselves. They also provide a range of services to aid and support recovery. They are based in SE1, NW1, NW3 and NW6 and can be accessed by people across London and its borders.

The Smile Group http://www.thesmilegroup.org/ The SMILE Group was co-founded by Natalie Nuttall and Ruth Eglin in 2011 after they both experienced PND and felt passionate about the need for parents to benefit from sustained peer support at a local level. They run support groups each week for mums in Cheshire East.

Macclesfield – every Friday, 10am to 12pm Congleton – every Wednesday, 10am to 12pm

Raindrops to Rainbows http://www.raindropstorainbows.co.uk Run by the lovely Steph who is trained to provide support and advice, R2R provide peer support to mums to be and mums in the North East. They currently have five groups covering Teeside, County Durham and South Tyneside areas. The website has full details and there is a Facebook page.

Open House Nottingham http://openhouse-notts.org/ Open House (OH) was founded by a group fab Mums in early 2012 with the aim of supporting those who are or have been affected by any psychological and emotional condition which has developed during pregnancy or during the postnatal period. These include antenatal depression, postnatal depression, anxiety & OCD. They run drop in groups in Nottingham and details are here http://openhouse-notts.org/our-drop-in-groups/ .

Lotus Petal PND https://www.facebook.com/LotusPetalPND/ Support group run every other Monday 9.30-11am at Little Lions Children Centre in Essex. Run by Sarah, who is the nicest lady in the world, she welcomes any mum in Essex needing support. Contact details are on the Facebook page.

Juno Perinatal Mental Health Support http://www.juno.uk.com/ Juno Perinatal Mental Health Support was founded in February 2015 by a group of mums in Edinburgh who all have personal experience of perinatal mental health difficulties. They are kind, lovely women. They support mums through Weekly peer support groups across the city where we offer advice and information One-to-one befriending through our outreach program Access a subsidised counselling service out with our groups with a trained professional. They run four groups and details are here http://www.juno.uk.com/our-groups/

Bluebell Care http://www.bluebellcare.org/ Bluebell is a charity based in Bristol supporting mums, dads and families who are affected by antenatal or post-natal depression. They run regular, free groups Mums’ Comfort Zone, together with free creche provision, in South, North and Central/East Bristol. They prioritise the support we are able to provide (due to funding constraints) as follows: young parents from the Hartcliffe/Withywood/Bishopsworth area in South Bristol, parents from the Henbury/Brentry area in North Bristol and parents from St Pauls, Easton, Montpelier’ and Stokes Croft area in Central/East Bristol.

They also offer 1:1, informal, support via the Bluebell Buddy who can arrange to visit mums at home and/or in their local area for a cuppa and a chat. Dads can also access support through their Dads’ Zone group.

If you would like more information on their services please contact the lovely Ruth Jackson Telephone 07738628842 or Email info@bluebellcare.org

House of Light http://www.pndsupport.co.uk/ Offering hope and support for women affected by Postnatal, Antenatal Depression & Anxiety in Hull. Call: 0800 043 2031 or01482 580499 text: 07854 220790 email: help@pndsupport.co.uk

Mother for Mothers http://www.mothersformothers.co.uk/links.html Support Group for mums in Bristol suffering from PND. Helpline details are here http://www.mothersformothers.co.uk/contact-us.html .

Homestart Bedfordshire http://www.home-startcentralbeds.org.uk/postnatal-depression-in-bedfordshire/ Home-Start Central Bedfordshire we run numerous pnd support groups throughout Central Bedfordshire, where women with similar experiences can meet and end the isolation of postnatal depression . Contact details – office@home-startcentralbeds.org.uk / 01582 660061

Journeys of Hope http://www.journeysofhope.co.uk/useful-links/ Contact info@journeysofhope.co.uk

Hertforshire Postnatal Illness Support http://www.postnatalillness.co.uk/ Can provide telephone support and they run monthly support group meetings for mums with the severest forms of postnatal illness.

Acacia Family Support http://www.acacia.org.uk Provide a free wide range of support and therapies to help mums recover from the symptoms associated with pre and postnatal depression. Their services are delivered across Birmingham and they include individual befriending sessions, group work therapy, telephone support, practical support in your own home and massage therapy for parents and your baby.

Cedar House Support http://www.postnataldepression.com/ runs PND support groups in the Surrey, Sussex and South London Areas. The groups are run by trained PND Counsellors.

The Guildford Group

This group runs from 10am to midday every Wednesday, term time only starting on January 13th 2016 at Boxgrove Sure Start Children’s Centre, Boxgrove Lane, Guildford, GU1 2TD. All groups are informal, confidential and a great support for the mothers. A crèche is provided and there is parking. Please contact Liz before attending: lwise@talktalk.net/ 07773283556.

The Balham Group

This group is at St Stephen’s Centre (next to The Weir Link Centre) Weir Road, SW12 0NU.

This group will run every Friday, term time only from 9.30 to 11.30am, a crèche is provided and there is free parking.

It is necessary to book a place for this group, please contact Liz to do so. 07773 283556, lwise@talktalk.net

The Surrey Heath Group (Mytchett)

This group started on Tuesday 12th January 2016 at Mytchett Children’s Centre, Hamesmoor Road, Mytchett, GU16 6JB and runs every Tuesday term time only from 12.30 to 2.30pm. A crèche is provided and there is free parking. Please contact Liz on 07773 283556 or lwise@talktalk.net for further details.

PSS PND Service http://www.psspeople.com Offers 121 and group support in the Liverpool area plus Twitter & Facebook plus Professional Perinatal Training. 0151 702 5533

Kyra Women’s Project http://www.kyra.org.uk/ is based in York/Selby and offers a range of support services.

Bluebell PND Support http://www.kyra.org.uk/based in Glasgow offer support and counselling. You ca self-refer and referrals are welcome from health, social work and other professional agencies. Referrals can be made by telephoning 0141 221 3003.

PTSD Support Group – Dr Georgina Cliford runs a small therapy group for up to 4 women from Tuesday 8th March 2016 onwards in London. It will be weekly on a Tuesday afternoon (with some flexibility depending on availability, childcare issues etc.) For more info please see http://www.birthtraumaassociation.org.uk/news/news.asp?id=96

Pregnancy Sickness Support https://www.pregnancysicknesssupport.org.uk/offer support to mums struggling with pregnancy sickness/ Hyperemesis. They have a national support network for women suffering any degree of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy to access support and comfort at times of isolation and distress https://www.pregnancysicknesssupport.org.uk/help/supporters-network/ .

Perinatal Mental Health Partnership https://www.facebook.com/PerinatalMHPartnershipUK/ You can follow this for information on the UK Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week.

#PNDHOUR And let’s not forget the amazing #pndhour run by the beautiful Rosey @pndandme. A weekly Twitter chat, it takes place every Wednesday between 8-9pm and a different subject relating to perinatal mental health is discussed.

Mums, currently ill or recovered, health care professionals and family members all take part to discuss experiences, share knowledge and provide hope. Join in if you can, it’s brilliant. Rosy has written a little explanation of it here http://pndandme.co.uk/pndhour-explained/.

Moment Health http://www.momenthealth.io/ has a wealth on info on maternal mental illness including an emotions tracker

The Every Mum Movement http://everymummovement.com/ contains information for mums on the illnesses, mum meet ups and how to ‘be mentally buff’.

The Perinatal Mental Health Toolkit http://www.rcgp.org.uk/clinical-and-research/toolkits/perinatal-mental-health-toolkit.aspx is a clinical resource for health care professionals to help them support unwell mums. However, it’s also a great resource for anyone

Perinatal Guidelines in Practise https://www.guidelinesinpractice.co.uk/mental-health/practical-implementation-tips-perinatal-mental-health-problems/453729.article Dr Stephanie, who was referenced earlier, has produced these guidelines to support healthcare professionals when diagnosing an unwell mum. This again is a useful resource for anyone.

Am I alone? Can I read other people’s experiences?

You aren’t alone. You most definitely aren’t and there are lots of stories online from people who have written about their experiences. Remember, reading things could trigger thoughts and feelings so take care of you and only read if you feel ok to. If at any point you want to stop, then do. That’s ok.

My blog is here. I talk about being ill with psychosis and anxiety, recovery, medication and EastEnders https://smalltimemum1.wordpress.com

The lovely Rosey’s blog is here and it’s a fab resource on all things Perinatal http://pndandme.co.uk. Roses page also has a fab tab which lists lots of brilliant blogs from those who have suffered http://pndandme.co.uk/pndfamily-help-support/ .

You will get better, you aren’t alone. You may slide up and down the snakes and ladders of the game of recovery but you will get there.

xx

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Boobs bursting out of your bra? Try mine for size. Why it’s ok to share your mental health story.

Trigger warning – mention of intrusive thoughts and suicide X

Last night at the TV soap awards , Lacey Turner won best actress for her portrayal of a mum with postpartum psychosis. Her acceptance speech was short and moving and reduced even my hubby to tears. And my six year old to say , mummy , did Lacey just say your name ?

And she did. Lacey played a character called Stacey who developed psychosis after having her baby just like I did and just like my friend Kathryn did. Last year, Kathryn and I were asked to help Eastenders develop the storyline to ensure it was realistic and they were adamant that they couldn’t do it without input from families it had happened to. We worked with the charity Mind , particularly Jenni and Ali , who ensured the storyline wasn’t sensationalized and met with the actors to give them details on what it was like when we were ill. Lacey was really keen to know what it’s like to hallucinate , what your mind is thinking , does it feel real to you in that very moment, what did our arms do, what were our facial expressions ? James Bye who plays Martin met our husbands to see how he should play his role as carer and the researchers continually asked us ‘would this happen ? Is this realistic?’. They wanted our real life stories to help them play out this story on screen to show the public a realistic portrayal of a mental illness no one had heard about.

After I watched the awards where Lacey so graciously thanked the charities who helped shape the storyline and Kathryn and I , I wrote a Facebook post that said ‘ this is why we tell our stories’ . During the storyline , Kathryn and I received literally thousands of messages saying Eastenders have done this so well/it’s given us hope our daughter will recover/wow, how did Eastenders get this so right? And they did because we shared our stories. There is no evidence better than lived experience.

It’s not just eastenders that has shown me the power of sharing your own story to help others. I’m friends with brave beautiful people who feel ready and able to share theirs to help others understand what going through a mental illness is like and how to help the person in front of you who appears to be totally different to the person you once knew.

Such as my friend , I call her Dr Amazing Nails and she is probably the best GP in the entire world. You may know her as @DrSdeG on Twitter. She has the best talons I’ve ever seen , has been known to sleep in her gym wear and is vibrant , funny and not afraid to tell people when they are talking so much drivel ,they may as well have marbles in their mouth. She also had PND.

I know this because last year, I was at a GPs conference on perinatal mental health and Dr Amazing Nails didn’t have her GP hat on that day – no , she was delivering a speech about her experience of mental-heldom after having a baby to a load of other GPs. She was nervous as hell and when I rolled in munching on a celery stick, a Milky Way in one hand and a pair of stilettos in the other with a pile of scrunched up papers looking wholly inappropriate for a super posh balls conference, I ran over to her to give her a ‘you can do it’ cuddle. ‘ Dr Steph’ I exclaimed when I saw her sitting down with her laptop , her presentation in ten minutes. I dropped my celery stick on the floor and then turned round and clobbered what was probably the head of the NHS in the face with my Milky Way and then exclaimed as I emerged from the floor while retrieving my celery ,’ bloody hell, when I bend down , me knickers roll under my pastry flap of a stomach and when I stand up , my bra rides up and I look like I’ve got four boobs’ . I looked at Nailz and she started laughing and we wandered in to the conference room, her looking as professional as a hobnob, me yelling oh look, our friend Beth is here and running to the front to get a good seat next to her so we could keep giving thumbs up to the good doc and grab the microphone and give a good old verbal dressing down to anyone who dared to be negative to her.

Nailz stood up and went to start delivering her presentation. She took the microphone and went to speak and then stopped . She let out a deep breath , shook all her arms and legs and said , right , that’s better and began. Out came her story – a strong woman , an amazing GP telling her comrades about her illness. Beth and I looked around – there were open mouths , people unable to believe what they were hearing . Remember , these people have probably seen hundreds of women come I took their doctors office , some with perfect make up looking like they are made of china they look so slick , some with baby poo in their hair and in a pair of pants they have folded inside out as they have been too scared to go into the kitchen to do the washing as they don’t want to be near knives because of the intrusive thoughts that are flashing through their head, saying , I feel awful, I don’t think I like my baby, I can’t stop crying , what have I done , I can’t sleep, I’m thinking weird things , I can’t leave the house without having a panic attack or some not speaking at all. And some of the doctors were probably great and say right , this isn’t good but there is help and let’s get you on the road to the recovery you deserve. But some wee probably the not so good ones , the oh, women have been having babies since dinosaurs jogged on. Your vagina has recovered from the extraction of said baby as will your mind, think happy thoughts and pull yourself together.

So to see Dr Steph talking about her experience was an amazing thing. To show it happens to anyone , it’s real and that women need help. And they go to their doctors for help. She talked about going to her own GP and it was incredible to see how one women sharing her story had such an impact on a group of people who really needed to hear it.

I tell my story because I feel ready and I feel able. I look at Jonny Benjamin sharing his painful tale and how he has opened up the conversation about suicide. Suicide has been the unspoken rule for many years yet it is something that many of us have experienced – I reached suicidal depths when I was unwell and my husband lost a friend to suicide a few years ago. All of us say the same thing – but why , they had everything to live for ? And until I was unwell I said the same thing . Never thinking bad but a real feeling of not being able to understand how those feelings can ever enter your mind. But when you do experience those feelings, my goodness, it’s terrifying. All the awful words you can think off. Jonny’s documentary about finding mike, the man who talked him down from ending his life ,was so open , so raw , so painful and so touching. Jonny sharing his story has enabled so many to say, you know , I have those feelings and I deserve not to , I deserve help to feel better. And that is the power of sharing.

I was at Elaine Hanzak’s book launch last year where many of my friends spoke including Tracy whose blog is here , https://amummyrecovered.wordpress.com/ and two of my dearest friends, Beth and Jessica. Jessica was unwell and has used her experience to set up Cocoon , a wonderful perinatal mental health charity in London http://cocoonfamilysupport.org/our-story/ and is helping so many women to recover. And Beth then spoke about her experience of being unwell after having her son. Her story is here https://bethbone.wordpress.com and I urge you to read it. It’s a long brave battle and Beth is here to tell the tale. She told this story so movingly at the book launch, healthcare professionals were in tears and Kathryn and I saw two people mouthing to each other how in awe they were of Beth sharing her story.

Millions of women across the world have done , are and will suffer from perinatal mental illnesses and many more will suffer from the vast range of mental illnesses that there are. These can be helped by medications, therapies, understanding and other things that complement recovery but there really is nothing like seeing that others have experienced similar to you and got better/recovered. Everyone’s experience will differ slightly from somebody else’s and their illness and recovery will be different to yours but seeing how someone pulled through to recovery or to live with a mental illness in a positive way is such an incredible tool. It gives hope when all seems lost. When you have reached such depths where you think you can’t leave the house to go to work because visions of jumping in front of train are overwhelming you , when you can’t bear to open your eyes as the fear of another day makes you scared of being alive, when you can’t take a breath as each one is filled with a panic you never knew possible , to know that it is possible to pull through because you have read or heard the story of someone who has , that’s incredible.

Let’s talk about something like intrusive thoughts. Because we simply don’t talk about them , they aren’t even whispered about. And so when you experience them you think , fuck an absolute duck , why am I envisaging these things ? Am I a monster and why are these things flashing through my head scaring me ? Take a mum who may be experiencing these. Looking over Twitter the common fear is that if you tell a doctor you have had intrusive thoughts that involve your baby , that they will swoop in and take the love of your life away from you. Which would be the most catastrophic thing to do ever. But you know what ? Something like a Twitter chat where people talk about these thoughts and then medical professionals advise that you won’t have your child taken off you for revealing them can ease the mind of so many. This happened on the #pndhour run by @pndandme on Twitter on 30/03/16 and 14/10/15.

My friend Laura describes these kind of thoughts like they are a ‘Horror movie in your mind'( http://thebutterflymother.com/2015/05/10/intrusive-thoughts-horror-movies-in-my-mind/ ) and my friends at The Smile Group charity made the brilliant point that they can make you feel very vulnerable . They also then made the ultimate point – in order for people to reveal they have them so they can get the help they need to stop /deal with them , there needs to be a trustful relationship with the health care professionals who they reveal them to.

This Twitter chat also allowed for these healthcare professionals to say we won’t take your baby away , it’s ok to tell us, we will help you. The power of a chat like that has been incredible. People at home have this resource to read where people have shared their stories of not being able to drive over bridges because of certain thoughts flashing through their head and see that they aren’t alone, but it doesn’t end there. They can see there is help, that they won’t be judged and also give them support and advice on how to get help.

During mental health awareness week a couple of weeks ago, I was on something of a presentational revolving door . For those who know me well, I am brash and say things most other people wouldn’t even think and am very confident in myself. However , I also suffer from absolutely chronic anxiety of talking in public – I have been known to vomit before team meetings ( the team I sit next to and talk about all manner of things with , with no shame) and to have panic attacks before telephone meetings. I think when I have to deliver things professionally , I fall apart somewhat. Before my radio five interview about eastenders , I sat down and suddenly thought, what the bloody dickens, this is live?????? I can’t do this and then realized I couldn’t leave the room a) because James Bye who plays Martin in eastenders was in the chair by the door and I wouldn’t have been able to get out without climbing over him and there was a web cam on us and it would have turned into a total disaster and I would be on the front pages for having to be surgically removed from a soap star and b) while plotting escape route, the presenter said , now Eve , can you tell us your story and I thought erm , well I have to do it now don’t I ? And I did. And I didn’t embarrass myself or be sick on my dear friend Kathryn or rugby tackle the famous actor to the floor .

So when work said oh Eve , it’s ok if you do three presentations on mental health awareness isn’t it I said oh yes , of course. And then went home and said to John, oh my god, what have I done. But you know, I thought , I’m sharing my story and it’s helped people and I’m just going to be myself. I did a presentation with my lovely friend Lucy ( whose post on our presentation and experience of recurrent miscarriages is here https://whathappenedtotheplan.wordpress.com/2016/05/28/not-just-one-week-my-5-prompts-for-making-mental-health-matter-throughout-the-year/ ) about our MH experiences and I started my piece by saying , I am anxious, I might cry, I might forget my words but I want to try and tell you what I went through, what helped me get better and to inform and empower you. And the session could not have gone better. When it came to question time , one or two hands went up and then all of a sudden ,we were still there 90 mins later, engaged in an open conversation. I had said I would give my sanitized version of my illness which means I leave out the parts about when I wandered around the bathroom with a razor blade and ran around naked but those parts came out. I then talked about intrusive thoughts and how terrifying and debilitating they can be – I got back to my desk to four emails from people saying they had suffered these before and never talked about them. I sent on some support page and charity details to these people and truly saw how sharing a story can open up to help others.

I have read things that say people shouldn’t share their story because of the trigger effect it could have on others and that we have a responsibility for what we write to ensure this doesn’t happen. Yes, things need trigger warnings. Do not read things if you feel vulnerable . It’s ok to stop and come back to it another day. It’s ok to stop and never go back and finish reading. And it’s more than ok and a definite cert that if you read or hear something that triggers you and you need help, you seek it and seek it immediately.

But I ultimately think there is an enormous positive power in a story told. To hear the tale of someone who has been through it is worth a thousand nodding doctors who have treated someone with it. Healthcare professionals are amazing and I owe my life to them – going into a psychiatric unit was truly the best thing I ever did. Taking the medications doctors told me to take saved my life. Having EMDR therapy allowed me to rid myself of the traumatic demons my psychosis had left me with . But all of these didn’t give me the one thing I needed and that was the hope that I would get through it because someone had before me.

I truly don’t think Eastenders would have been as powerful as it was without the team there talking to Kathryn and I and the great team from Mind who also divulged their own mental health experiences to inform the story. A few months before, Eastenders covered a stillbirth storyline with equal care . It was touching and heartbreaking and the actual stillbirth episode was so incredibly raw, it almost seemed real. They worked with people with lived experience for that storyline also and you could tell. And I know someone who experienced stillbirth at 38 weeks pregnant who says watching the episodes has made her realize that she is ready to talk about her child and what happened . And her aim ? To help other mums. To show them that things don’t necessarily get ‘better’ but that with help and support,life can continue in a very different way but it can continue.

That’s real. That’s the power of sharing a story. It’s not for everyone but if you feel ready , able and want to , then please know that your strength in sharing will give someone else strength when they are suffering . It may not be pretty in pink and a glitter bomb of joy but whose story is ? All of experiences are as different as our bra sizes but ultimately , we all need a good bra to support us don’t we ? If your boobs were bursting out of the side of a 32c , cutting into you causing you pain and grief and then caused you to almost gauge your eye out with a rogue underwire, you’d probably ask your mates if it had happened to them and where could you get a good bra that gives you good support and one that’s doesn’t cause your boobs to be dragged down lower. And you’d take their advice and seek out said fancy pants bra that serves its purpose – it lifts up and positions your boobs so they don’t drop or cause you pain anymore.

And that is why we share our stories. Not for fame , fortune, applause or blog hits. But to help those because we were once them. So they can get a sense of hope that things will get better and that they aren’t alone. And that they can then seek support to life them, so their thoughts and feelings don’t drop and cause them pain anymore .

I may not be the same bra size as you but take a look at mine , take a look at others and see if there is something about it that could help you.

You never know. Because everyone needs a good bra in their life.

My story is here https://youtu.be/Kn6pgSUP5YI

Eeny meeny miny mo , where in this postcode lottery shall I go ? Sprig of lavender anyone ?

Around one in four people in the uk will experience a mental health illness each year. Whether mild or severe ,short or long term, these can be scary, upsetting and soul destroying . Especially if you can’t access help to recover from or manage it.

Five yrs ago , I was admitted to a psychiatric mother and baby unit to begin my recovery from a postnatal mental illness. I had such catastrophic anxiety that I couldn’t be near my child, dress myself without help and became partial to running into the street a la a wild animal screaming ‘I am trapped in the world I am trapped by the clouds take me away please’ . One of the worst memories of my illness however was the need to travel 200 miles across the uk to access treatment as no one in my area knew how to treat me and there were no treatment options available.

Thank god we did travel and get me into a specialist psychiatric mother and baby unit because if we hadn’t I would be dead. My son would have no mother. And this is not good enough. Getting treatment shouldn’t be a cruel game of lotto , depending on where you buy your ticket but it unfortunately is in the uk. It’s as though you need to ensure you aren’t hit with a mental illness that can’t be treated where you live . Maybe the government could make treatment scratch cards ? Three matching hospital icons and you’re a winner! The papers could come and take your picture with you dressed up in a hospital gown with your antidepressants in your hand . Ooh lifechanging !

Prior to me getting ill, the 89 year old local legend that was scooter lady, complete with gold lame jumpsuit , blue permed hair and a 50 yr old toy boy balancing on the back of said scooter was the local talking point as she zoomed around and then the lady who lived to the left of us who used to hang out of window between 11-1 everyday throwing frozen fish fingers into her garden for fun was a close second. But they were knocked off their platforms of fame by me , Eve , the girl who had a baby,who regretted it, took all her clothes off,tried to climb out of a window and then eventually was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis.

And I’m all singing and dancing recovered now. Which is a good thing as experiencing a mental illness is the single most terrifying thing I have ever and I guarantee will ever face in my little life. And this life is one I hold so precious as it’s one I seriously considered ending. The day I went into the unit is the day I announced to my partner john that I wanted to die and I meant it.i could not face the endless feelings of terror,not wanting to sleep at night because I feared the fear I would feel when I would wake up in the morning and I simply couldn’t cope with the prospect of battling these feelings forever.i couldn’t live for another 60 yrs feeling like this as I couldn’t even get through one day at that point.

I was very very ill.I wasn’t only scared of my son, terrified at the sudden realisation that he was here forever and there was no running away from that except through either adopting him or me ending my life but I was also confused. I thought I was floating , I woke up thinking I was in a coffin, I was convinced at one point that cling film was over my mouth stopping me from breathing. All while my newborn son was lying there needing me . This was the most important time in my life, his life and our families life and I was experiencing the worst possible time, so bad, you couldn’t make it up.

I needed help. Urgent help and so I went to the doctor a couple of days after my son was born to say I was feeling odd.i had flashes in front of my eyes and felt very scared of something. The doctor said, let’s wait and see how you are in a week. I went back this time with john who said I was acting odd, pacing up and down the living constantly and wouldn’t look at the baby. ThIs doctor said I must be tired as motherhood can be draining “sleep when the baby sleeps” was uttered to me and I was told to jog on in a more clinical , fake smile way which I think actually meant , you have just had a baby , deal with it , I have 57 more patients waiting to see me me bye bye.

For the next six weeks, I went to see a gp approx three times a week,joke I do not. I was honest about my feelings and john was continually saying ‘she is saying she has made a terrible mistake in having a child,she tried to climb out of the window to get away for the walls in the house,I had to carry her in the house after she ran into the road with no clothes on and she thinks she is trapped in the world’. Little game of mental health roulette here … Do you think the docs said a) what the dickens, get this woman to the hospital and some specialist mental health help straight away or 67) make a cake and put some mascara on and shown the door? Bingo bango, if you chose a – I appreciate that but it’s a shame as it was wrong. Doctors told me I was fine and to go home .

We hit the realisation that no one could treat me for my illness as it appears if you live where I do, there is no specialist perinatal support. That’s good isn’t it . So we got on the train and travelled the 161 miles to Nottingham, where we had found out there was a unit and where johns family live , complete with our five week old baby, me wandering around muttering ‘I can’t look at the baby,can’t look at the baby,can’t look at the baby’ and the pet hamsters, little elvis and turnip. As we walked into my in laws house I moved their armchair into the middle of the room. As much as I would love to say that I secretly yearn to be interior designer and I moved the seat to get the ultimate feng shui in the room , this is wrong. I wasn’t trying to ying and yang the energy to harmonise the room. I have no clue why I did it but I did and then sat in it and demanded an ambulance be called to take me away from the terror.

A week later, I woke up in the night and john found me sitting up in the dark,staring into space.I started scratching myself on the face and said I felt like I was in a coffin.i said I wanted to die and didn’t know what else to do. John phoned nhs direct who advised we went to an out of hours clinic to be seen. It was probably about 3am , john couldn’t drive then and the baby was crying. John woke his dad up, joe was bundled into his car seat and I sat slumped in the car in the front seat as I didn’t want to be near the baby.in my pyjamas and a pair of flip flops.

We waited ages and eventually were seen by a lady doctor. She didn’t look at me once during the consultation, spoke to john almost the entire time and just stared at her screen , tapping away on her keyboard. John blurted out everything I had been saying and doing and I was rocking back and forth. Face at the screen she asked if I had planned my own suicide as yet and I said no. Wrong answer, I didn’t win the mystery prize which I had hoped would be admission to hospital. No no no. The million dollar drop question had been answered incorrectly and she delivered her response. “As you haven’t planned your own suicide , you are low risk. Go home get some sleep,things will be better in the morning .” She opened the door and waved us out. Is this the time to take an ,ahem, mental note? Note to self, next time I am too scared to breathe because I’m frightened of living , I will sit down how I plan on ending things. Should I start researching ? What about if I show the doctor the plan and they critique it? What if they say, nice try but not good enough, there is no way doing that will end your life.come back with a better plan and proof you have tried to action it and now were talking! Back to the drawing board for me on that one then.

The next day is when I totally flipped my little lid and john had had enough of it. Not of me , though he probably had at that point , who could blame him, but with the total lack of anyone knowing how to treat me. He took me to psychiatric outpatients and refused to leave until I was seen. Within the hour I was admitted to a mother and baby unit and my recovery began.We stayed in Nottingham for a few more months while I got to the stage where I could be on my own with joe and then made a move back to London. I worked very hard to get better, I did everything that was asked of me . It wasn’t easy it was actually terrifying. I was scared to be near my own child and that’s the biggest thing in the world. But I worked hard- I had to spend thirty seconds a day on my own with him at first,then walk around the garden, then walk down the street with him. I had a few public meltdowns at the postbox ten steps from my in laws house as fear struck me . But, I did it and was so pleased to be going home. And I was proud of me. And rightfully so.

So, when the unit agreed I could go back to London, they wrote lots of very good explanatory letters to my local mental health team, saying they recommended therapy for me. Coming back however was problematic – as soon as the mother and baby unit discharged me from their outpatients and my care was taken over by the local mental health team in London, things turned sour.

I still to this day, over five years after my son was born, haven’t been seen as an outpatient at my local London mental health team.I was seen once after john called them to try and set up outpatient care but it was never set up.I don’t need it now, I’m better, but give me strength. This is ridiculous. This was my life in their hands. The mother and baby unit sent numerous letters asking for me to have outpatient care – but this never happened. I was very lucky that the mother and baby unit agreed to keep me on as an outpatient for a year due to the fact that the team in London basically filed all the letters about me in the bin but this meant I had to travel up there once a week to see the doctors there. This was a massive expense to us as a family , around £200 a week, but one that was essential to ensure I was fully supported while my recovery was on-going.

Before this happened though, on our return to London , I went to the doctors clutching my notes from the mother and baby unit. They had all the info on the doctors needed. “We recovered Evelyn is referred for CBT as soon as possible to build on the good progress she has been making while in the unit and on her discharge”. I saw a GP. I’ll call him Dr Baldy Head. I crept in with Joe and started talking. “I , erm, I haven’t been well. And erm, I felt really low when I gave birth and then started to have all these weird thoughts and feelings and basically cracked up. And I saw lots go doctors here and no one knew how to treat me because it turns out I had postpartum psychosis . So we moved to Nottingham and I registered temporarily with a GP there and went into a mother and baby unit. We were there for four months and we are back now and the psychiatrists there have written this letter to show you the medication that I’m on and to refer me for counselling”. Baldy Head took the letter off me, scanned it flicked it with his finger and scoffed. Actually scoffed and said “and you expect me to do what with this?”. I started crying. I didn’t want it but I felt so embarrassed. I’d just told him something that was really difficult to say and he just made me feel like a child on that god awful Super Nanny programme. I felt like I was sat on the loathesome naughty chair as he said ” who am I supposed to refer you to ? It says you are on tablets so wait for them to kick in”. I said but they have kicked in and how I am now is because of the meds. Four months ago I couldn’t look at Joe without feeling cold all over and cemented to the ground with fear. Now, I’m nervous and scared but I’m getting through the day.I just need to learn some coping techniques. That when he said ” women become mothers, that’s what happens young lady. Perhaps you should have thought of this before you got yourself pregnant”. He handed the letter back to me , laughed and said “refer you for counselling ,is that what I’m here for” and said we are done here. Thanks doc. Next time, I’ll cross my legs and chew on some smarties to ensure i never get myself in this situation again.

I talk about perinatal mental health as it’s what I suffered from but issues around treatment aren’t just in this field – it appears people with illnesses that fall into the mental health bracket struggle to get help more than if they were to have a physical illness.

There are currently 17 specialist psychiatric mother and baby units in the uk equalling 125 beds. If you think ,over 1400 women a yr in the uk get postpartum psychosis and this is deemed as a medical emergency and mothers can be treated in the units. Combine that with the amounts that get other perinatal mental illness that requires in depth treatment and you’ll see this isn’t a lot of beds at all. I got an e for gcse maths but even I can work out without the use of a calculator that we are a few beds down. There is no unit in Northern Ireland and over the last few yrs some units have closed. But there are still lots of ill women. Tis does not make sense.

There was a recent report from the Maternal Mental Health Alliance that revealed that “more 1 in 10 women develop a mental illness during pregnancy or within the first year after having a baby. If untreated, these perinatal mental illnesses can have a devastating impact on the women affected and their families and that In the UK, mental illness in pregnant and postnatal women often goes unrecognised, undiagnosed and untreated.”

They created a map which showed how ridiculously patchy the current provision of services is. The precise words about this are ‘This means a postcode lottery determines whether women receive the care they need or not’. Have a look. It’s not coloured in red because it’s a fabulous colour. It’s almost all red to show where there are no services – http://everyonesbusiness.org.uk/?page_id=349

This is beyond ridiculous. I have now joined up with charities and others with lived experience of perinatal mental illness to form the perinatal mental health partnership and we are creating an awareness campaign. As a result if my work in this, I now get to go to lots of conferences and see lots of medical bods saying how wonderful things are . Yes, having been to approx 47 mental health conferences this yr where I have met countless nhs chiefs and leads in suits nodding with a fixed smile , I am aware our government are cash strapped. I have a few in tact brain cells that refused to budge with the illness. I’m stubborn like that.i know we have no money as it’s all gone on duck houses and moats and pay rises to people who don’t really deserve it . However , have we really reached that ludicrous point where people actually have to plan their own suicide or fail at the deed working before we can offer them any help??? This isn’t masterchef , it’s not a gameshow,its not winner takes all but it feels like it. And I’m shit at quizzes, I always lose. Surely, in the midst of pathways and processes there could be a fairly simple overall, hello doctors, please don’t chuck a patients mental health symptoms in the dustbin and leave them to rot which will eventually mean they disintegrate into nothing. If someone says I am feeling so low I can’t see anyway out, do something.

If I went to the doctor and said erm, my vagina smells bad and I’m worried about it , I doubt the gp would say, ooh, why don’t you hang a sprig of lavender off it, let it breeze slightly in the wind,spritz it with a bit of air freshener and then say and we can’t help you anymore until you have reached the point where you have ripped said vagina off and flushed it down the toilet. Thankfully, this particular scenario hasn’t afflicted me and I’m not sure how to attach lavender to my lady garden , and how on earth would you do your jeans up but you know what I mean.

I was prodding my boobs one sunny day two years ago. They are massive anyway and have dribs and drabs of milk in them and seem like one big mammory as it is but I felt a lump previous prodding investigations hadn’t found. Hmm, this means I should book a doctors appointment I said to myself. I phoned the docs and was given an appointment that afternoon – “can’t take risks with these things can we darlin’ ” the receptionist told me. On seeing the doctor and her have a prod, she said , ya there seems to be a lump but I’m no expert on these things so we must send you to the breast cancer clinic urgently to get you seen. She wrote out a fax in front of me ( a fax , in 2013) and helpfully put the words “suspected cancer” in big bold black capitals at the top “so no one misses it”.

I was called into an appointment the next day and had all sorts of tests and spoke to lots of experts. I was given the all clear in a fairly short space of time and I left the experience feeling very thankful for our wonderful health service , which it is and the doctors dealing with a possibly awful situation so quickly. Even more startling though as this was six months after I had gone to hospital after having a relapse of really bad anxiety when I found out I was pregnant again. I was treated in such a slap dash appalling way that I had lost all faith and bang my head on the table of all the nhs chiefs who, after people kill themselves because of a mental health problem say “lessons will be learned from this”. Lovely words chief but I’ve heard them oodles of times. When will these lessons be learned? Maybe they should be learnt in school for the chiefs of the futures so it’s embedded in them.

I found out I was cheggars again one boring office afternoon when thought I had a wee infection and the gp wanted me to do a pregnancy test before I was put on antibiotics.i announced to my friend Julie who sits opposite me , I’m going to get a brownie from pret and then I’ve got to piss on a stick to make sure I’m not with child. Oh how we laughed! Pregnant , imagine , lol!!!

But oh how I wept when, brownie in mouth , pants round ankles, stick wet with wee , I saw two blue lines appear. My three years of recovery from anxiety from that very second kicked in again. Another baby , another baby,no no no. I can’t do this. I’m well, I’ve got used to having joe.

Within a week, I had developed such a terrible fear of being pregnant, John found me slumped next to the radiator talking to myself having called the Samaritans. Who were fantastic. I was back in the fresh hell I was in after Joe.I was in such a state ,I had been signed off work and was finding being near joe too much to deal with. In the midst of all this , we were then told the pregnancy wasn’t forming properly anyway and actually had to be removed . It took three attempts to remove it as it was growing in such an odd place and the three operations took six weeks altogether . By the end of this awful time of finding out I was pregnant,not wanting it, to finding out I couldn’t have it but knowing it was in me , growing to think actually I think I do want to have it ,to then having to have three termination attempts , I had completely lost the plot. And ended up in accident and emergency again.

What a fun day that was . We arrived at midday and I left at 4am the next day- having received no help. Casualty had no idea how to help me , after spending four hours there and sent me to the local inpatient local psychiatric unit. We saw lots of people with clipboards saying in whispers ” what are we supposed to with her” and the fixed smile brigade came out again. “Let’s go home and get some rest shall we Evelyn,will all seem a bit better in the morning , promise”. No no no no no no no no,I wasn’t leaving until someone helped me.

John had to leave at 5pm to get our son. He was in tears leaving me , I was in tears him going but was assured the duty psychiatrist would see me ‘soon’. I then sat on a chair of the foyer of the unit for twelve hours. Twelve hours.i am prone to exaggerate but there is no need to now as it was that bad. I was spoken to three times by staff , where they informed me they were sure I would be seen at some point and also to say “do you think you could stop crying , you are upsetting the staff”. I.do.not.joke. I had a lovely conversation with a young girl who had tried to take her life a week earlier – a beautiful clever girl who simply said ‘I don’t know why I tried to do it , I just don’t want to be here in this life’ and a man who told me he was Jesus. I wish he had been – he could have saved me.

The duty psychiatrist turned up 11 hours after I got there and spent less then five minutes with me. Was told they didn’t have the facilities to help me and they didn’t know who could but they would pay for my cab home. And that was it. I arrived home at 4.45 am and four hours later we were on our way to Nottingham again and went straight to casualty. Within two hours I saw a psychologist who arranged for me to have emdr therapy, I was put back on meds and my journey to full recovery started. Again , I had to travel to Nottingham every week for my emdr and thank god I did.it saved my life and it made me truly recover. Thank The Lord . The Lord who runs Nottinghams mental health services.

I was in the audience for the brilliant Victoria Derbyshire programme a couple of weeks ago about mental health. Check it out on I player if you haven’t seen it – almost two hours of brave people from all walks of life, all backgrounds, varying professions, discussing their mental health. While they were all doing this, I was adjusting my boobs as the photo above shows. I also delivered a gold medal hand up in the air performance. A common theme was the struggle for treatment that doesn’t seem to happen to people with a physical illness. And it genuinely seems to be because people think having a mental illness is literally all in your head . Broke an arm? It gets set in plaster to fix it. Small willy ? You can get it made longer! But problems in your head , oh , well getting help for that depends on the pathway of care your area offer and blah blah blah postcode lottery blah blah.or we could just all pull ourselves together couldn’t we ?

Thee was one amazing girl called Jo who made me and everyone else cry with her brave story . I am in awe of her determination and her openness. She had been diagnosed with anorexia and was around four stone. But wait for the bombshell . She got community care with her local mental health service pretty quickly, but it was not until her BMI had dropped below a certain low point that she was admitted for the care she needed. Might as well dear, sorry , I can see you are a bit on the thin side but not quite thin enough to get help. Can you starve yourself a bit more please? This is ridiculous! Jo says. “Why should I need to get as ill as that to need inpatient treatment?” And she is right.

I know there are all these lines around how mental health services are organised in each local area and how this may differ across places. As the NHS say on their webpage ‘This means some may not cover all mental health conditions, or only deal with people of a certain age’. This .must.change. I know resources are a problem, money is a problem but people have problems that need help. Surely treating things before people get to considering suicide is better than them getting to that point. Because if you have planned it , you might bloody well do it which is devastating . And once someone is gone , they can’t come back.

Simon Stevens , chief executive of the NHS says in the Achieving Better Access to Mental Health Services by 2020 report that “Mental health problems are the largest single cause of disability, representing a quarter of the national burden of ill-health, and are the leading cause of sickness absence in the UK.This makes it all the more indefensible that there is such a large “treatment gap” with most people with mental health problems receiving no treatment and with severe funding restrictions compared with physical health….That is why, achieving “parity of esteem” between mental and physical health services is so important for the NHS, and for the nation.

This document therefore sets out some of the concrete next steps we are committed to helping lead over the next five years. NHS England looks forward to working with our partners to deliver this critical agenda” and I hope this indeed plays out as planned.

Getting help shouldn’t be a flip of a coin decision. This isn’t like a supermarket saying sorry we have run out of flapjacks but our branch down the road has some , this is people’s lives and they deserve better.

I have made a vlog of my experience http://youtu.be/Kn6pgSUP5YI

Exercise makes me happy.As does Gin.As does bouncing around on my hubbys balls.But anti-depressants kept me alive……All hail meds and all who sail in them.

I saw a post on twitter the other day and it struck me. It didn’t make me want to throw chocolate profiteroles at the iPad screen, which would actually be a terrible waste but it didn’t make me want to lick it either. It actually got me quite irritated because it insinuated that I , as well as millions of others had failed in some way,when actually we haven’t . We’ve done what we have for the good of ourselves and those around us.

It didn’t say ‘Jamie Dornan doesn’t love you’ which would have made me throw all my mummy porn into a Sainsbury’s carrier bag and given it to the charity shop down the road. Don’t know about you but I’d happily buy ‘Housewives in Hounslow’ for 5p. My mind is wandering . What it actually said that was ‘you never need anti depressants to get cope with mental illness’ and the article suggested that to take them indicated some sort of weakness, that all they do is blur your mind from the reality of the real torture you are enduring and that if you take them, you aren’t ever actually better and you should feel like a failure as you haven’t managed to ying and yang yourself out of the depressive limbo you have got yourself tangled into.

I have played the game twister and got myself into all sorts of gymnastic poses and managed to fall out of them easily and hysterically. In my younger , wilder days,I thought I was some sort of karma sutra connoisseur and was able to twist my body into all sorts of shapes while swinging from the lampshade. I held back on wearing crotchless pants but you get my drift. However, untangling the wires in my mind that had been jumbled up was not half as pleasant , not at all easy, took two and a half years and it was not something that I could do with simply me,myself and I. I couldn’t just go to sleep in spring and emerge in summer , with my brain in good working order. I needed something to start my recovery,

My recovery and/or management of the mental illness that hit me happened as a result of numerous things. I wasn’t able to just ‘get over it’ or pull myself together. A nice brisk walk and a hot chocolate didn’t sweeten the blow and I wasn’t able to mediate my mind into a state of hypnotic happiness – if I could have , believe me, I would have swung many watches in front of my face.

First of , it took medication. Lots of medication. I’m not ashamed to say that. At one point , I was taking antidepressants three times a day and they were as essential as my three meals. I also took anti psychotics at other points throughout the day, so these were like my snacks, to calm me when I was becoming manic. My friend Rachel reminds of the text messages I would send her while I was in the midst of my psychosis “they were pages long with no punctuation and made no sense. You also kept repeating yourself over and over”. I sense my blog posts may be slightly similar with my keyboard warrior ramblings but you catch my drift. My mind was like a collapsed angel delight. Pink and quivering.

For those of you who don’t know, five years ago, I was diagnosed with Postpartum Psychosis ,anxiety connected to the birth of a child and generalised anxiety disorder. For the first six weeks after my sons birth,I was literally wandering around in another reality. When he was six weeks old, I was hospitalised in a psychiatric mother and baby unit to begin my long road to recovery.

Before I made my not so merry way into the unit, my husband and I spent a fair while attempting to convince people I needed medication. Relatives said I didn’t need it- I mean, imagine , the shame of taking medication to make you feel better, how embarrassing. Then as some of you know from another of my blog posts, certain esteemed members of the medical profession thought that Betty Crockers Brownie mix contained the healing powers of a sunshine happy wizard and encouraged me to whip up a Victoria sandwich. Apparently, devouring it would make me happy, which would stop me feeling sad. Problem is , I felt more than sad . I felt like I wanted to die. As much as I like a moist chocolate sponge , I failed to understand how cracking some eggs would stop me cracking up.

I was, when my son was maybe two weeks old, grudgingly (by the doctor, not me) prescribed an anti-depressant. Yippee. ‘It kicks in in two weeks and you will be right as rain again. No more wanting to flush the baby down the toilet feelings for you young lady” and off we went. I waited two torturous weeks. Torturous for me and my husband who had to endure several of my mini meltdowns along the way. Bar the constant terror I felt as I attempted to live minute by minute , hour by hour, I was having really awful panic attacks. My eyes would develop tunnel vision, my ears would feel muffled. I felt like a great cloud of world ending doom was filling my body and start to shake. I would try to scream and would scratch at my mouth shouting I’m trapped take me away. I developed an unfortunate need to run into the street shoeless,bra-less,pant less and what was becoming painfully clear, mindless, in what I think was an attempt to inhale air into my body to get rid of the dark cloud that was taking over it. John had to carry my naked , wild arm swinging self from the middle of the road much to the curtain twitching amusement of the lady over the road. All this was going on while a small 8lb baby was in his Moses basket gurgling away,oblivious to the fact that his mummy wanted something to take the pain away and was willing to go to any lengths to get it and his daddy was looking after her and him all the way through it.

I went back to the doctor, the start of many many many GP visits to say I didn’t feel right. Nothing was questioned, nothing was changed. I was starting to spiral out of control.

I had been experiencing deep psychotic feelings. They were terrifying and I remember the terror very well. But they also seemed logical. I would say to John ‘I’m trapped in motherhood. He has trapped me forever” and John, after a million attempts at trying to soothe me eventually would say ok , he is here forever but we can work with this. He can go to nursery you can go back to work early, you don’t have to spend all your time with him. And then I’d say ” but I’m trapped in the world John. And the clouds,they are getting closer everyday . I need to climb the tree and cut them with scissors and then I’ll get to space. But what will I do when I’m there?”. I would claw at my mouth with my hands as I felt like cling film was over it, stopping me breathing. I got some rather attractive looking cuts at the side of my mouth and developed a need to try and pop the little white heads at the top of my arm. I was living the dream everybody. Living the dream.

My first meds were not the ones for me but thank god my bad experience didn’t put me off trying another anti depressant. I won’t say the name of the med and for good reason. I know many people it was the right med for and has been life changing and life saving. But when I went into hospital and was given some of the magic blue calming pills, I realised how good life can look when the pains in your brain can be soothed by the right concoction of pills. I was like a pharmacists personal bank roll I was on so many meds at one point. Anyone need a rattle to soothe the baby ? Give me a shake. Maracas over there sir? I’m on my way. But who cares- I was starting to feel better. I was starting to feel like Eve again.

I admit that I would read glossy magazines when there was story about a celebrity who had suffered from mental health issues. I read a fair few about those who had suffered postnatal depression or other perinatal mental health problems and I would become enraged when they would say ‘no, I didn’t take anti depressants. I think that they just mask your feelings and I’m proud to have got through it with out turning to meds”. I realise now that my anger was unfair in one way but also I think justified in another. Unfair in the sense that if people don’t want to take meds, of course that’s fine and of course there are instances where you can do get yourself through without the need for medication but I think saying its bad for mums to ‘turn to meds’ is wrong. They aren’t turning to crack. They aren’t weak. They want to be better so they can lead a happy life with their baby. If this means taking some tablets to sort out the bits in the brain that have gone awry then so be it. Nobody has a go at someone with a physical illness taking meds to get better do they?

That well known beacon of medical advice Katie Hopkins came out with quite the corker a few months ago. She sent out a tweet that read ‘Once I was given a sick note and a prescription for anti-depressants. I threw the note in the bin, ripped up the script & went back to work.’ Good for you Hopkins. I’m glad that for your experience , you didn’t need to take meds. Katie could have looked at this in a different way. Going to the doctor and admitting you feel shit is a big step and it’s actually pretty disgusting for someone to suggest its a weakness. And ripping up the prescription ? Fine , your choice. But don’t mock those who don’t turn it into confetti but instead take it to Boots, take the tablets and attempt to start their road to feeling better.

It doesn’t matter how we get better , it just matters that we do. And this may mean you are not ever totally ‘recovered’ .Getting yourself to a manageable point ,where you can live life without the symptoms that stop you being able to enjoy it, I think, is ok. I don’t have postpartum psychosis anymore and for me , the psychotic part of my illness cleared fairly quickly once I started on anti-psychotics. Hurrah. Gold medal for magic pills. They gave me my mind back. But I probably will always suffer with some kind of anxiety.

For those anti meds, I can’t explain the feelings of having to live in terror everyday. I got to such a point that I thought the sky was the ceiling of a film set . I thought the clouds were suffocating me. I would claw at my mouth as I felt trapped by ‘something’. I at one point woke up and thought I was in a coffin , being buried alive. Let me tell you, at that point, there is no way ‘ thinking positively’ would have gotten rid of these feelings and thoughts. I thank the medicine gods everyday for inventing anti psychotics as they helped save my life. I was then able to think positively once the fog had cleared a little.

Meds can help your mind clear so you can focus on ‘recovery’. Once out of my psychotic phase, I had deep deep anxiety. I heard a nurse in the unit I was in say it was one of the worst cases of postnatal anxiety she had ever seen and in my diagnosis and subsequent discharge from being an inpatient , my notes talked mostly about the anxiety I was suffering. I was put on an old style anti anxiety drug having been weaned of the med that want working. I think I was on175mg three times a day and it was quite simply, wonderful. I initially found that it numbed my mouth and turned it temporarily blue which was slightly startling. John walked into my room and said ‘what the fuck is up with your lips?’ And looked at me as though I was just about to whip on a Star Trek outfit. And then I looked in the mirror and saw my intergalactic state. It made me retain wee resulting in a lovely bloated like appearance and the husband being let loose on Primark ON HIS OWN to buy me some new pants and trousers, and gave me slightly jittery legs, but it stopped my mind jitteriness.

The meds didn’t turn me into a zombie. I had worried about this. I worried that I may become void of feeling and I wouldn’t know if I was anxious as my brain would be numbed but. They didn’t do that. I definitely still experienced anxiety but not in the world stopping why I had before. Before I was on them, I couldn’t even bear to be in the same room as my own child. I shook at the idea of his very presence and the notion that he was now here forever, completely and utterly terrified me to the point where I was almost catatonic. I became frozen with fear,my hair was coming out in chunks,I forgot how to get dressed,John had to wash me. I vomited all over myself in the shower one day and John rinsed it all off. That’s love for you right there. Your good lady has run around the block naked, said she wants to die, said she wants to give the baby away and is now stood naked in front of you covered in sick. And you’re clearing it up kissing her forehead saying it’s all going to be ok.

I would frantically fold up and mess up and then refold clothes. Having never understood the concept of folding in my life before having my child and having a somewhat natural ability to have the clothes in my bedroom resemble the floor of Primark during a sale , my behaviour was most definitely that of someone who was trying to avoid being near her baby.

I was scared of him. I was scared of opening my eyes in the morning. And when I did , I could only see properly through one eye as the other had blurred so much due to my anxious state. I would start wailing when I woke up as I realised it was another day of terror, another day towards the forever of being a mother, being a life source. So, I will never forget the day I woke up in John’s parents house when I was on home leave from the unit. I opened my eyes and awaited the flutter in my chest.I waited for my hands to calm up.I waited for my breath to do that thing where I would breathe really quickly three times and I waited for me to start shaking. I waited some more. And more. And I realised it wasn’t happening. I got out of bed and still didn’t want to look at Joe in his Moses basket but things felt okish. One step at a time.

I wasn’t instantly cured. My recovery took two and a half years in all. My recovery to a manageable place but that morning ,for the first time in nearly three months, I remembered what it felt like to wake up like I had in my life before Joe. For the next few months, well for the next year really, my emotions were snake and ladderesque . My emotions went up and down but I kept remembering that I didn’t always go back to the start. I would be able to spend time with Joe but it was very hard. Upon my discharge , I had to spend a few minutes on my own with him each day . I would have to walk around the garden on my own with him, walk to the post box with him and then had to build this up to walking to the local shop. A few weeks later, I had to spend the afternoon on my own with him in the house -‘exposure therapy’. I was to then spend all my time with Joe to accept that he was here,forever.

We spent nearly four months in Nottingham all together, with John having to take compassionate leave from work, to get me to a point where I could come back to London. If I hadn’t gone into the mother and baby unit and prescribed the medication I took, I would never have been able to return to London. I know that I was going to kill myself, I could see no other way out. I thank the unit for admitting me and I thank medication for starting the rewiring of my brain. If this hadn’t started, I then couldn’t go on to the other things necessary to help me recover.

What I needed next was therapy. Ultimately, the main thing the psychiatric and psychological doctors I saw said was that I continuously using the word ‘trapped’. I felt trapped in everything. I found myself feeling that I was not only trapped in the role of motherhood forever, but that I wouldn’t lock doors in case I got trapped in a room. I wouldn’t be in windowless rooms as there was no escape route. At one point when I was saying we should give the baby away , I said to John , what if I’m arrested ? The area of being trapped in handcuffs scares me. And what if I’m put in a cell? I’m locked in it. I refused to get into cars that didn’t have back seat doors,I refused to sit by the window on buses as I couldn’t get out when I wanted. I wouldn’t have fared too well in fifty shades would I ? Thank goodness the hubby doesn’t have a penchant for pink fluffy handcuffs. I would be screaming but not for the right reasons.

So, when the unit agreed I could go back to London, they wrote lots of very good explanatory letters to my local mental health team, saying they recommended therapy for me. Coming back however was problematic – as soon as the mother and baby unit discharged me from their outpatients and my care was taken over by the local mental health team in London, things turned sour.

I still to this day, over five years after my son was born, haven’t been seen as an outpatient at my local London mental health team. I don’t need it now, I’m better, but give me strength. This is ridiculous. This was my life in their hands. The mother and baby unit sent numerous letters asking for me to have outpatient care – but this never happened. I was very lucky that the mother and baby unit agreed to keep me on as an outpatient for a year due to the fact that the team in London basically filed all the letters about me in the bin but this meant I had to travel up there once a week to see the doctors there. This was a massive expense to us as a family , around £200 a week, but one that was essential to ensure I was fully supported while my recovery was on-going.

Before this happened though, on our return to London , I went to the doctors clutching my notes from the mother and baby unit. They had all the info on the doctors needed. “We recovered Evelyn is referred for CBT as soon as possible to build on the good progress she has been making while in the unit and on her discharge”. I saw a GP. I’ll call him Dr Baldy Head. I crept in with Joe and started talking. “I , erm, I haven’t been well. And erm, I felt really low when I gave birth and then started to have all these weird thoughts and feelings and basically cracked up. And I saw lots go doctors here and no one knew how to treat me because it turns out I had postpartum psychosis . So we moved to Nottingham and I registered temporarily with a GP there and went into a mother and baby unit. We were there for four months and we are back now and the psychiatrists there have written this letter to show you the medication that I’m on and to refer me for counselling”. Baldy Head took the letter off me, scanned it flicked it with his finger and scoffed. Actually scoffed and said “and you expect me to do what with this?”. I started crying. I didn’t want it but I felt so embarrassed. I’d just told him something that was really difficult to say and he just made me feel like a child on that god awful Super Nanny programme. I felt like I was sat on the loathesome naughty chair as he said ” who am I supposed to refer you to ? It says you are on tablets so wait for them to kick in”. I said but they have kicked in and how I am now is because of the meds. Four months ago I couldn’t look at Joe without feeling cold all over and cemented to the ground with fear. Now, I’m nervous and scared but I’m getting through the day.I just need to learn some coping techniques. That when he said ” women become mothers, that’s what happens young lady. Perhaps you should have thought of this before you got yourself pregnant”. He handed the letter back to me , laughed and said “refer you for counselling ,is that what I’m here for” and said we are done here. Thanks doc. Next time, I’ll cross my legs and chew on some smarties to ensure i never get myself in this situation again.

So, the wonderful team in Nottingham arranged for me to have therapy. And this ladies and gentleman was totes amazeballs. I had an amazing thing called Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing,commonly known as EMDR. There was a school of thought that my incessant ramblings about cutting up the clouds with scissors to climb into space to get away from my child and the fact that I wouldn’t even go to the loo on my own , meaning John had to stand outside so I didn’t have to lock the door , meant that I may have PTSD from my perinatal mental health experience. So the medication was helping me live life day to day in a way that meant I wasn’t scared to look at my child or running in the street flashing the binmen, but the trauma I had suffered hadn’t been resolved.

So, I met my lovely mental health nurse. She was like a mum. She cuddled me at the start and at the end of the session and kept telling me how well I was doing. EMDR was discovered by a lady called Francine Shapiro, who was a psychologist. My therapist told me a story about Shapiro, who suffered from depression I think. Bear with me I’m not a mental health professional so this may not make much sense ! She went for a walk one day while feeling anxious and realised that when thinking of traumatic memories that upset her ,her eyes moved from side to side. Apparently, side to side eye movements stimulate both sides of the brain like what happens during the REM sleep stage. So, side to side eye movements can reduce the intensity of traumatising thoughts and help you to process and understand them.Sounds weird? Yes, and it’s a strange therapy to have . I had to follow the clicks of my therapists finger back and forth, side to side while talking about my trauma.

When the therapy was discussed with me , I was keen to try it. And it was incredible. It worked in about 8 sessions and it uncovered what I was experiencing – lots of unresolved trauma . I found myself banging the walls with my fists during one session as I discovered how truly affected I was. But now, following EMDR , my memories are no longer painful when I think of them. I can still remember them , but they don’t send me into a spin. I’m not scared of them. Have a look at this if you want to read about its amazingness and also about the different kinds of therapy that can help if you are or have experienced mental illness – http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/drugs-and-treatments/talking-treatments/types-of-therapy/#.VO8FYWIgGSM . Therapies that work for some ,might not be the right therapy for you – there are lots of different types. I’ve shared my experience of EMDR to show how wonderful therapy is as a recovery tool.

There are some clever clogs in the utopian world of the internet who think they have the recovery skills of the wise old elf “If you are willing to get over depression then you can without medication”. Bah. If you are willing ? Who wants to not get better ??? There is nothing wrong with taking anti depressants . There is nothing wrong with taking them for six months,six years or until infinity and beyond. Needing to take them forever doesn’t mean you have ‘ failed to address the issues in your mind’. No no no.

There are lots of things that can help the process of getting to a manageable point when having is suffered/suffering mental illness. Exercise is one.I love running. It really clears my mind. I have to strap my E cup wonder boobs down so I don’t knock myself out as I pound the streets, Mo Farah I am not and I have an arse that still moves ever so slightly once I’ve actually stopped running but the feeling of air going into my lungs really does make my head feel clear. I love going to the gym and putting my headphones in and bringing myself back to the days when I was 16 going to raves. I turn the music up up loud , close my eyes and go wild on the cross trainer. I emerge an hour later, the smell of my trainers knocking me out, my reflection in the mirror terrifying as I look like an oil slick has been poured over my head and face but feeling like a worry free teenager, leaving the gym feeling amazing.

I went through a stage of cooking my way through mood foods. I actually did feel like I was doing my body some good here. I read that basil and rosemary were good for anxiety so simmered away pasta sauces and I went through a stage of cooking of roast potatoes in coconut oil as white carbs would ‘fill my soul’. I unearthed the Nigella Lawson in me and made broad bean falafels. I didn’t sashay around the kitchen fawning over a wooden spoon like it was an 85 battery controlled knee trembling dildo from Ann Summers but I was coming to the conclusion that if I threw a pound of butter over my troubles and massaged them into my skin , I might get a crispy surface so I could endure any knocks thrown at me but maintain my fluffy little centre .

And I do believe that filling my body with good clean food has been good for my mind and soul. Yes I love diet coke (caffeine free is very nice in my humble opinion) and my hips are testament that I love food but I do think there is something true in the belief that foods can help alter your mood. The charity MIND have a great page in their website about this which I encourage you to read – http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/food-and-mood/#.VO7y2GIgGSM. I did things like sprinkle pumpkin seeds over salads and I started eating a lot of salmon,tuna and mussels which I read were good for the brain. I bought a great book on healing soups and boiled them up. I have even attempted kale crisps which were an epic failure and got me so stressed out that I attacked them with the fish slice while standing in my pants with a shower cap on (I made them four times in half an hour and they all resembled fire ashes) so instead blitzed them into smoothies.I juiced red peppers and strawberries as I heard vitamin c helps your body’s reaction to stress and anxiety and became slightly obsessed with tofu to get a magnesium hit again having scoured the internet to see what I could fill my mouth with to ease my anxious symptoms. I discovered tofu scramble, like eggs scrambled but a more hippified version. Throw a load of chilli sauce over it and it’s acceptable.

I’ve got a couple of friends who found art and music therapy really helpful in their recovery, as it has helped them explore their senses. How utterly amazing that support can be found in this way- I think it’s incredible the amount of different things that can help you.

And I discovered Mindfulness. And have raved about it ever since. Learning how to live in this very moment was a massive positive feat for me. I was overwhelmed by the idea of forever in my life as a mum. I could not stop myself thinking of next week, next year, when my son was 12, the entire concept of the future was torturous. It took me a while to get my head around and my initial feelings were summed up by a relative on lending her my Mindfulness book when she announced “I am finding it hard to stare at a toothbrush for ten minutes ” but I stuck with it and my mind was opened. I realised that I needed to live in the very moment. What happened a minute ago isn’t what is happening now or what will happen in the future. I embraced the moment I was in and letting go of the worry of ‘what ifs’ really relaxed my brain. The approach has had a profound effect on my everyday life. I used to panic about not getting my work done on time and I have a great pride in what I do but I think , if this isn’t done Eve , what does this mean? Will the world stop turning ? No. Will it fuck everything up? No. Does it need to be done by the end of the week to ensure you hit deadline? Yes. And that the priority.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter how you better does it? As long as you do. And there are lots of different ways to kick start the process. My point in writing this post was to show that if you do need to take meds, it’s ok. You haven’t failed. I think it’s amazing we live in a world where science has been able to create things that can give you your mind back, help you live a happier life again. And who cares if that means you are on meds now, tomo or forever ?

I love my life with my beautiful joyful child. And I love it because I’m alive to experience it. The day I decided to kill myself was a day I never ever want to have again. I never want to wake up shaking, scared of being alive, ever again. Now, I wake up next to my little boy. The boy I was so scared of and couldn’t be near, sleeps in our room. Around 4am every morning, he climbs into our bed and puts his arm over me and goes to sleep saying mama mama over and over. I love his little squidgy arms and the fact that his cheeks smell of doughnuts. I had halfterm off work with him last week and spent very second with him. We played football and made a carrot cake,went out for lunch everyday and laughed our little heads off. If I hadn’t taken medication five years ago, I wouldn’t be here today to inhale his spirit. I love him so much my heart feels like it could burst. Sometimes, when I’m doing the washing up and John is at the gym , I look over at Joe playing in the carpet and do you know what I think ? I think, I’m here with him on my own and I feel good. I feel more than good, I feel like this is normal. I’m not scared to be near him anymore.

Look at the picture at the top. Joe was 11 months at point. The joy on our faces is real. And it’s beautiful.

I didn’t think that taking medication would mean that I had failed myself and everyone else, but I know lots of people do. But really this was the only thing that helped me when I was initially ill. I am not sure that I will ever be totally ‘cured’ because I have come to accept that ‘anxiety’ is a part of who I am but my psychosis would never have gone away on it’s tod. Meds freed me from the hysteria of hallucinations which almost resulted in me no longer being here and I will forever praise them for giving me the gift of my life back.

Diamonds may be a nice present but for me , the best I ever had was becoming Eve again and learning not to be scared of my baby. Who cares if I had to shake , rattle and roll along the medication yellow brick road to get here?