Tag Archives: maternal mental health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Postnatal Depression ‘isn’t real’ .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the last sentence again.

She felt unheard. Even though she spoke out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great things health care professionals did :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perinatal Mental Health Toolkit

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

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

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

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

‘You can’t be depressed dear, the forestry commission don’t have to be called to trim your bush’

You can’t be depressed dear, you’re wearing mascara ! Said the wizard to the fairy one summer morning when the sun was shining, the birds were singing , the grandparents were gazing at their new glorious grandchild and the new mother was crying in the corner albeit with a slick of heather shimmer across her lips and a slide of liquid liner across the peepers . Little did people know the made up face hadn’t been done because mummy as she was now forever known was having such a delightful restful time that she had three hours to put her face on .no, the perfectly applied make up was applied as a mask, a mask to cover up how she was really feeling. Give her face a stroke and the layers of foundation will crack and will reveal what’s really underneath – a desperate woman who isn’t revelling in motherhood, but who in fact is so sad she cries until her mascara runs down her face .

Over the last year since writing my blog and talking to women who have been through perinatal mental health illnesses , it has become really apparent to me that there appears to be some bizarre notion that some people dismiss mothers experiencing these illnesses as they ‘ don’t look depressed’.

” But you don’t look depressed”. Hmm, what does someone depressed or with a mental illness look like? Are they walking around with weights in their sleeves dragging them across the ground? Are they wandering around the park with a parrot on their shoulder talking to the trees? Are they a sad jabbering wreck? Have they not shaved their bikini line lately ? Well you, know , maybe. But they also may look like you do when you look in the mirror, leave the house and go to work. Shock horror, they may shower,wear clean pants , shave their tash and wear the entirety of a make up counter on their faces . I know I do. I have a vast knicker collection ( my friend Sophie and I used to buy each other the wildest pants we could find at Christmas. Even though I am ow three sizes bigger and all the ribbons and mini poms poms – I have a pair of Mrs Christmas pants that fall off when you undo the strings at the side that hold a rather beautiful metaphorical unwrapping a present theory behind them- catch in my spanx these days, I refuse to chuck them out) , I wax my tash ( I recommend reading the label clearly if you do this as I have it on good authority , ahem, that if you do this in haste, you may accidentally pick up the bikini line wax. This is somewhat painful on the face and though you may indeed remove all the hairs, you will also remove 7 layers of skin, look as though you have dipped your face in ketchup and come out in welts and ingrown hairs ) and I adorn my face in beige elastic lip gloss and lather myself in fake bake. I also had postpartum psychosis , postnatal anxiety and generalised anxiety disorder . Being able to look the dolled up part therefore doesn’t mean you are exempt from feeling sad.

I often talk about the day I was told that I couldn’t have a perinatal mental health illness because I had mascara on. It’s almost as though make up has some kind of medical attachment to it and people think if you wear it , it means you can’t be feeling low. To be wearing it means you must feel like the hills are alive with the sound of music and though obviously for some this is the case but for so so many others, this isn’t true. Make up has the great power of being able to conceal a pile load of flaws, and not just physical. Concealer might cover up spots , but it also covers up eye bags that are embedded into your face from the pained crying you have been doing. Sometimes mascara helps open up those eyes so people don’t notice they have been worn out with tears.

I know that the day I was caught putting mascara on while in the midst of my psychotic breakdown , I think I was actually trying to find the old me. Before having my child, I loved looking my best. Now, in the fresh hell that I was finding motherhood, I wanted to try and gain back that normality . I had a fear of the future to such an extent that I had started to consider that death was the only way out. I had a realisation that this child was now here forever and I was hit with the hammer of a feeling that I had made a terrible terrible mistake in having him. I would wander round chanting ‘I just want it to go back to me and john,I want things back to how they used to be’ but of course this wasn’t going to happen. A baby isn’t something you put into the recycling when you have finished with it , it’s here forever and my mind found that very concept beyond terrifying. I was too scared to be in the same room as him so when he wasn’t attached to my boob with john sitting next to me to ensure I didn’t drop the baby because of my shaking, I tended to just sit on my own on the end of the bed staring at the floor trembling. I did this a lot. I did this almost all of the time.my teeth would chatter with nerves at his presence and I just wanted the baby to go away and get my old life back.and I think painting my face not only took up time to ensure I could avoid my child, but it also gave me a glimpse of what I would do in my former child free life.

And this mask then can fool people into thinking you are fine. That you are embracing motherhood with gusto, that the baby has come along and you wouldn’t even know it as you are doing all the things you used to do . I found this. I have mentioned this in a few blog posts but I and john most certainly won’t forget get the day that I woke up , manic , and basically in the midst of a pretty bad psychotic episode. John had gone to work as I had insisted I was ok ( this was fairly early on) and on his return , he found me in the kitchen holding a packet of frozen stewing steak mumbling ‘must cook stew’ on repeat. Bar the fact that stew takes quite a long time to make and unless we were planning to eat at 10pm the next day, I don’t think the frozen lump of meat was going to be doing anything useful , I looked very bizarre. I have very muddled memories of that day and john has thankfully filled in the what I can only say I must now say are amusing blank spaces. If I don’t laugh at them , I may cry. Again. I was apparently in an apron ( because obviously I always wore one of them and didn’t just fry the bacon in my pants) , with a bun on the top of my head so solid with hairspray I may have been flammable , and more worryingly, with blue eyeshadow and coral orange lipstick adorning my face. John says I smelt of bleach and then attempted to climb out of the window. As you do when you are completely well obviously. He called the health visitor and said ‘ she is acting , erm , weird. She looks like , erm, Mary poppins’.

The health visitor arrived . And informed john that I was nesting and clearly just wanted the house to be stick and span for my new precious bundle of joy and wasn’t he lucky that I was making him a nice meal , Mmm, yummy stew a la psychosis with a sprinkling of blusher. At this point I will repeat – I had blue eyeshadow on and coral orange lipstick. I looked like a 1980s glamour shot .This was 2010,blue eyeshadow was not en vogue and my mother who is nearly forty years older than me last wore coral lipstick in 1989. This wild makeover should have been evidence enough that I was losing the plot but no, it just showed I liked scrubbing according to the professionals.

And it’s not just make up that covers your feel emotions up. That’s just the imagery I’m using. It’s the fake smiles, the well timed laughter, the omelette over your face to make people laugh when you’re actually feeling awful.

Mental illness can be like the invisible illness. Often , you can’t see it but because you can’t , it doesn’t mean it’s not there. Just because someone appears to be going on with their life at what looks like to you , in the way they normally would, it doesn’t mean they aren’t suffering. And for me, I obviously relate this to mental illness after having a baby. I don’t care what people say, there is a massive stigma attached to this kind of mental illness. Having a baby is supposed to be the most joyous thing in life you can ever endure. It’s supposed to be all rose petals and gurgles, with deep joy at being able to stare at your baby for hours on end thinking , it’s all worth it. And when you say , look , I don’t think I like it,what the fuck have I done , people recoil in horror. Because having a baby is the biggest thing nature does. Women have babies, women make milk to nurse babies, women have the ability to survive on one hours sleep a fortnight , and some women have 13 children and are back cooking a pork shoulder for the other 12 two hours after giving birth .

But for a fairly large amount of women , the experience is not initially this magical fairy tale. I have heard postnatal depression described as the ‘fluffy mental illness’ and one that people think women make up . There are the ‘in my day we were too busy to be depressed’ brigade who shame women into not wanting to reveal they don’t feel like their antenatal class told them they would do. And if you are faced with this stigma , what do you do ? You cover it up in any way you can in the hope that if you paint over the cracks whether it’s with make up , fake smiles, forced laughter, forced love towards the baby you aren’t sure you want, that it will go away. In some cases , these feelings do go quickly, your thoughts sort themselves out and the sad feelings while away on their own. Hurrah. But for some women, this isn’t the case. I hear stories of women who have babies over six months old saying they have been wandering around in a glazed daze of anxiety and depression but have been keeping up appearances as they are too ashamed to tell anyone how they feel . Everyone thinks they are fine as they are going through the motions but they aren’t . It’s like a scab that looks like it is healing but with one tiny pick, all the blood comes pouring out and this needs to change.

Mental illness is not a look. It’s not something you see in the pages of a magazine because if it was visual, it wouldn’t look very nice. So if you see someone who has just had a baby, offer to help,ask how things are, be gentle with them. Please refrain from the ‘HOW ARE YOU’ in slow loud tones like your friend has suddenly regressed to pre-school age though – I don’t believe there is any research to show that people experiencing mental illness need to be spoken.to.like.they.are.stupid. Just make it aware that if they want to talk , you will listen. If they need someone to go to the doctor with them to explain that even though they are smiling and laughing , inside they feel crushed. Upon asking they may of course find they are genuinely loving motherhood and that is wonderful but they may not be . They may be desperate for someone to say, I know you have painted toenails but I just wondered how things are ?

I’ll throw in at this point that there is a wonderful charity in the UK called The Smile Group. They have this fabulous tool on their website which is a GP checklist which can help you if you are don’t know how to tell the doctor how you are feeling. I have spoken to two women recently who have been holding an invisible mask over their emotions and felt like they couldn’t reach out for help from their doctor as they didn’t know what to say. I showed them this checklist which is here http://www.thesmilegroup.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/GP-Checklist.pdf . You can fill it in and ask the receptionist to get the doctor to read it and call you or make an appointment and hand it to them. They will then see that even though you look ok, that looks can be deceiving . You have been putting on an oscar worthy performance of utter joy but you can’t stay in that role forever.

It’s had to tell people how you feel when you feel betrayed by your mind. That awful feeling that your mind has shifted form you controlling it to it controlling you and not in a good way is terrifying but let me tell you , it does get better. One day, you won’t look in the mirror and think , Christ alive, another day of gritted teeth with a fake smile in public , I promise. One day soon you will look in the mirror and think , I feel a bit better I feel like I can face the world without that metaphorical mask and I feel ok.

Let’s go Greek and take these masks off and smash them on the ground like plates , crash ,bang , wallop. And kick them out of your way as nothing will stand in your way of happiness now. If you actually do this in a restaurant you may have to pay for the damage though so maybe refrain from launching your carbonara at the wall and just be content in the knowledge that you are going to be ok. More than ok, you are going to be happy xx

If there ever was a reason for a harness in between your fandango, then this is it

On Monday 22 June , after work , after collecting my son from school and eating three brownies and a lemon ice tea, I’ll be trekking across London to take in the lovely views across canary wharf and Greenwich. How delightful I hear you say. However , I forgot to throw in that I will be taking in these views from on top of the 02 centre, 52 metres in the sky. Tis quite high.

image

This isn’t my normal after work activity. That normally involves wine and crisps but this is no normal Monday. This is because I am part of Team London for Postpartum Progress’s Annual Climb Out Of Darkness http://postpartumprogress.org/climb-out-of-the-darkness/. Take a look at this and also the website for postpartum progress http://www.postpartumprogress.com.

When I was ill, well actually , not when I was properly ill as when that was going on, I was in terror at the thought of every second, minute and hour. The chiming of the clock would not just signify another hour going past, but another chime to what was the life sentence of motherhood that lay before me. The pure terror I felt about being trapped by this child forever filled me with such dread that I genuinely thought the only way out was death. I could see no end to the fear that I felt. I could see no end to waking up in the morning and feeling as though I was in a nailed down coffin , gasping for hour. Gasping for an air that would lift me up out of my bed, into the sky , above the clouds into space. I began to think , only then will I be free. I would run out of the house saying I felt like cling film was pulled across my mouth and was stopping me breathing. I was desperate for a way out. I had spent nine months waiting for my child to arrive which such hope and glee and when he did, within an hour of his birth, I felt a hazy sense of dread. My mum said I looked glazed over and kept shouting ‘Evelyn , Evelyn , why are you staring into space? Evelyn, put your phone down, the baby is here’. I was looking around the room looking for the exit and wondered if the windows were open. I think I have sub consciously started planning my escape then but little did I know the pit I would fall into just a few hours later.

Over the course of the next three days , I slipped slip into a deep deep fear filled state. I was scared of my baby. He had amazing squidgy arms and the smallest cutest little toe in the world, and the little toe nail on that little toe was so tiny yet so perfect. He did lots of yawning and seemed to like me but I found myself not even being able to look at him. I peered his cot a few times and felt my hands clam up. My head would start buzzing , I would start breathing through my nose , my teeth would feel like they had pins and needles and I would start looking for a fire exit. I felt like I needed to get out. Out of the ward, the hospital and what became very obvious, out of the life I had been dealt. How could I have wanted something so much and as soon as it was here decide I not only didn’t want it , but that I was scared of it ?

I realised I felt trapped by being a mother. This gurgling lump of squidge belonged to me ,forever, and the idea of that sent me into such a spin that I eventually couldn’t be in the same room as him. I would shake at the thought of his presence and the idea that he was now here and was staying here. I couldn’t unbirth him now.

When he was six weeks old I woke up one day, smacked my head into the wall, told john I was getting the baby adopted while pacing up and down the room, screamed so much that blood poured from the side of my mouth, began chanting and walking up and down the stairs over and over and over and crawled around the bed on all fours screaming ‘someone has to help me ‘ while John was on the phone to a psychiatrist at the hospital. This day culminated in john finding me in the bathroom holding a razor saying the sun was hitting it in such a way that it glistened really beautifully. For those few minutes holding the razor, in the midst of that morning of meltdown and the previous six weeks of hell, I just sat there , staring at the floor. I don’t know why. I don’t know what I was planning on doing with the razor. I think I went in the bathroom to get away from everyone ( john was on ohone to the hospital trying to get me admitted , his mum was on the phone to the doctors trying to get my pregnancy notes for the hospital ) and the baby just kept crying for me , my boobs ,my smell and my warmth. I can remember being in the bathroom , I remember it was really sunny,I remember I squeezed a little spot at the top of my arm and I remember opening up the cabinet and picking up the razor. Even though my lady locks down below had reached such catastrophic proportions that the forestry commission would need to come along with an industrial lawn mower to fashion a Brazilian on me , I was most definitely not getting the razor out to prune my nether regions. I don’t know why I got it out. I don’t think I wanted the physical pain of ending my life but I had reached the point where I thought death was the only way out. My son was now born. He was here forever and the idea of that I couldn’t cope with.

The previous six weeks had seen me have continuous panic attacks, I’d experienced hallucinations which made me feel like I was floating in the corner of the room looking down on myself. If only I’d have brought the broom up with me I could have attacked the cob webs while doing cartwheels in the corner. I frequently talk about the day I turned myself into a picket fence housewife complete with powder blue eye shadow , coral orange lipstick and a slicked up born that Mary poppins would break a sweat to steal of me. I also put an apron on and then proceeded to stand in the kitchen for the next few hours holding a piece of frozen stewing steak , chanting . When john returned home , joe was asleep in his bouncer, I looked like I had just let the three year old next door pretend I was a girls world and draw all over my face with a crayon and I think I might have tried to climb out of the window. That was a fun day girls. It surely was painfully obvious that I wasn’t well – I was wearing coral orange lipstick that was that seen in 1985 on women with quaffed fringes hairsprayed into place with concrete strength . Who in their right mind wears coral lipstick I ask you ?

I was eventually hospitalised and diagnosed with postpartum psychosis and anxiety. In the uk we have what I will call a ‘light sprinkling’ which translates to , not a lot at all and we need loads more but the government is shutting them all down anyway , of mother and baby units. These are specialist psychiatric wards where mums and their babies can go to manage the mental illness they are suffering since the birth of their child and to kick start their recovery. My lovely pretend hubby – nearly ten yrs together and a bare finger over here but you know , I really have made him stick through the for better and for worse even in the absence of those official vows and he still loves me god bless him – fought tooth and nail to get me into a unit as we had to endure nearly two months of ‘oh , your wife is just tired / she is wearing mascara she can’t be depressed/ get her to make a cake , that will cheer her up/ didn’t she realise having a baby was hard’ type comments while everyone brushed aside the absolute horror I was going through.

When I went into the unit, my recovery started. I was put on lots of happy pills,anti psychotics and anti anxiety medication which I will now forever say saved my life. I don’t care that I chewed them like smarties, I don’t care that I put on approx 67 stone in weight, I don’t care that they seemed to give me , ahem, sulphur burps (yummy, I’ll be winning miss world 2016 won’t i ) and I don’t care if people say , oh just eat some raw paw paw and cut an onion in half and hold them against your ears. They will clear out the toxins and all your sad feelings will be absorbed by said onion and then you can bury it in the garden and have a funeral for all your old sad emotions. I needed medication and I took it. And it helped me get better . Hurrah to scientists and their magic potions to help us feel better. Without them I don’t think my son would have a mother alive today.

And when I was in the unit, I was able to take the time to focus on my recovery. It forced me to be in joes presence , something I had not only avoided but feared so much that my vision had blurred. In between my panic attacks , I would read . The was a wonderful book called ‘life after birth’ by kate figes which gave me my first glimmer of hope. Then I would read articles on the internet.

I read one that will always stay with me . It said , recovery from perinatal mental health problems does happen but like it’s a game of snakes and ladders. You will have a pile of good days and then a bad one will pop up. But that like snakes and ladders, you may slip down the ladder but you never go back to the beginning. That gave me hope. I would have days where I would think , I’m doing ok, I can look at joe without vomiting , I can lift him up and nurse him and then it would hit me , bam , like a cold fish had just been smacked around my face. I would shake , my teeth would chatter and I’d say , oh god oh god, it’s happening again john , you don’t understand, I’m going to die , it’s him, I can’t be his mum , I can’t do this , I can’t , how can you do it , why aren’t you terrified and then I would have a massive panic attack and all the nurses would have to come into the room and help me calm down. I would feel like it was never ever going to get better but the snakes and ladders analogy gave me hope. I might feel shit sometimes. I may feel more than shit sometimes, I may feel like I want to be six feet under ( I had hallucinations of being locked in a coffin frequently) but you know, that thirty seconds yesterday where I felt ok meant something . It was more than thirty seconds of oh I feel ok, it was thirty seconds of hope . And that’s what I needed to cling on to.

And then I would read blogs and survivor stories online. I saw that people had felt like me. I’ll be honest that I struggled to find anyone saying what I felt , the whole , I’m trapped in life as a mum and feel so bad about it I think I want to end my life, but these were women, admitting they felt awful after having a baby and even though it took a while, they got better. Some thought they were going to hurt their baby, some thought they had developed OCD but what they all had in common was that they had experienced something really shit but that they had got better. This hope was like a carrot dangling in front of me. Or rather like a bar of chocolate saying look how good I look, but you can’t quite grab me , but one day you will and you will devour me.

And I did. It took about 2.5 years but I eventually grabbed that chocolate bar and didn’t let go. It took a lot of meds, therapy which involved me watching a clicking finger move side to side and a stint in a psychiatric unit but I got better . I’m a bloody warrior . I have clawed back from wanting to end it all to wanting to inhale life with my son so much that I could smother him in kisses and still want to give him more. He is my light, my love, my soul. He is most definitely my child. The afternoon after the uk election he stood up in class to tell all the other five year olds about it and how he is so clever. Apparently all was going well until the path where he announced ” and so that means that the conservatives are still in power and David Cameron is still out prime minister. And that is a fucking ballache. ” I can’t think she he got that from. Similar to when I had my annual check up at the doctors and was asked ‘ and so , just for our records as we ask everyone now, how much alcohol do you consume”. I of course said , oh you know I might go out once a month and have a glass of some nice French red wine with a nice fillet steak and he nodded and said good good. My darling child then pipes up ” mummy, you love getting drunk. You walk like this when you have had too much wine”. I mumbled a few yes yes darling , that’s a nice story for the doctor to chuckle and say , ooh what’s your favourite drink joe ? Water , apple juice ? No , my five year old child’s response – ” I like jaguar bombs ‘. I’ll just point out that he doesn’t have jaguarbombs to the best of my knowledge unless the dinner ladies at school have taken to pulling pints while serving up macaroni cheese.

I did climb out last with my other uk warrior mum girlfriends beth bone and Kathryn grant. They both have blogs you should peruse and they fought similar battles to me . We walked across London last year and spent those hours together laughing , remembering and realising how lucky we are . We remembered those women who have lost their lives to perinatal mental health and vowed we would do what we can to help others who had been in a similar position to us. And we have . Us three , along with some other amazeballs people have formed the perinatal mental health partnership in the uk to create an awareness campaign. We are doing some great work and our experiences are and will help others.

And this is where postpartum progress and climb out comes in. Postpartum Progress and it’s founder, Katherine Stone is the most brilliant resource for mothers and their families. It posts hopeful blog posts, easy to read symptom checkers,lists details where you can access support and shows that you aren’t alone. There are whole communities who can and want to help you if you are feeling like it’s all too much. You can and do get better, I promise.

Climb out signifies something beautiful. It signifies you climbing out of despair back to your peak. No matter how low you get , you can climb out of it. And it may be a hard climb , it may be one where you feel like you have no choice but to give up but dig those nails in and you can do it. Take whatever help you need, you don’t have to do it alone. Your friends and family can help you, people you don’t know can help you and you will get there.

I will be climbing this year with beth who is our team leader , Kathryn and another survivor , Tracy Robinson. We will scale the 02 and reach the top and think , that was as easy as drinking a glass of prosecco bra use have climbed harder mountains than that- we beat perinatal mental health problems. I have no doubt that when I’m clad in my delightful blue jumpsuit with a harness around my fandango staring up at the great height in front of me that I’ve agreed to climb , I will shit my pants. But this is fine really as I should be used to it – I have the bladder control of a newborn since having my little sunshine.

Dust off those walking boots, strap your boobs down and wear some comfy pants. Find somewhere high and gather your family and friends and ask them to take a journey of hope with you. image