I saw a post on twitter the other day and it struck me. It didn’t make me want to throw chocolate profiteroles at the iPad screen, which would actually be a terrible waste but it didn’t make me want to lick it either. It actually got me quite irritated because it insinuated that I , as well as millions of others had failed in some way,when actually we haven’t . We’ve done what we have for the good of ourselves and those around us.
It didn’t say ‘Jamie Dornan doesn’t love you’ which would have made me throw all my mummy porn into a Sainsbury’s carrier bag and given it to the charity shop down the road. Don’t know about you but I’d happily buy ‘Housewives in Hounslow’ for 5p. My mind is wandering . What it actually said that was ‘you never need anti depressants to get cope with mental illness’ and the article suggested that to take them indicated some sort of weakness, that all they do is blur your mind from the reality of the real torture you are enduring and that if you take them, you aren’t ever actually better and you should feel like a failure as you haven’t managed to ying and yang yourself out of the depressive limbo you have got yourself tangled into.
I have played the game twister and got myself into all sorts of gymnastic poses and managed to fall out of them easily and hysterically. In my younger , wilder days,I thought I was some sort of karma sutra connoisseur and was able to twist my body into all sorts of shapes while swinging from the lampshade. I held back on wearing crotchless pants but you get my drift. However, untangling the wires in my mind that had been jumbled up was not half as pleasant , not at all easy, took two and a half years and it was not something that I could do with simply me,myself and I. I couldn’t just go to sleep in spring and emerge in summer , with my brain in good working order. I needed something to start my recovery,
My recovery and/or management of the mental illness that hit me happened as a result of numerous things. I wasn’t able to just ‘get over it’ or pull myself together. A nice brisk walk and a hot chocolate didn’t sweeten the blow and I wasn’t able to mediate my mind into a state of hypnotic happiness – if I could have , believe me, I would have swung many watches in front of my face.
First of , it took medication. Lots of medication. I’m not ashamed to say that. At one point , I was taking antidepressants three times a day and they were as essential as my three meals. I also took anti psychotics at other points throughout the day, so these were like my snacks, to calm me when I was becoming manic. My friend Rachel reminds of the text messages I would send her while I was in the midst of my psychosis “they were pages long with no punctuation and made no sense. You also kept repeating yourself over and over”. I sense my blog posts may be slightly similar with my keyboard warrior ramblings but you catch my drift. My mind was like a collapsed angel delight. Pink and quivering.
For those of you who don’t know, five years ago, I was diagnosed with Postpartum Psychosis ,anxiety connected to the birth of a child and generalised anxiety disorder. For the first six weeks after my sons birth,I was literally wandering around in another reality. When he was six weeks old, I was hospitalised in a psychiatric mother and baby unit to begin my long road to recovery.
Before I made my not so merry way into the unit, my husband and I spent a fair while attempting to convince people I needed medication. Relatives said I didn’t need it- I mean, imagine , the shame of taking medication to make you feel better, how embarrassing. Then as some of you know from another of my blog posts, certain esteemed members of the medical profession thought that Betty Crockers Brownie mix contained the healing powers of a sunshine happy wizard and encouraged me to whip up a Victoria sandwich. Apparently, devouring it would make me happy, which would stop me feeling sad. Problem is , I felt more than sad . I felt like I wanted to die. As much as I like a moist chocolate sponge , I failed to understand how cracking some eggs would stop me cracking up.
I was, when my son was maybe two weeks old, grudgingly (by the doctor, not me) prescribed an anti-depressant. Yippee. ‘It kicks in in two weeks and you will be right as rain again. No more wanting to flush the baby down the toilet feelings for you young lady” and off we went. I waited two torturous weeks. Torturous for me and my husband who had to endure several of my mini meltdowns along the way. Bar the constant terror I felt as I attempted to live minute by minute , hour by hour, I was having really awful panic attacks. My eyes would develop tunnel vision, my ears would feel muffled. I felt like a great cloud of world ending doom was filling my body and start to shake. I would try to scream and would scratch at my mouth shouting I’m trapped take me away. I developed an unfortunate need to run into the street shoeless,bra-less,pant less and what was becoming painfully clear, mindless, in what I think was an attempt to inhale air into my body to get rid of the dark cloud that was taking over it. John had to carry my naked , wild arm swinging self from the middle of the road much to the curtain twitching amusement of the lady over the road. All this was going on while a small 8lb baby was in his Moses basket gurgling away,oblivious to the fact that his mummy wanted something to take the pain away and was willing to go to any lengths to get it and his daddy was looking after her and him all the way through it.
I went back to the doctor, the start of many many many GP visits to say I didn’t feel right. Nothing was questioned, nothing was changed. I was starting to spiral out of control.
I had been experiencing deep psychotic feelings. They were terrifying and I remember the terror very well. But they also seemed logical. I would say to John ‘I’m trapped in motherhood. He has trapped me forever” and John, after a million attempts at trying to soothe me eventually would say ok , he is here forever but we can work with this. He can go to nursery you can go back to work early, you don’t have to spend all your time with him. And then I’d say ” but I’m trapped in the world John. And the clouds,they are getting closer everyday . I need to climb the tree and cut them with scissors and then I’ll get to space. But what will I do when I’m there?”. I would claw at my mouth with my hands as I felt like cling film was over it, stopping me breathing. I got some rather attractive looking cuts at the side of my mouth and developed a need to try and pop the little white heads at the top of my arm. I was living the dream everybody. Living the dream.
My first meds were not the ones for me but thank god my bad experience didn’t put me off trying another anti depressant. I won’t say the name of the med and for good reason. I know many people it was the right med for and has been life changing and life saving. But when I went into hospital and was given some of the magic blue calming pills, I realised how good life can look when the pains in your brain can be soothed by the right concoction of pills. I was like a pharmacists personal bank roll I was on so many meds at one point. Anyone need a rattle to soothe the baby ? Give me a shake. Maracas over there sir? I’m on my way. But who cares- I was starting to feel better. I was starting to feel like Eve again.
I admit that I would read glossy magazines when there was story about a celebrity who had suffered from mental health issues. I read a fair few about those who had suffered postnatal depression or other perinatal mental health problems and I would become enraged when they would say ‘no, I didn’t take anti depressants. I think that they just mask your feelings and I’m proud to have got through it with out turning to meds”. I realise now that my anger was unfair in one way but also I think justified in another. Unfair in the sense that if people don’t want to take meds, of course that’s fine and of course there are instances where you can do get yourself through without the need for medication but I think saying its bad for mums to ‘turn to meds’ is wrong. They aren’t turning to crack. They aren’t weak. They want to be better so they can lead a happy life with their baby. If this means taking some tablets to sort out the bits in the brain that have gone awry then so be it. Nobody has a go at someone with a physical illness taking meds to get better do they?
That well known beacon of medical advice Katie Hopkins came out with quite the corker a few months ago. She sent out a tweet that read ‘Once I was given a sick note and a prescription for anti-depressants. I threw the note in the bin, ripped up the script & went back to work.’ Good for you Hopkins. I’m glad that for your experience , you didn’t need to take meds. Katie could have looked at this in a different way. Going to the doctor and admitting you feel shit is a big step and it’s actually pretty disgusting for someone to suggest its a weakness. And ripping up the prescription ? Fine , your choice. But don’t mock those who don’t turn it into confetti but instead take it to Boots, take the tablets and attempt to start their road to feeling better.
It doesn’t matter how we get better , it just matters that we do. And this may mean you are not ever totally ‘recovered’ .Getting yourself to a manageable point ,where you can live life without the symptoms that stop you being able to enjoy it, I think, is ok. I don’t have postpartum psychosis anymore and for me , the psychotic part of my illness cleared fairly quickly once I started on anti-psychotics. Hurrah. Gold medal for magic pills. They gave me my mind back. But I probably will always suffer with some kind of anxiety.
For those anti meds, I can’t explain the feelings of having to live in terror everyday. I got to such a point that I thought the sky was the ceiling of a film set . I thought the clouds were suffocating me. I would claw at my mouth as I felt trapped by ‘something’. I at one point woke up and thought I was in a coffin , being buried alive. Let me tell you, at that point, there is no way ‘ thinking positively’ would have gotten rid of these feelings and thoughts. I thank the medicine gods everyday for inventing anti psychotics as they helped save my life. I was then able to think positively once the fog had cleared a little.
Meds can help your mind clear so you can focus on ‘recovery’. Once out of my psychotic phase, I had deep deep anxiety. I heard a nurse in the unit I was in say it was one of the worst cases of postnatal anxiety she had ever seen and in my diagnosis and subsequent discharge from being an inpatient , my notes talked mostly about the anxiety I was suffering. I was put on an old style anti anxiety drug having been weaned of the med that want working. I think I was on175mg three times a day and it was quite simply, wonderful. I initially found that it numbed my mouth and turned it temporarily blue which was slightly startling. John walked into my room and said ‘what the fuck is up with your lips?’ And looked at me as though I was just about to whip on a Star Trek outfit. And then I looked in the mirror and saw my intergalactic state. It made me retain wee resulting in a lovely bloated like appearance and the husband being let loose on Primark ON HIS OWN to buy me some new pants and trousers, and gave me slightly jittery legs, but it stopped my mind jitteriness.
The meds didn’t turn me into a zombie. I had worried about this. I worried that I may become void of feeling and I wouldn’t know if I was anxious as my brain would be numbed but. They didn’t do that. I definitely still experienced anxiety but not in the world stopping why I had before. Before I was on them, I couldn’t even bear to be in the same room as my own child. I shook at the idea of his very presence and the notion that he was now here forever, completely and utterly terrified me to the point where I was almost catatonic. I became frozen with fear,my hair was coming out in chunks,I forgot how to get dressed,John had to wash me. I vomited all over myself in the shower one day and John rinsed it all off. That’s love for you right there. Your good lady has run around the block naked, said she wants to die, said she wants to give the baby away and is now stood naked in front of you covered in sick. And you’re clearing it up kissing her forehead saying it’s all going to be ok.
I would frantically fold up and mess up and then refold clothes. Having never understood the concept of folding in my life before having my child and having a somewhat natural ability to have the clothes in my bedroom resemble the floor of Primark during a sale , my behaviour was most definitely that of someone who was trying to avoid being near her baby.
I was scared of him. I was scared of opening my eyes in the morning. And when I did , I could only see properly through one eye as the other had blurred so much due to my anxious state. I would start wailing when I woke up as I realised it was another day of terror, another day towards the forever of being a mother, being a life source. So, I will never forget the day I woke up in John’s parents house when I was on home leave from the unit. I opened my eyes and awaited the flutter in my chest.I waited for my hands to calm up.I waited for my breath to do that thing where I would breathe really quickly three times and I waited for me to start shaking. I waited some more. And more. And I realised it wasn’t happening. I got out of bed and still didn’t want to look at Joe in his Moses basket but things felt okish. One step at a time.
I wasn’t instantly cured. My recovery took two and a half years in all. My recovery to a manageable place but that morning ,for the first time in nearly three months, I remembered what it felt like to wake up like I had in my life before Joe. For the next few months, well for the next year really, my emotions were snake and ladderesque . My emotions went up and down but I kept remembering that I didn’t always go back to the start. I would be able to spend time with Joe but it was very hard. Upon my discharge , I had to spend a few minutes on my own with him each day . I would have to walk around the garden on my own with him, walk to the post box with him and then had to build this up to walking to the local shop. A few weeks later, I had to spend the afternoon on my own with him in the house -‘exposure therapy’. I was to then spend all my time with Joe to accept that he was here,forever.
We spent nearly four months in Nottingham all together, with John having to take compassionate leave from work, to get me to a point where I could come back to London. If I hadn’t gone into the mother and baby unit and prescribed the medication I took, I would never have been able to return to London. I know that I was going to kill myself, I could see no other way out. I thank the unit for admitting me and I thank medication for starting the rewiring of my brain. If this hadn’t started, I then couldn’t go on to the other things necessary to help me recover.
What I needed next was therapy. Ultimately, the main thing the psychiatric and psychological doctors I saw said was that I continuously using the word ‘trapped’. I felt trapped in everything. I found myself feeling that I was not only trapped in the role of motherhood forever, but that I wouldn’t lock doors in case I got trapped in a room. I wouldn’t be in windowless rooms as there was no escape route. At one point when I was saying we should give the baby away , I said to John , what if I’m arrested ? The area of being trapped in handcuffs scares me. And what if I’m put in a cell? I’m locked in it. I refused to get into cars that didn’t have back seat doors,I refused to sit by the window on buses as I couldn’t get out when I wanted. I wouldn’t have fared too well in fifty shades would I ? Thank goodness the hubby doesn’t have a penchant for pink fluffy handcuffs. I would be screaming but not for the right reasons.
So, when the unit agreed I could go back to London, they wrote lots of very good explanatory letters to my local mental health team, saying they recommended therapy for me. Coming back however was problematic – as soon as the mother and baby unit discharged me from their outpatients and my care was taken over by the local mental health team in London, things turned sour.
I still to this day, over five years after my son was born, haven’t been seen as an outpatient at my local London mental health team. I don’t need it now, I’m better, but give me strength. This is ridiculous. This was my life in their hands. The mother and baby unit sent numerous letters asking for me to have outpatient care – but this never happened. I was very lucky that the mother and baby unit agreed to keep me on as an outpatient for a year due to the fact that the team in London basically filed all the letters about me in the bin but this meant I had to travel up there once a week to see the doctors there. This was a massive expense to us as a family , around £200 a week, but one that was essential to ensure I was fully supported while my recovery was on-going.
Before this happened though, on our return to London , I went to the doctors clutching my notes from the mother and baby unit. They had all the info on the doctors needed. “We recovered Evelyn is referred for CBT as soon as possible to build on the good progress she has been making while in the unit and on her discharge”. I saw a GP. I’ll call him Dr Baldy Head. I crept in with Joe and started talking. “I , erm, I haven’t been well. And erm, I felt really low when I gave birth and then started to have all these weird thoughts and feelings and basically cracked up. And I saw lots go doctors here and no one knew how to treat me because it turns out I had postpartum psychosis . So we moved to Nottingham and I registered temporarily with a GP there and went into a mother and baby unit. We were there for four months and we are back now and the psychiatrists there have written this letter to show you the medication that I’m on and to refer me for counselling”. Baldy Head took the letter off me, scanned it flicked it with his finger and scoffed. Actually scoffed and said “and you expect me to do what with this?”. I started crying. I didn’t want it but I felt so embarrassed. I’d just told him something that was really difficult to say and he just made me feel like a child on that god awful Super Nanny programme. I felt like I was sat on the loathesome naughty chair as he said ” who am I supposed to refer you to ? It says you are on tablets so wait for them to kick in”. I said but they have kicked in and how I am now is because of the meds. Four months ago I couldn’t look at Joe without feeling cold all over and cemented to the ground with fear. Now, I’m nervous and scared but I’m getting through the day.I just need to learn some coping techniques. That when he said ” women become mothers, that’s what happens young lady. Perhaps you should have thought of this before you got yourself pregnant”. He handed the letter back to me , laughed and said “refer you for counselling ,is that what I’m here for” and said we are done here. Thanks doc. Next time, I’ll cross my legs and chew on some smarties to ensure i never get myself in this situation again.
So, the wonderful team in Nottingham arranged for me to have therapy. And this ladies and gentleman was totes amazeballs. I had an amazing thing called Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing,commonly known as EMDR. There was a school of thought that my incessant ramblings about cutting up the clouds with scissors to climb into space to get away from my child and the fact that I wouldn’t even go to the loo on my own , meaning John had to stand outside so I didn’t have to lock the door , meant that I may have PTSD from my perinatal mental health experience. So the medication was helping me live life day to day in a way that meant I wasn’t scared to look at my child or running in the street flashing the binmen, but the trauma I had suffered hadn’t been resolved.
So, I met my lovely mental health nurse. She was like a mum. She cuddled me at the start and at the end of the session and kept telling me how well I was doing. EMDR was discovered by a lady called Francine Shapiro, who was a psychologist. My therapist told me a story about Shapiro, who suffered from depression I think. Bear with me I’m not a mental health professional so this may not make much sense ! She went for a walk one day while feeling anxious and realised that when thinking of traumatic memories that upset her ,her eyes moved from side to side. Apparently, side to side eye movements stimulate both sides of the brain like what happens during the REM sleep stage. So, side to side eye movements can reduce the intensity of traumatising thoughts and help you to process and understand them.Sounds weird? Yes, and it’s a strange therapy to have . I had to follow the clicks of my therapists finger back and forth, side to side while talking about my trauma.
When the therapy was discussed with me , I was keen to try it. And it was incredible. It worked in about 8 sessions and it uncovered what I was experiencing – lots of unresolved trauma . I found myself banging the walls with my fists during one session as I discovered how truly affected I was. But now, following EMDR , my memories are no longer painful when I think of them. I can still remember them , but they don’t send me into a spin. I’m not scared of them. Have a look at this if you want to read about its amazingness and also about the different kinds of therapy that can help if you are or have experienced mental illness – http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/drugs-and-treatments/talking-treatments/types-of-therapy/#.VO8FYWIgGSM . Therapies that work for some ,might not be the right therapy for you – there are lots of different types. I’ve shared my experience of EMDR to show how wonderful therapy is as a recovery tool.
There are some clever clogs in the utopian world of the internet who think they have the recovery skills of the wise old elf “If you are willing to get over depression then you can without medication”. Bah. If you are willing ? Who wants to not get better ??? There is nothing wrong with taking anti depressants . There is nothing wrong with taking them for six months,six years or until infinity and beyond. Needing to take them forever doesn’t mean you have ‘ failed to address the issues in your mind’. No no no.
There are lots of things that can help the process of getting to a manageable point when having is suffered/suffering mental illness. Exercise is one.I love running. It really clears my mind. I have to strap my E cup wonder boobs down so I don’t knock myself out as I pound the streets, Mo Farah I am not and I have an arse that still moves ever so slightly once I’ve actually stopped running but the feeling of air going into my lungs really does make my head feel clear. I love going to the gym and putting my headphones in and bringing myself back to the days when I was 16 going to raves. I turn the music up up loud , close my eyes and go wild on the cross trainer. I emerge an hour later, the smell of my trainers knocking me out, my reflection in the mirror terrifying as I look like an oil slick has been poured over my head and face but feeling like a worry free teenager, leaving the gym feeling amazing.
I went through a stage of cooking my way through mood foods. I actually did feel like I was doing my body some good here. I read that basil and rosemary were good for anxiety so simmered away pasta sauces and I went through a stage of cooking of roast potatoes in coconut oil as white carbs would ‘fill my soul’. I unearthed the Nigella Lawson in me and made broad bean falafels. I didn’t sashay around the kitchen fawning over a wooden spoon like it was an 85 battery controlled knee trembling dildo from Ann Summers but I was coming to the conclusion that if I threw a pound of butter over my troubles and massaged them into my skin , I might get a crispy surface so I could endure any knocks thrown at me but maintain my fluffy little centre .
And I do believe that filling my body with good clean food has been good for my mind and soul. Yes I love diet coke (caffeine free is very nice in my humble opinion) and my hips are testament that I love food but I do think there is something true in the belief that foods can help alter your mood. The charity MIND have a great page in their website about this which I encourage you to read – http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/food-and-mood/#.VO7y2GIgGSM. I did things like sprinkle pumpkin seeds over salads and I started eating a lot of salmon,tuna and mussels which I read were good for the brain. I bought a great book on healing soups and boiled them up. I have even attempted kale crisps which were an epic failure and got me so stressed out that I attacked them with the fish slice while standing in my pants with a shower cap on (I made them four times in half an hour and they all resembled fire ashes) so instead blitzed them into smoothies.I juiced red peppers and strawberries as I heard vitamin c helps your body’s reaction to stress and anxiety and became slightly obsessed with tofu to get a magnesium hit again having scoured the internet to see what I could fill my mouth with to ease my anxious symptoms. I discovered tofu scramble, like eggs scrambled but a more hippified version. Throw a load of chilli sauce over it and it’s acceptable.
I’ve got a couple of friends who found art and music therapy really helpful in their recovery, as it has helped them explore their senses. How utterly amazing that support can be found in this way- I think it’s incredible the amount of different things that can help you.
And I discovered Mindfulness. And have raved about it ever since. Learning how to live in this very moment was a massive positive feat for me. I was overwhelmed by the idea of forever in my life as a mum. I could not stop myself thinking of next week, next year, when my son was 12, the entire concept of the future was torturous. It took me a while to get my head around and my initial feelings were summed up by a relative on lending her my Mindfulness book when she announced “I am finding it hard to stare at a toothbrush for ten minutes ” but I stuck with it and my mind was opened. I realised that I needed to live in the very moment. What happened a minute ago isn’t what is happening now or what will happen in the future. I embraced the moment I was in and letting go of the worry of ‘what ifs’ really relaxed my brain. The approach has had a profound effect on my everyday life. I used to panic about not getting my work done on time and I have a great pride in what I do but I think , if this isn’t done Eve , what does this mean? Will the world stop turning ? No. Will it fuck everything up? No. Does it need to be done by the end of the week to ensure you hit deadline? Yes. And that the priority.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter how you better does it? As long as you do. And there are lots of different ways to kick start the process. My point in writing this post was to show that if you do need to take meds, it’s ok. You haven’t failed. I think it’s amazing we live in a world where science has been able to create things that can give you your mind back, help you live a happier life again. And who cares if that means you are on meds now, tomo or forever ?
I love my life with my beautiful joyful child. And I love it because I’m alive to experience it. The day I decided to kill myself was a day I never ever want to have again. I never want to wake up shaking, scared of being alive, ever again. Now, I wake up next to my little boy. The boy I was so scared of and couldn’t be near, sleeps in our room. Around 4am every morning, he climbs into our bed and puts his arm over me and goes to sleep saying mama mama over and over. I love his little squidgy arms and the fact that his cheeks smell of doughnuts. I had halfterm off work with him last week and spent very second with him. We played football and made a carrot cake,went out for lunch everyday and laughed our little heads off. If I hadn’t taken medication five years ago, I wouldn’t be here today to inhale his spirit. I love him so much my heart feels like it could burst. Sometimes, when I’m doing the washing up and John is at the gym , I look over at Joe playing in the carpet and do you know what I think ? I think, I’m here with him on my own and I feel good. I feel more than good, I feel like this is normal. I’m not scared to be near him anymore.
Look at the picture at the top. Joe was 11 months at point. The joy on our faces is real. And it’s beautiful.
I didn’t think that taking medication would mean that I had failed myself and everyone else, but I know lots of people do. But really this was the only thing that helped me when I was initially ill. I am not sure that I will ever be totally ‘cured’ because I have come to accept that ‘anxiety’ is a part of who I am but my psychosis would never have gone away on it’s tod. Meds freed me from the hysteria of hallucinations which almost resulted in me no longer being here and I will forever praise them for giving me the gift of my life back.
Diamonds may be a nice present but for me , the best I ever had was becoming Eve again and learning not to be scared of my baby. Who cares if I had to shake , rattle and roll along the medication yellow brick road to get here?