My GP once told me; “Depression is not a casserole disease.” As in, people don’t necessarily rally around you like they would with a physical illness. Maybe it’s because we don’t talk about this enough.
Mental illness manifests itself in as many different ways as there are folds in our crinkly brains. Each treatment can be personalised for each individual. I’m going to share my approach so you can get an idea of what worked for me, but everyone will have slightly different needs.
The first thing I did was find a therapist. I called my maternal and child health nurse to ask for help and for a recommendation. It took me five months to make that phone call. I blame the PND emotional rollercoaster, the occasional good day gave me false hope that things would get better on their own.
I went to counselling. Through my Bupa private health fund I had access to the Bupa Parent and Baby Wellbeing Program. I had several sessions, my choice of group or one-on-one, with no out of pocket costs. It is essential to maintain regular check-ins with a health professional to track your progress. Therapy was the cornerstone in my healing- no way around this.
I found an occasional care centre, pushed through the guilt and chucked my 8 month old in there for 5 hours, once a week. Sometimes I used the free-time productively and other times I would sleep. Either way I started to recognise the necessity of ‘me time.’ If you can’t spare the child-care expense see if you can swap babysitting with a friend or relative.
In my sessions we started exploring the topic of identity. What it meant and how to rediscover a new identity that included ‘Mother.’ I started making time for some of the things I used to enjoy like yoga, painting and writing. I cut and dyed my hair and repurposed my wardrobe to fit my new lifestyle, sometimes seemingly superficial things can help anchor how we see ourselves. You don’t have to spend money to change your look. Go through what you already have, get rid of what you don’t need, or trade with a friend.
When my daughter was nine months old I joined a local gym with child minding. Moving my body helped with healing my mind and relieving stress. Working out made me want to eat better and it’s amazing how much being physically active can aid in emotional health. Not a fan of the gym? Get out walking with that pram.
I went to every single Mums group catch up and even offered to organise events. These women were on the front lines with me and made me feel less alone. I sought out online communities to ask advice and share my frustrations. Friendships were forged that would never have been possible. Find your corner of the world or Internet.
I started writing about postnatal depression on my blog. At the time I didn’t share my writing with many but one day I decided to put it out there on social media. At first I felt like I had overshared but when the responses flooded in and I heard the chorus of ‘me too,’ this motivated me to keep revealing the truth.
I started to embrace my flaws as a parent and a person instead of loathing them. I decided to admit my mistakes, even to my baby daughter, so I can teach her it’s okay to be human. I stopped feeling guilty about my depression because that is useless as feeling guilty for having brown eyes.
I stopped comparing myself to other parents. I stopped judging others, and myself. I think everyone so badly wants to parent the ‘right way’ that if someone else is doing it differently it means we are ‘wrong.’ Every family needs to do what works best for them. All that matters is that we do the best we can by our children.
You can see how I fought PND from many different angles including mental, physical and environmental. Every tactic I used empowered me to heal myself and to get well. New resources are being developed all the time so experiment, try different approaches like Bupa’s mummatters, a tool built with industry experts to provide a ‘check in’ for mums before and after birth.
If I could add a number nine to my list it would be prevention. Given the belated gift of hindsight I would definitely encourage new and expecting mothers to have support systems in place during and even before pregnancy. If I had help waiting in the wings before I needed it I’m sure my emotional health would have been back on track much sooner. I would have loved a tool like mummatters during my first pregnancy and you better believe I’ll have it for the next one.