Do you know five mums? Chances are that one of them struggles with post-natal depression (PND). I bet you know more like 50 mums. So that's 10 struggling with PND or another mental health issue. Do you know who they are? I bet you don't. Not because you're a bad friend. But because PND isn't something we generally talk about.
It's still a taboo topic. And even worse - when you are in the midst of it you think that there is something wrong with you and that you should hide your feelings from those around you, in case they think you're an awful mother.
I was that one. That one who suffered with PND (and also anxiety). I wasn't expecting it, and it took me a while to work out what it was. I thought I was just an awful mum who didn't say things like, "gosh little Charlie was up all night...but I just look into those darling eyes and I don't care anymore!" I cared. Or more worryingly...I didn't.
I'd been a "success" until this point - top grades, top university, top career. Surely I could handle being a mum, right? So when I found I couldn't - and that I was struggling - it knocked me off balance. I was strong. I could just think myself out of this, surely? Plough on?
What I struggled with was the loneliness. Being left for hours on end in my house with either a sleeping baby (don't want to risk waking him by going out!) or a screaming baby. And the more time I spent in my house, the scarier it became to leave. What if he screams the whole time, what if I burst into tears, what if......
I started to panic in the most mundane situations. In a cafe with mummy-friends. Standing in a queue at the supermarket. At the thought of being on my own. In my living room, with my son and nobody else to talk to. And I got to the point where my world was getting smaller and smaller.
But I hid the illness from everyone but my closest family. The picture below is when I was struggling the most – I’d survived the last 6 months on just 1 hour of sleep a night, and not even sleeping pills would help me sleep. It was taken whilst away for a friend’s wedding, but from the photo, and from the wedding you wouldn’t have know that inside I was overwhelmed, confused and severely anxious and depressed.
Eventually I got help. But it took a while to get the help I was after. I wasn't keen on medication. Maybe I should have taken it. But to me it was going to make me feel even more out of control. So I sat on a waiting list for months to talk to somebody. And tried to work out why I wasn't like all the mums around me.
So when I started getting better I got thinking. What would have made those awful months better for me?
One thing would have been to know that what I was feeling was not uncommon. And it didn't make me a bad person. I needed help, but that wasn't my fault and I hadn't failed. I didn't need to pretend I was ok, to hide that I didn't feel like "adorable Charlie's mum" sitting next to me. It was just the hand I'd been dealt. I was so thankful for the support I'd received and couldn't fathom how tough it must be for mums without this.
And this got me thinking. I started working on two projects.
Firstly, to speak out and make PND less of a taboo. This ranged from talking openly to friends - in some cases those who were pregnant to let them know that if they were unfortunate enough not to feel life was all sunshine and pink lemonade, that that was ok and I was here to chat. Whatever they said to me wouldn't shock me anymore. To setting up #ShoutieSelfie to support Maternal Mental Health Week and get everyone talking (well shouting!) about maternal mental health. If you’d like to support this please head here for updates!
Secondly, I feel so passionately about helping mums maintain mental wellness that I’ve co-founded a free website called Happity that helps mums find support that is non-judgemental and focused on helping them maintain good mental health, or pointing them to where to get help when they need it.
Through this work I’ve had the privilege of talking to many, many mums who are struggling and helped them to share with the world what it’s like to be struggling with mental health:
“I wish more people understood that it’s OK to have PND. It’s not a disease, it’s not catching, and it’s OK, in fact more than OK to talk about it. Don’t be embarrassed, just talk. It really, really helps.”
“Just because it looks like you are coping and you keep telling everyone you are fine doesn’t mean you are.”
I am passionate about turning the darkest months of my life into a positive to help all the mums (and dads!) to come to help maintain their mental health through this amazing but also scary time.
For more insights from some of the amazing mamas we support please see here.