O yes, stuck in the mud.
Having got a little distracted of late, I thought I’d get back to my own story.
So, I had sorted out my counselling. That took a while, but was worth getting right. Then there was the referral to the PND support group. The best thing about that group was the free childcare. Which sounds bizarre. Ok, well it wasn’t the best thing. But it was the easiest. I really appreciated the fact that they thought of that. It made it possible for so many of us to attend, when we otherwise would have been completely distracted looking after very young babies/children. Because we really needed to be able to concentrate. This group ran for eight weeks. There were about ten women, and their children. We met at a local community centre, once a week. Two women organised the group; a social worker and a psychologist. They were warm and personable women, but they also knew how to facilitate a group with perspicacity. (I love that word.) They needed to be able to rein people in when they began to use the sessions for personal counselling. (Believe me, we could tell who was seeing a counsellor and who was not.) They also needed to be able to draw people out (the subject matter didn’t always lend itself to immediate gut-spilling), and to keep us to our allotted time. I can imagine groups like this having the potential to be an utter disaster. This group was not. I learnt a lot about myself, and about PND.
At the first group session, we did the predictable: go around the circle, introduce yourself, tell your story. For all of us, I’m sure, that was daunting. But I found it particularly hard because my story didn’t sound very bad. That probably indicates a terribly competitive streak in me. But honestly, what the others had to deal with sounded much worse than my life, even though I was struggling. I very nearly went straight home after the first few stories. Awful home situations, dud partners, traumatic birth stories, colicky babies, unhelpful in-laws, downright destructive or completely absent support networks. Classic PND cases.
And there was me. Stable home, awesome (and observant) husband. Good birth stories, ‘normal’ babies, helpful family, good friends. What was I doing there?
Well, I did match some criteria. Here is a list of ‘risk factors’ for PND that Beyond Blue has posted:
- a past history of depression and/or anxiety
- a stressful pregnancy
- depression during the current pregnancy
- a family history of mental disorders
- experiencing severe ‘baby blues’
- a prolonged labour and/or delivery complications
- problems with the baby’s health
- difficulty breastfeeding.
- a lack of practical, financial and/or emotional support
- past history of abuse
- difficulties in close relationships
- being a single parent
- having an unsettled baby (i.e. difficulties with feeding and sleeping)
- having unrealistic expectations about motherhood including:
- mothers bond with their babies straight away
- mothers know instinctively what to do
- motherhood is a time of joy
- moving house
- making work adjustments (e.g. stopping or re-starting work).
- sleep deprivation
I put that last one in underlined and bold. Because it’s just about impossible to overestimate the effect of sleep deprivation. (It has oft been mentioned to me that sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture.)
I was not an extremely convincing match-up, though. You can imagine why self-doubt, and doubt-of-diagnosis might occur. Not being on medication at that point also made me feel a bit of a ‘sham’; if the other women in the group were feeling this bad ON the meds, how bad were they feeling OFF their medication?!
At a certain point, I actually needed to be away from other sufferers of PND. I naturally tend to ‘take on’ others’ pain and anguish, and I had my own to deal with at that point; I couldn’t absorb any more. So, when the group finished, I didn’t really keep in touch with the others.
A few years later I bumped into a couple of them. One was doing really well. She had worked very, very hard on her strategies to combat the effects of depression. She was off her medication and enjoying being a mum. I was so happy for her. The other was not doing so well. She remained pretty much where she had been in 2005: reliant on medication alone (refusing counselling), struggling to do too much (working as well as trying to complete post-graduate studies), with too little help from an unsupportive husband. It was really hard to watch.
I also caught up with one of the group facilitators in 2009, when I was pregnant with my third bub. She and I set up a Mental Wellness display at a local neighbourhood centre, with information for anyone who might need it. Not just stuff that was available online, either. We tried to make it as local in focus as possible. Tangible help close by. We ran a briefing session so that the volunteers at the centre would be able to point people in the right directions, if they needed help. I really have no idea if it was ever useful to anyone! But it was a tough time in my life, and it was an act of defiance against depression to make the effort to do that display.
The choices we make, the choices that other people support us in, affect our minds, our bodies, our hearts.
I struggled on, fought hard, for six months. Counselling, journaling, the PND group, weekly childcare spots for my eldest (then aged two). These all helped. But then my eldest began to give up her daytime nap, and the added exhaustion sent me down deeper. By this time I had realised how bad things were for me, and I twigged that other people’s apparently more difficult realities did not lessen my own struggles.
With Christmas interstate coming up, I knew I needed some extra help. I went back to my GP and asked for anti-depressants.