Postnatal anxiety and depression is more common amongst mums than you may realise, with data from the 2010 Australian National Infant Feeding Survey showing that 1 in 5 (20%) mothers of children aged 24 months or less had been diagnosed with depression. More than half of these mothers reported being diagnosed with depression during the perinatal period.  If you think about it, you may have 5 or more mothers in your new mums group.  This means at least one of your peers may be included in these statistics.

Having suffered bouts of depression in my early adulthood, I knew I had the potential for to develop PND.  What I didn’t know is how insidious it would be.  Following the birth of my second bub, Jacob – I felt amazed at how well I was coping with life.

My husband Kane had flown out for a quick job when Jacob was around a week old.  I never would have contemplated feeling okay with that but I was… I didn’t look forward to the experience but I felt okay about it, I knew I would get through it (not to say there weren’t any phone calls in tears but it was all good in the end).

I surprised myself with my ability to organise two kids.  I mean, it was hard but I was doing it and doing it alone many weeks when needed because: FIFO life. I kept chipping away at all the ‘to-do’s’: the cooking, the cleaning, the bathing of children, reading of books, watching of telly shows, countless trips to the park, walking the dog, playdates, coffees, running a small business, the list was never ending.

Slowly, each task began to get harder.  The thought of getting the kids ready in the mornings became a monstrous effort on my part.  I mean, I was still doing it, but it felt like it was taking all my energy just to get out the door of a morning.  I began to dread each day, each ‘to-do’ felt draining, endless.   I felt like there was no joy in each day.  I began to feel my patience waver with my children.  If they whinged, or cried, or just did any of the usual toddler stuff – I would snap.  I would yell at them, or end up in floods of tears about ‘how hard this is’… or I’d be thinking about how I hated doing this alone.

This lead to me being fixated on the hardships of FIFO life.  I decided that the reason I was finding things so hard was because I was alone half the time and I needed the extra hands, I needed my husband home.  People would often say to me ‘I don’t know how you do this alone’ and I started to agree… I started to think I couldn’t do it anymore by myself.

I would plead with my husband to come home.  Just about every phone call to him ended with me crying, lamenting ‘his’ choice to work FIFO.  I threw phrases like ‘I feel trapped.  This isn’t fair.  This is too hard” –a lot in those conversations.

If you’ve read my previous blog on FIFO life, you would know that together we had agreed on an end date to FIFO.  It was something we had discussed together many times.  Kane remained adamant that we stick to the original plan.  Which obviously infuriated me.  I felt like I had zero support from him.

I insisted on going to counselling together, which he was happy to arrange through his work EAP.  I remember feeling quite smug about it – and said to my husband ‘you know they’ll probably tell you that you need to stop working away… how do you think you will deal with that?’

I was so far from the truth…

We went to a joint session, followed by individual sessions, then we came back together again afterwards for follow up together. In my individual sessions, I vented about the lack of ‘me time’ the pressures of doing it alone when Kane was away, the constant stream of ‘to-dos’ and how when Kane was home he would spend time doing things he loved and it wasn’t fair.  She posed the question to me ‘and what do you like to do for fun? What do you enjoy?’

I was actually stumped.

I couldn’t remember the last time I had made time for something I loved.  I hadn’t drawn in ages (which I used to love doing) because ‘it took too long and I don’t have the time’ I hadn’t done an exercise class without the kids, in years.   I hadn’t made time to walk the dog by myself in ages because I felt like I always had to take the kids.   I certainly never made time just to sit on the grass in the sunshine, with a cup of tea and just BE.  She made me realise that I wasn’t scheduling in any time for myself.  That the time I did have, I would spend aimlessly walking around the shops, or scrolling through my phone, unfulfilled.

My smugness was totally gone.  The psychologist had looked at our situation for what it was, instead of what I was making it.

 

{ Jacobs first bday, when things were at their absolute worst }

I spent a lot of time at my parents’ house during this time.  Mum and dad supported me unconditionally (something for which I am truly grateful) and it was my mum who suggested to me that perhaps something else was going on… That I spent a lot of time in tears, that I seemed like perhaps I wasn’t coping.  Initially, I felt the need to defend myself, because I was still managing to achieve so much with my days, even by myself.  I was still ticking off ALL the ‘to-dos’, every day.  I realised though that despite getting it all done.  I was miserable.   I had homed in on what FIFO was doing to me and our family… when really it was ME and my thoughts sabotaging myself, all along.

From here, I linked in with my GP.  I had a stack of blood tests which showed my iron was dreadfully low, making tired beyond belief, which wasn’t helping things.  I started taking supplements, I was put on a low-dose antidepressant.  There was a rollercoaster that ensued, as I got used to the medication and tried to get my shit together.  I decided to put Jacob in family daycare with his sister, one day a week.   I remember my mum suggesting I could go back to work when I was feeling up to it.  I vividly remember the thought of that being totally overwhelming.  How could I possibly fit work into this chaos?  She was reassuring though ‘not now Jessie, but you will start to feel better and then you can start to think about it’

Sure enough, time passed.  I put a shit-tonne of effort into looking after myself:

  • I started yoga classes to learn to be mindful and try something new.
  •  I contacted the amazing and supportive nurse manager at my old workplace, who was happy to help me ease back into shift work.
  • I rekindled my love of nursing, work became an outlet, a community with which to laugh (and sometimes cry) and grow.
  • I searched for communities of women to support my journey and found so many wonderful women on the same page as me, who have really changed my life.

I have grown more than ever after this whole experience…

I am more ME than I have ever felt.  The love for my children has grown, the time I spend with them is cherished.  They are happier, because I am happier.

I’ve realised just how important it is to put yourself first as a mother.  People often speak of how your kids come first, in everything and I disagree.  Obviously, my children logistically DO come first and emotionally, I am 100% available for them.  But I believe we, as women (and men, too) are meant to love ourselves first.  You are here on this planet for YOU and if you give to yourself, you will have so much more to give to your children.

I am so thankful for my husband.  For standing his ground and being true to what he believed in because it forced me to look hard at myself and explore all my subconscious feelings and desires.

I am so thankful for the support of my parents and my friends.  It was truly one of the hardest times of my life.  Now, as I write this, I am a month down into a 6 (ish) week swing of Kane being away and I can honestly say I feel truly happy.  

If I didn’t have PND I wouldn’t have found ME, how could I ever be ungrateful for that experience?

 I have referenced this quote before, but I’ll mention it again… It’s by Tony Robbins, life coach extraordinaire:

“The only problem we really have is we think we’re not supposed to have problems! Problems call us to higher level- – face & solve them now!”

I feel like this is so true of my experience.  To any other mums going through a similar experience, take heed in knowing you can begin the journey to happiness.  For from the bottom, there’s only one way…. up.

If you, or someone you know are struggling with mental illness, there are some fabulous free resources available here:  Lifeline Australia, Beyond Blue and PANDA.

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