During my two year battle with the illness, I became very unwell – mentally, emotionally and physically. When our son was born I felt very detached from life and reality and I struggled to believe that I’d given birth to a baby. As time went on, I suffered from crippling anxiety and fear which ruled my life. Much of the time I could not or did not want to leave the house. I spent days crying, was extremely lost and felt very alone. I struggled to make any ‘mum friends’, something I desperately needed as I was isolated and lonely, but I was afraid of being around other parents due to how I was feeling. Every day I simply willed myself to survive, hopeful that I could/would make it to bedtime. When I looked in the mirror I had no idea who was looking back at me, I did not recognise the person in front of me – I had lost my identity, I had lost “me”.
Things became so dark and difficult that I got to the point where I wanted to give up on life altogether. My heart was broken – this was not how I assumed motherhood would be. I was so ashamed of myself for feeling how I did. I was exhausted trying to pretend to be ‘normal’, all the while dying inside, wanting to fall into the dark hole that beckoned me daily. I believed that I was internally flawed, that this was all my fault and I was bound to feel this way forever. It turns out that was simply not true!
Finally, being diagnosed when my son turned two was the beginning of my recovery. For me this included medication (antidepressants and anti-anxiety), referral to a community mental health unit, regular talking therapy, CBT sessions and lots of love and support from family and friends.
Unfortunately, struggling as a parent often feels like it comes with a stigma. Throughout my illness the voices of blame (“this is my fault”) and shame (“a good mum shouldn’t feel this way”) clouded my thinking and robbed me of hope. The stigma means we don’t talk about the issue enough. For mums who struggle, there’s a lot of fear, especially of what other people will think. For those who don’t suffer, there may be a fear of asking the wrong question or saying the wrong thing. Either way, there has been too much silence around it, for far too long.
The simple truth is – no one is to blame and there should be no shame. Postnatal depression and anxiety are illnesses, and no one should be ashamed or blamed for being unwell.
To anyone reading this who might be struggling, or supporting someone who is, I want to say recovery is possible and a diagnosis of mental illness is not the end. But there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach; it varies from person to person. The most important thing is to find what works for you. There are some useful links below to sources of information, help and support.
If you are in a very dark and difficult place, it’s vitally important that you reach out and talk to someone. No matter how desperate you might feel, there is hope.
Today, as I write, I am in a good place. But recovery for me is a journey, not a destination. Speaking out and being honest, regarding the illness, has been a key part of that process. That’s how and why Have you seen that girl? began. It’s a website, a blog and a movement dedicated to raising awareness of perinatal mental health, sharing stories from parents all over the UK, signposting to sources of help, campaigning for better mental health services and reaching out to parents via special events and distributing ‘Bags of Hope’.
Through Have you seen that girl? I have met many other mums and dads who are in or have been in similar situations, which has also helped my recovery. When we face a difficult season it’s so important to know that we are not alone. That’s why I’m now so passionate and determined to reach out to others and offer friendship, encouragement, support and hope. Why not come and have a look around our website? You might even like to join us!
Lindsay Robinson is the founder of the Have you seen that girl? website, blog and movement dedicated to raising awareness of Perinatal Mental Health. As a blogger, writer and event speaker, Lindsay works to break the stigma and silence that surrounds maternal mental ill-health. She is also an active campaigner for investment and improvements in Perinatal Mental Health services and support.