March 16, 2012

Julie blogs for Time to Change about motherhoodIn the run up to Mother's Day I am working with the mental health anti-stigma programme Time to Change, run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, to raise awareness about a mental illness that affects one in 10 new mums.

I suffered for many years with severe post natal depression; I only started to feel like me again after about seven years. My son is now 11 and we have a wonderful relationship. I know I am a good mum and am proud of what I have achieved. Throughout it all my husband has been my rock and I owe my life and my strength to him.

It all started in October 2000 when I gave birth to a wonderful baby boy, the son my husband and I had wanted so much. I didn't find the pregnancy the joy I had thought it would be and the birth was a living nightmare.

I loved my son with all my heart from the moment I set eyes on him, but from pretty much the first few seconds of his life I felt a complete failure, I felt that he deserved a far better mother than me. I hadn't even given birth properly and ended up having a caesarian section. When I struggled to get to grips with breastfeeding this just confirmed for me that I was not good enough.

The next few weeks became a blur of tears and darkness as I struggled through and tried to pretend everything was okay.

Why did I feel like this? What was wrong with me? My son was perfect, my family was complete, why was this happening? I didn't even recognise myself anymore. I felt so lonely; my husband was in the army and we were living in Northern Ireland. I had no family and friends around me and longed for people to come and fuss over me and my baby, but no one was there.

Eventually I knew I couldn't carry on so I went to see the GP, he was brilliant and gave me a huge cuddle. I'll never forget his kindness, he helped me understand it wasn't my fault and that I was ill. I was diagnosed with severe post natal depression. The GP wanted to hospitalise me but I couldn't bear the thought of it so I ended up leaving Northern Ireland and going to live with my mum until my husband and I could find a new home.

Back in England I tried to put on a false smile and pretend everything was wonderful, that's how it's supposed to be isn't it? On top of how I was already feeling I missed my husband so much it hurt terribly and I felt guilty for leaving him behind and separating him from our son - another confirmation that I was a terrible mum.

Over the coming months I struggled through but at times it all became too much to bear and I hurt myself in any way I could think, biting myself, hitting myself, calling myself awful names and spending hours imagining how I would end it all.

I don't really think I wanted to die; I wanted to see my son grow up. It all just felt so helpless and I couldn't see any way out. I thought my husband and son would be better off without me.

The hardest thing of all was the fear of people knowing I had a mental illness. I worried social services would take my son away; I was an early years worker and worried that I'd never get a job again. I also knew that friends and family didn't understand what was happening to me, I'm sure some of them didn't even believe I was ill. I distanced myself from everyone I loved and this just made things feel even more hopeless. I hated being told to 'pull myself together'; did people really think that I had chosen to feel this way; that I wanted to be like this? I'll never forget visiting my new GP back in England; I was in tears and feeling at an all time low. He told me to 'stop being silly'. To this day I still don't know how I stopped myself from ending it all that night. If a doctor thought I was just being silly, then it must be all my fault. Why couldn't I make it go away? I hated myself and how I was affecting the ones I loved.

I now run a service providing emotional support to women suffering from a perinatal mental illness. I love my job and am so passionate about spreading the word that a mental illness isn't something to be ashamed of. I want to live in a world where we don't have to hide away, where we can ask for help without fear of how others might respond. Until this happens, the darkness will continue and many many people will continue will suffer in silence.

This blog was originally published in the Huffington Post.

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