Many of my friends know that I have an ongoing struggle with anxiety and depression. Without going into too many details, suffice it to say that I have suffered since I was a child but was only formally diagnosed in 2002. Because I was on medication, I managed to get through my three pregnancies and post partum with no postnatal depression. In fact I thought I was invincible – unfortunately I was wrong. Things got really bad in 2011 and I spent 5 weeks in the Albert Road Clinic. Even though this was probably the most miserable experience of my life, I received fantastic care and treatment. I call this my post post post natal depression!!
I would like to share 5 lessons that I have learnt as a result of my journey with anxiety and depression. I hope that these can help any of you out who are suffering feel a little bit better and less vulnerable.
1) You are not alone...
You would be surprised how many of us have experienced some form of anxiety and depression throughout our lives and motherhood is a particularly challenging time in terms of change of hormones, sleep deprivation, isolation, frustration, boredom, change in career and the stress of balancing everything and having a little person or little people depend on you. I’m not going to take a poll but I would imagine that a decent percentage of you have been on or are currently on medication (or regular alcohol consumption at least!).
2) It’s important to talk about it and get it out in the open...
Some people experience shame and guilt about the way they are feeling and try to hide it from the world and put on a façade of being OK or having the perfect life. We have to break down the stigma of mental health problems and the best way to do this is to be open and honest about it. I have never had a problem about sharing my journey and because I have done so, I know I have helped others who have felt the same way. There is no shame to being unwell – if you had a heart condition, you would take medication. I have a mental health condition and so I take my medication to keep it under control. Chances are I’ll be on medication for the rest of my life and you know what – if it helps me live a full and enjoyable life where I can be present for my family and friends, then that’s perfectly OK with me.
3) You can get better...
However, you do have to work at it and make a commitment every day to monitor yourself and prevent any relapse. I don’t believe you can just pop a pill and sit back and expect everything to get better and change. You have to work hard to do the other things to keep yourself well and these include both self love and self care. If you have compassion for yourself then you can be well and happy and be there for those that you care about in your life.
4) Self care is very important!
It's important to take time out for self care and self love, even if they are small things that you do each day. What I do on a regular basis are:
Meditation (I get up at 5.45 every morning and meditate for 15-20 minutes)
Taking a bath (not for everyone but I am a POM!)
Exercise (I do zumba, yoga and pilates)
Getting out in nature – even a 10 minute walk a day can help
Socializing and keeping in touch with friends
Spending time with my hubby without the kids, and
Spending some time on my own.
Life with my three boys is hectic to say the least and if I didn’t do these things I reckon I would completely lose the plot!
In addition, when I left hospital in 2011, I made a promise to myself to attend a least one weekend retreat a year - a promise which I have kept.
Now I am running METreat I get to attend at least 6 weekend retreats a year, which is absolutely amazing!
5) If things aren’t going great, speak to a professional...
Unfortunately all the meditation and baths in the world can’t help if things are going really downhill. I know that from time to time I notice the symptoms of my anxiety/depression returning and wonder why when everything else is going fine in my life. This is when I make sure that I speak to or visit my trusted psychiatrist (I call him my ‘little man!’) to work out what is going on. Often this results in a tweak in my meds, or talking about an issue, but regardless I know that he has my back and that we are in this together. This is the doctor who visited me nearly every day of the 5 weeks I was in the Albert Road Clinic and I trust him completely. Often I don’t see him for months, but I know that he is at the end of the phone if I need him.
Hope that some of this helps. I am not going to lie and say that I don’t have fear of getting really sick again – I do, and am taking some additional steps to deal with the bad memories and trauma I experienced when being so ill in 2011.
But I am generally well and enjoying life and for that I am eternally grateful.
For those of you who may be suffering, please do consider the following resources and seek help – remember you are not alone: