Cindy: Postnatal depression crept up on me

When my son was four months old, it was very suddenly apparent that all was not well with me. Postnatal Depression had crept up on me without being noticed by me or by my family. I was frightened to go to sleep because I was sure that I would not wake up again. I could not be left alone, not just in the house alone, but in a room alone. I was even frightened to go to the loo! My husband had to stop work to be with me, and when he could not be here my mother came to stay with me.

I was frightened to stay in but terrified to go out. I had panic attacks all the time - for no reason - hyperventilated, felt sick, dizzy, tired, had headaches and generally felt very ill physically all the time. Everytime anything hurt I thought it was something fatal. I had pains in my legs - I thought I had blood clots and that they would circulate until they reached my heart and killed me. When I got indigestion and pains I thought I was having heart attacks. You name it I had it - or thought I had it anyway!

I did the basic minimum that needed doing for the baby - feeding him, changing and bathing him etc. I did this because I had no choice, but I never enjoyed him at this stage. I was 100 percent full of fear - well terror really. I was terrified of everything. Even now, years later, I still don't know what I was terrified of. I had trouble eating, I had trouble sleeping, and staying awake was hell! Drastic action had to be taken. One night I admitted to my husband that I was frightened to go to sleep because I thought I'd die.

The following morning he took me to see my GP. Step one! I sat there and cried, and if I recall correctly, was very vague about my problems. His diagnosis - Depression - Postnatal Depression. My GP referred me to a psychiatrist. Not, he said, because I was mad, but because he was not a specialist. Luckily I have private medical insurance, so the next steps were fairly speedy for me. The psychiatrist prescribed antidepressants and a course of therapy. The drugs actually helped me from day one. They usually take two-three weeks to become effective, but not with me! The first night I took them I slept better and regained my appetite. I also went to see a gynaecologist, as another school of thought is that Postnatal Depression is a hormone imbalance.

I tried a course of HRT therapy patches, but all I got out of that was a sticky leg! What actually helped me, personally, more than anything else was talking to other people, and discovering that I was not alone, and that I would not end up in a straight jacket in an asylum somewhere. Talking to people, and finding out that almost everyone either had suffered either depression, panic attacks, phobias, fears or all of the above. Not necessarily post natal illnesses, but at some point in their lives. The more I was able to talk about it, the better I began to feel. Slowly - very slowly - I began to regain control of my life. For every two steps forward there was one step back, and sometimes I despaired of ever becoming "normal" again.

I started to force myself to stay at home alone. To start with it was just for five minutes. I then increased the time alone bit by bit. After that, I made myself go out for walks with the baby. First of all just to the top of the road and back, and then I started to invent errands for myself. I'd set myself a target of going out to buy a pint of milk. As long as I had a target, something to aim for, I could just about manage to get out. Slowly these forays into the big wide world got longer, and I didn't panic quite as much. I started telling myself not to be so stupid. Nothing was going to hurt me, or happen to me. Sometimes, and more and more often as time went by, I began to believe myself. Imperceptibly, I was beginning to get better. Of course, there were good and bad times.

Everytime I went into a dip the good days seemed so long ago, and the bad times seemed to go on forever. But, the tide was turning. There were more and more good days. My husband could go back to work. I didn't need my mother to baby-sit me anymore. I was very lucky, and had what many people do not have. A very supportive husband and family, a GP who I went to see every now and again so that he could make sure that I was OK, and some friends who understood. Without these I'm sure I would have got better, but more slowly. The phobias I had, and the length of time that I had them are in no way "normal". Each and every one of us differs. For some it is just the baby blues for a couple of weeks, and others suffer far worse than I did, and for much longer. The most important thing is to admit to yourself - and then others - that you have a problem. Talk about it to someone. Post Natal Depression is a debilitating illness, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and with the right help we can and do all recover.

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