I think it’s pretty safe to say I was an anxious child. The sort of anxious child who would worry on my way home from school that one, or both parents may have died while I had been trying to fathom how the heck knowing the answer to 2x+3y-z would help me in everyday future life. Agonising that my entire family may have been wiped out while I had been laughing at my beetroot red male teacher putting a condom on a cucumber, was a real worry.
I’d worry that something life changing was happening while I had been totally unaware, and that I’d be desperate and alone for the rest of my life. School trips worried the life out of me, and I harboured a pretty irrational fear of being shot in the back of the head while at the cinema. So, I’m pretty certain that we can say I was anxious, and not only that, I surely must be a psychologists wet dream.
At the time though, I didn’t recognise that I was anxious. I always thought of it as preparing for the worst. A few years down the line, and a few bad career decisions, and self confidence destroying relationships later, the cracks were beginning to show.
A life of being oblivious to my unusually high anxiety levels, and leaving them unrecognised, coupled with being nowhere near where I wanted to be in my life, meant that the panic demons finally took over. And I started having panic attacks all. the. time. But again, I didn’t recognise them as a problem, just a weakness, or a weird quirk.
I nervously laughed in the face of the panic demons, before shuffling away to wrap them up neatly and put them in a box where I didn’t have to think about them, and where I thought they couldn’t get to me anymore, and hurrah! I was cured!
Fast forward a few years, and I have met the love of my life. We are getting married, and shortly after we are married, we find out we are expecting baby number one. After the years of the career drifting, and the bad relationships, and the endless regrettable decisions, I was finally fulfilling my calling. To be a mum was going to make me the person I always wanted to be, this was finally going to be the thing I was good at. I was going to be the hot shit at doing professional mummying, because this was where my life had been heading for. This was it! I had finally arrived at my destination!
However… After a hideous labour, I felt I’d totally let myself down when they handed him to me, and I felt…numb. Where was the rush of love? He was here, this person who was going to want me and need me, why didn’t I love him straight away like I should have? His first night alive, I refused to sleep, because I was convinced someone was going to creep into the ward and steal him. I determinedly stayed up all night making sure that didn’t happen. So in my anxiety, I endured a 28 hour labour, then refused to sleep for a further night after that.
On top of that, my milk failed to come in. So in three days, in my head I had already accrued two major failures: I didn’t love him instantly, and I couldn’t breast feed him. My confidence plummeted. Taking him home, I was plagued by nightmares of my baby being trapped in a burning building, and not being able to get to him. I got angered by anyone who held him, because they didn’t hold him right, and I was convinced they were damaging him. And I became OBSESSED that someone was going to steal him.
I got anxious if I was out with the pushchair and there were no other people around, because if someone did try to steal him, there would be no one for me to scream at for help. I also got anxious if there WERE people around, and would cross the road to avoid the obvious child thief looking ones (because of course, they all have a certain look don’t they??!) If my husband was out in the evening, I was scared to have a shower, because I was sure I would go downstairs afterwards to find the front door swinging open, and the baby gone.
And yes, by this time I was starting to realise that somewhere between the first and second stage of labour, I had clearly developed a paranoid personality disorder. But as these feelings dissipated slightly, and my confidence grew, I did what I do best, and bundled my irrational thoughts and feelings under the rug, to join the anxiety demons, and I tried desperately to move on.
I had a constant need to be out of the house, walking, or exercising, but this seemed to stop the anxiety overwhelming me, even if it did mean I was permanently exhausted. In my mind, I’d moved on so well, that when the baby was 4 months old, we decided it would be a great idea to have another baby, to, you know, get it all out of the way, and by the time he was 5 months old, I was pregnant again.
I was pretty unhappy throughout my pregnancy. At every midwife appointment where they ask you if you’ve been feeling more down than normal, I always lied and said no, because I kept thinking that I was miserable because I hated being pregnant, miserable because I couldn’t sleep, and had a baby who hated daytime sleep and made me pound the streets, tired and lonely, to get him to sleep in his pushchair. I thought that when I was done with all that, I would be ‘normal’ again. What I really had was antenatal depression.
And what really happened next was years of ignoring and not dealing, finally catching up with me. When the second baby was born, the poo well and truly hit the fan. It hit it so hard that the fan went flying off into oblivion, and finally, others had to intervene, to try and clear up the mountain of poo that now needed clearing up…
Four months after he was born, I found myself in a permanent petrified state. A hyperactive petrified state. Being sat still, or in one place for too long was too much for me. I paced around with the children in the pushchair, for hours and hours at a time. Often confused and not knowing where I was, and often not even remembering to do basic tasks such as feed them and change their nappies. I couldn’t get passed the feeling of impending doom, the feeling that I was going to die at any second.
This thing, this feeling that making my heart beat too fast, all the time, was going to kill me. The feeling that if I was going to feel like this for the rest of my life, I needed to die anyway because a life feeling like that wasn’t a life, overwhelmed me. Either way, I was going to die, it seemed inevitable. And my children wouldn’t have a mum, and I was just one total, massive disgraceful failure as a person, human being, and mum. And I didn’t sleep. For weeks. I just laid wide awake scared and panicking. And so the hallucinations started… The awful, sleep deprivation induced hallucinations.
I became hypersensitive to noise as well, so the slightest noise wouldn’t be filtered by my brain, and I would hear it as loud as a bomb dropping, and often continuously, like Chinese water torture. I just felt…nothing. Like a something had sucked the life and the happiness out of me, and I’d never feel joy again.
Eventually the Doctor came, I was given diazepam, citalopram, and zopiclone. The health visitor came, and there was talk of support groups and getting better, of who was going to look after the children while I was getting better. And the diagnosis: Postnatal Depression. The label, the stigma, all the things I still didn’t understand, things I thought were ruining my chances of being the best professional mummy the world had ever seen…
I had time to reflect on why the bubble had burst now, why had it been motherhood to bring about this almighty take down? It could be that I was finally free from the constraints of a workplace, yet I was again chained to routine by the schedule a child and a baby brings. I was surrounded by people, at playgroups, softplays, and all other groups I integrated myself with, yet the loneliest I’d ever been because I was too busy with the children to actually have an adult conversation while I was there.
I was more aware of myself, and the physical endurance I could undertake, than ever before, yet I was lost because everything I thought I knew had been turned on its head by the arrival of two demanding children. I saw more of my husband than ever before, yet I missed him because that time was not our time. I was lost. I couldn’t remember the person I was.
I was just two little boys mum. Most of all, I couldn’t handle that this thing I had been building up to all my life, this thing that was (supposed to be) my calling, was so hard, and didn’t just come naturally to me like I had thought. I felt bad for some days thinking that being a stay at home parent was awful and I hated it, because hadn’t I been telling everyone this was going to be the best time of my life? And how ungrateful did that make me?
I felt awful because some days all I wanted was an hour to myself, to do the things I wanted to do, but that hour never came. I was resentful because of everything I had given up, and that I didn’t see I was getting much in return. I felt I had failed at the thing which mattered most, the thing that is meant to be natural to us all, and that we are supposed to cherish. It was a huge lesson to learn, but motherhood isn’t the romantic fantasy I thought it would be. The reality can the total antithesis of that, there are heartbreakingly beautiful moments, and my heart is always bursting with love, but the reality is like running a marathon, compared to the romantic picnic I thought I was in for.
Learning to live with that and accept it, has been a huge part of getting better for me. Yes, there were the other things, the things from my early life which had been buried, and had bubbled to the surface at the first sign of weakness from me. But there, I had in the palm of my hand, the real reason for my breakdown.
Nowadays I am rarely bothered by intense anxiety. Yes, if I’m a couple of hours late with the citalopram, it reminds me, by making me feel like I’ve got electric shocks pulsating through my head, and makes me foggy and irrational. It reminds me I need it. I am ridiculously oversensitive, and the slightest thing can have me upset and mulling for days.
The thought of regressing, and feeling that bad again, is enough to induce panic, but I have the techniques to fight it off now. Yes, I feel like my life is like walking on a frozen lake. I have to tread carefully, as the threat of the lake cracking, and being overwhelmed by the engulfing flow of panic, is very real. But I laugh, I live, and I’m the best mummy I can be. I’m the best anxiety fighting mummy. Instead of feeling like I’m walking through a Colombian jungle, about to get kidnapped and tortured by Guerillas at any time, and the resulting debilitating panic that would induce, I now feel like I’m on a ghost train. A ghost train where the threats come, but you can laugh at them afterwards, because they didn’t really get you, they weren’t really real. Anxiety is tough, and draining, but it can be helped and overcome…
Thanks for reading.