Pull Yourself Together or The Taboo of Mental Health

The fantastic Mammasaurus has been doing a week of blog posts to highlight mental health issues:
Living in Cloud Cuckoo Land
Pulled from beneath the ‘Rug of shame’ for a jolly good beating
And then my father died…
When I left my children…
The End. Final words and a Linky

I probably have always had some kind of mental health issue since I was a small child who didn’t speak at school (at all, not a single word). As an adult I have been told a GP that I have social anxiety, but I didn’t fit with that community. I asked another GP about adult ASD diagnosis when I was feeling brave enough to talk, and he said I probably have a personality disorder and didn’t take it further. I have been referred to psychologists and counsellors ocassionally, but having an “avoident personality” means I’ve always given up on going to them.

My first experience with a counsellor (only six years ago, before that I ‘coped’ alone) didn’t help much: in a 30 minute initial consultation she told me I sucked happiness from the room – yes, well you would get that opinion from someone who hated themselves and talked negatively about themselves to the counsellor, because that was why they were there in the first place… I have been on antidepressants for almost four years, but I have just come off them because I am sick of not knowing what I’m really feeling. So I can’t write well at the moment because it is too raw. Somehow, I always ‘function’. I did keep down jobs (until this year), I got married, I have two children. From the outside I look fine. Inside, it doesn’t matter how I feel, because I ‘function’. “Pull yourself together”, “Get over it” – are they phrases you’ve heard too?

One day I might be brave enough to write more, but for now I am just copying from an earlier post I wrote about health in pregnancy: Depression isn’t just for post birth.

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Warning: Potentially upsetting content, depressed thoughts during pregnancy.

When my eldest daughter was 18 months old, my husband and I were blessed with another pregnancy. Except I felt far from blessed. On seeing the word “pregnant” on the test (it would be a digital, no squinting for a line here) I burst into tears, and they weren’t tears of happiness. I was taking fluoxetine for depression as it was (for the past 11 months) so I went straight to see my GP. “Take one every other day for 2 weeks and then stop taking them” she said…

So I dutifully did. I bought folic acid. I tried to feel happy. I was too tired to feel anything really. Inside my head these little thoughts kept appearing “It will go wrong, I won’t have to have it.” The baby was always “it”. I vomited daily from 6 weeks pregnant, just as in my first pregnancy. This time with added all day nausea.

At my booking in, my BMI was 40 so my midwife put me down as consultant led and gave me Slimming World vouchers. I never used them, I didn’t care. I never went to the consultant appointments, what was the point? At my 12 week scan, there it was: a little jumping bean. “Lots of movement, good strong heartbeat” said the sonographer and gave us scan pictures. On the way home, I burst into tears, I had been hoping that I had a missed miscarriage.

To the outside world, I faked it. I showed the scan pictures, I talked about potential names, I talked about gender guesses. Inside I just hated “it”. At 17 weeks the sickness and all day nausea were more than unbearable. I went to the GP and begged for something to make it go away. She gave me blurb about how it could harm the baby but prescribed something because she knew what it was like. I didn’t care what it could do to “it”. I didn’t want “it”.

Every day I thought about terminating “it”. I talked to my husband about the 20 week scan: If there’s anything wrong with it, we won’t keep it? I got him to agree. I hoped there was a problem. There wasn’t, it was a perfect 20 week scan. There were more scan pictures, an actual baby looking creature in black and white. I still felt nothing but despair.

At 24 weeks all the thoughts and feelings were just too much. I planned to go to my GP and beg for a late termination. I couldn’t have this thing. I couldn’t love it. I couldn’t keep it.

I went to my GP. I asked to go back on the fluoxetine because of how I was feeling. I was referred to see a psychologist because of the risks of anti-depressants in pregnancy. I had to manage another week trying to keep a vague grasp on sanity. I was missing so many work days from sickness I only just scraped missing a disciplinary (I found this out a long time later, the fact I was pregnant was a mitigating factor.)

Almost as soon as I started back on anti-depressants, the thoughts of terminating “it” faded. I still feel so much guilt for those feelings. I can never forgive myself, although I know it was the depression, it was the illness, it wasn’t really me.

And where were the health professionals during all of this? My midwife had an operation so I saw her at 12 weeks and 38+ weeks of pregnancy only, in between was a different cover midwife every time. My GP was on a sabatical so I saw a different GP every time. The psychologist approved my anti-depressants but didn’t think the fact I wanted to kill my unborn child was an issue, I’d get over it…

Although the anti-depressants removed my thoughts of termination, I still didn’t want “it”. I looked up how to put “it” up for adoption (not an option, both parents have to agree). I’d talk to my toddler daughter about how much I loved her, how we’d feed baby and keep it alive and well when it was born but wouldn’t love it. I loved my eldest with an intensity bordering on obsessiveness, focussing all the love I wasn’t feeling for my unborn child onto her.

At 26 weeks, the sickness and nausea finally stopped (the same as with my first pregnancy) and something amazing happened: I met my lovely health visitor.

It was my eldest daughter’s two-year check and the first time I met this health visitor as she was new to my surgery. We talked about eldest’s development (fine) and she asked about the baby, saying she’d probably be my health visitor. And it all came flooding out…

Surprised that I’d been feeling like that for so long she suggested she visited me for “talking therapy”. And she did. Before my second daughter was born, after she was born, months later when she heard my mum had been admitted to hospital for an emergency heart operation… Sometimes weekly, sometimes monthly, she would visit and we would chat. About families, about raising children, about what her children were doing or had done, about anything and everything. I can never thank her enough for that time. I didn’t know I needed it but that small amount of time and those uncritical chats were the most valuable health care I’ve ever had.

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Thank-you, Mammasaurus, for writing so openly about your experiences and inspiring others to do the same.

4 responses to “Pull Yourself Together or The Taboo of Mental Health

  1. Thank you so much for this blog! I suffered with depression before meeting my partner, after our daughter was born I developed PND, it was awful I refused any help having been there and done that. When my daughter was 19 months I fell pregnant again and felt exactly the same way as you did.

    I sought help, and I got it, had theprescription and took 2, made me feel too drowsy so I stopped

  2. What a brave thing to write about. It’s not easy to lay yourself open like this and I know one day you will write more about it but make sure it’s when you feel ready.
    Ultimately it’ll help you but it is an upsetting thing to do x

    Thank you for all your kind words this week, knowing that there are other people who feel the same really helps x

  3. Full of admiration for your courage in writing this. I know that it will make a connection with many people: isolation is such an enemy. And if we could only be just that bit kinder to ourselves and give ourselves ‘permission to feel’ absolutely anything, however dark… that horrible knot does start to untangle in time. Hurrah for the health visitor: what are those Beatles lyrics? Get by with a little help from my friends!

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