When you look up ‘what is perinatal depression?’, you’ll probably see a list of signs like this:
· feeling constantly tired and lacking energy
· physical symptoms like nausea, vomiting, cold sweats, lack of appetite
· developing obsessive or compulsive behaviours
· feelings of inadequacy and guilt
· negative thoughts
· feeling that life is meaningless
· feeling unable to cope
· tearfulness and irritability
· difficulty sleeping or changes in sleeping patterns
· low sex drive
· anxiety, panic attacks or heart palpitations
· difficulty concentrating or remembering things.
You will generally not have all these symptoms, and you may have others not mentioned here. Every woman has a different cluster of symptoms, which is why it is important to chart your own path to healing – one that addresses your needs individually.
I thought I’d share my experience of PND. There are probably symptoms I’ve left out – time tends to dull the pain of an experience and blur memories – thankfully!
· I was terrified most of the time. Terrified of having to function ‘normally’; terrified someone would notice my craziness; terrified no-one would notice my craziness; terrified of how much damage I was doing to my children; terrified my children would be taken away if anyone knew how broken I was.
· I struggled to make decisions, like what to cook for dinner, what to wear, how to parent my children, how to do everyday things.
· I longed for company, but feared people.
· I was exhausted after social events from ‘putting on normal’.
· Guilt – about EVERYTHING.
· I developed a stammer – well, it was more like I would get stuck in a loop.
· The Monster was out! I feared its unexpected arrival, hissing and spitting it’s venom over those I loved. So many apologies in its aftermath.
· Overwhelm was my constant reaction to everything.
· Domestic Blindness – it wasn’t until I was well that I realized how much I hadn’t noticed!
· Mild paranoia. I saw insult and felt betrayal when it wasn’t meant. I felt rejected when I’m sure it wasn’t true.
· Panic – when I had to do something out of routine, or cook, or answer the door, or anything really.
· Overwhelming sadness that choked me.
· Disappointment at my ‘weakness’ in getting sick.
· I felt powerless to fix myself.
· I was different – my speech and thoughts were affected; I lacked the initiative and drive I had always had. I felt like a shadow of myself.
· I felt stupid – my mind didn’t work the way it always had. I couldn’t concentrate to read. I couldn’t work things out anymore.
· My memory was shocking. I still don’t remember events from that time.
· Grief – at not being able to fully enjoy this time, at not being able to dance, for not being the mum I wanted to be, for not being the person I used to be.
· Unending emptiness.
Depression isn’t just ‘big’ sadness – it is soul destroying, depth-of-your-heart, feeling broken sadness. Sadness just isn’t the right word for it anyway.
Depression looks different for everyone, so don’t judge yourself against others. Don’t trivialize your experience because it doesn’t look the same as others.
Your experience is valid.