Part two: Postnatal mental health and its demons- interview with Destin
Part Two with Destiny:
I felt like nobody was helping me, so I thought, okay - I’m going to have to start getting better myself, I have to find people to assist me because nobody else is! I found this woman, Karen Kleiman, who runs the Postpartum Stress Centre in the US, and so I emailed her. She called me back and gave me so much reassurance - I bought her book - I still have it at home actually.
So then I started reading this book, it was called Postpartum for Dummies.
“Like those yellow and black books you can buy about every topic?”
Yes! That one. There was this one specific paragraph in the book about postnatal OCD. I thought, SHIT this is me! I had a complete enlightenment moment, it was a thing. But there was only ONE paragraph on what I had been battling for a long time.
Then someone also told me about PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia), have you heard of them?
“I have, yeah, they are all mums that have been through mental health issues, aren’t they?”
Yes exactly ... They can relate to you!! They are all women that have gone through exactly what I went through. They were so amazing and reassuring, especially when you have anxiety - you are always worried about what’s going to happen next. When you’re trying to explain to someone your symptoms, they can say, “there is light, I’ve been there ...”
Then I found this other woman, she was on Oprah. Her name was Shoshana Bennett (author of Postpartum for Dummies). I was having Skype sessions with her twice a week, she was so instrumental to my recovery …
So I was talking to this woman on Skype as well as talking to PANDA everyday. Gosh, when I think of the money I spent on getting better … anyway.
“It just makes me so sad that the Australian system essentially failed you, right? If you had to literally go and find your own care overseas?”
Yes, absolutely it did. If someone was to see my PANDA file, I shouldn’t say it would be comical, but really I was on the phone to them every single day. I was very proactive, but what people have to remember is that other women aren’t, women in my situation, they don’t seek help, they can’t, it’s debilitating. I think I was only able to do it because I was so unwell as a kid and so I understood what was going on, a bit.
At this point, I wanted to die. I kept telling my husband George, “everyone would be better off without me,” that is really how I felt. My mum was so supportive though, she’d make me get up every morning and go walking, and we would walk over the same bridge I was terrified of. She would say, “I’ll hold the baby first, then you will, and nothing will happen, I’m here,” but again, other women don’t always have that support.
I remember finding out that my best friend had been admitted to a psychiatric unit and I didn’t even know. Isn’t that crazy? She is my ‘ride-or-die’ friend, and nobody knew that after her first baby, she was in hospital suffering so badly. How on earth does someone feel SO isolated that they can’t even talk to their best friend? Some people just suffer in silence … Why? I only found out when I was suffering and in hospital and I just remember thinking, “what do you mean, are you serious?” I think for her it was shame and guilt … there’s just so much stigma around mental health.
Brief pause here where we talked about Louix Theroux and other awesome journalists who are breaking down barriers around mental health. He has some incredible documentaries about being in psychiatric units.
Another friend was really unwell too. She told me once, “I was standing on the balcony and I didn’t want to throw her over, but I just wanted her to STOP crying, and I shook her and screamed at her.” She was just at her wits end and all she needed was someone to listen to her and let her sleep. I went over there and minded her baby and she slept, and that was literally all she needed, sleep. Nobody is rational when they haven't slept for days, right?
“I totally agree. I always tell new mums, before they leave our postnatal ward, that at some point they are probably going to feel overwhelmed and like they are about to lose it. At that point, put your baby in a cot, or a safe place, shut the door and walk out. Take 20 minutes to yourself. Your baby is going to be OKAY, gather your thoughts and take some deep breaths”.
YES! Mothers need to hear that. In my culture, whenever I say something like, “I was so sick,” my family are mortified. It is almost like, “HOW DARE YOU, you are a mother!” I also remember people classifying me as a ‘young mum’, it ALWAYS felt patronising … I felt so judged, and I wasn’t even young! I was in my mid 20’s! I didn’t go to mothers group, I just felt so isolated.
It took about two years for me to be okay again, and a year after my recovery I fell pregnant again with my second daughter. This time I stayed on the medication, the whole time. I would still have anxiety attacks, but it was nothing like what I had gone through before. But still, I would have moments of horrible anxiety. When I was driving, sometimes I would imagine hitting somebody, and I would have to drive around the block three times to make sure I hadn’t hit them … I knew damn well I hadn’t, but I had to do it. The mind is so powerful, I realise that now. Then I had my second daughter and I was just so well-informed that I didn’t suffer as much, you know? I felt like I overcame it. One of the doctors told me, “you have to go back to work too,” and that helped. Last time I felt like I had lost my complete identity as well.
Then I started seeing another GP - she gave me her mobile number, she is based in Sydney, and I saw her twice a week. She started me on an antidepressant and she monitored my medication, she knew I was seeking help overseas as well and she was so supportive. I just thought to myself, “this is my person - she is it.” At this point I was still talking to PANDA everyday, but I was slowly overcoming everything. My mum would go home for a few weeks and then come back to Sydney, I was managing. I also started running again, I was recovering and actually getting back to who I was before my first baby. Fitness was always such a big part of my life and I was so happy to be running with my daughter again.
Basically I was diagnosed with postnatal obsessive compulsive disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder. Do you know I was actually fainting … I would have such a bad anxiety attack that I would faint. I had lots of hospital admissions, ambulances at the house, everything.
But, I think you’re right, the Australian healthcare system did not support me postnatally. Although, there is a new foundation, The Gidget Foundation, opening in North Sydney and Randwick, that is doing amazing things (link below). I think we are behind in Australia. I think it’s more talked about in America, a lot of celebrities have come out and talked about it. A lot of the professionals in Australia that I saw, you need money to see them, you know? That’s just not fair either … I know now how important education is. I literally had no idea about this stuff before I had my first daughter, I couldn't recognise what was going on.
I often wonder why I had to suffer abuse as a child, and why I was robbed of my first few years of motherhood. That’s the thing, many children and women suffer, and if we talk more and bring up these issues and build a coalition to prevent such hurt and suffering, then the world would be a better place, right?
I know my journey thus far has not been without its challenges, however, if sharing my experience can create awareness, comfort and reassurance for women and families, then it was worth it! For me, success is measured by my experiences and how I can make a positive impact on people’s lives.
Sharing my story is just the beginning, I will endeavour to be a part of the change.
For anyone needing help, information, education, or to talk to someone, have a look at these organisations below:
Lifeline phone number in Australia: 13 11 14