My humble blog is turning 1 this week. It's been some journey. When I started writing it a year ago, I was in a very different place. I was coming out of the darkest depths of Post-Natal Depression (PND) and what began as something of a form of personal catharsis for myself, soon took on a life of its own. Not only has the blog been shortlisted for the Irish Web Awards for Best Parenting Blog and the Eir Spiders for Best Digital Editor, but it has also allowed me to connect with so many other mums who had felt exactly the way I had.
Despite words being my profession, the thoughts of putting myself out there in such an honest, raw and real way is probably one of the bravest things I’ve ever done and as a self-deprecating person by nature, I don’t use the words ‘brave’ and ‘me’ often. Over the years, I’ve written in print and online on every topic you could imagine, but until last year, I’d never sat down and written just for me. No commissions, no editor on my back, no word count, no house style, no deadlines. Just me and the page. But it turns out, that while the blog was a key element to my recovery, I wasn’t just writing it for me.
I was in fact writing for every mum who had ever gone through the utter hell of PND. Every mum who had felt completely lost in darkness and despair. Every mum who felt ashamed of how she was feeling. For every mum who felt like she couldn’t cope, or she’d done something wrong, or wasn’t a ‘natural’ mum. For every mum who broke down and felt like she hadn’t bonded with her baby from the word go. For every mum who looked in the mirror and didn’t recognise her own reflection. For every mum who had been haunted by the most unnatural thoughts and feelings. For every mum whose mind had worked against her and had been overwhelmed. For every mum who had hit rock bottom and wanted to give up, yet found the strength to go on.
It turns out that in sharing my own very personal story, I might have helped even just one other mum. And if I did, then to me, baring my soul has been worth it.
I now like to consider myself an advocate for women who are going through PND, and even though I’m in a much better place now, being very open about the fact that I suffered with some form of post-natal depression after my son was born, was and still continues to be a scary prospect.
One word; judgement.
A good friend once confessed to me that she had felt very rocky after her first child had been born. I was shocked to hear her admit this because any time I had visited her, she seemed so together. In my eyes she was acing this whole motherhood thing, she was a natural. But it turns out it was the very familiar mask so many of us don.
‘Loads of us feel like that, but we don’t say anything for fear of what might happen.’ She said.
I wasn’t a mum at the time, but it’s something that’s always stuck with me.
The fact is, there’s still huge stigma around PND. I mean even today, 16 months on from when I gave birth I still get an overwhelming sense that people don’t know how to approach the topic with me when we meet in person. They think I’m some kind of flake that could crack at any moment.
It always reminds me of the scene in Austin Powers when he’s talking to Fred Savage's character with the huge mole on his face.
Don’t say mole, don’t say mole, don’t say mole and of course that’s all he can say! ‘Moley, moley moley!’
I often get the impression people want to ask me about it, but they aren’t sure what to say. And I do understand that it can be tough.
‘So I hear you went a bit crazy there after you gave birth. What was that like then?
‘So post-natal depression eh? I hear that’s a barrel of laughs?’
‘Are you still a bit nuts then? I mean are you even safe to be around kids?
To be honest, I’d be delighted to answer people’s questions, but because of the stigma surrounding it, they skirt around the issue or treat me with kid gloves. They are fearful of upsetting me maybe? Or perhaps they just don’t want to hear the truth, because it makes them uneasy. Whatever way you cut it, PND is laced with social stigma and that is one of the biggest challenges we face in overcoming it. The more we talk about it, the more we normalise it and the less likely women are to put on that mask and hide it. The more we share our experiences the less stigma women will feel.
Of course, I’m not simply laying it all on the doorsteps of society either though, because I’m about to let you in on a very odd secret. Even though I know what happened to me wasn’t my fault, even though I know it was beyond my control. Even though I know I shouldn’t feel guilt, shame or blame and even though I would never judge another woman who has gone through PND, I still cannot get into a place where I can fully forgive myself… and I don’t know if I ever will.
What does that say about me?
That I like to play the martyr?
That I’m fundamentally flawed?
That I should just pull myself together and get on with it?
That I'm just looking for attention?
That I really am a flake?
I don’t know. Perhaps all of those things. Maybe none.
What I do know, is that no matter how far I’ve come and how much I continue to get better, I’m still never going to fully be free of PND, or at least those dark, raw echoes that still rattle around in my head when I feel under pressure. It’s something I try and confine to the furthest recesses of my mind on a day-to-day basis, but I know it’s there and it terrifies me. I never want to go back there. I fought so hard to get out of that cold, dark water, of the fog that was holding me down. But when we live in world that doesn’t talk about it, that judges women who go through it, who labels them, who demonises them, then how can we even begin to let ourselves heal?
It’s time we started talking about Post-Natal Depression, openly and honestly.
And once again, I’m always here for any mum who needs to talk.
Information on organisations who can help if you’re feeling overwhelmed or going through feelings of post-natal depression –