The following post was originally a guest post on Early Childhood Resources on the 11th of October 2010.
I’m going to talk about something that a lot of people feel uncomfortable talking about. So fasten your seat belts and place your tray in it’s upright position and get ready for take off.
A few weeks ago my son, affectionately known as ‘Tricky’, needed an operation – a long story short, his fontanelle had closed up due to the early fusing of the sagittal suture in his skull. I hadn’t really cried in the lead up to it but the day before the surgery I more than made up for it – I cried, I sobbed, I wailed. I honestly do not remember ever feeling so anxious about anything before. It didn’t matter that he was at a great hospital or that he was in the hands of the surgeons who brought the technique to Australia. It didn’t matter that I was confident in the abilities of the team of doctors and nurses who would be caring for him. It didn’t matter that complications from his type of surgery are extremely rare. What mattered was my little boy at only three months old, was having his skull cut in to and I was scared. And in a moment of self doubt (a mother self doubting? wow that’s new) I wondered if I was too scared? Too anxious? Crying too much? It is a strange feeling to worry about worrying.
You see, my past is full of mental health issues. There. I said it. The cat is out of the bag (phew, it was getting stuffy in there and someone was about to call the RSPCA!). I’ve been treated for depression and other mental health disorders since I was about 18. To put it bluntly, I’m a nutter. A crazy lady. Cute, but psycho. But that badge is something I wear with a warped sense of pride these days – because I went through it all and managed to come out the other end. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not “cured”, this is something that I will continue to face for the rest of my life, but it is not in need of being actively treated right now… well that’s what I thought until all the tears and worry started.
Even when I was pregnant with Tricky I was worried about Post Natal Depression (PND), mainly because every health professional I went to asked if I had depression or other mental health problems and when you say yes they automatically lump you in to the high risk category for PND. They start telling you about the signs, the symptoms and how serious it all is. It was important for me to know those things but having each person say it to me again and again made me feel like I didn’t even have a chance of coping. They had all decided I was going to get it. Whilst women with past episodes of depression or a diagnosed mental disorder such as bipolar or schizophrenia do have higher incidences of PND, it is not a definite.
So a day before Tricky’s surgery I rung a PND centre and asked for their opinion. It’s amazing how just speaking to someone on the phone can make you feel better. They assured me that the worry I was feeling that day was completely normal – that as a mother you have to have enough anxiety to keep your baby safe (leftovers from the days of protecting you little ones from wild beasts). They said some people even react to that degree when their child shoves popcorn up his nose and needs to go to the hospital to get it out (oh I have so much to look forward to). But just to be sure I made an appointment to go see one of their counsellors the next week.
At the appointment I had to fill out a PND survey – I answered honestly and it didn’t look good. But the counsellor didn’t seem concerned… she said because it was a reaction to an event, and not just worrying over “nothing”, that I sounded exactly like an exhausted new mum who had just gone through a stressful time. Instead of antidepressants, all I needed was sleep and a bit of time to process it all. A sense of relief washed over me. If I’d been able to think clearer I could have seen for myself that I didn’t fit the bill for a PND diagnosis. But hindsight is 20/20 after all.
I still find myself worrying about worrying every so often. So for now I’m still sitting in the high risk category and have decided in a possibly deluded attempt at a preemptive strike that I will continue seeing the counsellor once a month. That way, if the events of the past few weeks (and the next round of surgery for Tricky in a few months time) do cause my mood to spiral down then I have the support I’ll need ready and waiting.
The fasten seat belt sign has now been turned off, feel free to move around the cabin.
If you would like more information on PND contact PANDA or your GP.
Update: Since writing this post my mental state has deteriorated somewhat and I have been officially diagnosed with mild PND. Even though the stress of Tricky's surgery was the catalyst for this, I don't blame him... this illness may have reared it's ugly head even without having that hurdle. I'm currently in a group therapy program once a week to learn new skills that will hopefully have me back to my normal (well normal for me) self sooner rather than later... I still think a decent night's sleep will help me more than anything else.