I have postnatal depression. The woman behind the smiley mask


I knew I was ill when Emily was about five weeks old, my health visitor had visited me that afternoon and after telling me that Emily wasn’t gaining enough weight, yet again, she sent me to the doctors for a check up. She made me feel like I wasn’t producing enough milk for my baby to grow big and strong and that annoyed me to start with, she said she needed to decide if Emily was just slow to gain or if she was failing to thrive. I hate that phrase. I knew she was having enough milk, she gulped it down, I felt my boobs fill from under my armpits, and when I expressed some off I got about 6 oz which is a big feed for a baby her size. I felt angry and offended, I felt watched and like I was already failing as a mother – like the voices in my head weren’t already telling me that. 

I had a dull nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach, a churning panic that I didn’t love her and I should feel something by now. I didn’t. All I feel is nothing. A numb, lost feeling like I didn’t belong. A detached, emotion-less, zombified version of myself I didn’t recognise in the mirror anymore. It’s all in the eyes. It’s not the knackered woman with blood-shot eyes and bags under them that I mean, when you look deeper and end up staring intently, searching, because there has to be more than what you see? But the eyes staring back at me are blank and emotionless, blank, dull and they see life in fuzzy shades of grey, rather than full high definition 1080p sharp picture quality with bright colours. 

  
 

When my health visitor returns a few days later she asks me to fill in a mental health questionnaire, a mood chart with questions like ‘are you feeling hopeless? Do you feel like you would be better off dead?’, I panicked and circled ‘not at all’ like a normal person would, and laughed the questions off as ludicrous and unnecessary when inside I was ashamed and embarrassed that any mother could feel nothing for her baby. 

I feel itchy and uncomfortable in my own skin, I want to tear my face off, that fake smile and ridiculous bubbly laugh I have mastered, it sounds like my old laugh but like I’m playing a recording, not me actually generating the noise. I have a mask on, under the mask I am the sullen, sad, emotionless, half-person but the mask I am holding up has a huge overcompensating smile drawn on, and bright, loving, attentive eyes. I hold whole conversations and act so normally, using deflection methods to keep people from asking anything too much about myself incase the paint of the mask may smudge. When I am back in the comfort of my own home I can’t remember a thing that was said, I panic I may have made a fool of myself and decide to avoid social situations where possible.

At home I was irritable, snappy, and tired. Not just tired because Emily wasn’t sleeping it was different. A tiredness that can’t be cured by sleeping, my whole body aches but I can scope with that it’s the lack of concentration and memory loss which has me puzzled. I am angry and confused by the fact I can’t remember anything, not baby brain, I can’t even picture my baby in my head when I close my eyes. I wouldn’t recognise her in a room full of babies, I can’t even read a trashy gossip mag or scroll through my Facebook newsfeed or text people back. I used to be ‘fun mum’ to Jennifer, constantly chasing her round and playing on our hands and knees, colouring, jigsaws etc but now I am just boring mum, useless mum, fucking idiot mum who just sits on the sofa feeding Emily wishing she was anywhere but here. 

I care for Emily but more like I would a niece. I change Emily’s bum, not because I want to but because I have to, same with feeding, winding, changing her clothes, bathing and all the other mundane, yet essential rubbish us mothers are supposed to absolutely live for doing. I do nothing spontaneously, I don’t really care but the mask I wear daily says I do. The mask says I am a wonderful doting caring mother. I am not.

A week before my eldest daughters 5th birthday when Emily was almost 3 months old I was diagnosed with post natal depression. I went to a weigh in for Emily at the local sure start centre and my health visitor was there. I felt sick to my stomach, I was avoiding eye contact but my mask mustn’t have been on straight as when she looked right at me she must have known. She looked right at me, into my sad, empty eyes and asked if I was ok. I just started crying, like a sobbing, snotty, uncontrollable yet hysterical child. It would have been utterly embarrassing if I had been in my right mind. 

She came to see me the next day where I admitted to lying on the mood assessment and told her a bit of how I was feeling. I felt a little relief from sharing, like someone had just turned the valve, let some steam out and the pressure wasn’t quite so tight on my temples anymore. 

Emily is 6 months old today and I am still completely suffering. Every day is a battle. I wake up and put my mask on, push the ‘autopilot’ button and get through each day acting as I should. Only this method isn’t working for me anymore as this morning I woke to find that half a year has gone by since the birth of my baby girl and because of my ‘mask/autopilot’ method I have zero memory of the last 6 months. It’s like I have moments of clarity and I am puzzled as to how I even got here – like when you are driving and you get to your destination and think ‘how did I even get here? Did I run any red lights? How did I even indicate or drive on the left if I cannot remember any of it?’. I want it all to be clear, but with the clarity comes the sad woman under the smiley mask and I don’t think my friends, family or husband can cope with that pathetic excuse of a person. None of them asked for this. When my husband said ‘I do’ and agreed to try for a baby he didn’t agree to me being an unfit wife or mother. I know marriage vows say ‘in sickness and in health’ and I know I am ill but it’s not a visible illness, I can’t put a plaster on it or put my head in a sling. 

2 weeks ago I visited the GP on advice of my health visitor, I was prescribed some anti depressants but the long list of side effects, combined with me breast feeding, and feeling like even more of a failure by popping a pill is stopping me even collecting the prescription. 
I have tried CBT and got referred by the mental health team to see a counsellor who I am seeing weekly, and my health visitor fortnightly… 
I am trying, I just don’t know how I will ever feel like myself again. I don’t know if I will ever again see in colour. 

 

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19 thoughts on “I have postnatal depression. The woman behind the smiley mask

  1. You are so amazing. You have put into words every terrible feeling you have been have (almost the same as me) and you are as so brave for doing that. I want to hug you and say I am proud of you. I couldn’t put it down in words and I can’t even explain it to people properly. Well done, keep fighting. 💐💐

  2. You are not a useless or unfit mother, you are ill!! Please, please get the prescription, the side effects get better and you will start to feel like you are on an even keel and like you can cope with the day.
    You’re an amazing woman for trying so hard to continue as normal, but stick with the help. I hope you’re getting one to one CBT, it makes such a difference compared to group CBT. I also found self help workbooks useful too (except the ‘for dummies’ brand)
    I had ante & post natal depression with my second child, and then suffered PTSD because of his birth, it’s all on my blog vicksg85.wordpress.com . I promise you, the world will return to full colour. Keep fighting xxxx

  3. Aaaargh I just left a massive comment and wordpress login thing deleted it….
    You are a brave woman for trying to carry on as normal for so long without help. But please please please get your prescription. The Side effects will pass and they’ll make you feel a bit more balanced and able to cope with day to day life.
    You’re not an unfit mother, you’re amazing for simply managing to get through the day and do the basic things. You’re amazing for speaking to your HV and getting help. I hope you’re getting one to one CBT rather than group. If not, see if your local mental health service can refer you to a perinatal service. You’ll have a better, more appropriate experience and shorter waiting times.
    I suffered with ante natal and post natal depression with my second pregnancy plus PTSD because of his birth, it’s all on my
    Blog (vicksg85.wordpress.com)
    Keep fighting, you’re braver and stronger than you think, and the world will come back into full colour xxxxxx

  4. Wow that was amazing and honest good on you for speaking out and I’m sure will help a lot of people in the same situation xxx

    Please don’t feel like a failure for taking the tablets, with my first son I didn’t admit how I felt to anyone and I got to age 9 months when I finally spoke out I was suffering best thing I ever done, I’ll never get them 9 months back with my baby but i made sure from then on we had the most happy times anyone could ask for he’s 7 next month and I have loved every day of being a mammy since I spoke out wish i had done it sooner I was only on tablets a short time because real happiness started not the fake mask xxx

  5. Oh no. Please don’t feel like a failure otherwise I’m even worse. I don’t even have a child and I’ve had depression before and I’m terrified of having children, so much so that I have to go and seek help for it. Please do take the tablets – I can promise you from experience they will help. I think the very fact that you have written this article and have managed to articulate your thoughts so well is already a step in the right direction. Get it all off your chest – the responses on here show you are not alone and that no one is thinking less of you. Take each day at a time and go easy on yourself; you must stop beating yourself up and start saying positive things to yourself. It sounds silly, but consciously recognise when you have done something, however small, and tell yourself it was good. I hope you feel better soon xxx

  6. Thank you so very much for sharing, your so very brave I’m in awe of you! Reading your story I can definitely relate to most of your experiences. I know exactly what you mean by autopilot I have no idea how I got through today let alone the past 15weeks. In my experience it’s the most isolating feeling in the world, like I’m broken and I’m screaming at the top of my lungs for help but no one hears me. I’ve shared your story as I think it is very common but most of us are not brave enough to say anything. Hats off to you in everything you do mummy wise, you sound like the best mummy anyone could wish for to me xx

  7. Keep looking for the light at the end of the tunnel, your really brave for writing this. Please don’t be ashamed or embarrassed to take the help of medication, I was diagnosed with PND almost a year and a half after having my little one I to kept declining medical help for many months however in February I decided to try them I used them for 4 months and have now been off them for a month, I feel the best I have since I had my little one. Sending you love and best wishes please always remember your not alone and use all the support offered to you. Xx

  8. I’m so glad I read this. I never knew how to describe post natal depression but you have done it perfectly. You are not an unfit mother in any sense. I had the ‘baby blues’ with both of my sons which led to post natal depression. I felt like I couldn’t function normally and I wasn’t able to enjoy anything and least of all my babies. It really is the worst thing I have ever felt – to look at MY baby and feel absolutely nothing. One thing I can promise though is that it DOES get better! Take care xxx

  9. Thank you for sharing your experiences. Only 30 minutes ago I was going through the videos of my sons first year , although I know it happened and I was there, my memories are blank. I comment on my video recordings, I did love him, see, look at me but the lack of memories is haunting , maybe I was more depressed than I could ever possibly imagine. Reading your story, I relate totally to your thoughts feelings and emmotions. I am a non believer of anti depressants , rather try to tackle things head on. I’m two years on and feeling no different, time to face facts and make changes. Thank you again for sharing . I wish you happy health xxx

  10. Wow! You described me after I had my first child. It took me a whole year of feeling how you did before I accepted help….. I tried counselling but the prescription was what helped me feel ‘normal’ again, someone who wouldn’t freak out anymore about silly things like hoovering and it allowed to me have time for my baby again. Please consider it, I felt a failure too until my doctor advised a very high percentage of people were either on them or had taken them! Stay strong x

  11. Thankyou for the honest description of pnd, putting into words what is going on inside your mind is the hardest thing. I was diagnosed with ptsd following a traumatic birth with my first child and 6 years on I am expecting my second in 4 weeks. Although a planned pregnancy (I thought I was over the trauma of my first birth) I quickly began to notice a change in my moods when I found out I was pregnant. Reluctantly I have been prescribed medication to help with my depression through this pregnancy, the feeling of guilt towards my husband, my daughter and my unborn child are huge. I feel completely detached from the baby growing inside me and the fear of not bonding with my baby is terrifying. I know medication is not always the easiest choice but it can help to lift your mood enough to give you the strength to carry on day to day. I wish more mothers could be as honest as you with their feelings, I spend my days hiding behind a false smile and it wears me down. I hope I can take some of your strength and courage on board!!!!

  12. Wow !!! Powerful message , darling can I just say u are not alone ! I remember having my break down after hiding or infact not knowing I was depressed and feeling numb and someone saying to me youl get there it takes time I promise …. I remember thinking eh time , time you say I don’t have time the thought of going on another hour made me want to die on the spot , huge fear rush right through my spine and choak me.
    The thing that really helped me was NEVER think a day ahead infact an hour ahead because it sets ur mind into overload thinking how will I cope how can I possibly go on …. So make that your most important step ..
    Persevere with medication I felt sick the thought of taking it I felt like a worthless peice of shit a shit pathetic excuse of a human and all the side affects feeling physically sick on top of feeling like a Rino that you can’t push by !
    But once I did and the weeks go on you start to see a little light. That light gets brighter and little steps along the way become less of a hassle and the deep black hole starts shrinking ! Then u start getting brave telling it to get to fuck your not a real feeling fuck off !
    Everyday is a gift and you will pull through my darling like everyone does I never thought I’d be able to say those words but it is real and you are worth every moment of life and you need to simply help your mind/ brain the way you would treat any condition ie liver ect !
    Force yourself out the door everyday taking yourself back to nature where the real beauty of life is it’s pure and peaceful don’t give your self a busy mind an trying to fit in this busy life ! Where not made for that and it’s te you focus on you ! Hear if u need any advice chat keep going friend xxxx

  13. I just wanted to say you are an incredibly brave woman….. I have sat and read this over and over I could have honestly written this about myself. And I just want you to know you aren’t alone and slowly very slowly you will get that colour back I’m starting to regain a little bit of clarity finally. Baby steps sweetheart and take the meds it helps but most importantly talk it out my email address is here if you ever want a chat xx

  14. Well done for writing this, I know so many people feel or have felt exactly like you do now, myself included! Please get the prescription and keep talking & opening up about how you feel xxx Your daughter is beautiful xxx

  15. Well done. That was a really brave thing to write. Please pick up the prescription. I’m not going to pretend the tablets aren’t a little hideous but the benefits will be worth it. They will help you get to a place where you can use the counselling to lift you out of the cloud. Be as honest as you can to your friends, family and counsellor. Trust your husband, he loves you. He didn’t sign up for the perfect wife and mother, he signed up for a life with you. Warts and all. You can get well. I didn’t get counselling as soon as I was diagnosed with PND, just went on antidepressants. I think counselling would have helped then as by the time I did have it the focus wasn’t on the postnatal aspect, just the fact I was depressed. Now I have my second baby and I’m working through those feelings from first time round. Keep going, it will get better!

  16. Hi xx it was just like reading my experience all over again with my babies X all a blur X I only got help with my little boy after 18 months Xi was scared of anybody going near him including going out to families houses or going for a walk in case he got snatched. But i realised at 7 weeks with my daughter X he’s now 3 and she is 9 months old…my little boy was a complete blur X like you I felt completely useless…and are constantly on autopilot X I have recently had my tablets increased and I fee less ‘detached’.

    Well done for being so brave..I ended up with anxiety..pnd and stress when my son was born and had cbt. ..and i was put on tablets. I was so conscious about suffering again when i was pregnant again..i came off the tablets due to the side effects…i suffered throughout and i also transfered hospitals as they were appalling..It was stressful as opposed to enjoyable..i lied on the questionnaire too as I thought they wouldn’t think I was a fit mother if they thought I had pnd again and believed if they thought I had pnd again I would have them taken off me! Very scary..I went straight to the Drs on Xmas eve and they put me back on my tablets…They have recently been increased xx

  17. I hate to say it, but breastfeeding left me like this, a few weeks after I stopped I took a massive jump back to who I was, id hate to think this is all because of hormones and it’s being prolonged by the breastfeeding, bf is fabulous and natural but it brings its own set of woes. I do hope you can climb your way back to who you were maybe now your baby will start weaning soon and you’ll be feeding less that your hormones may start to settle and symptoms may ease. Obviously it isn’t the case for everyone but just when I read you breastfed I got a knot in my stomach and had to say! No doubt I will get ripped to shred by pro breast feeders for saying this but I too am all for breastfeeding, for me the hormones that accompanied were excruciating for my mental health

  18. I wish virtual hugs could really work. I’m so sorry you are feeling this way. I have 5 month old twins and feel very similar. I am on anti depressants but not feeling the amazing benefit. I have been like you and told people how I feel. Unfortunately Most people don’t know what to do with us so just tell us out will get better, that being a mum is hard but rewarding. I love my two to bits but don’t feel those rewards. I have such a good mask that friends have told me they had no clue. One amazing friend did notice and she is the one who told me to visit the Dr’s. I have 2 step daughters and I was fun mum with them. Now I Have to make myself bake those cakes with her.

    I wish I could wave a magic wand and make it better. I do believe one day it will be better but I’ve no idea when. Talking about it does help. If you ever need to off load email me at rebecca@rebeccameachin.co.uk

    Take care of yourself and know you are doing a great job for both your children xxxx

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