There was no clarity, just cloud
MY HEALTH EXPERIENCE:I was so scared of my feelings, I knew I needed help, writes ALANA KIRK-GILLHAM
I HAVE ALWAYS been a glass half-full, solutions-seeking sort of person. Give me a problem and I’ll find a way through it. The day I knew I needed help for my post- natal depression was when the blackness in my heart and the fog in my head clouded the glass so much, it wasn’t that I suddenly saw it as half-empty, but that I couldn’t even see it at all.
I couldn’t find my way through the mire, and I had no idea how to manage the next hour or the next moment, never mind my life, a new baby, two children and an ill mother. I wanted everything to black out. It wasn’t at all that I had any desire to die – far from it – but it was just that I found it too unbearable to live in those moments.
There was no clarity, just cloud. There was no freedom, just fear. There was no peace, just panic. There were no solutions, just insurmountable problems. I had no will, just weariness.
Looking back, I think the pressure of two young children, an exhausting pregnancy and the grief of losing three precious babies to miscarriage had already begun to take its toll. But when my world fell apart five days after my third baby was born, all my skills at coping deserted me and the glass shattered into sharp shards that tore into me, unravelling my very fabric.
My mum’s catastrophic stroke left me bereft of the person who had helped me through all aspects of my life, as well as the nightmare of now suddenly caring for her as well as my family. It became unbearable. I found the days unbearable.
I wanted it all to go away. I didn’t want my baby, I couldn’t bear the state my mum had been left in, I wanted to hide in a ball and not resurface. I would find myself screaming and not remember how I started.
In those first weeks, the doctors told us to prepare for the worst. They meant death of course, but my mum survived and the worst was still to come. The beautiful, loving, glamorous, tactile woman who had nurtured me all my life had died, and I was left with her shadow . . . a grey, unengaged person who didn’t know my name.
My mum was with me in the hospital the day I gave birth. Our second last photo together is of us laughing just before I went into theatre – she had just painted my toe nails when a nurse walked over with a bottle of varnish remover and a shake of her head so Mum had to take it all off again.
Our last photo together is of her holding me while I held my new baby. Hours later she had a stroke and has never said my name since. People harp on about living in the moment, but there is a lot to be said for being enriched by the past, and excited about the future. My mum entered a world where she had no memory of her life before, and no curiosity about the days ahead. And I entered a world I couldn’t bear to be in.
My husband and friends were so supportive, but they couldn’t fix me.
I felt mortified to be failing, and so I hid the worst from them. My husband tried to get me to counselling; my best friend turned up at my doorstep every morning; my doctor gave me medication. But I just needed to know I would be okay. I just needed the anonymity of admitting I was falling apart so that I could build myself up again.
I was so scared of my feelings, I knew I needed help, because I wasn’t the person I wanted to be the mother of my girls. I was ashamed of the angry, desperate, incapable person I had become. But I had no idea what sort of help I needed, or how to get it.
My life was suddenly full of people who needed me for their very existence, and it suffocated me. I needed to focus on my grief, but I couldn’t.
I certainly had no capacity to go to a clinic, to spend a couple of hours away from my mum, my baby or my children. I needed someone to talk to, to listen, to understand, to tell me I was in a perfect storm of pressure and that I would come through it, but I had no capacity to access them.
Since then I have discovered that online mental health services are leading the way in the US and Australia, and when turn2me.org was established three years ago, it became the only online service in Ireland and the UK to provide both peer and professional support online.
I wish I had known about it in the dark hours of the night as I lay waiting for my baby to wake and cry so that I could stop staring into the blackness alone.
I have written this because my glass is half full again, and every so often I take time out to polish it because I have learned how important it is to mind my mental health.
I have written this because I want anyone who feels even a little bit of what I did to seek help for post-natal depression. I have written this because I needed someone to turn to, and I want you to know you have someone to turn to too.