Real Life

I was put in a psych ward with postnatal depression

One woman's story of being admitted to hospital with postnatal depression.

By Danielle Colley
After four weeks of caring for a baby on no sleep I was a zombie.
As I lay staring at the ceiling for another night while my husband slept next to me, and I got out of bed at 2am and I called a taxi. I wrote my husband a note and I took myself to the hospital because I knew that I needed help.
When I got there they weren’t sure what to do with me. They kept asking me if I felt like I was going to kill myself, and I answered that I didn’t feel like a danger to myself at that stage but I knew that this could not continue and end well.
My baby was six months old, and I then fell pregnant with my second child. It wasn’t entirely planned, but we were happy about it. Everything had been going fine when I suddenly got insomnia that didn’t abate.
I wasn’t anxious or thinking about anything in particular, I just could not sleep. I was still breastfeeding, but I wasn’t resting between feeds. I was dropping weight rapidly even though I was eating normally.
By the time a couple of weeks had passed my mum and my mother-in-law were alternating coming to help me during the day because simple things were starting to unravel. I couldn’t drive because it was no longer safe, I could barely see straight.
I’d been to see my GP but his greatest concern was my weight loss. He was certain I had an eating disorder and I felt like he wasn’t hearing me. He prescribed Valium, but even two couldn’t knock me out. I felt like I was drowning. I felt like I was failing. Motherhood was so much harder than I anticipated, and I didn’t feel like I could tell anyone.
When I finally went to the hospital they weren’t sure what to do with me. Eventually, they checked me into the psychiatric ward. I was terrified to be in there. I was petrified to sleep although sleep was the thing I needed most. I was worried about the other people in my room, and I felt like I needed to sleep with one eye open. I couldn’t relax.
I was anxious and depressed simultaneously, and I knew that I needed to be in hospital but I didn’t think I was going to get better there. After only 24 hours we decided I would continue treatment as an outpatient.
I stayed at Mum and Dad’s house for the next week, and everyone juggled the care of the baby. My husband just pulled his shoes on and kept walking through; doing what needed to be done. We’ve been together since I was 18 so he knew that I have had anxiety that I was medicated for in the past but I had been fine for six years before this.
I went back home and I continued therapy and I began attending parenting school. I told the therapist there what had been playing on my mind about my failings as a parent and she laughed good-naturedly and replied “is that it?”
I realised my fears were normal, but because I didn’t click with anyone in mother’s group I didn’t have any peers to talk to. Nothing makes you feel more normal than someone experiencing the same things as you.
My recovery from postnatal depression was very slow. I was on anti-depressants, which helped but I felt foggy. Some days I would do the bare minimum to get through the day and other days I would feel like getting dressed and going out for a walk.
Getting out was great once I was out but it was the execution that was hard. One day a therapist told me that I needed to create the habit of going out, make a habit of acting “as if” I wanted to go in order to change my brain patterns.
I had become almost obsessed with checking in with myself to see how I felt, how sad I felt, and finally I started to notice that I’d go three whole hours without checking in. It felt like a victory.
When the new baby came I was worried. I was scared if I worried too much I’d create an issue, so I tried to stay under control and just keep an eye out for the signs. I knew what to look for this time, but it was a different experience.
I got a volunteer job at a Women’s Health Centre one day a week because I realised that much of my identity was wrapped into my work, and soon after I got a job two days a week at the Health Department.
I think ultimately I was unprepared for motherhood. I was unprepared for how difficult it would be to lose myself into another being. I knew what to expect the second time around so I felt more in control.
My biggest advice would be to trust your instinct and get help. If you’re talking to a GP but not getting the help you need, find someone else. Don’t wait until it’s bad.

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