Before I had children, mental health wasn’t something I really thought about. I was a qualified child carer and knew some people had problems. My sister had mental health issues and I felt angry that she was like that. We’d both gone through some traumatic things but I’d pretend it wasn’t happening. I was quite ignorant about mental health, unaware and uneducated about it.
When I became pregnant with my first child, I experienced anxiety and depression. I hid it so it wasn’t obvious because I was ashamed. As a child carer, I thought I had to be ok. I was the person others came to with their problems so I felt I had to put on a façade – but deep down I wasn’t ok.
When my eldest was born, I had a meeting with my midwife and she asked me to do a test which helped her diagnose me with postnatal depression. I still felt ashamed and embarrassed and decided I was going to hide it.
This was in 2015 and, although people had started to come out and talk about postnatal depression, there was still a stigma around it. I thought it meant that I wasn’t good enough to look after my child. I also asked myself how I could possibly be good enough to look after other people’s children.
Over a few months, I was referred to various different people and given the same anti-depressant I’d seen my sister go on. I didn’t want to be on anti-depressants because I thought it wasn’t going to solve anything, it would only put my feelings on hold and that it meant I wasn’t in control. So I stopped taking it. Mind’s name had popped up a few times but I skimmed over it and didn’t think about it.
Then for three months, I had no help at all. I didn’t see a health visitor and I had no-one to call and no contact with anyone who could support me or talk to me about it. I couldn’t face going to the baby weigh-ins, the idea of that just set fear in me. I thought my baby would cry and I wouldn’t be able to deal with it and all the other parents would look at me and think that I was a stupid mum. Sometimes I’d get as far as driving to the family centre, not be able to face going in, turn around and drive home again.
I had no-one to go to for help and over the next couple of years, I pretended everything was all right. I didn’t return to how I had been before but I coped and adapted.
When I became pregnant with my second child, all my fears came back and I was in that weird place again.
My midwife was great and had lots of meetings with me so that was good.
Then, when my second child was just 10 days old, my sister killed herself. That time is just a blur. I was referred to the perinatal team and my health visitor referred me to Tracy, a parental mental health worker with Families in Mind, run by Coastal West Sussex Mind.
I was told Tracy did groups but I couldn’t do groups. She also helps people with one-to-one appointments. I didn’t want to do it but I told myself I had a daughter and a baby and I absolutely had to.
When I met Tracy, she was really normal. She didn’t seem like a person who was going to probe me and make me all emotional. So I thought, ok. I was never tempted to walk away. I was determined because of the postnatal depression with my first baby. I’d put on a facade but inside I was screaming.
The great thing about Families in Mind with Tracy was it wasn’t at all formal. She always had toys laid out for my daughter and we would sit and chat about whatever. She wasn’t going to say, ‘So, your sister has died…’.. I enjoyed going to see her.
She helped me realise that how I felt was normal, that other people feel like that too. So I didn’t feel so bad now. Tracy didn’t judge me at all and, whatever I said, she’d tell me it was ok to feel those things and that there was no need to be ashamed.
Gradually, I started to become more confident about saying how I was feeling and almost felt that my old self was coming out.
I also started to realise how important it was for people to be open about mental health and I really want to spread awareness so others feel they can reach out and get help.
I had support from Tracy at Families in Mind for over a year and greatly valued my time with her. I started to be open with my friends and tell them I couldn’t make something because I had my session with Mind. So they knew I was getting support with my mental health. I would even tell my work colleagues. I no longer felt ashamed.
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