Group…seriously??

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Here goes…. I’m not a massive fan of toddler groups. I know it’s a shocking revelation for a mum who is mainly at home with her babies but please read on. I should be a tot group loving, cake baking domestic goddess right? WRONG! I’m an individual (ie I will do this my way) and I sometimes bake and occasionally its successful, would rather do other things than clean and can’t wait to leave tots groups… but hear me out.

Me and a friend used to joke about ‘the pit’ at one of our groups where the chairs were round the outside and the children were in ‘the pit’ in the middle going nuts! I have always gone to these groups though as they are something of a lifeline as a break out of the house, potential for a not quite cold brew whilst having a few half conversations with adults and maybe even a biscuit or crumpet! When I’m struggling, the noise and chaos can be hard for my brain to process but I know that getting out of the house and wearing the kiddies out is good! I often feel like Mrs Fotheringill (Ben and Holly) when I leave hence the pic!

One day a while after I became ok with sharing my diagnosis of PND someone suggested I found a support group for mums in a similar position. WHAT?!? Essentially a tots group but with a group of mums who are depressed… Woop woop that sounds like a hoot. Anyone else share my feelings or am I the only one? HOWEVER this idea stuck with me and eventually I did the sensible thing and googled it! PANDAS came up and I found a local group meeting in a cafe near me, tea and beautiful cake sounded like a bonus and after a little chat with the group leader of Facebook messenger I was lured in!

Well it turns out that this sort of group is not such a bad idea after all even for someone who is not a huge fan of tots groups! The first day I went it was a bit terrifying and I wasn’t sure how I would feel but actually the overwhelming feeling was relief. I know that everyone in this room knows a little or a lot of what I have been feeling. I’m not on my own, a lie that depression loves to tell you. I’m not the only one who has had overwhelming anxiety about their babies, been unable to function because of the brain fog or felt like this will never go away. WOW. Also as you begin to talk with others your experience adds to the conversation and you begin to see that you being in this group could actually now and again help or provide some insight to someone else. For me this was a big help as it gave some purpose to the pain. I continued to go to this group and found some wonderful mums who’d I’d now definitely call friends. Over time it became my favourite thing in the week. It became somewhere to offload a bit and somewhere I felt I could completely be myself and gave me more courage to share my story not just in the group but also elsewhere. It reduced the stigma for me as I realised this could happen to anyone and does happen to lots. The physical space and the Facebook group became one of my safe places.

For me this has gone one step further too. I was travelling a little way to this group so have now set up a group in my local area which will be affiliated with PANDAS soon. I love meeting the new mums and giving them a safe space too. I guess this is a post to encourage anyone who thinks a group like this isn’t for them to give it a try.  Don’t get me wrong, the first time is still a bit scary but it could potentially become a really positive, safe space and a extra tool to help you towards recovery.
If you are in Stockport or South Manchester, click here for the group I’ve set up (don’t worry other people do the baking for our group!) and if you are anywhere else in the country check out the PANDAS website for groups local to you.

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The dark before the dawn. 

This last couple of weeks has been wobbly to say the least. Some days have felt so hard and then I have a day being ok and then I do too much and feel like crap again the next day!!! One day I will learn what pace is good for me!!!

I have started this post so many times and feel it’s really difficult to write mainly because I like to have everything tied up in a pretty box with a bow on top before I talk about them but this isn’t like that and I really wanted to write something about what it’s like to be in the darkness holding a light but didn’t want people to read it and feel sorry for me or for people I know to worry too much. However I’ve decided that this is what I am currently facing, I want others to know it’s ok to not have it all packaged nicely and over with before we share and also my days are like this sometimes and that’s just that. So if you are a friend or family member, don’t let this post worry you, currently this can be my norm and I’m ok with that.

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My first trip to the GP

January 2014 saw me finally sharing properly with others (just a couple to start with) that I was worried about myself. After a really tough Christmas I recognised that the crying, anxiety and lack of joy in all the things I would normally enjoy was a problem and fell apart on my husband and my parents. I was encouraged to go the GP. To begin with I said I was going to exercise, eat right and take things easy for a while and see if I improved but then under the premise that maybe there was something ‘physical’ wrong with me I went to the GP. 

It is at this point when I would like to acknowledge that I was hugely blessed that the GP that I’d never seen before at my surgery was absolutely flipping wonderful. I walked in with my psychology degree head on, basically don’t tell me I’m depressed. Now looking back I can’t understand what else it could have been but at the time I was convinced it wasn’t depression. I went in through the door and started crying but tried to pull myself together. Dr L then said “it’s going to be ok, I’m here to help you”. Wow, what calming words at that time for me to hear. She also said “Don’t worry about crying, just be honest”. She listened to what I said and asked me to fill out the questionnaire for her about how I was feeling. I was talking a lot about blood tests to check my levels of things were ok and she listened and said that she would arrange ‘tired all the time’ bloods (yes that’s a thing ha). She also shared that her husband, a surgeon, had suffered with depression for sometime before they had noticed but also that he improved and recovered. I will be forever grateful for her being vulnerable enough to share that with me, giving me so much hope, it made me see her as real and I also saw that she didn’t think any worse of me for acknowledging this. 

We then talked about anti-depressants, I eventually agreed to take a prescription and get some if I felt I needed them before we next met. 2 days later I went into a pharmacy, got the tablets and started taking them. This was the next huge step as even though I have spent lots of time telling others they should take them if they need them, I found it difficult that I needed them. A few days later, Dr L rang to say that my iron and vitamin D levels were very low and she had left another prescription for me at the reception. So not only was I struggling with PND but I also needed some additional help to get these levels back to normal. 

It was a huge relief that day to have voiced my concerns and felt heard but it was probably one of my scariest moments too as after recognising it for what it was, I realised just how much I was struggling and finally admitted that unless I got help I couldn’t go on living the way I was. It was just too hard. 

I will be forever grateful for the honesty and compassion shown by my GP that day and also by my family as they supported me through that darkness. The NHS is a marvellous place struggling with budget cuts, huge lists of people needing to be seen and much more however in it there are complete gems doing their upmost to do all they can to help those they see, one person at a time.

If you are worried about yourself or another, do talk to someone and if you don’t feel the GP you are seeing understands where you are up to, maybe seek out another GP within the surgery and also seek other support. Try the PANDAS helpline on 0843 28 98 401. Keep going, because one day spring will appear. 

But I love her so much

As I mentioned in my first blog, I was diagnosed very late with my postnatal depression. This was partly circumstantial, partly because I didn’t know what feelings were normal after having a baby and partly because I loved my baby so much and felt I had a really good bond with her. Strange thing to say?

My ideas about post-natal depression were very different to my experience of it. In my head someone with PND hadn’t bonded with their baby, felt they wanted to harm their baby perhaps and/or could not cope in anyway with the change that had occurred. Although these can be indicators, this is definitely not a complete picture of all post-natal depression, there are lots of other indicators as well.

My experience was different. I bonded with Tigger right away, I loved her so much and my PND manifested itself in anxiety around whether as a mum I was good enough, whether decisions I made on her behalf with regards to food, sleep, things we did etc were going to have a huge impact on her life. Anxiety was a massive factor at the beginning along with a massive lack of confidence in my skills as a mum. Most mums feel ill-equipped in those first few days but this feeling continued for me and my anxieties were so out of proportion.

I also felt very little joy or had little interest in things I had always really enjoyed previously. I began to find it difficult to go to places I didn’t know something I had never struggled with before. I’ve always been a vivacious, fun-loving and outgoing individual with lots to say (too much sometimes) and a love of trying new things so this new me did not sit well. I also felt consistently tired but again this seemed normal for a new mum and everyone says how tired you will be or how tired they are but I now know that the fatigue was part of me being unwell.

Despite, all these things it took me at least 7 months before I began to worry about my mood. Seems silly now as it sounds so obvious but it’s funny when you are in it, there is a new baby to take care of who completely depends on you and you are desperate to look like you have adapted to mothering well, it’s easy to ignore all the warning signs.

You can find some of the warning signs here on the MIND website and also tale to someone on the PANDAS helpline if you are concerned at all about how you are feeling. Don’t feel that it can’t be you, don’t struggle in silence just share with someone that you are a little concerned about yourself and ask for help. Believe me I know this is hard but you will feel better for not being alone in it and remember spring will appear.