Sophie's story – personal stories of depression and anxiety in parents with new babies
Hello, my name is Sophie and I am a mother of two. I want to share with you my personal story of recovery. Just keep in mind that this is my story and that it’s not my intention to say that this is how it should be done. Everyone is different, everyone’s personal circumstances are unique and we all have to find our own path to getting better. You can only draw from other people’s experiences.
I have had depression before so I was already aware that my GP could help me in some way. It was also my choice to see him because I felt that I needed to talk to someone who knew what depression was and because I felt that I needed medication.
My GP was very thorough in his assessment and careful to prescribe me the right medication. When I was pregnant he consulted with a psychiatrist before prescribing my medication. At first I went to see him 3 times a week so he could monitor how I was, and with each visit he gave me adequate time to voice my concerns.
He also referred me to a psychologist urgently when I had my first episode of antenatal depression (I had it during both pregnancies). Over the years I have built up a very good relationship with my GP and I still see him from time to time to touch base and discuss the issues surrounding my depression. I still take medication and need to have a review from time to time.
Seeing a psychologist
My first visit to a psychologist was shortly after I was diagnosed with antenatal depression. It was scary to start with because I felt so overwhelmed with negative feelings. I kept going every week though and soon felt that it was one of the best things I could have done for myself.
I so badly needed to talk to someone about all the weird things I was feeling and thinking. I really needed his support and to hear that I was “normal”. I also learned that I had many issues to deal with such as childhood and family issues. It became clear that it was really important for me to do therapy for those issues in order to help myself get better.
Looking back, I often wonder how I made it to 30 without any therapy. I truly felt like an emotional cripple when I had my first major episode of depression. In therapy I gained an enormous amount of self-awareness. I feel like I know myself properly now and by gaining that renewed identity, I have learned new ways of coping with the issues in my life.
Confiding in other people
That was a hard one. Of course, my husband knew I wasn’t well, but I found it hard to tell him how unwell I really was. I was ashamed of the fact that I couldn’t cope and blamed it on myself. After learning more from the psychologist and later psychiatrist, I realised that I’m not to blame and I started to tell my husband more and more how I felt.
That was hard to do, and has caused a lot of emotional upheaval between us at times, but it was necessary. The more I opened up, the more he understood and the more supportive he became. I may make it sound easy, but it actually took years to achieve. We still struggle at times with the fact that we don’t understand each other’s needs but when we take the time and effort to express to each other how we feel, we always seem to work it out.
I was very lucky that I had some very good friends whom I could confide in when I started feeling depressed. I will be forever thankful for their support and kindness. I have to say that even though I have wonderful friends, it is great to be able to talk to people who have experienced depression as well. Feeling depressed is such a hard thing to explain to someone. People with similar experience just ‘know’ and that makes me feel ‘normal’ and accepted.
What I got out of confiding in other people is the knowledge that no matter how I feel I will still be accepted for who I am. That was so powerful. It allowed me to be me, dark clouds and all. I didn’t get that response from everyone though. Some people simply didn’t understand. That was okay too as long as they weren’t negative towards me.
To clean or not to clean…
I hate housework. It seems a never-ending chore that I can never get on top of. I used to be so tidy and neat but now I have had to adjust my standards dramatically to cope with 2 kids.
It has taken me years but I finally came to the conclusion that it’s okay to have a messy house. I stressed about that a lot. Constant housework only makes me grumpy and I resent the fact that I don’t get to have time for anything enjoyable. Slowly over the years, I have managed to get my priorities right (and what feels good for me). My house is never super clean and tidy, but at least I manage to have some time for myself every day. I clean it when it suits me or when it really needs to be done and that makes me feel good too. Nobody else seems to mind what my house looks like either.
What do I really like to do?
By the time my second child was about 5 months, I felt yet again stuck at home. I figured that the best way to get some quality “me” time was to go out somewhere for a few hours to a place where they had a crèche. I enrolled in a mosaics course at a local community centre with a crèche. I had a fantastic time and so did the kids. I love being creative and it relaxes me enormously. It helps me get out of a negative frame of mind sometimes and gives me great pleasure.
I decided to give yoga a go because a friend of mine had told me it was very good for your overall health – physical and emotional. I didn’t hold out much hope though because I am the stiffest most inflexible person I know. I absolutely loved it. Gaining more flexibility came but that was only a minor benefit. I realised that yoga had given me a sense of control over myself. The exercises require you to find a balance and become aware of your body, which was quite an eye-opener. I wasn’t so bad at it after all. Each session finished with half an hour meditation which seemed to recharge my energy and at the same time, was peaceful. Yoga made me feel a lot stronger and more able to deal with negativity.
It has been just over 6 years since I was first diagnosed with antenatal depression. I can now say that I’ve almost recovered, but not totally. The experience of depression has truly changed my entire life. I had to take a long, hard and painful look at myself including how I was neglecting to look after myself.
I compare feeling depressed with the feelings of a 5-year-old who didn’t know how to look after herself in this big bad world. I was so incredibly scared and just wanted someone to take me by the hand and cuddle and hold me until I felt better. The bad news was that people could only nurture me for short periods of time such as like the 1 hour sessions with a psychologist instead of for a whole month. I just had to learn how to do it for myself.
It was so incredibly hard and I felt like giving up many times. I don’t even know how I got through some of the really bad days, but somehow I did. I reached a point where I became determined not to be beaten by this damn illness; I deserved happiness and my family deserved a happy wife and mother.
So very slowly the clouds started to lift and my mood became better for slightly longer periods of time. I still had days when any effort of gaining enjoyment out of life seemed hopeless, but they became less frequent. I had to pull all my strength together to find ways of improving my life and that meant changing. Changing everything it seemed … from the way I perceived myself to changing the way I cleaned my house. I needed to find a balance between looking after myself and looking after my family. I had to come to terms with the fact that I am by no means perfect. I have flaws like every other human being on this planet and that is perfectly okay!
By maintenance I mean that I have to constantly remind myself of what is important in my life, what makes me happy and how to set my priorities accordingly. Maintenance requires ongoing effort but is nowhere near as hard as recovering from depression. For example, I am still taking antidepressant medication. When I reduced my medication about a year ago I felt depressed within a period of two months. Together with my GP we decided it was better to take the full dosage of medication because it enables me to lead a normal life. The bottom line is at least I have now learned to do whatever it takes to be healthy. I have gained happiness and feel that my life is very worthwhile and wonderful.
Personal stories can also be found at Just Speak Up (external site), an initiative by beyondblue (external site).
From the Heart WA (external site) also features a number of personal stories from women who have experienced depression, anxiety and stress related to pregnancy and childbirth.
Where to get help
- See your doctor, obstetrician, child health nurse or midwife
- Talk to a counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist
- Phone the Pregnancy, Birth and Baby Helpline on 1800 882 436
- Phone the Mental Health Emergency Response Line – Perth metro 1300 55 788 or Peel 1800 676 822
- Phone Rural Link, an after-hours mental health phone service for rural communities, on 1800 552 002
- Phone the Post and Antenatal Depression Association helpline on 1300 726 306 (9.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday)
- Phone the Parenting Line on 1800 654 432
Women and Newborn Health Service
This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.