How I coped with postnatal anxiety
Anyone who knows me knows how much I love a strong ass woman who is unapologetically themselves. Cue Gylisa, aka Rock n Roll Mother. Anyone who knows me knows how much I admire this woman. Whenever I get moments of self doubt, I think of people like Gylisa and all she has achieved whilst remaining true to who she is and that gives me the almighty kick up the arse I need.
Little did I know that Gylisa has faced her own psychological battles, especially after her daughter, Lily, was born. Gylisa kindly agreed to talk to me about having postnatal anxiety and what she did to cope.
How has your life changed since being a mum? Do you find it hard to make any time for yourself?
Well, every aspect of my life changed when I welcomed Lily into the world. It feels like when you give birth, you are essentially making your heart live outside of your body - so fragile, so vulnerable and so SMALL. But practically, your entire world shifts from revolving around you, and only you, to revolving around this little person, having to tend to their every need before your own. It's equally hard and as easy as breathing. Weird, I know.
Any mother with a young baby will tell you how hard it is to find time for herself. I think I struggled so much in the early days to readjust to that. I love spending time alone- I am a loner really. I began to count time spent walking to the village shop without a baby in tow as a real treat, until I learned to ask (demand) more time for myself.
That part has flown by now, and I know I'm one of the lucky ones to get to stay at home instead of returning to work (I worked at Premier Inn before having Lily and I don't miss it AT ALL!)
Now Lily is at school full time and I get hours and hours to myself, which I find makes me a better person, a better friend, wife, and mother!
So, I tell anyone now that is struggling in the 'early' stages - hang in there. You only have a newborn for a few weeks, a baby for a year, and a toddler for another year. Then they are kids and you'll feel your new normal comes back.
I know you mentioned to me that you’ve struggled with mental health issues before. Can I ask if this was before or after you had Lily?
So before I had Lily, I had struggled with bouts of depression but sometimes I feel like they were just natural reactions to overwhelming emotional situations - deaths, teenage stresses, etc.
After Lily, however, I kept an eye out for symptoms of postnatal depression. My mum had very severe postnatal depression when me and my brother were younger and I had heard it could be something that would affect me too.
Anyway, during every check up the midwife or doctor would ask me three questions to determine if I had postnatal depression (a bit like the monty python sketch 'do you have postnatal depression? Answer me, these questions three...') but I never answered honestly. I was frightened of the repercussions (let’s unpack THAT another time - myth: having mental health problems does not mean your baby will be snatched from you.) But I WASN'T depressed, I was actually suffering from quite severe postnatal anxiety.
I didn't even know that was a thing, and it was only when Lily was on her changing mat on the floor, in the middle of the living room (quite safe) and I was walking around the room pressed up against the wall, so I wouldn't fall and crush her, that I realised that it wasn't normal behaviour. I would have very clear visions of her coming to harm. I was paranoid I'd drop her out of the window (we lived in a first floor flat) or that someone would run us over as we walked along the pavement. It was around the same time as some of the terrorist attacks that involved cars so I had to stop watching television as I found it triggered it more.
Eventually, I admitted I had a problem and began to calm down. I spoke with a health visitor who said she understood and offered me various options to help. I avoided triggers and talked about it all with my husband, Ryan. I also found online forums full of women experiencing similar issues.
Mumsnet is actually a brilliant source of like-minded women, all of who have either been there and done it or are going through it right now. Actually, that was one of the main reasons I started my blog - people just weren't talking about anything negative to do with motherhood online. It was all sunshine and rainbows and how very blessed we all were and how a million women would love to be in our shoes so how dare any of us struggling complain. When I started writing, I found I couldn't stop, and actually there were thousands of people feeling the same and enjoying it. The blog turned a really tough time into something amazing!
I think also admitting I had postnatal anxiety really did the trick. It was a rough time, and I often felt like I was broken and having a baby would never go away so it would never 'get better'. But now I am completely better and I know my triggers. I no longer read the 'real life' news or those magazines you can get with real life stories in. Anything I learn about the real world is on a need-to-know basis!
I guess you have to do whatever it takes to allow yourself to continue living life happily, and I'm as content as can be now. I have to say, even though I had such a rocky start, I absolutely LOVE being a mum now!
Would you say you still have anxiety related to Lily now? Not that I'm suggesting it's Lily's fault at all but that being a mum can induce anxiety which you learn to cope with in whatever way works best for you?
So, nowadays I don't have anxiety related to Lily, not like it was anyway. I'd say it was at a very natural normal level e.g. if she ducks out of sight when we are out shopping or if she has a cough that goes silent. But I'd say that every parent has that and it’s not as disruptive to day to day life.
Talking of being a parent, I sometimes question whether I want kids because of my mental health issues. I worry that I will pass it on to my children and they will have to suffer with the same issues I've faced. Did you ever have that concern or am I chatting shit?
Years ago, I'd have said I didn't want kids because I secretly never wanted to bring someone into the world that would ever feel as hopeless and lost as I did. And after Dad died and I read his diary, I noticed he often felt like that too...
But do I think its hereditary? No...
I think everyone will struggle with their mental health at some stage in their life. There is no 'will I get it or not?'
I kinda see it as we would physical health - is it normal to expect that we would go our whole lives without ever getting a cold, or the flu (or the feckin coronavirus)? Some people might get some serious illnesses, but I don't think its born unto us. I think our mental health grows with us and develops and is affected by so many other factors as well.
I actually think it’s beneficial for us, as parents, to have battled with our minds so we can see the signs in our kids if they go through it and we can support them fully. I think there is so much to be said for having a strong support behind you when you are fighting with your own mind. It grounds us and brings us back down to earth.
I still worry that Lily will go through some dark times, but I hope I am never the cause of them, and only ever her safest of places to go when she needs it. Hopefully then the dark times will pass and she can get back to living and loving life for all its brilliant bits!
Are there any self care activities you try to prioritise? I know it can be hard to juggle your time when you’re a mum, but with Lily now being at school, are there specific things you do to maintain a sense of well-being?
For me, I like to keep a tidy house - tidy house, tidy mind and all that. Plus I feel like my self- care time is when I go to get my hair done or get a treatment at the local salon. I'm lucky that I have from 9am to 2pm most days to do whatever I want, as well as work in-between, so I think having such a relaxed schedule is amazing for my mental health. If I worked full time as well as juggling a household, childcare, school stuff AND whatever Ryan needs doing I think I would burn out very quickly - I honestly don't know how working or single mums do it all!
Gylisa’s book, Ever the Optimist, is a charming, witty, amusing and inspiring book about embracing an optimistic mindset during the most difficult times. I encourage each and every one of you to get it on Amazon and grab yourself a copy right here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ever-Optimist-Gylisa-Jayne-Potten/dp/1695973925. I read it in two days. Need I say more!