Thursday 5 February 2015 is Time to Talk Day, and we’re asking the nation to take 5 minutes to have a conversation about mental health.
A random email yesterday lead me to read this post from October 2011. Which made me remember that today is Time to Talk Day – Led by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness it is England’s biggest programme to challenge mental health stigma and discrimination. And so I thought that I would publish this post again. This was a long time ago now, and life for me as a mum is very different now. But back then I wasn’t afraid to tell people that I had Post Natal Depression, and I will always be happy to talk about it if it helps other people understand that they are not alone, and that it is okay to feel like this. I also like this post because it reminds me that being kind to someone can make a huge difference. I have never met the woman at the side of the pool again but her kindness helped me in a way she will never know.
I was so excited to take Kate to her first swimming lesson. I took Piran when he was just five weeks old but second time round I wasn’t quite so organised so I had to wait for a space on a course when she was around 10 weeks old. After taking Piran for so long I felt like an old pro at this so slung all the bits and pieces I would need into a bag and set off to our usual pool. I arrived and went and got us changed, and nervously checked out the other mums and babies. It seemed a little strange as there were three there and they were all chatting away like they knew each other already. A bit put off because I have always been rubbish at starting conversations and when people are already friendly they don’t tend to include people I sat at the side of the pool and held my baby girl. For once she wasn’t crying which was a relief anyway. We were early, and they seemed to be running late, but the last class had to finish soon and although Kate was starting to get restless I thought we would be in the pool soon.
Then the teacher looked up at me from the pool and asked if this was Kate’s first lesson. I said that it was and she explained that I had the time wrong. Our class didn’t start for another 30 minutes.
I could feel the eyes of everyone on me. The mums in the pool with their babies. The mums waiting to go in the pool with their babies. I felt so stupid. I got hot and flustered. The temperature in the room is always crazy hot anyway and even in a swimsuit I feel boiling. I got hotter and hotter and I could feel that empty hollow shameful feeling in my stomach and my chest and rising, through my troat reaching my eyes. They got hotter and hotter and the tears began to well up. I held my baby girl close, her heat making me hotter and I just wanted to disappear. I felt huge and fat and hot and bright red and now I was crying and I couldn’t stop. I hid it behind my baby, swiping at my eyes, hoping that no one would notice. It was all to obvious and you could tell that the other mums didn’t know where to look or what to say.
I took Kate to the changing room and got my towel to try and wipe away the tears. I took deep breaths to try and calm my racing heart. I wanted to leave but I didn’t want to ruin this special experience for Kate and for me. I know that she would never have known but I would have and getting anywhere with a small baby is so hard that leaving would just make me feel like even more of a stupid failure. I left the changing rooms as the mums came in from the pool, perhaps they offered words of comfort, we have all been there, forgotten something, the baby brain gets us everytime, I just cannot remember.
I went and sat at the side of the pool again and the teacher asked if I was okay. I couldn’t speak, I knew any words would restart the tears and then they would never stop. I think I mumbled something about feeds, and not knowing if she would last but I would try. The next half hour was the longest I can ever remember. The panic had set in and the tears kept sneaking out. All of the constant worries that I always had as a mum of a newborn flittered around my mind, would she need milk, how tired was she, would she start to cry. How long since she last ate, what time would we make it home, would she scream if she was hungry. After a while a lady joined me who was early for the class I was meant to be in and she started to talk gently to me. It was obvious I was in a real state. She saved my sanity in the end that day, she distracted Kate when she cried, she talked about babies and about nothing in particular and time started moving again and I started to feel a little better. We got in the pool, we swam, she loved it and I went home in pieces.
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This memory is one that has stuck with me. When I think of my journey with PND this is the one instance that made me realise just how bad things had got. Thankfully I have a wonderful husband who I could talk to about it, and I wasn’t afraid to go to the doctor and say that I thought something was wrong. Other women may not have the support or be able to be upfront and open about how they are feeling. I remember getting quite mad at a Health Visitor at baby clinic as when I tried to discuss a course they were going to send me on she turned her back and started whispering to me like it was something that I should hide. If one person out there reads my story and feels that they might not be so alone after all, then that is something positive from a really difficult time in my life. And that really helps me.
Please take five minutes today to have a conversation about Mental Health. Find out more and pledge your time here.