This week (12-18th November) is Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Awareness week. Once again I am posting to help raise awareness for perinatal mental illness and to break down stigma. Women are at their most vulnerable to mental illness in the perinatal period, which includes pregnancy and until baby is one year of age (some sources say 3 years even). This includes the more well known perinatal anxiety and depression or the rarer puerperal psychosis, but may also be an illness she already has or the first episode of an ongoing illness such as bipolar disorder. Men are also more vulnerable during this time as well. While perinatal sounds like it’s confined to a certain period of time, in reality perinatal mental illness can have an effect even long after the perinatal period has finished.
Last year during this week I shared with you my experience of Postnatal Depression and Puerperal Psychosis. If you haven’t read it or would like to again, please read it here. This year, I’d like to share with you a little bit of what the journey has been like over the last year. While this will not be too in depth or graphic, please consider your mental health before reading on, and consider stopping if you’re not in a good place.
As I write write this nursling 2 (or baby 2) is now almost 18 months of age, which means it has been 16 months since my Puerperal Psychosis experience started and 14 months since I left Helen Mayo (the mother and baby unit). A lot has happened in that time. Recovering from mental illness can be up and down, or a few steps forward then a few back if you prefer. When I left Helen Mayo I was no longer psychotic, but I was still a long, long way from being what I consider recovered. In the beginning there was a fair bit of support, from various places. As I began to improve and to feel much more like myself, these supports exited. Eventually, I was left with a plan from my psychiatrist to slowly and carefully wean off my medication under the supervision of my GP by the time baby 2 was 18 months and instructions to come back if things didn’t go as planned (which of course, they didn’t).
By the time baby 2 was 11 months I was quite well, and with some excitement even went back to work. Even so, every medication decrease hit me hard, and it took weeks to feel myself again. By the time baby 2 was 14months old I was down to a quarter of my original dose. It was, in fact the easiest decrease so far, and for the first few weeks after I felt quite well. But that was when things fell apart again. Quite suddenly, over a few days, manic-type symptoms returned (thankfully though, no psychosis this time). So, I took leave from work and went to see my GP. Medication was increased again, and a new one started, which brought back the unwanted drowsiness, derailed any attempts to lose baby weight and sent me into depression. I then began to seesaw between low and high moods before things began to stabilise.
While things have now improved and I am much more stable, close to a year and a half down the track, I am still a long way from being back to normal (or from discovering a new normal). I am not the only one.
Please, take care of any new parents in your life. If they have a mental illness, don’t expect it to get better straight away. Show them lots of kindness and compassion. They will need it on their journey to recovery. They may be dealing with a lot, including unpleasant medication side effects, as well as the normal struggles parenting entails. Offer them support if you can, beyond the first few weeks. They may need it for much longer. If appropriate, advocate for them and help them to seek out the help they need.
Together we change things for the better!
You can find more information about perinatal mental illness in the following places: