Emotional Roller Coaster
I feel a slight apprehension as I write this. I wonder if your perception of me will change when you read my story; will you judge me, will you feel sorry for me, or will you simply accept me for who I am? Sharing one’s story is not easy. I do it with the hope that by understanding me better you can show kindness and empathy to people who struggle with their minds. Minds that feel they are fighting a never-ending battle.
I love my life, it's pretty rad. I live in the country, run a business with my husband, wake up to the sheep bleating and my beautiful husband and son nearby. But the road has been a bumpy one and still is not perfect. I am glad it’s not perfect, as it would be rather boring. I spent many years before our son was born trying to discover who I truly was. I seemed to go round and round in circles. I often describe my life up until then like being trapped on an emotional rollercoaster; one that was often out of control.
In my 20s and most of my 30s I allowed people only see only my very convincing confident, outgoing bubbly veneer. Appearances can be deceptive, and to an extent my veneer was a well-crafted one.
Underneath, I was deeply unhappy, insecure and fundamentally frightened of failure and of the emptiness that I felt within me. But I was a master at hiding it, and from the outside appeared to be someone with everything to hope for and aspire to. All whilst I felt very trapped, isolated and alone.
By my mid 30s I had become disillusioned. I had tried numerous therapists, therapies and medications that made little or no long term difference. They all cost me a pot of money. I felt broken, defeated and deflated that my on and off again relationship with depression. I felt like this depression would never be resolved. The hope that someone or something could help me move out of my living nightmare was dwindling as time past.
My GP was an amazing advocate for me. When I fell pregnant in my late 30s she recommended a referral to both Maternal and Community mental health teams as a precautionary measure. I was at risk of developing postnatal depression due to experiencing my fair share of depressive phases.
I recall not taking this recommendation too well. It dented my ego a little as I was working at time in a clinical position within a Community Mental Health team. It took quite a few months for this news to sink in and when my midwife started to recommend the same steps I swallowed my pride and agreed to the referral.
I had a happy, super chilled out baby. Life was great. I felt indestructible, with loads of energy, my sleep was average, it was a bit broken but this seemed quite normal.
But events were not adding up. My mental health was deteriorating. When our son was born my robust, watertight, bullet proof veneer disintegrated and began to expose my vulnerabilities. I'm the first to admit I thought having a baby would provide me inner happiness and calmness that I was yearning for. It did not arrive. I had thought I was going to be an amazing earth mother. Love my child at first sight, find motherhood cruisy, enjoy attending coffee groups. Nobody could have ever told me how bumpy motherhood would be.
Nobody was aware. I fell asleep at the wheel of my car and wrote it off. The presenters at the 6 o'clock news started to talk to me. My environment started to become more vivid and sounds and smells seemed heightened. I looked like shit. I stopped showering, I blissfully unaware. In my mind I thought I looked refreshed and relaxed.
The tipping point was when I believed I had decrypted coded messages in a community newspaper that provided answers about my childhood, and explained why I had been struggling to that point.
I excitedly showed my psychiatric nurse / case manager from the Community Mental Health team who had been allocated to me prior to our baby being born. Up to this stage she and the Community Mental Health team were looking for early warning signs of depression. My mental state that day came as a surprise to them.
Soon after I was admitted to the Mother and Child unit at Starship Children’s Hospital in Auckland. There were safety concerns around my ability to care for my son and myself. What I was experiencing was “postpartum psychosis”, a condition only 2 per 1,000 women experience post-birth in New Zealand.
I had become completely preoccupied with hallucinations, delusions, and grandiose ideas. I could also add into the mix some intrusive thoughts; thoughts of wanting to harm myself and fearing for my own life. I believed some crazy shit; like I had been drugged and flown from Auckland to Europe to be admitted into hospital because I was convinced I could smell aviation gas outside the Auckland Hospital grounds, these smells confirmed the hospital was a big movie set near an airport.
I believed the nurses were showcasing my new clothing range because I was a leading fashion designer. I kept myself busy rearranging furniture, taking down paintings as my other role was to redesign the ward. I did this when nobody was looking because I didn’t want clients to know how talented I was. Also my husband was a prince, he just didn't know it yet - yes, I was going to be a princess!
I can't recall how long I kept my stories to myself. To me they were reality so there was no need to tell anyone. I was not being secretive - I just didn't feel the need to brag about being a top fashion and interior designer and a princess in-waiting. I felt important and valued. I knew something was wrong, I just didn't know what.
The first time the word bipolar was used to describe my presentation I recall feeling infuriated and filled with rage, because it came from a Psychiatrist who just met me at Starship. Looking back I probably believed I was immune because I had worked for years in Clinical Mental Health teams as a therapist.
I was seriously pissed off and couldn't comprehend how I didn’t notice my mental health deteriorating. I blamed childbirth. I blamed my clinical team for months. I blamed myself for not asking for help earlier. How can you ask for help if you don’t know what help you need? And the delusions you are experiencing are pleasant and comforting. I learnt that no one is immune for developing Postpartum Psychosis. I learnt that blame solves nothing.
After leaving hospital I battled through a deep depressive phase for around 12 months, which put a huge strain on my marriage and family. Under the care of a Maternal Mental Health Psychiatrist, it took about nine months to reach a therapeutic dose of anti-depressant. The process can't be rushed. My medications continues today to be altered to tweaked as we are still looking for the right combination three years later with the hope I will experience less frequently depressive lows.
Recovery is a massive journey with no clear path. I accept recovery an ongoing process.
At times I have had strong urges to jump off the recovery path and give up and push up daisies. It seemed easier but my husband has always held hope for me and told me morning and night he loved me. This has kept me going when I struggled to believe that I deserve to be happy and that recovery is possible.
It’s taken me well over two years since our son’s birth to be able to start to grasp how unwell I became. This still weirds me out. A therapist with years of experience and still I couldn't see how unwell I was.
I've never wanted anyone to feel sorry for me - it does not have a constructive role in helping me or anyone else recover. When I was extremely depressed, I was beyond grateful when I got help. But nobody did anything pitying for me, they simply gave me a hand or spent time with me.
The simplest of tasks were overwhelming; for example, getting support to write a grocery list for the evening meal. This was one of the kindest things anyone could have done during this time.
My support crew: thank you so very much from the bottom of my heart. We all need one of these. Mine was lead by my gorgeous husband and my family. There have been so many kind and caring people and organisations that have supported me on this journey. Mother and Baby Unit, Starship Children's Hospital, Plunket, Waitemata DHB Community Mental Health, Maternal Mental Health, Auckland, Parent Port (free / nationwide) that helped out weekly with basic household tasks. My Community Mental Health team has stood beside me from the start and still today, they are looking out for me to ensure that my wheels don't fall off.
My husband will tell you he lost his wife for two years and that she was not the woman he married. This used to make me tear up - but he's being honest. And that's one thing that’s helped us through this dark period in our lives - honesty. Being open about how I am feeling and how it’s affecting him, and talking about it. Without fear of judgement or criticism, I can share the wild stories my mind makes up that are not based in reality. We both hope the prolonged dark days and months will not return.
I started to show early signs of relapse about a year ago and was not aware it was happening. Early warning signs were different from my first episode. I was going on holiday, I was feeling great and didn’t think twice about skipping a dose here or there. It wouldn’t matter would it? Quickly I started to experience delusions, feel increased agitation, and was very combative. My husband and family now know it’s okay to ask if I've taken my medication. I won’t bite their heads off if they are concerned about me. It makes me feel like they care.
Postpartum psychosis made me feel vulnerable and forced me to experience feeling of extreme discomfort, intense pain, sadness, and grief. It forced me to look within and deal with unresolved issues from me past and I have done this with the guidance and support Dr. Ailke Botha (clinical psychologist). She introduced me to "Interactive Drawing therapy", an approach I had never heard of in all my years of practice.
This approach is so powerful and has helped me address unmet needs from my childhood allowing me to heal and move forward. I would highly recommend having a look into it. It was an alternative to the likes of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural therapy), which didn’t work for me.
Asking for and accepting help was the toughest thing. Acknowledging I have a mental illness even harder. Late last year I was given a diagnosis. I have come to a point where I'm 85% comfortable with the term but it’s not been easy. I don't like labels. I have been diagnosed with bipolar - I'm on the spectrum and it feels okay to say it. Medication will be part of my life going forward; it’s not easy to accept but I feel better for taking it. The mood swings have decreased in intensity. I berate myself less and I am a better wife and Mum to our gorgeous son. Life is pretty darn good.
“In Japan, broken objects are often repaired with GOLD. The flaw is seen as a unique piece of the objects history, which adds to its beauty.”