I am sorry again it has been some time since a post. Things have been quite crazy and I find I don’t have nearly enough time to devote to my blog as I would like! Sometimes if I am not feeling great then I find it hard to get the motivation to do anything and unfortunately that phase has lasted a few months this time. But here I am! Please note I discuss suicidal thoughts in this blog so if that is a trigger or distressing I’d advise not reading on.
I posted some time ago about being away and how bad things had been. I said I would share when I could a bit more detail, in the hope that whoever reads this might avoid the huge mistakes DH and I made. How badly we misunderstood and underestimated bipolar and postnatal depression.
I was excited for a short burst of time after having made a catastrophic decision to leave The Netherlands and move to Scotland. See, I thought I could have it all. My new baby, a new shiny job, nice house, nice car, nice life, self-respect for having a decent job. Husband able to stay at home and enjoy the baby. And look at me, the great provider, the super mum. My ego needed a boost. Nothing could possibly go wrong could it?
Before I am too hard on myself, we had the very best of intentions. Our tiny apartment had the neighbours from hell who were driving me literally mental with their partying day and night. Money was so tight as to be unfunny. I figured I might have at tops 3-4 years left of work before my next episode and DH wanted to be in a position where he had the qualifications to be able to provide for us. Neither of us wanted to see our baby in childcare from such a young age – nothing against mothers who did it but for us we wanted one of us to be with her. And, seeing as I had the experience and the qualifications to land a good job then it was logical I would be the one to do it. I didn’t want to have a big commute and my Dutch is really really bad so I couldn’t find work locally.
That meant a return to the UK where DH could study and stay at home, and I could find work at a convenient location so travel time would be minimal. I could earn enough to keep the family in the UK happily as well as send money back to cover any extra bills back home. I had in my head we could move back as soon as DH had finished at uni. I got offered what I thought was the ideal job in the ideal location. My confidence took a great boost, something sorely needed after the disasters at work over the last few years.
See, it all adds up on paper doesn’t it? Of course it does. How dumb could we have been to not realise NEVER to make any life-changing decisions until AFTER the baby has arrived?! In our defence, we were just trying to provide our child with what we thought was the best possible life. But did I pay any attention to the horrendous statistics – that I blogged myself – about postpartum depression? Which, as a woman with bipolar meant I had a significantly increased chance of getting (around a half to two thirds of women with bipolar are at risk of postpartum depression – see below article)? Of course I did not. Looking back, underneath I was so uneasy about the path we had chosen. So was my DH. But foolishly we did not discuss it with each other, although one word from either of us could have ended the madness. Lesson to self – communicate more with my partner and vice versa.
Anyway. We went. After a traumatic birth and time in NICU for our baby. I was, and remain, besotted with her. I had no idea such a small creature could bring me such joy. As we packed up to leave (which was left to the very last minute, as if we did not really want to bring ourselves to do it), I carried her and crooned to her and just loved every minute of being with her. This was a far cry from the woman I thought I would be, frighted and anxious of holding my own child, fearful that I would somehow damage her and be repelled by her somehow. As we went through the move process and wound our way towards our new destination in the UK, I savoured every moment I had with her, fully expecting to be still as engaged as I was at that moment. Not realising the pain I would feel at leaving her, when she had not been out of my sight the moment we left the hospital. Not realising how much support I needed from professionals to manage this bipolar successfully. Not realising that I had so much work to do to address issues from my childhood and the impact that would have on me now. Not realising how bloody long it takes to physically recover from pregnancy and giving birth! Not realising either, how utterly shit mental health services would be in the UK. I mean I wasn’t expecting it to be up to the Dutch standard. But it wouldn’t be that bad would it?
We signed up with the GP and explained my circumstances. I was referred straight away to the psychiatric team. All good so far, we thought. We just had to wait for the appointment to come through.
I started work. The first couple of days were actually ok. Kind of a honeymoon period. I felt really quite dizzy and crap, which later transpired to be my thyroid medication being too high and the dosage was promptly reduced. I had two months of sickness as a result of that but that is by the by. By the end of my first week at work I knew I had made a hideous mistake.
Let’s just leave the job as it was not worth in any way shape or form leaving my baby behind. Let’s just say I didn’t fit in. And I saw the writing on the wall well before my bully of a boss began to try and discredit me. All of these things do not help someone with bipolar in the workplace whatsoever, but when you add the chances of postnatal depression to it, the situation becomes unmanageable. But suffice to say, it didn’t work on a personal or professional level.
I think postnatal depression just kind of sneaks up on you. It’s a gradual thing. Well DH noticed it a lot more than I did before it twigged as to what the problem might have been. I was in tears every day at work. I felt physical pain in my chest every time I saw DH drive off with my daughter in the back. I felt like I had FAILED as a mother – how could I have left her? Every day when we got home I would get her out of her pram and then cuddle her and sing to her, but after about five minutes hand her back to DH and I couldn’t hold her as I was too afraid to. I turned into that woman I was so frightened of becoming when pregnant.
I was afraid of my own child. A four-month old baby.
Why was I afraid? I was convinced she didn’t love me. She only wanted DH. I was not what she needed, that somehow by going back to work I had rejected her and she picked up on this. I would lie on the sofa looking at her and DH together, marvelling on the one hand at how amazing she was and then crying because I couldn’t bring myself to go near her. I simply couldn’t relate to this growing baby which I had left pretty much still as a newborn and was now gurgling, laughing, chatting and wriggling at alarming speed on her playmat. I was stuck in a past and couldn’t drag my brain with me to the present that my daughter now inhabited. And it was all I could do to get out of the house every day. The only time I found a bit of peace was when she would be asleep in her cot next to me, tiny hand holding my finger, and I lay there looking at her, marvelling at her perfection. We have a sleep sheep that makes the sound of the doppler, and it reminded me of hearing her heartbeat when I went into labour and I remembered the time when she was still inside me, both of us soothed by the sound of each other’s heartbeats. Most of the time though, I just wanted to die.
I don’t think this is the same as hallucination but in a very depressive or very manic state I have very strong visualisations. And I hear things. For many weeks all I visualised were huge metal spikes coming out the ground to impale me. I could hear the noise of the spikes clanging loudly every time they shot out of the ground and thumped back in again. Almost like a cartoon or in a computer game. But very, very real in my head. And I could hear it almost everywhere I went. I had to stop driving for a while as it was so distracting. I also thought about driving off a cliff edge too. And also grabbing my daughter and driving off somewhere with her, anywhere where no one could reach us. I even wanted to leave my DH as I just needed to be with my baby so badly all alone.
In my head, this went on for quite some time. I had better days of course, where we would all go out for a walk and even maybe venture out to do some swimming at a special baby class on the Sunday. Our activity together. I felt like we needed that for her to love me. But there were many very bad bad days.
The turning point came where we were all in bed and I went, mentally, into a different place. Often in life, and even now, I fell like I walk a very fine knife-edge. The smallest thing could just tip me over the edge. And I don’t know what it was, but something that night did.
Before I continue with the story, people might wonder where the mental health professionals were in this scenario. Well, funny that. They were nowhere to be seen. I got HALF AN HOUR with a psychiatrist for an appointment that was supposed to be an hour. I had to have my lithium dose reduced as it was making me too sick to continue on the very high dose I had during pregnancy. A side effect of lithium for me is extreme anxiety when it is too high. Bear in mind I was used to seeing a psychiatrist weekly or bi-weekly during pregnancy and once a month prior to my pregnancy, more if I needed it. So to get one half hour appointment on the NHS was beyond a shock.
I was pescribed anti-anxiety medication to use on an as-needed basis, shortly before my episode. It is one of the strongest and I had to be careful as it could make me very dopey. And then my next appointment, for mid-January, was cancelled and I was offered one in APRIL. When I hadn’t even had a proper assessment in the first fucking place! I was so shocked and really quite afraid. How could I be on such strong medication with no support? We knew something was very wrong with me and we knew that I needed help.
Anyway, that night I went to a different place. It was a happy place in my head, that I remember. My daughter was with me too. DH was on the verge of calling an ambulance when I conked out from the anti anxiety medication. Which did its thing in that it cut off all feeling from everything, but at the time that was what was needed. And when I came to in the morning we talked properly for the first time in weeks and agreed that we needed to go home to The Netherlands. Within three weeks of making that decision we were on the boat back.
Depression is a creeping, twisting thing. DH has depression now as a result of what we went through. It was an isolating experience as it was just us, no support network, no friends, no help from health professionals. We are in a worse place than when we left. Depression seeps through your pores and gnaws at your insides, making you question every little thing you do – when you can actually find the strength to do something.
Postnatal depression is, of course, similar. For me, my guilt over leaving my baby was amplified beyond all reason. My GP explained that all mothers have to deal with guilt when they return to work but, because of my biploar and the depression things were out of all proportion. I was unable to communicate, to continue to bond with her. I felt shut off from this wonderful creature, desperate to come back into her sunny, happy universe but incapable of understanding how to do so. I never once wanted to harm her in any way – in fact it was because I was so paranoid about harming her that I couldn’t bear to touch her some of the time.
Bipolar and postnatal depresssion lead you to an exceedingly dark place, a deep pit I am still trying to climb out from. I have guilt at leaving my baby. I have guilt at putting DH through such difficulty. I have guilt at wrecking our lives when actually what we left was not so bad, but trying to get that back again is incredibly hard. I have guilt at ruining us financially – this very much a bipolar symptom that reared its head with me in January. I felt cold inside, physically icy cold. My mind felt black. Even surrounded by the natural beauty of where we were, I saw black everywhere I looked.
This has left its scars. I thought DH and I might end up divorced. I know it crossed his mind – he says fleetingly but I am sure he thinks it still. The last two nights I have been very close to my knife edge again and I know he is at his wits end. I know he doesn’t see a way out of our current mess. And I find that I don’t have the strength to pull him through along with me. He did strongly refute earlier that he had been thinking of divorce and I believe him. We are in this together or not at all. We still love each other greatly. Every time we have been tested (and there has been plenty and I’d kind of like it to stop!) we come out stronger. And I know this will be no different.
Is there a ray of light as I climb painfully out of my pit? There is most definitely. Since December I have spent every day and night with my girl and marvel at her wonderfulness. I had no idea how becoming a mother would help with my bipolar journey, improving me as a person and how healing I would find spending time with my child. Every day her laughter and smiles and watching her progress warm me up a little bit more on the inside. All parents rightly say this about their offspring, but really, what a little miracle she is. My daughter makes me want to be a better person, makes me want to get better for her sake.
I wept as I met with my old therapist and case worker last week. To talk through with professionals what had happened was in itself such a relief. We talked a lot about the guilt and the confusion I felt about being a mother. I am seeing a psychiatrist soon and starting my psychotherapy again. I can’t believe how much I underestimated bipolar. If anything taught me from my time back at work, was how not to go about living with bipolar. Not for me anyway. Stress wow, what a trigger. I had no idea. What is very difficult for me is the life I had always planned to live is not open to me. I can’t do it, not the way I thought. So now I have to figure out the alternative path. There will be one and at least I know now what not to do.
There is hope. In the depths of the darkness, it’s easy not to see the little chink of light at the door you think is firmly shut. Which it’s not really. I feel so so lucky that finally, the help is there that I need to get better. I might never work again but I can become the best stay at home mother I can be for my baby. She deserves it.