Thursday, 28 March 2013

The Light at the End of the Tunnel – Part one

I’ve pondered this next post a lot. Thoughts and feelings have gone through my head trying to find the best way to share how I recovered from my PND, and I’m really not sure where it makes sense to start. I think if I’m honest it’s not really felt as if I’ve ever completely recovered from that time in my life. And the events of losing my own Mum at a time when I was again very vulnerable having not long given birth to my second daughter, I feel I’ve not had a long enough period of time feeling “normal” again to say I’m fully recovered. Having said that, does anyone really know what normal is anyway! Isn’t normal what you are used to at any given time? Surely it can mean or be anything you want it to !

I think the biggest part of my recovery was acceptance. Accepting where I was, how I felt, that I was indeed depressed and that I needed to seek help in some form. I didn’t need to keep trudging along alone.

I made the decision I needed help when an older friend of ours in Brittany said to me, “Charlie, if you don’t sort yourself out soon and get help you are going to have a nervous breakdown!” The words “nervous breakdown” hit me hard and made me sit up and take notice. My Mum had suffered a nervous breakdown many years prior due to the pressure and stress of looking after my elder sister. My sister was born normal but was left severely brain damaged at 15 months following a routine small pox vaccination. Our lives as a family unit were therefore never what most people would term as “normal” and the stress of having a family member who needed round the clock care, was unpredictable, at times aggressive and constantly frustrated made for a highly emotive and stressful environment to live in. It finally took its toll on my Mum a few years after my sister left the family home aged 17 to go into a special home for those with mental and physical handicaps.

I remember that time vividly. I was 15 and this was when I myself experienced my first bout of depression. I remember the concern I felt watching Mum struggle and wondering if I’d ever get her back again. It was a difficult time. So the threat of a breakdown looming over me was somewhere I wasn’t prepared to go in a hurry. I knew deep down I was on the edge but now I had to admit it and find a way to get myself well again.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock
I knew I needed to leave France if I was to fully recover, but it wasn’t quite that simple. It took another year from making that mental decision before it was actually possible for us to return to the UK and it was the longest 12 months of my life. I walked every day for over an hour to stay sane, I gave my eldest daughter regular baby massage treatments to stay as bonded to her as possible (it took a full 16 months to finally feel the bond I’d expected to feel when I first had my baby), I tried hard to eat healthily and I kept myself as focussed as I could on the end goal, visualising myself back home in the UK, happy and safe.

Once back in the UK, my husband and I decided to settle in the West Country instead of heading back to the Home Counties where family were and we had previously lived. The thoughts of being so close to London again with a toddler was not what I wanted or needed so we made the sacrifice of living once again away from family but it was definitely the right decision long term.

Not long after returning to the UK, I went to see my new GP who was keen to put me on anti-depressants. I refused and asked for 3 months grace to find alternatives to aid in my recovery. She recommended counselling which I hated the idea of at first. I had done a lot of work on myself as a holistic therapist both spiritually and emotionally and felt I didn’t need someone I didn’t know sitting in front of me with folded arms asking “So, what seems to be the problem?” I had a very old fashioned view of what a counsellor was and I didn’t feel they could bring any worth to my situation. Also the waiting list for CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) was so long on the NHS that the whole idea seemed pointless. However, the GP still gave me a leaflet on counselling which I read and I finally set about looking for a private counsellor who was local to me a few months later.

I was blessed to find a fabulous lady who was an integral part in my recovery. She gave me the permission to truly “feel” for the first time in over 2 years and didn’t sit there and judge me in any way. That was so liberating ! We unleashed the dragon within and as she said, “Once released there is no going back!” and she was so right. The anger, frustration, hurt and sadness I felt came to the surface and was overwhelming to say the least. It was like peeling back an onion. Layer upon layer of raw emotion was exposed and now needed attention. One of my biggest feelings was having been let down by those around me, those I loved. At that time I felt greatly misunderstood and my counsellor gave me insight into why that was and how I could release those feelings and move on again.

I am a highly sensitive person which in my work as a Holistic Therapist is a good thing. I am very empathic and sense feelings, unease, emotions. My instincts serve me well but they can make functioning in the real world tough at times. Even now I often find it hard to know where I truly fit. The total sum of our life experiences make us who we are so I suppose for me most of mine have been intense, stressful and filled with anxiety and caution. Don’t get me wrong it hasn’t all been doom and gloom but as a child I grew up in a highly emotive, stressful environment where I was taught to be overly cautious and wary of life. And being a younger sister of a child with special needs meant that having a “carefree” existence as a child wasn’t on the agenda. I had to grow up quickly and just get on with it.

It’s fair to say that during my counselling sessions these memories and feelings surfaced too and needed to be dealt with. It was an exhausting time but so beneficial and it is probably the one thing I’d recommend anyone who is suffering with depression do for themselves. Whether it be CBT or another form of counselling that resonates with them, it is well worth the investment of time and money.

I’m going to finish this post here and share next time how I continued on with my recovery through changing my diet and also with the healing sessions I had. Although it may seem that what I’m sharing here is very deep and intense it’s important to understand that it’s not all internal struggles and fighting. This journey has given me a greater clarity of who I am as a person, and the type of mother I ultimately wish to be for my girls. Becoming a mother has probably been the biggest, most amazing journey I have ever been on.

What I have experienced over the past 7 years has pushed me to the absolute limits of what I thought I could cope with and I have proved to myself that I am stronger than I thought, I can still cope in the face of adversity, I love completely, care deeply, wear my heart on my sleeve and those are things that I should be proud of. I have often thought of them as failings, as a weakness, somehow looking enviously at others who appear more carefree and happier than me. But time allows me to understand that it’s ok to be different, I matter just as much and maybe through this blog and sharing some of my journey with others, someone may find some solace within the chaos they currently find themselves in. Who knows?

Thank you for listening. Do share your thoughts. It’s always lovely to hear from you. Have a wonderful Easter together with those you love. Until next time xx


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Tuesday, 5 March 2013

My Personal Journey Through PND

As you will now know I suffered PND with my first daughter and it was certainly a very dark time in my life. It really wasn’t something that I anticipated suffering with and I really don’t remember coming across much if any information in books etc about it before I had my daughter. The current figures suggest that about 1 in 7 women suffer from PND, however I would say that figure is probably much higher. Many women do not go to their GP for diagnosis and many probably go undetected like myself and can struggle to find another form of support that better suits their needs. Going to the GP makes many women feel that the route of anti-depressants is the only option and this was certainly not a route I wished to take and didn’t. I will share with you in another post what I did do to help my recovery using diet, counselling, & healing amongst other things. 

I had always seen myself with children. You do that “chat” thing don’t you with your partner about how many kids you think you’ll have and in my mind I was having 2-3. As easy as that! The reality was quite different. I had wanted to start trying for a family earlier than my hubby and by the time he was ready I was 30 and we just got on and thought it would be easy to conceive. However the reality was that it took us 3 years to conceive my first daughter and when we did, we were living in France away from family and friends. We had decided that as we weren’t sure if we could have kids, we needed to move on with our lives and so a decision was made to move to Brittany. We had a lovely vision of rental holiday cottages and organising inspirational courses in art, photography, yoga, Reiki but due to factors which I won’t go into here, this reality did not happen.

When I initially moved to Brittany I had what I’d term as “school class” French. It was rusty and pretty useless for day to day interaction. Our neighbour did speak English but preferred not to use it much so this made things hard at times. I tried my best to get to grips with a house move, country move, new culture and new language but didn’t factor into that the arrival of the news that after 3 months of being out there, I was at last pregnant. At that time, my husband and I were surrounded by stress; family, financial, personal. It was hard and the news of having conceived and the joy this should have brought us both was overshadowed by the stress we found ourselves under. Not a good start to pregnant life when you have tried so hard to conceive your bundle of joy!

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

It’s fair to say that we all feel somewhat apprehensive about our first pregnancy and rely quite heavily on the midwives, our GP etc to help us through this new adventure. For me this was all in French ! My Doctor only had a smattering of English, the midwives all spoke French and the only one who did have a fabulous level of English was my gynaecologist who did my scans. Having a gynaecologist is normal practice in France and ironically mine was called Dr Condominas! Tickled my sense of humour. They are still highly medicalised out in France and their approach is actually pretty invasive. I would go to my appointments with my French/English dictionary in hand and struggle to understand and be understood. All letters sent to me had to be translated into English before I had any idea of what they said. I had to sort out healthcare cover, find out my rights and it was exhausting on top of the normal ups and downs you experience on your pregnancy journey. I was also far away from close family and missed my Mum terribly. This impacted how I felt and with the outside stresses still looming over us I found my mood drop considerably. Everything was a struggle and I spent most of my time feeling anxious and fearful of what the birth would be like and how I would cope having made the decision to move abroad.

I had always wanted a home, water birth with a doula but in rural France this was hard to come by. I was assigned a local hospital and that was that. I was informed that the pain relief options were an epidural or nothing and having come across many women who had ended up with lots of back problems following epidurals, during my days as an Holistic Therapist, I wasn’t keen to go this route and also wanted to try my best to birth as naturally as possible. I’m sure the French midwives thought they had some English nutter woman on their hands ! But I was determined to try to get some of what I’d always envisaged having. I found myself some Natal Hypnotherapy CDs to help me through the pregnancy and birth and they really were helpful to me during that time. I struggled through my weekly anti-natal classes with my hubby in tow - this was not the norm in France as men are normally banned! But hubby was granted access as I’d have struggled understanding everything if he’d not been there. We used to come out of the hour classes absolutely exhausted and then try to piece together what we’d both understood between us. Thank goodness I had a knowledge of Anatomy and Physiology from my therapy days.

When the birth finally arrived it didn’t quite go as I’d hoped. In France they have a 12 hour window and if things haven’t progressed far enough they like to help it all along. My waters were broken without any discussion of what was happening and the shock of this was huge. I did birth her without any pain relief but I was given an episiotomy without my permission and without any local anaesthetic. The shock of this unexpected procedure hit me hard. I felt violated at my most vulnerable time. The language barrier should not have been a factor in failing to ask my permission as the consultant in attendance spoke English as did the leading midwife. In my mind I’d been failed by the system. The second midwife also spent a good 5-10 mins pushing down on my stomach trying to push my baby girl out ! Traumatic it certainly was and I was bruised afterwards and both emotionally and physically exhausted. I did get my wish to have her placed onto me straight away and birthed the placenta naturally so they did honour some of my wishes, but the anxiety around not being fully understood and wondering from one minute to the next what was going on was at times terrifying. I then had to endure 5 days in hospital (standard procedure in France) surrounded by French midwives and staff in a very hot, unconditioned single room and left for hours alone with my new bundle of joy when hubby wasn’t able to be with me.

It was a tough time and I failed to bond with my daughter. I knew I cared for her but I felt no “rush of love” for her and just felt numb. I hoped this feeling would ease but it didn’t and then the reality of not being able to get some space and recover hit me. It was all about breastfeeding, looking after her, reading her cues, the pain from the stitches. The list went on. I was emotionally numb, and started to become aggravated by the external stresses that were still around us and that we had no control over. I wasn’t afforded some time to actually enjoy my baby and the rollercoaster continued on.

The short version is that due to the language barrier my PND went undetected by the aftercare nurses. I went to weekly weigh ins but wasn’t told of local groups I could go to. I was isolated and alone except for my marvellous hubby who did his best to help me where he could. I used to walk for about 1-2 hours every day just to stay sane. I would often see no body on those walks but it was a time when I knew my baby girl would sleep. She wasn’t a great sleeper and I was severely sleep deprived. I don’t function well without sleep anyway so the level of sleep deprivation I experienced literally crippled me. Hubby helped where possible but he started to experience vertigo from the sleep deprivation and as his work was manual and up & down ladders, I had to take the lion’s share of the night duties for fear he’d injure himself during the day. We both battled on and it took me about 16 months before I finally bonded with my baby girl. It was around then that I decided that I would only get better if I went back to the UK and after long talks with my husband we set the wheels in motion to come back to the UK and finally settled in the West Country.

Once back in the UK I went to see my local GP who after asking me to complete the Depression Questionnaire told me I was now on the lower end of what they termed PND but she’d like to put me on anti-depressants as I’d been depressed for 2 years. I declined and said that as many of the factors that had been causing my depression had now been removed, I wanted 3 months grace to see if I could sort things out and help myself through in a more natural way. I then looked into counselling which I initially fought hard not to do, but I’m so glad I did it, as it was a major part in my recovery giving me the permission to “feel” and not be judged. It was marvellous. I also looked into my diet and changed this to an alkaline based food diet with juicing. This had a profound effect on my mood and I’ll share more about that in another post.

My journey then took me another 2 years before I can actually say I felt well again. It was a long, lonely journey and one I wouldn’t wish to repeat. My husband and I didn’t plan any more children after this experience as we just couldn’t risk me suffering PND again. It had hit our relationship so hard that we weren’t prepared to risk it again. However, the Universe had other ideas and my youngest snuck through the net and put paid to the idea of just one child! I’m glad she did but feel saddened that once again I was cheated out of my babydom with her as I had to deal with my mother’s fight with cancer and her death not long after my youngest was born.

I have definitely had low mood during the past 2 years since my little one’s birth. Hardly surprising really but it hasn’t been PND which is what I feared more than anything. I now know the signs and although family and friends are still 3 hours away, we have learnt to cope without their support around us. Now that my youngest is 2 years old it is getting easier and the light again shines brighter at the end of the dark tunnel. I see the possibilities now of being able to work for myself again. It’s crucial to my own self worth to be doing something other than being “Mum”. I love my girls with all my being but this journey has taught me that getting the balance between being a parent and time for you is a difficult one. Part of me has definitely died off over the past 7 years and I’m hoping that part of me will return once more as the path I’m walking gets easier.

So there you have it, part of my PND journey. One thing I’ve noticed is that although there are often a set of core similarities with PND, the other life factors and stressors that can contribute to the illness are varied from person to person. You can’t box it, give it a label and do a “one size fits all” method. And it’s my opinion that you shouldn’t try to anyway. We are all unique and maybe that’s why it is only someone who has walked this path who can truly help another through their own darkness.

I’d love to know your thoughts, so please do leave me a message. It makes me feel I’m not just chatting to myself! Thanks for reading and next time I’ll aim to share with you what helped me on my recovery out the other side.

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Saturday, 2 March 2013

PND - What makes one person feel there's no way out?

I’m not really sure if this post is going to make much sense but I’m just going to see how it flows and take it from there. As I’ve mentioned briefly in some of my other posts, I suffered with PND with my first daughter. I was living in France at the time and a whole host of factors contributed to the space I ended up in. It’s not a time I look back on with fondness and it unleashed a dark side in me that I never wish to revisit if at all possible, but part of me is glad I’ve acknowledged that side of me exists and has accepted that given the right set of circumstances it is able to spring forth and be given life.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock
So what has spurred me on to finally write a few posts on my PND journey? Well, this week as many of you may be aware, Karen Simpson, a mother of 3 young children (the youngest just 3 months old) who was suffering with PND, chose to take her own life and the impact that has had on myself and many others who have or are suffering with PND has been immense. Karen went off alone telling her relatives that she was popping to Tescos to get some nappies and needed to “clear her head”. She never came back and her body was found the next day in a nearby field. This story hit the headlines on Tuesday with the sad announcement of her death on Wednesday. That news hit me like a ton of bricks. Why? It brought it all back to me. THAT feeling of wanting to “clear my head” and be alone. Many of us have been there, thinking that it’s just too much to bear, that we just can’t endure another day, hour, minute of this overwhelming situation we find ourselves in. There is that moment when you truly believe that the world including your completely dependent bundle of joy are better off without you but what makes one person decide that “yes” the world is better off without their presence in it? I’m not sure I have the answer to that question but my heartfelt condolences go out to Karen’s husband and children at this very sad and difficult time. I find it hard to imagine what they must be feeling. Something stopped me from acting out my thoughts. I knew my daughter needed me and some part of me understood that despite the utter darkness I found myself in, making it all go away in this way wouldn't make it any better.

Wednesday’s announcement uprooted deep seated emotions for me that I thought I’d dealt with, but it made me understand that when you have suffered PND it never leaves you. Its mark on you is everlasting. I never expected to suffer with it and I would say that I probably only started to feel as if I was finally coming out the other side when my eldest was almost 4 years old. That’s a long time to be depressed. I will explain more about my own personal journey in another post but my overwhelming feeling in all this is that society as a whole doesn’t understand enough about PND and how it impacts families. It is utterly crippling. It almost tore my marriage apart and I ended up being described by some family members as “difficult” and became the black sheep. This only made me feel worse because I wasn’t fully in control of how I felt. You get to a point where you know that others aren’t understanding you, you begin to shut down, you go within and you become numb. It’s true what others say, you stop crying and you just stare. I’m sure to the outside world you appear “cold” and “unfeeling” but believe me you are the most “feeling” you’ve ever been and you just can’t switch your mind off. You are anxious all the time, you suffer panic attacks, you are unsure of how people feel about you, and you question everything. You are fully aware of the fact that those around you just don’t “get it” and you are sadly walking this journey alone. And that feeling is scary. Alone is not always a great space to be in especially when you have a small baby to look after.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock
The most important thing a new or existing Mum needs in my opinion when they give birth to a new baby is support. In my mind it is a key factor in helping a new Mum cope and get some balance back into her life again. Motherhood is not always what we imagine it to be. Not all of us feel that “rush of love” when we give birth particularly if we've had a traumatic birth experience. If life has been particularly stressful around the pregnancy and birth this can trigger the depression following the natural surge of hormones we get when we are pregnant and when we give birth.

It would appear that society either doesn't want to deal with the ever increasing number of women suffering from PND or it just doesn't know how. It’s my opinion that those of us who have suffered need to unite and support those who are going through it now. Support groups are a lifeline – literally. Talking to someone who’s been there is liberating, it gives you permission to “feel” again and you are finally able to breathe again immersed in the notion that you are finally understood. You finally know that you aren't going mad, you aren't alone and someone DOES understand you and what you’re going through. If a new mother mentions to her health visitor, family member or friend that she is not coping or feeling low and it’s been longer than a few weeks, then I believe that putting them in touch with a PND support group may help that person to know if it’s just the blues or something more. But all too often it is overlooked, you are told that it’s normal to feel low, you’re tired, sleep deprived, and it will pass. But not all new Mums use the term “I’m not coping” and “I cry all the time”. These are key signs that you need to step in and help that person find support.

Having family support is also crucial and it seems that the less support you have around you, the more likely you are to succumb to PND. I had very little support in addition to my husband, who bless him endured a lot during those dark times. I found people quick to judge and others didn’t even want to talk about the subject of PND. It would appear that if we brush it under the carpet, society hopes it will all go away. Well it won’t and since we are now living our lives in a way which takes us far away from supportive family and a loving community that cares for our welfare, it’s now becoming an ever growing issue.

My advice to anyone reading this post who knows they are depressed, or knows of someone who is suffering is to get in touch with a support group. Reach out and connect with someone who truly knows how you are feeling. Someone who will listen, REALLY listen to you and will do everything in their power to help you through this difficult time. And know that you do eventually come through it and out the other side. It does get easier and the dark clouds do part to reveal the sunshine that has been hiding behind them for so long. And another thing; you are never alone, ever. There is always someone who wants to help, who cares about you, who knows what you are feeling. So please reach out before you pop out to “clear your head”. It may just save your life xx

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I would love you to share your thoughts/comments and your journey with PND. If anyone would like to email me then I’d love to hear from you too. Pen me a message to info@charlotte-hughes.co.uk and I’ll be sure to reply. Take care x

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I have found several PND support groups that I have connected with on Twitter and Facebook, some of which are detailed below. I have also pasted a link to a page of FB pages/groups for PND I found too. Obviously, it is very much a personal choice as to who you choose to contact, but do reach out – someone is waiting to help you x


PANDAS Foundation: Advice and support for individuals their families and carers
Tel; 0843 28 98 401 


PSS PND Project – In the UK 1 in 5 women & 1 in 20 men are affected by postnatal depression. We offer face to face support in Liverpool and online support further afield.


SMILE PND Group – We're a self-help group set up to support mums with postnatal depression. New members are always welcome to drink tea and chat in a relaxed environment.


House of Light: providing support, advice and information for women and their families affected by Postnatal Depression. 
Tel:  0800 043 2031
http://www.pndsupport.co.uk


Nuturing Mums – Pregnant? New mum? Join one of our sociable & informative postnatal courses. Chat, learn & relax with your baby and other mums





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