Friday, April 13


Although it is more of an "acceptable" subject these days, mental health still holds something of a taboo. It is not one to be discussed lightly and can be a minefield of political correctness, ignorance and compassion. We're all guilty of claiming to be "depressed" when the washing basket is too full, "going mad" when it's been a bad week or five or "traumatised" over losing something but none of these really go anywhere near acknowledging how it really feels if you are genuinely battling with a mental illness. Mental illness sounds terrifyingly serious. It describes a huge umbrella of things in varying severity, many of which can be recovered from and escaped. I don't think anyone ever expects to become a sufferer or a loved one to succumb. Until you are gripped by one, it is very hard to fully understand being controlled by thoughts and emotions, many devoid of reason or rationality.

There can also be such a fine line.

When do the baby blues turn into postnatal depression? When does grief turn into depression? When does shock turn into post-traumatic stress? When does worry turn into full-blown anxiety?

I cannot speak for everyone, only from my personal experience. At present, I am currently signed off work for a small period following over a year of dealing with post traumatic stress, depression and anxiety. In the main, I have largely been able to control these with help from sertaline (a selected serotonin uptake inhibitor, or SSRI drug) and a course of counselling. There have been low points certainly but so far I have been able to juggle things even if that means really struggling. Lately though, the struggle has been getting harder. Motivation and concentration have gone out the window, and I have been exhausted. My mind has spiralled into a whirlwind of pure emotion, little based on fact. It's not something visible or that people can necessarily understand, which I have found the hardest part. It's easier to joke about loosing your marbles than it is so say "I really, really need some help."

I don't know whether the feelings started from a difficult birth and extended stay in Neonatal, but they certainly grew at an astounding rate shortly after discharge from Paediatric Intensive Care when Wriggles had pneumonia at 6 months old. Then I became quickly swamped, and whilst I could muddle through in the day, when Wriggles was in bed and separated from me, I became a mess. I couldn't eat, drink or sleep, let alone do the washing up. I would sit, glued to the sofa because I felt too leaden to move. I was in a perpetual state of hyper vigilance, waiting ears pricked for disaster to loom again, and would cry silent tears and become surrounded by flashbacks and nightmares of my daughter in distress. The relief after admitting how far things had come was huge. I was told it was a form of post-traumatic stress. Granted, it wasn't going to be the severity of soldiers from combat or people who have suffered horrific abuse or ordeals but in my little world, my family had been rocked as I had stared bleakly at the prospect of losing my child. I was started on sertaline and began counselling in earnest with a wonderful psychologist who had had a premature baby herself previously, which acted as an excellent bond and feeling of trust that she knew what I was going through. With support, the acuteness and rawness began to fade and I began to gain confidence and relax. Daytimes became better, where I could revel and immerse myself in Wriggles without inhibition and slowly I re-learnt to be "normal" at the end of the day and enjoy working. Unfortunately Wriggles had other ideas and an admission lasting nearly a month and enduring a mis-diagnosis of queried brain damage with an unsafe swallow triggered everything off again. I regularly would "hear" the noises of the ventilator and alarms going off and would burst into tears at anything. Thankfully, I was in good hands and able to get back on track with the healing process and shaking things off before a welcome break in the hub of my family over Christmas.

So what now, five months on? Where did I slip again when it was all going so swimmingly? Wriggles is 19 months today, it is just a year yesterday since leaving the hospital after our PICU scare and she is blossoming all the time. It isn't as simple as accepting things are better and consequently getting on with things. It isn't as simple as processing memories. I suspect that like everything, it needs time and these are relatively early days. I imagine also the sense of responsibility and physical demands of being the sole carer as a single parent have not helped, draining me of some energy and quickening the need for maturity and stability. Of course I wouldn't have it any other way, and I would do it all again to have my little girl with me. But once you have been gripped by the fear, it is all too easy for your brain to muddle up facts with emotions and responses with feelings and turn a vulnerable mind into a seemingly random generator of reactions. Depression and anxiety can be bred from post-traumatic stress, they can be there independently. It is beside the point how they got here for me, only that they are there and it is the physical symptoms of them which made me go to GP this week and resulted in some weeks off. It isn't as easy as pointing at a specific memory and saying, "yup, that one there. Zap it" as it is far more complex, especially as some upheaval and work-based anxiety is very much playing into this at present. It wasn't easy admitting it this time and agreeing to take time off. I have been encouraged to in the past but always declined partly for feeling it would be selfish. Yes, it is my responsibility to keep our heads above water financially. But it is also my responsibility to make sure I can care for Wriggles to the best of my ability to ensure that she remains the happy and healthy toddler she is. 

I am confident I can return to being myself, i just need to harness this blasted anxiety and stem the flow of overpowering emotions that come from memory which will enable to me to clearly deal with everyday worries rather than letting them get out of control and taking on exaggerated and fictitious fears. Much of the feeling is a peculiar form of grief and guilt. One blog I enjoy has put this into words better than I can here. It feels wrong to use the word 'grief' without reference to a bereavement, as I am acutely aware how lucky I am not to have had to deal with such and my heart goes out to all that sadly have. The feelings are similar though, and in my experience can stun you into a sense of separating from the rest of the world. Asking for help and admitting that I can't just lock a box of the past away has been one of the hardest things I have done, and I am not naive enough to think it will all just magic away and that there may be repercussions in how people tread in the future. But that is another day. For now, I am looking after Wriggles, and looking after myself *puts kettle on".


  1. I really enjoyed that blog post. PTSD and anxiety is so common after premature birth that really it should be much better flagposted to care givers, and to parents themselves.

    As you probably know I had it too, and know full well the hypervigilance, the anxiety attacks, the nightmares, the recurring flashbacks, its horrible.

    Conversations would replay in my head over and over.

    I'm a bit further along the journey than you, and I am in a far better place now.

    I wish I could give you advice but there is none, just do as your doing, accept the help, put one foot in front of the other, and get that kettle on!

    1. I agree. I think I had this after Natty's arrival, in the form of major anxiety and never coming off red alert.

  2. What an amazing post,one that will go down in premmy blogger history I'm speak so clearly about the issues that effect many of us who have been on the nicu roller-coaster. Such an inspirational read. xxxxxx