Strangely, it is always difficult to really open up about the exact symptoms I had - to be honest about the fact that I was sure I was going rapidly insane. It is fortunate that I had been seeing the most wonderful G.P. for years, and he therefore knew much of my background and health issues. Among those issues was ongoing clinical depression.
The first episode of major depression I suffered at age 18 or 19, and the 'cure' as recommended by the doctor was a holiday. So I went home for a week, where I was shoved out into the vegetable patch to weed and plant, as my mother said "there is no such thing as nerves"............ I guess it did make me feel a lot better though, strangely!
Hum, I went off at a tangent for a bit, sorry. Back to the PND. My pregnancy went fine, I was happy, no depression rearing its ugly head at all. This changed most abruptly once my daughter was born. This was March 1977. When she was only a day or so old I had what they termed "baby blues" (ha flipping ha) and could do nothing but cry. All the nurses said "oh it will go in a couple of days, it's nothing".
Not so. Once home with my tiny baby I struggled in every way. I was alone after the first few days, and trying to breastfeed was a nightmare. An absolute nightmare. I have recently found out that because she was so small I should never have been encouraged to breastfeed - tiny babies don't have the strength or stamina to 'latch on' and to stay there. My little girl would fiddle and fart about and fall asleep (exhausted, but I had no idea at the time). Ten to fifteen minutes later she would be screaming and screaming again. I kept waiting for her real mother to come and get her........it all felt so unreal.
So it started, and so it continued - and looking back I see that it all escalated because of lack of sleep, lack of food, lack of help. Extreme fatigue is no help when you are a depressive. Sleep deprivation is bad at the best of times! While this was going on, the screaming baby, the lack of sleep, lack of food etc., my whole body was going out of whack in a huge hurry. I was anxious, weepy, jumpy, angry all the time. It seemed to get worse by the day, and perhaps it did. What little sleep I managed to get was full of horrific
At the slightest provocation I would fly into an insane rage, which scared the hell out of me. I was miserable, had no energy, no enthusiasm, just negative me all the time. It was a complete struggle to care for myself at all. Even when I got the baby sorted out and onto bottles - whereupon she became a joy to be with - I was out of control. I remember having to change her at one stage, and throwing her onto the bed in my rage. Then I had to go out of the room, feeling total horror at what I had become, and shut the door so that there was a physical barrier between us. I have rarely been so afraid in my life.
With no warning I would have awful headaches, I got sinusitis for no reason. I was plagued with all sorts of niggling things like back ache. My mood was just so black it was impossible to pull myself out of it. Just getting out of bed in the morning was a major chore, and as for showering or dressing - no way. I seem to recall that at one stage I stayed in my nightie for something like 5 days. I cared for my baby, but not for myself. It seemed there was nothing in the world to care about, everything was hopeless, I felt totally helpless, in absolute despair all of the time. Every small thing was such an effort.
If I tried to eat it made me feel ill. So I quit eating. There didn't seem to be anything that could make me smile, let alone laugh. Being on my own didn't help in the slightest, as I had nobody to say "get your butt to the doctor girl, you are really down". Everything made me cry.
The kicker came when my mother and aunt came to visit (I was living in England, they flew over from Australia). At one point in the first couple of days of their holiday my mum said to me "you used to be always laughing and singing, but now you don't seem to even smile, let alone be happy?" My reply? "what's there to be happy about?".......... Her remark had the effect on me of stopping me in my tracks, and my reply shocked me! After taking my courage and screwing it right down, I made an appointment with my G.P.
It was something of a shock when my doctor told me he had been expecting this! How I wish he had thought to warn me beforehand! The first thing he did was get me to make a daily chart of how I was feeling, morning, afternoon, night. He put me on fluid tablets in the interim. His thought was to prove that most of the depression was hormone related. After doing my chart for a fortnight, I trotted back to him - to have him say 'aha!' He then prescribed a hormone replacement, together with the fluid tablets. I was to take the hormone replacement for 3 weeks, and the fluid tablets then for 3 days. My chart was to continue for at least another month or two, and it proved beyond a doubt that I had huge hormonal problems.
After a couple or three months on the tablets it was as if I had been reborn! I was to be on them for a very long time, but that is another story altogether. I have always been so grateful for having a kind, understanding G.P., who really was my saviour more than once.
The main lesson I learned from the experience was to seek help. Always ask for help, there is a reason why we have this depression, and it is treatable. There are many, many women who go through it, and it seems a pity that there are also still many who try to go it alone. There is no stigma, it is just a fact of life that PND exists - and it IS treatable!