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Opinion: Postnatal depression filled me with an all-consuming, terrifying and explosive rage

When you think of ‘depression’, feelings of sadness and anxiety might come to mind – but anger is powerful (often overlooked) emotion.

Fiona Kennedy

WHAT COMES TO mind when you think of postnatal, or indeed any other form of, depression – sadness? Fear? Anxiety? Guilt? Anger? I suspect most people would straightaway think of sadness, and possibly fear and anxiety. But guilt and anger? I’d hazard a guess (and am very willing to be corrected on this) that these wouldn’t commonly feature in peoples’ understanding of depression. It certainly wasn’t on my radar.

For me, anger played a huge part in multiple episodes; two of which were classed as postnatal depression, and, then, as time went on and it kept coming back, plain old clinical depression. It was for the most part completely irrational, and would blow up over nothing. It wasn’t the kind of anger you get when someone cuts you off in traffic, or the skybox doesn’t record the last five minutes of the last episode of Game of Thrones (although that is truly frustrating). It was all-consuming, instant, explosive rage. Terrifying, usually out of the blue, and extremely hard to handle.

Feeling inadequate and out of control

For me, it tended to come up when I felt trapped – and when the kids were small, was often fuelled by exhaustion, feeling out of control, and an inability to soothe a screaming small person. Inadequacy was also a factor here – why couldn’t I give my baby what he (and, later, ‘she’ – as PND happened after both my children were born) needed? Why couldn’t I stop the crying? (And my god there was a lot of crying – they both had chronic reflux). Why couldn’t I cope with the crying? In the early days, I’d call Hubby but, really, what could he do? Never mind the fact that he was usually at work and so not able to get involved in lengthy conversations with a completely irrational wife, he also struggled to understand the extent of my anger, and really was as much at a loss on to how to deal with it as I was.

As time wore on, the anger started to turn inwards, and my inner critic really came to the fore in a big way. There was nothing I said to myself that was positive, self affirming, gentle, kind… and I mean, literally, nothing. As far as I was concerned, I could do nothing right. I made completely unrealistic comparisons with other people, and constantly came up wanting. I was a failure as a wife, as a mother, everything. When the anger came, I would internally roar at myself and what I saw as my multiple and profound failings. It just got worse and worse.

I began to self-harm

After D, my first child, I struggled for a long time on my own, and when he was about five or six months, it was actually anger that prompted me, finally, to go to my GP. There had been plenty of tears as well, but the anger scared me, because I started to physically take it out on myself. The only way I could break the hold the rage had on me was to hit myself, hard and repeatedly. Usually it was on my head, but I would also hit my torso, my legs, anywhere I could reach. It wasn’t a planned action, usually I would have done it before I was even aware I was thinking of it.

Thankfully, it was always in private – and, now that I think of it, usually the bathroom, and never around the kids or Hubby. As far as I’m aware, no one has ever witnessed it, and for that I’m extremely grateful. However lost I was, I still wanted, and managed, to protect my kids from it. When I knew the anger was reaching a point that I couldn’t handle any more, I took myself away from everyone.

This anger didn’t resolve itself overnight. Medication didn’t make it go away. It took time, so much painful, slow work, and a lot of tears and frustration. It wasn’t really until I met my therapist that I managed to address it properly – and even then it took years. It lessened between babies and then came back with a vengeance after M, my second child, lessened somewhat for a while after that, and then reached epic new levels, before it was finally recognised that I had another underlying disorder which was exacerbating the situation.

Talking about it comes easily now, but it’s taken a long time to get to this point

I realise this isn’t everyone’s experience of PND, or indeed depression, but from what I’ve heard since I’ve started blogging, it’s something that a lot of people can identify with, and really struggle with – because, again, no more than any other aspect of mental illness, it’s rarely talked about. Who in their right mind would readily admit to what I’ve just written above? Apart from me, that is. Talking about all of this comes easily now, but it’s taken such a long time to get to this point. It’s taken heartache, therapy (lots of) medication (LOTS of) and almost two years of blogging about managing borderline personality disorder and depression.

When I started writing this piece, I was really hesitant about including such in-depth descriptions of how my anger manifested, because, looking at it now, it seems to belong to a different person, and I can’t quite grasp anymore the regularity and intensity of those feelings. Honestly, I think I’ve probably worked quite hard to forget just how horrible things were. But if I’d known, back at the beginning, that this anger wasn’t actually normal (although I’m not sure how I ever thought it could be), would I have looked for help sooner?

Thankfully, I now have much more self control and I haven’t experienced that kind of intense anger in a long time. I think to a certain extent it’s something I’ll always have to manage – there’ve been plenty of times when it’s threatened to take over again – but I’m far better equipped to deal with it now. If you recognise yourself in this, please ask for help. It won’t be easy, and it’s so hard to admit to, but continuing with it alone is immeasurably harder and no good for anyone.

Fiona Kennedy is a 30(ish) year old, happily married, mam of two, living in a small town in Connemara. She has two crazy dogs, wonderful friends and a loving, supportive family. She also has borderline personality disorder and occasional depression and blogs about this at Sunny Spells and Scattered Showers. You can follow her on Facebook or Twitter @SunnyScattered. Fiona is an Ambassador for See Change – the national movement to change minds about mental health, ‘one conversation at a time’.  

If you would like support or advice on mental health issues surrounding pregnancy, childbirth or postnatal depression, contact Nurture.

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