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'I had the family I had always dreamed of, but I was plagued with self-loathing'

Postnatal depression affected me so badly I couldn’t leave the house, but I reached out for help – and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.

Elena Rafferty

TO EVERYONE AROUND me, I had the perfect life. A beautiful house, a wonderful boyfriend, two amazing, healthy, happy little girls. But to me, my life, family and I were crumbling down around me. I was crippled by post-natal-depression. Too ashamed to ask for help.

Here I am a full year later, ‘me’ again and telling the story of my struggles and my recovery.

I was in the bliss of family life. A stay-at-home mother to two gorgeous little girls, I was enjoying having a curious, funny, all-go toddler and a precious newborn baby girl, and a supportive, loving boyfriend. The family I had always dreamed of. Things quickly went downhill and, in all honesty, I have no idea when it all happened.

Constant self-loathing and negative thoughts

Daily life started to become a struggle and every little task seemed like a mountain to climb. I assumed it was how every busy mother of two kids felt – juggling breastfeeds with meal times, cooking, cleaning, laundry, sleepless nights and the constant worry. It was much more than that, though. I was struggling on the inside, judging every little decision I made and criticising everything I did. Feeling terrible with a constant guilt for not being a good enough mother, not being a good enough girlfriend, not being good enough at cooking, cleaning. I wasn’t good enough. I doubted every little thing I did. I would be so distraught by my constant self-loathing and negative thoughts.

Leaving the house? Well that was just a whole other issue in itself! Never mind trying to get three people fed, dressed, nappies changed and bags packed just to go to the shop. I felt like the walls where coming in on me and something terrible would happen if I walked outside that front door, I just wanted to stay inside our little bubble where we all would be OK.

I couldn’t leave the house

On the days that I did manage to get everything together to leave the house, I was faced with an uncontrollable feeling (‘melt down’ as I called them), I would go into a panic, I would start to sweat, shake, my heart would race and jump into my throat, I couldn’t catch my breath, I would end up in a pile on my kitchen floor in tears. I would eventually get it together and get out of the house, praying that I didn’t bump into anyone I knew only to then rush around and do what needed to be done to get home to our bubble, where we were safe.

These horrible feelings, thoughts and guilt were consuming me, I locked them up inside and hid them away from everybody, even my boyfriend who knew I wasn’t myself. He would always tell me what a great job I was doing with the girls. I shut him out. I couldn’t face the truth – well it wasn’t the truth but it felt like it to me. I felt like I was a terrible person who didn’t deserve all the amazing things I had in life. I felt that my boyfriend and my little girls deserved better, much better. I let these thoughts and feelings take over, I couldn’t see any good in me. The suicidal thoughts and urges quickly became all I could think about. My boyfriend convinced me to go to the doctor.

My pride was my biggest downfall, it nearly cost me everything

He knew I was depressed but had no idea how deep I was in. I was drowning. I really did lock everybody out. I didn’t want to face it. So I reluctantly went to my doctor and I glossed over it. “I’m just not myself and having a bit of a hard time”. My doctor prescribed me an anti-depressant and put me in contact with a psychologist to talk to. I’ll hardly take a paracetamol, so accepting medication was hard for me but my doctor insisted I needed to take them and to take it easy and get some help with day-to-day life, as well as to talk to the psychologist.

I am a stubborn person, and I did not like asking for help with anything, I always took pride in that part of myself, but it really was my biggest downfall, it nearly cost me everything. So I went home made an appointment with the psychologist and started to take the medication. However I was blinded by the fog of my depression and it had got me. I was just waiting ‘to end it’. It was by then the start of March 2014 and I wasn’t going to be here by April.

I wasn’t alone

A few weeks earlier, I had met a girl at a local mammy and toddler group. A bubbly, friendly girl with beautiful kids. She had introduced herself and was very friendly. We had exchanged the usual mommy stories. I thought that I was able to put on a good front and conceal what was really going on, but she was able to see straight through it and knew I wasn’t right after that very first time of meeting her.

She had tried to contact me through a mutual friend, as I had missed the toddler group for a week or two, by not being able to leave the house due to my uncontrollable fear, anxiousness and panic attacks. I met her again at toddler group and she had asked to exchanged numbers, I had thought nothing of it and of course gave her my number. I received a text a few days later asking if everything was OK. “Yes of course” I replied. She didn’t buy it for a second. She opened up to me and shared her own struggle she experienced after her daughter was born. I was relieved in a way, I wasn’t alone.

My lowest point

However that weekend, as I lay in bed waiting for everyone to fall asleep, the demons in my thoughts took over. This is it, I thought. I waited for my boyfriend to fall asleep so I could sneak out of bed to do the unthinkable. I was at peace and I could feel the relief. I felt I wouldn’t be a burden on anyone anymore.

I had one leg out of the bed and suddenly my youngest daughter woke up screaming. I ran to get her out of her cot which was at the bottom of our bed because she was still only six months old. My poor baby was burning up with a fever. Her screaming had also woken my boyfriend. My concern was, of course, for my little girl as we sat up all night nursing her and tending to her, but I had missed my deadline. My little girl had just saved my life.

Beginning to hope again 

Earlier that same weekend, my doctor had put me in touch with a psychiatrist who offered me ‘Homebase’ treatment which meant I could receive treatment at home in my own surroundings with my family and the support of clinical visits. Tuesday morning arrived and two lovely, friendly professionals arrived at my home, to aid me in my recovery. They came into my home and they gave me hope.

I sat at my kitchen table hugging my legs and tears streaming down my face as the two girls asked me simple questions to which I was just able to nod my head to. I was  broken. I was just a shell of a person, I had no fight left in me. I was reassured by these girls I would get better and I wouldn’t have to live like this. I did not believe a word they said. At first.

My boyfriend had taken some time off work to be at home with the girls while I got treatment – mainly because I think he was too scared to leave me alone. But never once did he show it, he was so strong and supportive for me and the girls. I had visits every day from the Homebase team. Facing people every day was such an effort. I still couldn’t open up at this point. I just couldn’t talk about it. I trudged on just existing, not living.

Slowly I began to feel myself again

I had reached out to a childhood friend, Mandy, my best friend when I was a kid who I could talk to about everything when I was younger. I told her about my depression, but I couldn’t even tell her everything. In true Mandy style, she would show up with chocolate, walk straight in and put on the kettle. I slowly started to confide in Jennifer (from the Homebase team) and open up about my feelings, suicidal urges, and my thoughts. She listened and reassured me that this was all normal, as crazy as it sounds. This was her job, she sees it every day. Jennifer was amazing at her job. I then started to open up to my boyfriend, he was attentive and supportive and patient with me and let me talk in my own time.

As the medication started to take effect and I began to be able to talk to my boyfriend again, slowly my days started to get a little easier. I could go for a walk with Mandy, and take the kids to the park. I could take pleasure in the little things. This was amazing! It wasn’t all good, but there was a glimmer of hope, and I grabbed on to it with everything I had, I wasn’t letting go.

I never thought it could get better, but it did

The weeks were passing and things really started to get easier. Daily life really wasn’t so bad. I looked forward to visits from my friends and family trips to the shopping centre at the weekends. Yes – grocery shopping became fun. Whereas a couple of weeks ago the thought of going to town made me want to vomit, and I would scan the whole shopping centre out of paranoia, and try to avoid anyone I might know.

I was rediscovering myself and I loved it. I could crack a joke and I didn’t take myself so seriously. I was enjoying being a mammy and a girlfriend again. Now, not every day was great but the hard days were getting fewer and further between. The suicidal thoughts and urges started to fade away. I learned how to manage my anxiety and negative thoughts. I was living life again! I never thought it could get better, but it did.

I had been so clouded by depression, I had forgotten what all the good things felt like. I was enjoying my family and my friends and being able to hold a conversation, have a good gossip about the Kardashians. Every day I was learning about myself again, all the positive things, that I was a good mother, girlfriend and friend. I was enjoying the journey of recovery and discovery of myself. It was an amazing adventure. I was loving watching my little girls discover that mammy could be fun and not so serious all the time, the sound of their little giggles as I played with them. Such a joy.

It is not too late to get help

A year on from ‘my deadline’, I couldn’t be happier. I didn’t think I would be here and I couldn’t be more thankful that I am. Thankful for my amazing boyfriend and our two beautiful daughters for being so understanding and patient with me. My best friends Mandy and Emma for believing in me. Homebase for their constant support and guidance, always at the end of the phone to listen. I am still learning about my journey with depression and about myself, and I hope that doesn’t stop. It has been one of the hardest things I have had to face in my life. I count myself lucky I got the help I needed when I did.

Last month was a milestone for me in so many ways. Not everybody is so lucky. If you are reading this and can relate, please reach out. Do not be ashamed or embarrassed. It is not too late to get help. If you know somebody that might be going through this or something similar, reach out to them. Please don’t let depression be a taboo, it needs to be talked about. You never know who you could help.

Elena is a loving girlfriend and mother of two vibrant little girls from Dundalk – fun loving, goofy and capable once again…

Helplines:

  • Nurture: Call 01 8430930 or visit the website (maternal mental health)
  • Aware 1890 303 302 (depression, anxiety)
  • Samaritans 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org
  • Console 1800 247 247 – (suicide prevention, self-harm, bereavement)
  • Pieta House 01 601 0000 or email mary@pieta.ie – (suicide, self-harm)

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About the author:

Elena Rafferty

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