After watching My Baby, Psychosis and Me (BBC One), I lost a bit of heart in telling my Postpartum Psychosis story. While I identified with some elements of these brave women’s stories, I felt overall that their experiences were far more severe than my own. This led me to question the validity of sharing my story, thinking my experience wasn’t extreme enough. Then I remembered this was half the point of me sharing my story in the first place. There are plenty of extreme, frightening cases available to read about and I wanted to provide a less complicated, more positive story to inspire hope that this illness can be overcome and doesn’t have to reach terrifying extremes before it can be treated. My experience was pretty terrifying to me, traumatising and difficult to cope with, but I don’t feel it compares to what these two women, and others, have been through. Then again, comparisons don’t help anyone and all experiences of Postpartum Psychosis are unique to the individual. So here’s the first part of my story, the onset of psychosis.
My chronology of events is very hazy and unclear, I have snippets of memories, some that are extremely vivid but they exist in a jumble, swirling round in my mind. It’s difficult to write my story, my natural instinct is to make it fluid and coherent but that’s just so far from the reality of the situation.
My consultant believes, and I agree, that my psychosis began during labour. I had a traumatic labour and birth which lasted 12 hours overnight and resulted in me being transferred from the midwife led centre to labour ward to have a spinal and a ventouse assisted delivery. I didn’t get on well with the gas and air, feeling particularly weird and I spent much of labour half blind as I couldn’t bear to wear my glasses. There is nothing fun about being wheeled through a hospital semi blind screaming in agony for someone to ‘just get it out!’. Not quite what I had planned after weeks of listening to hypnobirthing CD’s.
Looking back, I think I experienced an auditory hallucination whilst still on the maternity ward. I’d been dozing and woke to find hubby gone, I could hear hushed voices outside my curtain, I thought the worst, something had gone wrong, there was a problem with Rocco. It never amounted to anything so I just brushed it off but with hindsight, I do feel it was pretty out of the ordinary.
I was desperate to share the news of his arrival but I couldn’t remember any of the details, my first text simply read ‘he’s here, he’s called Rocco’. Obviously this led to a barrage of replies with congratulations and requests for the details. It became a compulsion that I had to keep on top of my inbox. I had to enlist the help of my husband and a friend to sort through and reply with something that would end the chat rather than sparking more questions.
I remember really early on feeling like a ‘super-mum’, I was acing life, breast feeding was easy, I felt ‘recovered’ from my traumatic birth quickly and couldn’t wait to get started with motherhood. I was discharged late at night, no-one picking up that I was perhaps a bit too happy, too recovered from a traumatic birth. I wasn’t worried about not sleeping, I thought I didn’t need it. I can tell you now, 4 days with no sleep at all is not good for anybody, there’s a reason sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. There were things that, at first, didn’t seem to be a problem, my ability to rush around like a headless chicken doing anything and everything that needed doing. I was euphoric, so unbelievably happy, I talked non-stop at super speed, sang at the top of my voice and got excited about everything. I ate food I hated previously and believed childbirth had transformed me overnight. I can’t really remember but I think there were also moments of sadness, self-doubt and worry mixed in with the euphoria.
After these initial first days we had intervention from the crisis team in the form of sleeping tablets and anti-anxiety medication. This was thanks to my midwife who visited on day 4 and immediately identified Postpartum Psychosis. Unfortunately, her opinion didn’t count for much and the crisis team felt it was a simple case of sleep deprivation. In the coming days however, it became apparent the medication was ineffective and things escalated.
I suffered severe confusion, I couldn’t remember basic facts about the birth, worried that I’d forget Rocco’s name or birthday. I answered questions like a robot, repeating back what people said, trying to give the ‘right’ answer, looking to hubby to speak for me. It would be months before I would feel fully comfortable talking for myself. I tried to make sense of my thoughts by writing things down, sometimes using my ‘red book’ as a way to communicate with others. I would lose track of what I was thinking or saying halfway through. I lost control of the things I said and verbalised almost everything that came into my head. I can’t remember all the things I said, I just know I followed it with ‘but I wouldn’t normally say that’. I’m pretty sure some of it was upsetting to others but my family either can’t remember or don’t want to tell me, I’m not sure which.
I set myself and others tests to try and grasp normality: if I do this and this happens, it means this. Unfortunately I often didn’t have a clue what things meant and seeing as nobody else knew they were being tested, this system was destined to fail. I thought hubby and I had some form of code with which to communicate, it turns out that neither of us knew what this code was. Of course this made our interactions confusing for both of us.
I had hallucinations where hubby’s face morphed into Rocco’s and became obsessive about how alike they were. I had religious delusions where I believed God was communicating with me. I thought I’d found some kind of enlightenment through the experience of childbirth. I found hidden meaning in songs, tv programmes, things people said or did. I thought everything I heard or saw was about me, I identified so much with the lyrics in songs and believed they were written for or about me.
I knew I was seriously poorly the day that an image of me throwing Rocco through the window flashed through my mind. It terrified me and almost involuntarily I verbalised it to hubby. I can still picture the image I saw in my mind now, it is something that will haunt me forever. It wasn’t like I was contemplating actually carrying it out, or threatening to do it, I just had a vivid image of it happening and became terrified of what I might be capable of. It is something that I still feel embarrassed about and ashamed by and I almost left it out of my story completely. But that doesn’t undo it, it is something that happened and in a way, it is fairly important in my story. It certainly got me noticed, although no one really took me seriously and the GP laughed and joked about it, ultimately it was a comment that couldn’t be brushed off or ignored.
I experienced hyper sensitivity, being aware of every noise, every movement in the house. I questioned every car that went past, every phone call, every voice. I was convinced there was some conspiracy against me, that my family were tricking me. This turned into me tricking them, pretending to take my medication, spitting it out or throwing it on the floor. I couldn’t bear to be around everybody but couldn’t stand being alone either. I would panic and shout for hubby to come back within minutes of him leaving me. The house felt so busy with our families helping out and health professionals popping in and out, sometimes it just felt like too much.
I have a vague memory of being sat in a heap at the top of the stairs, screaming, crying and struggling against hubby who was trying to help me. I lost my trust in everybody. There was a scary moment when my husband wanted to take Rocco and I refused, terrified he was going to be literally taken away, I clung on to him, squeezing tighter and tighter until hubby was terrified himself. He was watching me turn into a stranger and feared for the safety of his newborn son.
At some point in the first week I had a visit from a psychiatrist, I was in bed and he came up to my room, at first I refused to look at him. After a while hubby insisted that I look up at him while he talked. He was stood in front of the window and was difficult to see but he was very expressive with his hands. My psychotic mind took this to mean he was using sign language to communicate with me. The only logic behind this was that I had recently passed my BSL level 2. I stopped listening to his words and watched his hands instead which of course, made no sense. The only thing I got from him was ‘one thing – I need to talk to hubby’. This manifested into an obsession where I frantically repeated the sentence over and over, louder and more manic until everybody else left us alone.
Eventually a meeting was called for all the health professionals to meet with me. I was obviously apprehensive about this and I remember talking to my midwife before the meeting, no matter what I said or any way I behaved, it didn’t seem right to her. I could tell she thought I was still seriously poorly but I felt kind of ok. I’m not sure how much of me was trying to be normal and how much was me believing I was normal, but I was trying to convince everyone that I wasn’t that ill. Even if the midwife wasn’t convinced by me, the psychiatrist and GP were. They prescribed me anti-depressants, had a laugh and a joke with me and sent me on my merry way.
I don’t remember what happened next but I’m told I cried for three days solid before the one person I really remember from the crisis team decided enough was enough and secured me a place in an MBU, 60 miles from home. I agreed to go, even though I thought I was being admitted to an adult psychiatric ward and would be leaving Rocco behind. At the time, I thought that was it, I had gone ‘mad’, would never recover and would become the subject of gossip, whispers and rumours. Luckily I was wrong and going to the MBU turned out to be the best thing that could have happened. I’ve written about my experience there in a seperate blog. I was there for two full weeks, on home leave for a third then finally discharged. I wasn’t ‘better’ but was well enough to continue recovery at home. I thought things could only get better now, they couldn’t possibly get worse, surely? But how wrong I was. A few weeks later, I truly hit rock bottom. But there begins part 2 of my story and a seperate post altogether.