Mental Health

For the first time in my life I have the proper treatment for my mental health. It is utterly amazing what medication, and the right help from professionals can do. I have been medicated in the past and/or seen a psychologist and done tests, etc., but never have I felt [consistently] like this.

[side note: one of my pet peeves is when people ask me what happened to make me depressed or anxious... or tell me to be thankful for what I have... I know that sometimes, depression and/or anxiety are triggered by external events but in my case, it was/is primarily a chemical imbalance coupled with my reaction to situations, because of my nature. I know it is just ignorance but I wish that mental illness wasn't so taboo so the general public could be more educated. SO MANY people deal with a mental illness of some kind in their lifetime. It would be so awesome if they didn't feel wrong or alone while suffering]

Part of me can’t help but feel ripped off for the past however long of my life where I’ve struggled and struggled with depression and anxiety. It’s like a veil has been lifted from my face and I’m shocked into the realisation that this is how most other people feel all the time. Sure, I’ve had periods of my life without depressive episodes or major anxiety… but in the past month (since my psychiatric evaluation, mental health plan and consequent med dose increase) it as though I’m finally seeing in colour. Everything is clearer.

But you know what? Aside from happiness, contentment and feeling so damn greatful… the strongest emotion I’m feeling is PRIDE. Because now I can see that I coped so freaking well with that heavy veil of negativity clouding my thoughts. I am phenomenally strong. Depression, especially, is like walking through life in heavy layers of cold, soaking wet clothing with rain belting down on you – but everyone else sees a dry, warm version of you.

Depression robs you of basic motivation. Not in a ‘oh, I can’t be bothered right now’ kind of way… but in a deep-set, heavy, burdensome way that hits you out of no where. Often I would wake up with no will to do anything, I felt utterly hopeless – but I DID. Even though nothing seemed worth it. I kept going. I was a fucking brilliant mama considering the inner struggle I fought most days.

Anxiety weakens you. So alongside all of the above, I found myself doubting every action that I did make. At it’s worst I felt immobilised by fear. Anxiety attacks sure can be traumatic. Despite being mental illnesses, I went so much physically. The scariest part of anxiety attacks and suicidal ideation for me was that I partially dissociated anytime that things got too heavy.

My mind was so cruel to me. I was my own worst enemy. Every doubt and fear was fleshed out in my mind and I turned it in on myself. There was so much self-loathing.. so much pressure and expectations from myself. I think to those who had no idea, I came across as negative and self-centered. However, these thoughts are uncontrollable. Without help, it’s simply a downward spiral.

I had a bit of an epiphany yesterday when I was talking about the future with Mike. I said to him “It’s so strange, since Lucy’s birth I have this overwhelming desire to make our dreams a reality.” I have always been determined, even when depressed, so it didn’t even occur to me that my drive was altered. But here I am with what feels like an injection of ambition and strength. & again, that makes me proud, to think that despite all the chemicals in my brain robbing me of my motivation and ability to positively look forward to the future; I sure fought through it.

It is funny adjusting to not dealing with the symptoms of severe depression or generalised anxiety disorder. Who knows what the future holds, but hopefully this will be my new normal. Depression and anxiety are so familiar to me. Particularly in the past 4 years. I’m still working through some of my internal dialogue and those automatic thoughts that have been my ‘go to’ when things get hard in my life. I feel like I have got to get to fully know this ‘new’ Rachel.

I don’t like what it took for me to truly actively seek help and help myself (I may talk about it in the future). But I’m so proud that I did. I’m so proud and thankful for the people in my life who have helped me through this (especially my husband and sister). Nothing I could do could repay them.

Anyway, I’m writing this quickly to share where I am at… and hopefully to inspire others to actively seek help if they are in that dark place. Things CAN be better. Believe me, I never thought so until proven otherwise. I always said that ‘it’ (depression and/or anxiety) was “just how I am”. & you are so much stronger than you think.

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OH, & I’m 24 today! Happy birthday to me :) Waking up to little Lucy and Cammy cuddles was the best birthday pressie ever!

Beyond Struggling

I wasn’t going to share this but I figured I share everything else so why not.

My doctor has told me to abruptly wean off my medication for my anxiety disorder. I won’t go into the why, but I have been taking 50 mg of Zoloft (sertraline) for 18 months and have weaned of SNRIs and SSRIs in the past… it’s never good.

I’m one of the unlucky people who gets several of the symptoms of SSRI Discontinuation Syndrome.

Browsing the internet, I found this list of the possible side-effects that you can get from withdrawal. I have put the symptoms that I am getting in bold.

Neurologic symptoms include:

  • Dizziness
  • Vertigo
  • Lightheadedness
  • Difficulty walking

Somatic (bodily) complaints include:

  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia

Less common difficulties:

  • Shock-like sensations
  • Parasthesia (skin crawling, burning or prickling)
  • Visual disturbances (blurred)
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle pain
  • Chills

Non-specific mental symptoms:

  • Shock-like sensations
  • Agitation
  • Impaired concentration
  • Vivid dreams
  • Depersonalization – sense of unreality and loss of self
  • Irritability
  • Suicidal thoughts

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Lucky me, right?

I won’t lie, I’m struggling. I can’t drive because of the shocks, vertigo, fatigue and lack of concentration. I can’t be the kind of mum I usually am.

I just can’t wait for it to be over.

Luckily, I am not anxious or panicky so I really feel like this is a good thing in the long run. & I know it won’t last too long, but at this point it feels like every minute longer is too much, you know?

I took my last tablet a week ago and I could be in for another week or more of this. It is phenomenal what one pill can do to your body. Sometimes I feel like an illicit-drug addict, jittery and on-edge.

I know it will be worth it in the end. But I want to break down and give up sometimes. I know I’m doing what I have to, and that I am just being a good Mum, but sometimes I wish that things just were simple.

Don’t we all, I guess.

Nature and My Tot

Our herbs are going well. Our garlic has shoots and the other herbs have grown a lot. We have lavender in the middle of the big pot, surrounded by thyme, coriander, oregano and chives and there is mint in the seperate pot (it tends to take over if planted with other herbs). Cameron enjoys watering the plants with me. He likes catching the dripping water from the strawberry plant that hangs above them.

Cameron and I love going to The Daisy Hill Koala Centre and the native park that is joined to it. It’s such a lovely area with tonnes of wildlife and little walks that are the perfect length for toddler-paced adventures.

Cameron laughs when the koalas scratch themselves and he says “shh” complete with little finger-to-the-mouth action when they sleep (most of the time). We were lucky to see a kookaburra up very close who was hanging out with the koalas.

Cameron spent a lot of the time pointing at the sky spotting aeroplanes and yelling “pane!” rather than caring about the interesting wildlife. I swear he was more fussed by the dog (“wow puppyyyy!”) than the wallabies on our walks.

He does, however, say wallaby and koala now and was excited to answer his Daddy’s question about what he saw today with his attempt at “wallaby baby” (wowaby bay-bee).

Do you see it???

Mostly, I love watching him collect leaves, sticks, stones and leaves along the way, and point out ferns, vines, bark and wildlife. He loves to sit down randomly in the grass.

Tomorrow we have a less-lovely day with a doctor visit and his 18 month immunisations. Wish us luck!

A Sibling For Cammy?

Tomorrow is cycle day (CD) 10. Yes, I (finally) got my first post-partum bleed almost 18 months after birth. I didn’t do anything in particular to encourage this, no weaning or changes in breast-feeding patterns.

This was met with excitement… and shock. I really didn’t expect it. We had decided a couple of months back that we would not forceably wean Cameron.. So this was unexpected.

We had convinced ourselves that we wouldn’t be trying to conceive (TTC) until next year, most likely. And we had really got used to the idea, and even grew to like it and see and the positives of a larger age gap and the extra time with just one child.

However, now that I may possibly be fertile, we have had to re-think it all. Initially, I quickly decided that we should try, knowing that it could take a while and/or I may not in fact be ovulating (which can happen initially with the return of fertility post-partum).

Mike, however, was not so keen. He was so used to the idea of waiting and so I shrugged it off for a few days and thought, yeah, we will wait. But then, when I was out one day, I drove past the hospital that I gave birth in and I started to really think about a sibling for Cameron.

That’s when I realised that I was ready, and talked more to Michael about it. & we decided to take it as it comes and try to conceive but without really focussing on it all. I will test with my ovulation prediction kits (OPKs) from fertility2family so that I know if and when I am ovulating… but otherwise I will just go on as normal.

It’s so different this time around though. I have my boy. I never expected to be so indifferent about falling pregnant. I never expected to be so strong about a future pregnancy, birth and beyond after my experiences with peri-natal mood disorders previously. But things feel so right… either way. I’m sure I’ll get more clucky as Cameron nears 2 but for now I’m content and just pleasantly surprised that my fertility may be returning.

Hopefully I can update soon saying that I got a positive OPK? Fingers crossed??

Survivor

The past week I have found myself stalked by the familiar fog of anxiety and depression. It was lingering around me. The niggling negativity. The numbness. The fear.

But it doesn’t realise how strong I am now.

Although I am medicated for Generalised Anxiety Disorder (including anxiety attacks and Post-partum Depression which followed), I no longer see a psychologist and I manage with lifestyle.. I see myself as a survivor and has someone who has recovered.

I know I will probably have more times like these that remind me of The Darker Times but I hope with my next babies I can enjoy the newborn stage and beyond.

A great easy to understand list of The Symptoms of Postpartum Depression & Anxiety (In Plain Mama English) can be found HERE. I am so proud of how far I have come since a time where I pretty much experienced EVERYTHING on that list.

It is hard, I think, from an outsiders perspective, to comprehend mental illness in many circumstances. People can, without realising or saying anything, have a Glint of Judgment (click for great blog post that explains how it feels!). So many people have more hardships in life.

There are things about my experiences with peri-natal mood disorders that I haven’t shared… things I’m not sure how to express and things I have only remembered as time has gone on.

But, each time I see people finding my blog by searching things like “pnd and anxiety attacks”, ”will i lose my baby if i have anxiety” (and the fact that “postpartum insomnia” & “postpartum anxiety” are the #3 and #5 searched terms that lead people to my blog), I remember that it’s important to keep talking and to keep inspiring mamas and letting them know that this is treatable, temporary and there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

THAT Post

So… this post has sat in my drafts for quite a while. Partly because it’s hard to write, partly because it is hard to share and partly because it has taken me until only recently to be 100% OK with ‘the past’.

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Last year began with a newborn baby who changed my world. The first month or so of his life are a blur of elation and concentrated fear. It sounds dramatic… but that is what it was.

Sleep woman..

I was in such a dark place with postpartum anxiety attacks and depression that now my life is just so freaking perfect comparatively that I can almost not believe it!

It is only now that I look at a newborn and feel warm and fuzzy and… clucky. For a long while there, seeing a newborn made me flash back in my mind to the calls to ambulances, poison-filled-veins and thoughts of driving my car off the road. Even though I was no where near that mental-space anymore. It took me a long time to truly get past the shock of it all.

Starting from such a difficult place in motherhood meant that I obviously grew a lot and learnt even more. As much as I hate to remember the depths of the negative emotions I felt at first; I know that they play a huge part in how amazingly beautiful motherhood is now and has been for most of my journey as Cam’s Mummy.

I remember thinking that I could never be the Mum I want/ed to be and that there was some kind of ‘right’ way to raise my son (and that I wasn’t doing it!). I remember loathing myself. I mean truly hating who I was.

I remember the envy that I would feel when I saw seemingly ‘normal’ Mum’s who had newborns and were themselves. But I soon realised that it is OK and that there are other Mum’s out there (especially through places like Postpartum Progress and #PPDChat on Twitter) like me who truly ‘get it’.

I, only NOW, consider myself a postpartum depression survivor as my PPD relapses occurred in my recovery in the 8th month of Cammy’s life.

Recovery was HARD guys. With plenty of two-steps-forward-one-step-back moments where I’d wake up and not want to face the day… where I’d literally fight my thoughts which were saying “I am a shit Mum” or “I am making mistake/s” or, the worst “I don’t want to be here anymore” as well as the fear of returning to The Darkness.

I still have residual feelings of self-blame for the negativity that is scattered through all the joyful memories… and I still hold some hurt regarding those in my life who did not understand or made things harder. But that too is normal.

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I now have a life without anxiety attacks that is not blackened by PND. EVERY Mumma deserves this and will get there too.

Now, when I see the hospital that I gave birth in (and returned to twice with anxiety attacks and insomnia) I get this beautiful pang of want and remember all the appointments, the I-am-woman-hear-me-roar labour, the first feed and smelling his newborn smell.

I still remember all the difficult things but I know that I’ve worked through a lot of the emotions and I know now what to expect, where to turn to for help and that I can handle anything.

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I really believe that the general public need awareness of postpartum mood disorders (depression, anxiety, OCD, etc). Even as an intelligent young woman who had suffered from anxiety and depression in the past had stereotypical views.

There are too many stereotypes and stigmas attached to mental illnesses, treatments (i.e. ‘happy pills’) and all I wish for sufferers out there is for more support and empathy.

I read amazing, inspiring women who put it ALL out there – even when it is still happening and I am just in awe.

I really admire those women out there who help other PND sufferers because I could barely take care of myself mentally or physically back when I was struggling. All I could do was hate myself, feel guilty, shame myself, take care of my son and wish I felt differently! There was no way I was going to be of any help to anyone.

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So, if you are out there reading this (and I know you are because I see the amount of Mummy’s finding my blog by searching things such as “want to off myself” or “postnatal depression story” and I just want to hug you and say “I get it, you will get through this“) then email me or follow the links in this post to resources such as Postpartum Progress and feel the relief as you realise that you are normal and this is TEMPORARY and TREATABLE.

If you are Australian, like myself, the Post and Antenatal Depression Association (PANDA) helpline – 1300 726 306 – offers support and advice to Australians.  They have recently extended their hours and are open from 9am to 7pm (AEST).   Do not hesitate to reach out for help and call the line.  They are there to support you.

Running On Empty

I need a serious re-fuel. I’m running on empty. It sounds pretty dramatic but.. I’m spent. Today the little things just got on my nerves a little more than usual.

Cameron woke up at 5:30 insisting it was playtime. He then pooped while I was attempting to eat breakfast. Nice. The day was muggy, humid and I felt sticky and blah. Cam just whinged most of the day and every whinge wore on my patience that bit more. “That’s enough bubby” was said.. as was “Mummy needs a cup of tea and some quiet time”.

I fumbled throughout the day attempting to feel like my normal self. I tried to pretend I wasn’t over it while my minds eye wandered to a pre-baby self drinking cocktails in a pool in a bikini with no restrictions and responsibilities.

It is all okay though. There are days like this. Hell, there are moments like this in most days during motherhood. That’s life and I’ll re-fuel and be back to my usual self in no time.

But for now… I’m spent. & I’ll allow myself the mini pity party while I wait for Cameron to sleep and *fingers crossed* he stays down. Maybe I’ll do some yoga, have a long shower and paint my toe nails??… Or maybe I’ll just sleep too.

Update On Me

Being a Mum has taught me a lot about myself. This journey of motherhood that has really only just begun has amplified, adjusted and completely changed aspects of what makes me, me.

It’s pretty expected with such a monumental shift in priorities and life but it has surprised me just how much motherhood has highlighted my flaws and strengths to myself.

I never knew how teaching was so instinctive to me. I never realised how much I adored showing someone the world and all the magic and mayhem. From the routine ‘hum’ of our mornings and evenings to the busy ‘rustle’ of the in-between… I love how my life has transformed and this new role.

I have always been a worrier and have constantly fought this label but motherhood has taught me to embrace it. I frequently find myself saying “I worry, as I do, about…” as I now value how I think things through.

I now see my anxiety as part of what makes me different and important and how I function effectively – rather than the opposite! I think the biggest shift is my reaction to the worry… I now accept it as something that I will think about but can chose to react differently.

I’ve always been quick to judge myself and motherhood is no different. (particularly when I was in the thick of my anxiety attacks aftermath with postnatal depression) But post-PND I have come to realise that if I’m not happy with something that I’m doing/saying/thinking as a Mum; I change it. Or if I’m anxious about some choice, I can validate my worth and decisions.

In that sense, I’m so much stronger than I ever thought. & I look back at what I went through at my darkest points with anxiety attacks and depressive episodes and I now see strength and I’m proud.

Just recently I realised that I was not only a postnatal mental-illness survivor but that I’d gone that step further… I am now in a place I really didn’t feel I could get to… As I drove past the hospital I gave birth to Cameron in I felt that familiar warm pang of want… I’m not blind to all the less-than-great things about pregnancy/birth/motherhood and I still have fears… but I want to do it again.

& that… is pretty awesome. Up until now I’ve said that I want to have more children (we’ve always wanted 3 or 4) but the reality of it scared me more than I admitted. Now I’m in such a great place. Still, it’ll be a fair while (at least half a year or so) until we’ll even consider it – this pre-toddler stage is too great and we want a 2 year age gap… but hey, I’m here in this positive place and it is great.

Also, I’ve lost 5.5 kilos! Yep, Operation Fatty Boomsticks Sexy Mumma is coming along!

I hope you all don’t mind the Racheous update! I’ll update with

“No” & Other Developments

Well we are all finally over our illnesses and I’ve been feeling creative. I tried my hand at sewing with my Mum’s sewing machine and made this toddler apron (it has a sneaky pocket that’s hard to see which I’m pretty stoked about for a first attempt) for Cameron’s 1st birthday. I’m hoping to make a matching one for myself soon. I also sewed a toy bag for the nappy bag and have been experimenting with applique.

These past couple of weeks Cameron’s started demonstrating a pretty big burst of new skills. He’s now using whatever he can find to play peekaboo (as shown above with one of my shirts :P). He puts the item up and waits for me to ask “Where’s Cameron? Where’s Cameron?” and pulls it down quickly with a huge grin. Sometimes he says “theeere” in baby-talk. It’s super adorable.

He’s also been getting pretty inquisitive (nice word for nosey). Here he is spying on the neighbours mowing their lawns. He’s often sticky-beaking around at strangers at the shops and taking interest in what children are doing.

Cam has also started saying some more words more frequently and in context. He now says Mum, Dad, bird, ball, boobah, there and… more recently (much to my dismay) “no” complete with a pointed finger and a stern facial expression. He signs Dad, bird, boobah and finished (only one he doesn’t verbalise or attempt to verbalise).

Cameron has started to test his boundaries with things like crawling to the rubbish bin (big no no) and looking at us as if to say “look what I’m doooinggg” and will mock tell us off before we get a chance to do so to him. Mum said he reminds her of me at his age and said “good luck”. Karma :P

Cameron dances now and still does little conductor hands. He makes noises along to the music (learnt that one from his cousin Jolee) and prefers different songs.

He stands without support for short periods of time quite often now but still isn’t attempting to walk much. He’s too fast and efficient at crawling really :P

Cam is a changed boy when it comes to solid foods! He’s consistently eating large lunches and huge dinners as well as some snacks and 5 big breastfeeds a day. I’m hoping this means a growth spurt as his weight gain is super duper slow-to-non-existant.

& to finish with the sweetest of sweetest things… Cameron now randomly kisses us. He started a month or more ago with kissing when prompted particularly upon going to sleep and waking up which was/is gorgeous. But now he’s started crawling up to Mike and I during play times, standing up and kissing us. He’s such a sweetheart. He’s a real snuggler too and very affectionate by nature. I’m very lucky to have such a cuddly cutie.

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Smile

“You look happy”
“I am”

Cameron is starting to really come into his own lately. He just seems more confident, social and independent. Sure, he’s still my clingy bub but he’s been suprising me.  

For instance, he crawled up to his kindergym instructor and gave her a cuddle after only having met her once. He adores my sister and is happy for me to do whatever I like while she plays with him. He loves playing alone with his cousins.

I was baking the other day and taking care of my nephew and niece when I was witness to the sweetest thing… I hear pitter pattering on the tiles and giggles and see three little bodies crawling around the corner. Cameron was in the middle, very chuffed while Jo’lee chuckled along crawling beside him and Jayka counted their ‘steps’ together as he crawled on the other side. It made my sigh and as I kneaded dough and asked Cameron what he was doing I realised I felt super-duper-Mumsy.

It’s so lovely spending time with my nephew and niece. Jayka kills me with his cuteness. Like how he calls watermelon “naughtymelon” (nothing to do with it being ‘naughty’… just how he pronounces it) and how they both circle me as we play “I’ma getcha!”. Jayka has taken an interest in me breastfeeding Cameron:

“Hi Te-Raychoo, whatcha doin Te-Raychoo?”
“I’m feeding Cameron special milk”

& so he now asks and talks about ‘special milk’ a lot and is so adorable. He’s very inquisitive about Cameron.

Cameron has gained more weight (and has started eating a bit more… which is great because he was managing next-to-nothing for a while there) and has finally hit 8 kgs! Big accomplishment for him but still very modest compared to the ‘average’

I on the other hand have been losing weight. I’m down 2.5 kgs and counting and doing my best to be healthy and get fit.

Cameron now dances when he hears fun music. His dancing is really just bouncing with conductor hands but it’s pretty much the cutest freaking thing ever.

He’s loving birds at the moment and signs bird whenever he sees one. He even signed bird when he saw a bird figurine in the shop the other day. We aren’t sure if it’s coincidence or not but he’s also said “bih” when signing it a couple of times.

His clearest signs that are used in context regularly are definitely “Dadda” (which he has said verbally too in context) and “finished” which is almost always used in conjunction with his dislike for solid food. Although “boobah” (milk) and “Mum” are signed infrequently and he waves a lot but rarely in context. Our latest signs that I’ve introduced are cat, book and ball which are the things he’s taking a lot of interest in recently.

Speaking of signing, I won the “Sign It, Baby!” DVD giveaway on Hip Little One which I’m super stoked about! It’s an Australian baby sign language DVD and I’m so looking forward to getting it and seeing how it is.

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