I am many things. I am a mummy, a wife, a daughter, sister, granddaughter, friend, colleague, boss, customer, enemy (possibly) and acquaintance. I am sometimes shy, sometimes brash, mostly considerate, a bit of a gossip, a lover of family, a loyal Marks and Waitrose shopper, a knitwear fanatic and helpful whenever I can be.
I also am, or rather have, bipolar!
I was diagnosed in 2008 after having a breakdown and have been learning to deal with it since. I’ve had a few years of massive ups and downs but since my early 20s I have got a good grip on my mood swings without the use of medication. Ian and I have researched almost everything to do with bipolar and have learnt to recognise the warning signs of an oncoming episode, as well as possible triggers and best ways to deal with it. I no longer spend my maximum credit card allowance on shopping sprees, attempt to buy houses abroad, go driving around at ridiculous speeds or attempt/ contemplate suicide.
Being pregnant, however, made all of my worries and instabilities resurface. I had fears of being low during pregnancy, having postnatal depression to such an extent that I could not look after my new child, embarrassing or disappointing her when she was old enough to understand, and worst of all, passing on this mental nightmare to my beautiful baby girl.
For the majority of the pregnancy I was fine, mentally anyway! I think I was so busy buying baby clothes and doing her nursery that I managed to keep any dramatic changes in mood at bay. But with six weeks left till my due date I started getting low and all of a sudden everything hit me and made me unable to cope. I was weeks away from being responsible for a tiny being; weeks away from birthing a small Turkey in the complete knowledge that I still cried over paper cuts. It was like all of the confidence I had built up during the previous months was completely dashed. Again and again I doubted my ability to cope and raise this small human being. What if I fucked up? What if I let her down? What if she hated me? Admittedly I was not as low as I had been in the past, but still it felt like a massive weight on my shoulders which made the actual massive weight on my front feel like a massive mistake that I was unable to do anything about now. Having experienced a childhood scarred by my dad’s bipolar disorder, I am especially weary of how my behaviour might affect and impact her now and later on.
Luckily for me, I fell in love with her instantly and every single ounce of me was about being the best mum I could be. So what if I didn’t sleep more than half an hour at a time, and more than 3 hours in total? When people told me to sleep I reassured them that I was fine and resented them for implying that she was naughty for not sleeping. But very quickly people’s unwanted and sometimes stupid advice and criticisms began to get to me. And this was made worse by my constant tears, lack of sleep and patience, the baby that wouldn’t be separated from me, the excruciating pain from my stitches, my inability to poo, and of course the relationship problems that no one mentions to you before you give birth.
Having been together for 9 years I felt that not a lot could get in between me and Ian; we were so alike and got along so well and had still been in the honeymoon phase. But then we disagreed on so much with her and my hormones, inexperience and broken nether regions made me very emotional and snappy, just as his inexperience, worry and inability to breastfeed her made him anxious and snappy with me. What I presumed was meant to be the happiest time of our lives was a very difficult time that saw us arguing more than I had ever expected. Even petty things like how many layers she wore out or who pushed the pram made us battle with each other. Even now, 8 months on, I still sometimes get the green eyed monster after convincing myself that she likes Ian more, or frustrated that he’s interfering and questioning which will also make wonder if he doubts my ability. In the back of my head I know that he is there for me and struggling too, but still these squabbles and fights add to my low moods.
I have had a few lows that have seen me stay in bed for a day, or two, but overall I have surprised myself and others by not letting the urge to roll up in a ball take over me. There are times that I have put my head in my hands and thought that I must be doing something wrong. If she won’t feed properly, or sleep, or won’t stop screaming for no apparent reason I can’t help but question my ability and convince myself that she doesn’t like me. I have no doubt that every new mother must do this, but my confidence is linked to my depression and I know that if I let it get on top of me I will sink into a black hole.
My husband and family tell me I am doing a great job and look great, but when she won’t settle I feel I am an utter failure and when I look in the mirror I see a fat mess that has sympathy eaten her way through enough crap food to put weight back on after giving birth and losing it all. But all of my mental demons are at odds with the fact that to most people I look like I am fine. With a new baby, a loving husband, nice home and new car what could be wrong with me? The idea that I am getting depressed over things going wrong makes me guilty, therefore making me lower and this is a delicate balance of mental stability to juggle.
It doesn’t matter who warns you about how hard being a new mum is, nothing can prepare you for the real thing. And if you have a preexisting mental illness I think it is harder because you are constantly trying to fight being low and mentally beating yourself up for being such a shit mum. And for anyone to walk on eggshells around you makes the whole situation that much more unbearable as you just want to be normal. All of the things that set you off pre-baby are still triggers but have been added to by an entirely new and unpredictable experience. And the lack of sleep and time by yourself to recuperate and collect your sanity and calm yourself down is the cherry on top. Just as you have been shat on, woken up or cried at for the umpteenth time and think you are at your limit, the black dog rears it’s ugly head and makes the whole situation that much worse!
But there is a light at the end of the tunnel! I have found that listening to myself and doing what I feel is right has helped my confidence a lot. Ian and my family know to help me and understand what I am going through without treating me like an invalid or incapable mother like I feared. Also the realisation that Savannah is my baby, and she is not necessarily anything like those in the books, or those of other people and therefore instead of expecting her to be something else, I should understand that she will only do things when she is ready. Attachment parenting has helped with my anxiety over something going wrong, and any worries about not being able to bond with her were put to bay by breastfeeding, sling wearing, co-sleeping and picking her up when she cried. This is not to say that this would work for everyone, but I am very sure that doing this has prevented me getting as low as I could have.
I remember how lucky I am to have her when so many people that I know have struggled to get pregnant and have babies. I look at how quickly Savannah is growing up and how beautiful, clever and adventurous she already is and remind myself that as opposed to fucking her up, I have made this small person in me and then continued to feed and love her into what she is now. We have a life time together, and she will one day be old enough to understand mummy’s problems, and I just hope that I can help to make her an understanding child and adult that doesn’t judge me. As clichéd as it sounds, I know I am doing the very best that I can with her, and I can only do that whilst looking after myself.
And there is no shame in being honest about how you feel. I obviously don’t tell everyone I meet every detail of my mental wellbeing, but postnatal depression and mental illnesses are so common and nothing to be ashamed of. I have learnt that asking for help and admitting defeat is sometimes the only way to build my strength back up again! My bipolar will never really go away, but I will fight as hard as possible to make sure that it has as little impact on Savannah as possible.