4 ideas for mums recently diagnosed with postnatal mental illness

It was the summer of 2015 in regional Australia and I was at my mum’s house in her full time care. My GP had diagnosed me over the phone with a psychotic episode and severe postnatal depression. I was in the local system for mental health crisis having flipped it one evening when I started to walk to the bus stop to travel ‘anywhere, West’. However the nearest psychiatric support was in a regional centre some 2 hours away in the Eastern direction. Somehow my mum convinced me to get into the car and go with her to the local hospital. We were discharged over 5 hours later at midnight with a dose of sleeping medication and the assertion that if I wanted help I would need to go back to Canberra because ‘there are no services out here’.

I was in my mum’s care as my husband was afraid of me hurting myself, or worse, our innocent, bubbly little 4 month old son. I was in a state of disrepair- I wasn’t showering, eating properly or sleeping, and these were all signs on top of the weird things I was saying, to indicate that I was not well. Not well at all.

You know how the advice to new mums is to ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’? Well I was doing everything but sleeping. I was using that time to self medicate, watch TV, clean the house. Oh, I was so obsessed with a clean house it was the brunt of my arguments with my husband. Looking back now I cannot believe that a man can go through so much with their partner and still come out loving them. Mr A is the strongest man that I know.

It took until almost 3 months before I was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis resulting in Bipolar I Disorder. This was a relief as we were able to start working on proper treatment and management methods. I have a few ideas for mums with a recent diagnosis that helped me in coming to terms with a postnatal mental illnesses.

#1 Reach out to friends and family

Before I braved the 5 hour trip back to Canberra from my mum’s house in regional Australia, Mr A called all my friends in the area and asked if they would be on a weekly rotation list to help support my transition. This was really important to my recovery as the psychiatrist would only let me stay in community if I had 24-hour care while the medication worked. It was the alternative to hospital care. I was on the list for the hospital however it never eventuated.

So my friends and extended family took it turns to come and hang out with me and Master X. As the weeks went on the visits became shorter which allowed me to get used to being with bub on my own. A supported reintroduction into motherhood was essential to my recovery as I needed to trust that I was not going to hurt myself or the little man.

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#2 Make a self-care list

I forgot what it meant to undertake basic self-care like brushing my teeth, showering or eating regularly and it go so bad that I was not even bothering to dress myself before leaving the house. I would go for a walk around the block to let off some steam, in my pyjamas from three weeks ago. Delightful. Mum worked with me on making a list of things that I must do everyday in order to begin healthy habits to look after myself. If I was not looking after myself then how could I expect myself to look after a baby?

My list looked a little like this: Self Care Saturday #1

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#3 Make some you time

Important to my recovery was allowing myself time everyday for me. It could be something like 10 minutes of colouring in, reading blogs, writing my book or having a bath. I had a whole list of things that I enjoyed doing and when I found that being a mum was too hard I learnt to put baby in their cot and walk out, put on some headphones and give myself a maximum of three songs to calm down and do one of my activities. It didn’t always work but it was enough of a break for me to be able to safely handle Master X’s bad moods. Some of these things include:

  • go for a swim
  • read a book
  • listen to music
  • colour in/ art
  • call mum/ friend
  • have a cuppa (and drink it while it is hot!)

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#4 Forgive yourself

I felt like a complete loser every time I had put Master X down so that I could calm down and grab some me time. I felt even worse months after I was medicated for the psychotic episode and I realised what a crap job I had done at being a mum for those first few months.

But you know what? Master X was alive and healthy, and so was I.

There are times when we just need to accept what has happened and move on because there is nothing to gain from wallowing in guilt. I did not try to have a psychotic episode and I certainly did not want to have to be in my mum’s full time care, but the reality is that these things happened. Yes they sucked and yes I wish they didn’t happen but I need to take stock of what I do have now and embrace it. There is some element of guilt which I think will take a long while to go away but I am working on it. Forgiveness is part of life and especially as a parent with our children – and we deserve it from ourselves too.

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