PTSD, a well-known and documented disorder associated with survivors of war. Except I’ve never been to war, or have I? I suppose I have, but not in the conventional sense that one envisions when those four letters are uttered.
I was cleared of Post-Partum Depression a few weeks after Charlotte’s birth. The possibility that it or other psychological conditions could appear at a far later stage didn’t even occur to me. It wasn’t something I was aware of. So when I started feeling different, when the high levels of frustration, anger and lack of self-worth started becoming overwhelming, I felt deeply embarrassed and ashamed. I felt as though I was a failure, I didn’t want to disappoint my loved ones, all who so often commented about how strong I was, how well I had dealt with the cards we’d been dished out, how well put together I was under such trying situations.
At this point our daughter had begun exhibiting signs of Oral Aversion, I begged, I pleaded, I consulted, always to be told all was fine, all was well, she would grow out of it, I just had to push harder and get her volumes in. So when she didn’t, when it got to the point where both she and I felt hopeless, she gave up and I grew quietly desperate and in a twisted way, resentful. I had levels of stress and pressure that I had never experienced before and was prescribed mild antipsychotic drug, sounds lovely doesn’t it.
Instead of really focusing on what was happening, I placed all my focus and energy on our daughter and her recovery, I put myself, my husband, our marriage, business, and friendships, everything on the back burner and focused on my daughters’ recovery. I was so unbelievably proud of her progress, yet when we had bad days or bottles I would lose my mind completely. I could smile outwards to the world, but inside I felt hollow.
I tried to hide and block the warning signs, both from myself and loved ones. But one can only hide something so dark for so long before it explodes. A few months ago, just after my daughter started drinking again, we had a bad few days, I went into overdrive and a beloved person in our lives stepped into the scene. I was whisked off to a doctor who bluntly stated I was most definitely suffering from delayed Post-Partum Depression and PTSD, he prescribed medication and just before we were sent on our way he relayed a story of a mother he had dealt with years before who suffered from the same levels of stress and one day, lost the plot, smothered her child and buried her in the backyard, her psyche was so damaged that on her husband’s return home she had no recollection of even having a daughter. I. Was. Terrified. I cried all the way home, I was too terrified to be left alone with my daughter, I couldn’t sleep for days, too afraid that I would turn into that woman, that I would turn into a monster and never even remember what I had done. That story still haunts me.
There were days, sometimes even weeks where I wouldn’t have been able to tell you when last I had brushed my hair, taken a shower, or even brushed my teeth. The knots in my hair were so bad that dreadlocks had formed and I was left with no choice but to chop my long locks off. I couldn’t be bothered with looking presentable, wearing makeup or putting on a clean set of clothing. I had a very public blog about our daughters successes, all that we had conquered. Without even realising it, I had placed even more pressure on myself to be the perfect, strong successful mom to our miracle child, for all the eyes that were watching, supporting and following us.
We live in a generation of sharing, social media is such a powerful tool. Daily we are exposed to what the ideology of parenting is, happy children, happy parents, outwardly smiling faces, shared precious memories and moments, even in times of trouble you will see a parent beaming about how blessed they are in spite of their circumstances. To be surrounded by this unrealistic perception of what parenting is expected to be places immense pressure on those who are simply not coping. Nobody shares the darker moments, everyone is too ashamed to admit that sometimes, it is all just too much and we need to cut ourselves some slack.
My levels of stress bubbled in the confines of our home to the point where it could no longer be contained. It bubbled over when friends or family came to visit. It started bubbling over in public, I could no longer pretend all was well, and still, I was in denial of what was happening. Until one evening a short while ago.
I lay in bed looking at my husband and daughter asleep, side by side, sleeping in identical positions and the only thought that came to mind was that they would be better off without me. I wondered how long it would take for her to forget me, I wondered how long it would be before he found a new partner, someone who could provide our daughter with the love and patience that she deserved, someone with whom he could share his life, his passions and his daughter with. I had no idea how I would end it, but at that moment, I believed it would be better for everyone if I just went silently into the night. I switch off the lights and lay in the dark listening to them sleeping peacefully. I had a thousand thoughts floating in my mind that night. In the morning though as I fed our daughter and looked into her beautiful eyes I realised that any act of removing myself from their lives would only alleviate my hurt and pain, it would serve no positive purpose in their lives whatsoever.
It was time to admit to myself that I was hurt, damaged in a sense and it was time to start healing, for my sake and that of my daughter and our marriage. I’m not ashamed to admit to having started seeing a psychologist on a regular basis. I’d had brief consultations in the past but had never received the unbiased counselling which is required. It was time to rebuild our lives, and in order to do that I needed to find myself and forgive myself.
There are moments spent with my family and friends that I regret, that I wish had never taken place, but I’m making peace with the fact that what has been done is done, it is how I handle those memories and how I react in the future that will count. What matters is to let go of the hurt, pain and fear. What matters is to rediscover who I am, what my passions are, what drives me, what excites and inspires me. In spite of being a mother now I am still an individual, something that I think we can all too often forget along this path of motherhood. Without self-worth how are we to expect ourselves to be of any worth to anyone else?
Will the healing happen overnight? Most likely not, the road to recovery and self-discovery is a long one and there will be bumps along the way. But I am learning that it is not the bump itself that matters, but how I react to that bump that will make all the difference.
I had a chat with a friend a few days ago. I popped in for a cuppa and she took one look at me and knew immediately what was going on. She sat me down and relayed her own story to me. I wanted to jump from that couch and hug her, I wanted to cry. What she told me helped me realise that I was not alone, I wasn’t losing my mind, and I wasn’t the worlds’ most terrible mother. I was simply human and experiencing the side effects of mass levels of stress that many parents of medically fragile children can relate to. We become so all consumed in our childs’ health and wellbeing that we forget about our own wellbeing, some see the warning signs earlier, some cope perfectly well with it, some like me realise before it’s too late and for others help doesn’t arrive in time.
Why do I write about this deeply personal aspect of my life? Because I want other parents to know how easy it is to lose yourself, it starts slowly, it is so subtle that you aren’t even aware that it’s occurring, until one day in the middle of the night you decide your family is better off without you. For me it started years before we even conceived our daughter but I never paid attention to the warning signs, there is always someone else to look after, to take care of. And after all, it is expected of one to be selfless in giving time to others, but I’m realising that it is healthy to be a little selfish as well, to place yourself first now and again, for your own health, wellbeing and sanity.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help, insist on it in fact. If you aren’t coping, speak up, you are only human and can only tackle so much at any given time. Do not try to hide it, do not feel ashamed or embarrassed. Do not try to be Wonder Woman, it is not possible to maintain that unrealistic level of output, you will burn out, you will break and besides, how many of us could really rock that figure hugging outfit that she dons at any rate?!
I have spent months trying to hide my issues out of shame and guilt, the belief that I would be seen as a failure and disappointment to my family, that I would be seen as a weak or an unfit mother. The result is that I was turning into the exact person that I was attempting to not be seen as. You are not alone, you are surrounded by so many people who love you and want to help, who have probably seen the warning signs themselves but are too polite or scared to intervene and offer assistance. You are worth it, and you deserve to feel whole again.