Category Archives: Personal Experiences

Ruth’s story: I was diagnosed with bipolar after my miscarriage

Many mothers fully recover from postpartum psychosis, but some face a long road to recovery. I am one of those mothers, and my journey has been long and hard. But today, my life as a mother is wonderful and fulfilling.

My story starts in the autumn of 2015 when I miscarried in the ninth week of pregnancy. The grief that followed my loss was engulfing. It consumed me. I found myself crying for over an hour at my work desk, at a Chinese takeaway and relentlessly at home. I was crying pretty much all the time.

Naturally, the loss of my baby left me shattered, but the depths of my despair went well beyond the pain of loss. I knew something was seriously wrong.

After several weeks of severe hopelessness I visited my GP. She stressed that the depression I was feeling was emotional rather than hormonal, and sent me away with a month’s supply of antidepressants. The tablets sadly had little effect, and my depression took a turn for the worse.

In December 2015, approximately 8 weeks after I miscarried, I became suicidal and floridly psychotic.  Convinced I had spread SARS across the UK, I believed I was on death row and facing execution by the electric chair.

Delusions of torture soon followed, along with hallucinations of flies flying around me. People’s faces would appear disfigured. Confused and clinically depressed, I was admitted to hospital for assessment, and would go on to spend three weeks as an informal patient on my local psychiatric ward.

This devastating experience had been my first episode of postpartum psychosis.

Despite making a full and speedy recovery, I went on to have two further psychotic episodes before the birth of my son in 2019.

One experience was so violent I had to be sectioned by the police. I was initially diagnosed with Acute and Transient Psychotic Disorder, and was advised by consultants that if I managed stress and sleep better I could prevent further episodes.

Managing stress and sleep was becoming easier, and in 2018 I found myself unexpectedly pregnant with my son. I was ecstatic. At 35, and with two failed pregnancies behind me my hopes of becoming a mother had been rapidly fading.

My son was my miracle baby. My rainbow baby. But my pregnancy was tough. Once again, I began bleeding heavily early on. Convinced I was going to lose another pregnancy I developed severe OCD. I would endlessly wash my hands, and avoided a wide range of foods – believing I would catch listeria. My anxiety peaked quickly and I becamepsychotic. Feeling very paranoid, delusions followed. I briefly believed sewage was leaking from the sink in my bathroom.

Concerned for my wellbeing, my Community Mental Health team linked me in with the newly established Perinatal team. I met with the Perinatal Consultant Psychiatrist early in February 2019 (2 months before my son was due). I was 31 weeks pregnant.

It was a devastating meeting. The consultant diagnosed me with Bipolar Type 1 disorder which she believed was triggered by the miscarriage in 2015. She went on to inform me that, as I had had a previous episode of postpartum psychosis, my chance of becoming acutely unwell after giving birth was 50%. I was urged to start antipsychotic medication immediately.

Because of my anxiety and previous failed pregnancies, I flatly refused, and hesitantly agreed to start medication immediately after my son was born. I went into labour a week later, and gave birth at 35 weeks. My son was tiny. Weighing only 5lb10oz…but he was healthy. And I had avoided a severe psychotic episode thanks to the amazing Perinatal and Maternity teams who had managed my labour like a military operation.

The perinatal team were concerned, however, that I was showing early signs of postpartum psychosis. I therefore spent a week on the labour ward and was admitted to the nearest MBU in the neighbouring county. I stayed at the MBU for three weeks.

Initially I was elated. I felt I had won the battle against postpartum psychosis, and I had a beautiful, healthy son. But later I struggled in the MBU, finding it a daunting experience. I was a new mother away from family and friends…and my hometown. It was not how I expected to spend the first weeks as a mother. But I found solace in the unit. I realised I was not alone, that other mothers had suffered like me, and that we had a huge support network to rely on.

As hard as it is to admit, I did struggle to bond with my son after birth. My traumatic pregnancy, combined with my shock diagnosis, had flawed me. I wondered how I would cope – if I could cope.

My elation at beating a full blown second postpartum episode was dashed last May. Psychosis had finally caught up with me. The anxiety of being a new mother, combined with fears relating to the Covid-19 outbreak tipped me over the edge. Fortunately, this time I was on medication. This meant the episode was less aggressive and slower to progress. It also meant I had a lot more insight – I knew I was unwell. I did not need to stay in hospital and was able to see my son (at my mum’s house) regularly. This was empowering for me as I realised I could now manage bipolar psychosis.

Happily, I am now in remission. The longest period of remission since 2015. I am aware however that medication does not eliminate the risk of relapse, and I accept I am on medication long-term.

Life has changed vastly for me since my miscarriage. I carefully manage my stress levels, and sleeping patterns. I no longer drink alcohol. My once fast-paced, chaotic life has almost ground to a halt. But in losing almost everything, I have found what is most important…health and motherhood.

For years I doubted my ability to move past my episode of postpartum psychosis. It had, at the time turned my life upside down. But I am often reminded of the Perinatal Consultant’s comforting words, “The illness”, she said, “will always be part of you, but doesn’t need to define you”. These words gave me hope, and Action on Postpartum Psychosis have connected me with mothers who have shown me that this is true.

I now see that it is possible to move on from postpartum psychosis. In fact, not only is it possible to move on from, but I now know that I can live a wonderfully fulfilling life. A life full of meaning and purpose. A life as a mother.

 

APP fundraiser story: How cycling boosts my mental wellbeing

Our Partner Peer Support Co-ordinator,  Simon O’Mara, has been incredibly busy raising awareness of postpartum psychosis and raising lots of money for APP by cycling 851 virtual miles.

Here he talks about why cycling is so good for his mental health.

When I get on my mountain bike, riding through narrow tracks at speed, tree branches within an inch of each handlebar, I can’t afford to think of anything else. It’s impossible, in fact. Mountain biking for me, requires technical focus, care and attention, and to let my mind wander elsewhere would be dangerous.

It’s the same with motorcycling, another passion of mine. It’s so good for the soul because when you’re out on the road, you can’t focus on anything else. You need to be acutely aware of the conditions of the road, the weather, other traffic – and of course every move you’re making; it’s critical to keep you safe.

But this need for focus is also why it’s so good for my mental health. The escapism and mindfulness that cycling affords me is invaluable. The fact that it’s good for my physical fitness is merely a by-product for me because, first and foremost, I enjoy it – and that’s why it has such a positive impact on my life and my health – both mentally and physically.

Fifteen years ago, after the birth of our son, my wife was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis (PP) – a severe and debilitating postnatal mental illness. It was a frightening time for the whole family not least because, at the time, we had no real understanding as to what PP was.

It all started in the first couple of weeks after my wife gave birth, I had noticed subtle changes in her mood, but, as a first-time father, I didn’t really know what was ‘usual’ or ‘unusual’ after birth. A few weeks later and these changes took a sudden and dramatic turn for the worse, things became very scary, very quickly.

Over the next few days, she woke in the early hours ‘ghost like’, her mood had plummeted, she was anxious, confused, pacing around the house, having delusions and hallucinations, ultimately it all ended in a 999 call.  I found myself in complete turmoil and throughout our journey with PP, had times where I went through every emotion possible - from being terrified, to feeling isolated, worried about the future and even feeling guilt-ridden for decisions I’d had to take; with little sleep, the pressure I felt was enormous, however, the support we received from family, friends and eventually specialist health professionals treating my wife was vital.

Postpartum psychosis as a father or partner, feels very much like a journey with a number of possible stages, from the initial crisis, potential admission to hospital, returning home and recovery - all of which bring different feelings and concerns to the fore. Just holding it together, having to keep strong for your wife or family members can sometimes see you not considering or letting on how worried you are, which in turn can lead to fathers suffering with their own mental ill-health.

It goes without saying that, whilst in the midst of the illness, mountain biking wasn’t really an option. I did give it a go while my wife was in hospital, but I couldn’t concentrate and was too acutely aware of everything that was going on at that time, so I wasn’t able to give cycling all my attention and I wasn’t able to get the enjoyment and mental health benefits from it.

When my wife came home, as her partner, I still had real worries about whether she might relapse and how we would cope if she did. I wondered if things might be drastically different for us and how life might be in the future. So it wasn’t until she was firmly into her recovery journey that I was able to stop and think about how I was coping, how I was feeling. It was during this period of my wife’s recovery that mountain biking became a significant part of my own recovery from the stress and trauma that PP had on our family.

But it isn’t even just the time that I’m on my bike when I notice a change in how I’m feeling. Even when I’m putting the bike back on the car, ready to head home, I feel refreshed, ready to deal with anything that life throws at me. It not only gives me those moments of mindfulness, it re-sets everything and helps build longer-term resilience.

This is why I was so keen to combine my learnings from our family’s experience with my love of cycling to raise awareness and funds, and to campaign for specialist services for postpartum psychosis. Since October, I’ve been cycling a virtual route of 851 miles to demonstrate the gaps in service provision around the UK and the miles many families have to travel to access this care.

 

I’m cycling on behalf of APP. If you’d like to sponsor me, visit my JustGiving page for more information.

POETRY: By Ruth Stacey

Ruth Stacey experienced postpartum psychosis in 2019 and spent time recovering at the Jasmine Lodge Mother and Baby Unit in Exeter. Here she shares two poems.


Is it weird when I'm ill?

Is it weird when I'm ill?

Do the family calls dry up like a lake desperate for water?

The dehydrated ground visible  - vulnerable

Or do the calls pile in, muddled and rushing like a river due to burst its banks?

Something must give eventually.

I have already 'given'

Entering my weird world of an altered reality, a fake truism, must disturb, peturb, frighten, confuse

The focus of our family pulled in - a black hole of queries and questions

Do we go along with her illness?

Do we challenge her new, temporary, fragile belief system?

No, you just tell her that she's right and everything will be alright:

Safe, safe, safe

Love, love, love

Desperate eyes, a heart beating so irratically that it doesn't know whether to feel excited or scared,

Whether to run or challenge or smile or laugh

Doing all perhaps, a simultaneous level of 'scare' to the time-shattered onlookers

No time for your own grief.

No time to shed your own harrowing tears

Not now although

It. Will. Come - I promise

Stick with me and my unpredictable beast-of-an-illness

Laugh when I'm crying and cuddle me like I was your baby again because this world is ultimate so new to me

I don't know what to do!

I don't know how to feel and I keep getting it so very wrong

Put your lives oh hold, onlookers - dry your precious tears and lend me your strength

Because I'll be back again

I just need your presence and love and hugs and reassurance to plug the terrible holes in my mental reality

My mental instability

I'll love you back forever

Is it weird when I'm ill?

Because, I'm so very sorry


MBU

MBU:
Distant yet near
Heart-renching, heart-healing
Confused-focus
Hair-pulling thanks
Deniable admission
Crazed sanity
Compelling kindness
Suffocating slowness
Halted healing
Psychosis revealing
Manic mothering
'Too tight' cuddling
Painted horizons
Hypermanic revelations
Doors closed, doors opened
Small world widened
Rosemary-scented serenity
Glass house hospital
So cared for yet utterly lonely
Feisty Independence
Utter dependence
Mouth fed, baby and me
Medication denial
Medication dependable
Sleep saviour
Clock-watching
Corner-cowering
Gritted teeth
forced smiles
Form filling
Mindfulness
Food hatred
Food lover
Baby carer - obsessor
Never neglector
Nightmare, daymare
Dream giver dream taker
Minutes rush
Days drag
Where even am I?
Where are you all?
Reflection redemption
Repeated affirmations
I can, I Will, I am...
MBU - how can what seemed a nightmare have been my saviour?
I felt like the unluckiest person alive,
Our baby doomed
A new reality of utter heartfelt appreciation, adoration
How time changes and heals
And a warmth glows fondly in the hole that was once was,
A year on reflection


 

Toni’s story: I know from experience that Mother and Baby Units are vital for recovery from PP

When I gave birth to my daughter in 2019 I experienced severe postnatal depression and ended up staying in a Mother and Baby Unit (MBU) for seven weeks. It was a long way from where we lived so I was grateful to be coming home with my baby girl when she was nine weeks old. I had a great couple of months and for a while everything seemed perfectly fine. Recovery was ongoing, but there didn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary.

Looking back, however, I can now see what the signs were, but it was hard to recognise them at the time.

For some reason, completely out of the blue, I tried to take my own life. I have no idea why I did it, I don’t know whether it was an impulse or a window of opportunity (I did it when I was alone in the house). I ended up in hospital for 24 hours, saw the crisis team and was sent home.

Soon after, my thinking became really distorted. I kept saying to my husband that perhaps I actually died when I tried to take my life. On reflection, I now believe this was the onset of postpartum psychosis (PP).

There are snapshots of things I remember, like not believing that colours were real. I was questioning the colour of everything – suggesting to my husband that we were seeing different things when we looked at a brown lampshade, for example. I also started believing that my baby daughter had been swapped and the baby I had at home wasn’t mine. And I remember seeing a nursery nurse walk into my neighbour’s house and thinking she was coming to take my baby away.

Strange fears and beliefs from when I was a child started to re-emerge as well. I remember telling my dad that he needed to lock the door before ‘Hammer Man’ came to get me (Hammer Man was a name we made up for someone we were scared of as kids – as you do when your imagination runs wild).

I still didn’t realise that there was anything wrong with me. However, I went to bed one night, feeling perfectly calm, woke up at 5.30am and got myself ready for a night out! I was doing my hair, makeup, putting evening clothes on and I was really high and full of energy.

Because my daughter was about six months old by this point, we weren’t really alert to the risk of any new potential mental health problems as so much time had passed. My husband thought I was unusually quite happy, but he put it down to exhaustion. Plus, he had to take our son to school that day so I was home alone with our baby girl.

I remember feeling really happy, singing and dancing around the house with a photo of my son in one hand and one of my daughter in the other. I couldn’t see that this wasn’t normal behaviour for me at the time.

Luckily, I had an appointment with the perinatal mental health team that day. A nurse came out to see me and she immediately spotted the signs that all was not well. I remember she told me that she had to nip to Morrison’s and she asked me if I wanted anything. Obviously, looking back, I can see that she was going to make some calls and arrange to get me to hospital, but at the time I just went along with it, thinking it was normal to nip out to a supermarket half way through a mental health appointment.

The nurse returned shortly afterwards with the dummies I had asked for, as well as some chocolate for me. She stayed with me and explained that I needed to go to Ward F at our local psychiatric hospital for an assessment.

Strangely, and probably because I was so high, I was over the moon about going to hospital. It didn’t register that it was because I was unwell, and I just felt excited about being able to talk to everyone there.

About a week after I was admitted my mood changed dramatically from being really elated and happy to feeling empty. Unfortunately, after thinking they’d be able to get me a bed back on the MBU I was in a few months earlier when I had PND, they weren’t able to secure me a place. We didn’t have an MBU in Wales which is why I was so far away from home the first time I was hospitalised, but now I couldn’t even get in there. I felt a strong sense of rejection, loss and emptiness at that point. My mania had dropped and depression was hitting me again.

After about four weeks I was thankfully able to go home full time under the care of my perinatal mental health team, who continued to support me throughout.

Hospital environments are very different to being in an MBU, and I really didn’t want my children visiting me on the ward. MBU’s have more of a homely, comforting environment, and the facilities are geared up for mums with young babies and visiting families. Hospitals, on the other hand, can feel much more clinical and hectic, with lots of people coming and going – different patients, doctors, nurses and visitors.

This is why I ploughed so much energy into the campaign to get an MBU in Wales, which we now thankfully have at Tonna Hospital in Swansea. It’s called Uned Gobaith – which means Unit of Hope. Whilst the one in Derby that I went to with depression before PP hit was comfortable, it was almost 300 miles from home. I will never forget the three-hour journey there on the minibus. It was dark, and I remember my husband waving me off - I was so anxious and upset to leave him there. It still upsets me now when I think about that night.

But being so far from home also made it really difficult for my husband to visit and, given the fact he was looking after our son, as well as working full time, I only saw him about once a fortnight.

Having your baby with you, regular visitors, toys for your children to play with and your own private room to bond with your child, combined with the specialist facilities that new mums and their babies need, makes a huge difference for those of us who experience PP. It can actually help us to recover more quickly from the devastating symptoms.

Seeing the new MBU open, and seeing the brilliant surroundings and facilities will hopefully mean that other new mums in my position will have a faster and more comfortable recovery from this awful illness. It’s a real step forward.

 

 

 

 

Alexandra’s story: A doctor said I was probably suffering from the ‘baby blues’

Sometimes, the worst things in life are the things you don’t expect. For me, unexpectedly suffering from postpartum psychosis and severe depression, and spending almost a whole year in a psychiatric mother and baby unit felt like the worst thing that could ever happen to me. However, in many ways, it has also been the best thing…

After getting married to my dream man, James, I was desperate to have a baby. Sadly, the first time I fell pregnant I had an ectopic pregnancy, which led to me losing one fallopian tube and having a severely damaged left ovary. Thankfully, just a few months later, this trauma was all but forgotten, as I found out I was pregnant with my little girl.

My pregnancy certainly wasn’t a breeze, however. I had problems with my back and hips, and now, looking back, I definitely suffered from antenatal depression and anxiety. I would visit a therapist and wonder why I didn’t have ‘the glow’ or why I felt angry and upset - nobody told me that being pregnant can bring on all sorts of mental health issues. The doctors would speak about gestational diabetes and placenta previa amongst other things, but they never mentioned depression to me. Because of this, I looked forward to my pregnancy being over and welcoming my baby girl into the world – thinking that, then, everything would be fine.

But it wasn’t fine.

When my daughter Elena, now five, came into the world, I became seriously unwell and was unable to bond with her.

Shortly after her birth, I began seeing things and hearing things that weren’t really there.

I would go into the bathroom and see blood pouring out of the tap. Then, as I would return to my bed, I would see thousands of cockroaches crawling out from beneath my bed. Spiders seemed to surround me and climbed up my walls. My world became very dark. Funnily enough, I didn’t really do anything about it. I spoke to a doctor friend, who said I was probably suffering from the ‘baby blues’. Baby blues my backside!

Twelve weeks into being a mum and things were still incredibly difficult. I remember it was 8th May 2016, a few days before my birthday. I am also sure it was a Sunday, because we went for Sunday lunch with my parents. It was a really normal day. We came home and I put Elena to bed. The next part of what happened is hazy. I came into our living room and removed my watch. I used the metal strap to scratch my arm. I remember my husband being horrified. James began asking what I was doing and things really escalated. Apparently I started throwing wine bottles around our living room, pulling anything and everything out of the drawers. Understandably, James was concerned and called my mother to come and help. When she came I began screaming at her calling her a whore. Please note that this is something I would never, ever do! Before I knew it, James was restraining me and there were police and paramedics surrounding me. I was taken to the Edinburgh Royal Psychiatric Hospital for assessment, where I was told that if I refused hospital treatment, I would be sectioned under the mental health act.

So, at 3 o’clock in the morning of the 9th May 2016, James drove myself and Elena to St John’s Mother and Baby Unit in Livingston. It was a locked unit for mothers with perinatal mental health disorders. I was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis and told that Elena and I would need to stay there together for a couple of weeks.

A couple of weeks turned into half a year. I believed that I needed to drown Elena and, as a result, I was not allowed to be alone with her. I had to have two people with me at all times. My door was never allowed to be closed and I tried to take my life several times. All very, very dramatic. Following my psychotic episode I went into a deep depression and required multiple sessions of electro convulsive therapy (ECT) to help bring me out of it. I was so depressed that I wouldn’t speak, and my family described me as having very dark eyes and just staring at a wall all day. I was catatonic.

With medication and incredible staff at the MBU, along with my gorgeous husband and super supportive family, I started getting better. Initially, I was too unwell for talking therapy, but slowly, I began to see a psychologist and learn about coping mechanisms such as ‘Decider Skills’ and my world opened up to mindfulness practice and meditation. After half a year, I finally came out of the hell that I was in. Unfortunately, after my second child, I became ill again but it wasn’t psychosis this time. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the incredible staff at St Johns and community support workers. And I don’t believe I’d be here at all if it wasn’t for my husband and loving family. Unfortunately, I only found out about APP and the peer support network after my illness, but I wish I had known about their support back then, because what they do is incredible.

Since my illness I have learnt so much about my wellbeing. Every woman’s experience is different, but for me, wellbeing is not just about health and fitness, something which I believed to be true in my twenties. Wellbeing is so much more; it’s life satisfaction, job satisfaction, having meaningful relationships, taking time for yourself to heal and reflect, having a sense of purpose and a sense of meaning. Whilst, as new mothers, we often hear about how amazing it is to be pregnant and how beautiful it is being a mother, we do not all feel this way all of the time. Unfortunately, not all women have a good start to motherhood – whether that’s because of depression or postpartum psychosis or any other reason. But one thing I really want women going through similar experiences to me to know is that it is TEMPORARY and there is support out there. As a woman, I feel that women supporting women is truly important - especially, when it comes to childbirth and parenting – which is why peer support is key.

My experience of postpartum psychosis literally nearly killed me. But to return to my first paragraph, it has also brought me so many good things too: I live a fuller, more whole and content life. I am resilient and stronger than anyone I know - that might sound cocky, but after everything I’ve been through, it’s true!

I am able to get through literally anything and I am no longer afraid.

One of the most important lessons I learnt is that you either get bitter or you get better. It’s that simple. You either take what has been dealt to you and you let yourself grow and become a better person, or you choose to let it tear you down. We cannot choose whether or not we experience postpartum psychosis, but we CAN choose how to get better with it. The choice doesn’t belong to fate; it belongs to you.

You are not alone. There are people out there. They are called APP. They can help you choose.

Charity’s story: I became obsessed by the idea that the doctors thought I couldn’t look after my babies

In May 2021 I was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis following the birth of our triplet baby girls. I had been hospitalised directly after the planned c-section and kept in hospital with my babies for twelve days. I had very little sleep as the babies were feeding on average every two hours by feeding tube. This resulted in me suffering with exhaustion - a dangerous level of exhaustion in my opinion! Looking back, I think my psychosis started not long after giving birth, as my consultant explained postpartum psychosis can come on soon after the placenta is removed. In my case I had not one, but three impressively sized placentas!

To begin with I was acting unusually elated, adrenaline-fuelled yet detached from the whole experience of childbirth. For the first eight days I was using social media in order to update everyone about the triplets and was hardly ever off my phone, even when I had three babies to admire. After this time I became withdrawn and absconded from social media, I failed to reply to messages and even rejected my family and friends. I became petrified and anxious every time my wife left me alone in the hospital, and I was fixated on being alone all the time. On one occasion, I became extremely tearful when my daughter had her feeding tube reinstated and I was crying constantly and focusing on the miscarriage we had the previous year.

Things started to get much worse however, and I became obsessed by the idea that the doctors and midwives thought I couldn’t look after my babies properly. I’d convinced myself they thought I was ‘mental’ and that they’d take the babies away from us.

On Easter Monday we were finally allowed home and, unlike me, I didn’t tell a soul. Sadly, what was supposed to be a joyous occasion turned to disaster. We were suddenly without the support of the hospital with three 4 lb babies equipped with feeding tubes and with very little sucking reflex. I was petrified. I had extreme anxiety, constantly worrying about the babies dying, how to feed them, how to get them in to a routine, and I was still obsessed about being left alone. I’d ask the same questions over and over, I’d run around the house panicking and doing tasks that didn't need to be done like writing down every tiny detail such as ‘shake bottle with lid on’. I simply couldn’t undertake simple tasks without my disorganised scribblings in front of me.

I became a shell of the strong woman Sarah had married.

At this point I asked the doctors for anxiety medication, presuming what I had was some sort of postpartum anxiety. As I rapidly went downhill I asked Sarah’s mum (a former nurse) to move in with us, but then became obsessed that she’d leave me on my own and, perhaps even more worrying, I started believing that her dog would eat my babies!

I just couldn’t switch off. At night time I barely slept, the babies’ cooing and lullabies going around and around my head. I was panicking about the babies nonstop - wondering if they’d die in the night.

I had paranoid thoughts about my medication, thinking it was being hidden one minute, then believing I was being drugged the next. I was obsessing over magpies and robins in the garden too, and would look out the window in order to find two magpies - because if I saw one, I’d assume death was coming. I would freak out when the babies were being bathed, I’d accuse them of bathing them without me then switch to saying they’d not bathed them.

I’d stopped eating and barely showered. The one time I managed a bath I tried to scald myself just to ‘feel something’, and I became fixated on Nirvana lyrics and Kurt Cobain’s famous quote “it’s better to burn out than fade away”. I’d wear my Nirvana hoodie constantly as I believed it was symbolic. I started telling my family about previous depressive states when I was young, self-harm and an assault - secrets I'd kept all my life were pouring out of my mouth and I was unable to stop it. I just wanted the pain to stop and to be me again.

As time went on I had contact with the perinatal mental health team who came to see me urgently after my family informed them that I had said I wanted to go out and ‘play with the traffic’. When the nurses came to assess me they could see just how paranoid I was. I told the nurses that I needed to go somewhere safe, and it was decided that this would be a mental health hospital as I didn’t want to go to a mother and baby unit (MBU) and take the babies away from Sarah, the closest MBU being many miles away. Sadly, there was no space for me at Longreach or Bodmin Hospital at the time so it was decided I’d remain at home on sleeping tablets as home was my ‘safe place’.

As the days wore on I was convinced everyone was talking in code and that they had a conspiracy against me. I thought people were talking to me through the babies and through animals. Then, I ran away from home and hid in the woods for a while, returning in floods of tears and telling Sarah that I needed help before I hurt myself. I was suicidal.

Sarah was straight on the phone to the out of hours team and my sister came to our home to try to calm me down.

Within hours I was sent two doctors and two Approved Mental Health Professionals (AMHPs).

They assessed me and finally found me a bed at Longreach Mental Health Hospital so I was driven there by the AMHPs that night, in the early hours and voluntarily admitted.

Hospital was scary and my paranoia was through the roof. I was put on antipsychotics and slept on and off for three days straight whilst meeting numerous doctors. I was also anaemic and lacking in folate, which in itself can cause confusion.

I was seriously ill but no-one I knew had heard of my diagnosis Postpartum Psychosis – and I had Postnatal Depression chucked in on top of that too just to complicate things. There were also discussions around possible PTSD from our miscarriage and from some previous bad experiences.

I remained at Longreach for two weeks, my visits with my wife and triplets had to be supervised, and I was given four meals a day to help me put on weight as I’d lost so much. My psychosis continued and, in addition to the paranoia, I had hallucinations, too.

Now, 13 weeks after going home on a week’s leave, and with the right support and medication, I’ve really turned a corner.

Postpartum psychosis is now something I accept and I know now that it isn’t a life sentence – although it does put me at higher chance of getting it again in pregnancy (not that I need any more kids!) and of relapse in the future.

I remain on medication for my diagnoses and am currently being supported by the wonderful Perinatal Mental Health team, the Early Intervention for Psychosis team and I undergo Cognitive Behavioural Therapy once a week.

Although there are still bits missing from my story, I hope that my experiences will help other people and one day I will explain to our three miracles what had happened to me. I just want them to know that I was there in their early days - even though I wasn’t all there.

 

 

 

Katherine’s story: The best view definitely comes after the hardest climb

My husband and I were very lucky in that it didn’t take long after we were married to conceive. When the positive pregnancy test came, my husband was over the moon but I struggled to believe my eyes and sent him to the shops to buy another test! I ended up taking a few before the reality actually sunk in and I could be confident in celebrating, but once it had we were both over the moon!

  

I absolutely loved being pregnant - it was an amazing feeling growing another little human. In the grand scheme of things my pregnancy was a breeze; I had the usual morning sickness but on the whole I felt pretty good all the way through (although, why they call it ‘morning sickness’ is beyond me... I had it all day!)

When I was 35 weeks pregnant lockdown hit the country, so I began working from home and worked up until I was 37 weeks pregnant. My work consumed my time and my thoughts, and if I’m honest, I hadn’t really given the whole idea of labour much thought.

As soon as I stopped working, however, there was a void and I felt quite lost; this meant I had time to think... or should I say overthink!

The idea of labour hit me and to be honest I wasn’t feeling good about it - I was so scared. But in April of the first lockdown, our lovely baby Jude was born. 

Despite the difficult Covid situation, the midwives at the hospital were just amazing and even worked over the time of their shift to deliver our bundle of joy.

In the first few days after birth, like any new mum I was emotionally delicate and felt a spectrum of emotions. My body felt like it had been hit by a bus! But we were in awe of Jude and so excited to bring him home. Naturally, we just wanted to share him with loved ones, but the pandemic meant we couldn’t do this in the way we wanted. I just craved hugs!

When people say in jest “be prepared for those sleepless nights” they are NOT kidding! I was exhausted and definitely suffered from sleep deprivation. Even when I did get the chance to sleep, I was unable to switch off and sleep soundly.

Then, exactly a week after I gave birth, I experienced a psychotic episode. It came on really quickly and escalated - in just ten minutes I went from feeling like myself to becoming a shaking wreck. My thoughts were racing and I was trying to write them down on my phone to get them out of my head but I couldn’t type quickly enough. I didn’t tell anyone about these racing thoughts but very quickly, they turned into delusions.

I believed that tapping my phone rapidly would transfer the thoughts from my head into my phone, and I thought rubbing my hands or tapping on myself quickly would slow down time. I began thinking about God creating the world in seven days and believed I could now understand how he did it. I started to think I was the second coming and that Jude’s birth was linked to this.

I was unable to swallow my food and was convinced that if I flushed the toilet it would trigger a Noah’s Ark type situation.

My mum and husband tried to get me to sleep and rang the hospital where I had given birth as they were so worried about me. They were advised to take me back into hospital. My husband drove us and my mum stayed at home to look after Jude. My delusions became much worse on the way and I believed the car was going to crash and that we would die. I then started to believe that the things that happened to Jesus would happen to me – betrayal, disbelief, crucifixion. I also became confused about who was who, and at one point thought that my husband was my dad.

I was given medication and diagnosed with postpartum psychosis. I woke up the next day feeling confused and I still had some strange beliefs but eventually I was calm enough to be discharged back home with the support of the crisis team.

Over the following months I continued to struggle at home. I experienced a range of emotions, and desperately hoped it would all pass and get better. But it just got worse...

I experienced panic attacks, I lost my appetite, I had blurry vision, mood swings, I felt numb and spaced out, I had constant anxiety and difficulty concentrating. Day to day things such as cooking became impossible as I was unable to process things, and I became obsessive with making lists and tidying. It felt as if the enjoyment had been sucked out of everything. I didn’t know long I could continue to go on for like this. I finally built up the courage to ask for help and admitted myself to a Mother and Baby Unit (MBU) where I spent a total of four months. I was lucky to get a bed just an hour away from home – something that isn’t currently a possibility for everyone and some mothers are admitted to a general psychiatric ward and separated from their babies.

Going to an MBU ensured I was able to recover with our baby by my side, but it was still a difficult journey being in a hospital environment and I found myself watching the clock all day every day and, due to COVID, visits were restricted to three times a week for just one hour per visit.

That being said, the staff were second to none. They were so caring and supportive and ensured you were listened to every step of the way; they were a real credit to the NHS! I also made friends with some of the other mums too, which made life a little less lonely.

It got worse before it got better, however, and my anxieties eventually turned into a severe depression. Now I know that the illness just had to run it’s course, however at the time it felt as if I’d never recover. Sometimes, when you’re in the midst of mental illness, you just can’t see any way out.

I was so home sick that I asked for day release - all I wanted to do was walk along the river. My leave was granted and we did what I’d been dreaming of for so long. For me this was the turning point; it was like the flick of a switch. The fog lifted and for the first time in a long time I felt more like myself. It was only a few weeks after this that I was fully discharged and able to continue my recovery from home with the family.

This is why I wanted to tell my story - to share hope with anyone out there suffering and seeing no way out.

If that’s you, you might not believe me now, but hold on and keep going. I promise it does get better.

And to my friends and family who checked in with me regularly, sent beautiful gifts through the post and held my hand when I was lost I want to say thank you - you helped me find me again.

Being ill for so long and having to fight so hard has given me a different perspective on life; it has made me appreciate and cherish all the little things so much more. Watching Jude grow and learn new things is my greatest joy. The best view definitely comes after the hardest climb.

When I became pregnant the second time around, I was much more sure of what I needed

Fiona Putnam shares her experience of getting pregnant again having experienced postpartum psychosis.

I suffered from postpartum psychosis in 2015 after the birth of my first child, prematurely, at 31 weeks. My episode culminated in a suicide attempt and I stayed on a psychiatric ward and on a Mother and Baby Unit for two months while I put myself slowly back together (with the support of the staff there, my husband, my friends and family).

In 2018, knowing the risk of relapse, I got pregnant again and gave birth to my son. Despite complications with my physical health (I had a dangerous condition called Acreta, where the placenta attaches to the old c-section scar) I remained well, with the support of a fabulous midwife, a prophylactic anti-psychotic, my fabulous mum friends who had been so supportive when I was ill first time around, and my very nervous friends and family!

By day five, post hysterectomy and birth, the professionals knew that my chances of becoming unwell with pp had lessened, although the depression that I suffered from after my first episode did return. Second time around, I was much more sure of what I needed and sat in a doctor’s waiting room as he contemplated what to do with me and said, uncharacteristically, “I’m not leaving this room until you prescribe me an anti-depressant”

Mental illness can make you much more badass when you know you’re becoming unwell!

When my sleep was impacted by the depression, I got scared of more serious symptoms returning and fought to have a room on the mother and baby unit again. I was actually only there a week, as the medication kicked in quickly the second time around. The thing that struck me in that week was doing a drama therapy session (a bit of a bus man’s holiday as I worked for many years as an actor) where I drew a picture of what my ideal family life would look like, all sat around a fire, toasting marshmallows and laughing: just months later, I realised that that picture had become a reality, as we sat with friends on our allotment on bonfire night, my new baby in my arms. As with my daughter, I did struggle in that first year (the baby stage is not my favourite!) but I just accepted that I found it hard and didn’t send any more arrows my way.

When my son was one, I became energised for my career again, and started to retrain as a mindfulness teacher.

Mindfulness was a lifesaver for me when I was unwell. I set up my own coaching company, having spent years waiting for others to see my talents!, and I resumed writing with my writing partner, novelist Nuala Calvi, who I met at a group for mums who were struggling post-birth. This year I have started working part-time for the NHS as a peer engagement facilitator, working with women who are struggling postnatally, just like I did. It’s a great privilege to use my lived experience to help other women and to show them that mental illness doesn’t have to break you; it can, in fact, be a gift. I wouldn’t wish my experience on anyone, but I can honestly say it has been the greatest gift I’ve ever been given in life, along with my two gorgeous, loud, effervescent children.

 

 

 

Hugo’s story: Don’t be too proud to ask for help – both for your partner and for yourself


Hugo White, formerly of The Maccabees, is a musician and, we’re proud to say, an APP Ambassador, alongside his wife, author Laura Dockrill, who experienced PP in 2018.

Here, Hugo shares his story...

I’d known Laura since we were kids, and we’d always been close friends. But we didn’t actually get together until years later, aged 30, when the stars aligned and our worlds brought us back together.

So when Laura found out she was pregnant if felt like the most perfect thing. I knew there was nobody else I’d rather go on that journey with.

Of course, becoming a parent is rarely straight forward and, in our case, it was incredibly traumatic, resulting in Laura’s diagnosis of postpartum psychosis (PP).

The birth had been extremely traumatic – way beyond what our anxieties could have anticipated – and Laura had to have an emergency ceasarean. The problem was, as first time parents, we had no idea what was considered a normal response to the trauma. Sadly, because PP is still so misunderstood, the doctors didn’t spot it for some time either.

I was so relieved to hear our baby boy, Jet, screaming as, due to the complications we endured, we’d been told he was starving in the womb. From that moment it felt as though the trauma of the birth had been released from me, but it was an entirely different story for Laura.

Having been through so much trauma – physically, mentally and emotionally – Laura was completely exhausted. Even so, as a new mum, she had no respite, as Jet was so skinny and was needing to feed constantly. Laura and Jet stayed in hospital for five days so we were relieved when we were all able to be at home together as a new family. And I really believed at that point things would be OK.

Sadly, however, that wasn’t the case.

Laura kept telling me that something wasn’t right. There’s a blurred line when it comes to mental health after someone’s had a baby because you kind of expect there to be some upheaval, the baby blues etc. So that can get in the way of spotting something more serious like postnatal depression or postpartum psychosis. But Laura kept persisting, telling me that something was very wrong so we visited the doctor on several occasions but they kept reassuring us that everything was normal.

In between these visits, Laura developed extreme paranoia, delusions and hallucinations, which turned to suicidal thoughts. It kind of crept up on us but even though I could clearly see that Laura was delusional, no midwives or doctors were able to pinpoint what was going on.

Thankfully, Laura’s best friend, Adele, did some online research after we discussed the symptoms. She found some information on PP and Laura ticked every single box. As soon as I saw this I knew we needed emergency help so I called a psychiatric doctor – something I had to do privately as I couldn’t get an NHS appointment for several days and all the information I had been reading impressed upon me how urgent care was a necessity.

Laura was very quickly admitted to hospital.

The scariest time was being at home alone with Jet. I had my three week old baby sleeping in my bed, and Laura wasn’t with us. I had no idea if she could get well again or if she was even coming back at all.

Thankfully the doctor was really reassuring. He looked directly in both of our eyes and he told us that Laura would 100% recover. Being able to put my trust in him and knowing that she was in the right place really helped me hold onto that hope.

Finding recovery took a long time, and, although Laura was only in hospital for three weeks, it took much longer for her to reach full recovery. At that point it was my job to put everything else to one side and really focus on supporting Laura and Jet.

Laura worked really hard at her recovery and I felt lucky that she was so open about how she was feeling. Being able to talk about things honestly with each other was really important and Laura went through a lot of therapy as well, learning lots of new tools to support her recovery.

A year later, with Laura feeling fully recovered, I almost completely sank. I started experiencing anxiety and panic attacks – something I’d never experienced before. I think it was some sort of delayed reaction to the trauma we’d all been through as a family.

Being able to share what I was going through with Laura was so helpful. Having been through so much anxiety herself as part of the illness, Laura had learnt so much in terms of how to deal with panic. While I saw my GP who also helped me, I really credit Laura for coaching me through it and, after around a month, I felt much better.

In some ways, I feel that our relationship is even stronger now because of these experiences. We have a much better understanding of ourselves and of each other, and our bond as a family is as strong as ever.

Feeling too proud to ask for help as the partner of someone who has been through such a serious mental illness actually only makes things harder for everyone involved.

Of course its going to have an impact on you and, the sooner you acknowledge that and get support, the better it is for everyone.

When it comes to PP, there are so many others who have been through what you have – both in terms of the women diagnosed and the partners or close family members who support them through it. You shouldn’t feel ashamed of the impact that it can have on you. It really is traumatic. But there is help out there – from your doctor, from APP’s partner peer support network and from all the information that is available online.

It’s reassuring to know there are others out there when you feel so alone so don’t hesitate to reach out – to get help for your partner, but also for yourself.

 

 

Poem: Don’t You Remember by Gail Whitehouse

Don’t you remember?

Im sorry, I can’t!

That’s how it begins

But it ends in a rant

 

A rant about tablets

A rant about hope

A rant about weight gain, this body, the bloat

 

But it’s made you all better

You’re finally free

I see that, I’m thankful

I just can’t see me

 

I wish I could tell you

“I’m better, life’s great!”

But sometimes I wonder

If the madness was fate

 

They say it takes time

But what time do I have

A babe under two

You’re having a laugh

 

The days do seem better

Now I have a routine

But some days it feels

Like I’m still in a dream

 

A big fog to wade through

A bleary eyed mess

But then nap time comes

And you lay on my chest

 

My troubles forgotten

The smell of your hair

These things I’ll remember

For now there’s no fear

 

No fear that I’ll break you

No fear you’re not loved

Just look at you growing

For now, that’s enough

 

Gail Whitehouse

PP warrior 2020