Category Archives: Personal Experiences

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

 

Emma’s story: I suffered panic attacks so bad that my heart raced until I passed out

I’d never heard of postpartum psychosis (PP) until I was diagnosed with it. Even then, nobody really explained to me what was going on. It was the most terrified I’d ever been.

My first pregnancy was fairly straightforward and I was really excited about becoming a mum. I had a natural birth, however, it was fairly traumatic and I suffered a severe tear, resulting in surgery after the labour.

From the moment I gave birth it was like somebody had flicked a switch in my head.

I no longer felt like me, in fact, I felt as though my body had been possessed. But this was just the start of a frightening journey that caused me to experience hallucinations, delusions, acute anxiety attacks and debilitating depression.

Worst of all, because the illness wasn’t broadly understood by the health professionals who were treating me, it took over two weeks for my exhaustion, agitation, change in mood, lack of sleep and extreme restlessness to be properly diagnosed as PP and treated accordingly. Up until then, I was left in a hospital bed, fed sleeping pills to make me sleep and told that what I was going through was normal for a new mum.

But it was far from normal.

My memories of the first three nights in hospital are a complete blur, and what followed was a terrifying rollercoaster ride. My mind was racing with so many worrying, intrusive, dark and scary thoughts and my behaviour was so erratic and out of character that my family knew there was something very, very wrong.

I became extremely paranoid and suspicious, thinking that everyone wanted to have me locked up because of a conspiracy theory that I knew about. Yet despite all of this, I was sent home with my baby. Because my behaviour was so erratic, my mum came to stay while my then partner took our little boy to his mum’s house with him.

One evening, I woke up at 4am and was convinced someone was trying to break into the house. I barricaded the bedroom door and became completely hysterical, calling the police and telling them we were going to die because somebody was out to get us.

That night, I was sectioned and sent straight to a psychiatric ward by ambulance.

It was only at this point that a doctor told me I had ‘puerperal psychosis’ (another name for postpartum psychosis) but nobody explained to me what that meant. Eventually, however, they found a place for me on a Mother and Baby Unit at Wythenshawe Hospital where I was reunited with my baby.

Having the specialist care and support that being in an MBU brings, I began to steadily recover. I had the right medication, the right expertise and lots of support that enabled me to keep my little boy by my side – something which I discovered was so important to the rate of my recovery.

My speech began to slow back down to a normal pace, and the delusional thoughts were becoming less and less. My anxiety, however, was through the roof, and I suffered panic attacks so bad that my heart raced until I passed out.

After 28 days, the length of my Section, it was decided that I still wasn’t quite ready to go home and, to be honest, I knew the doctor was right in making that decision because I didn’t feel ready either. It was around this time that the depression really ramped up. I also found out that my nanna had passed away which was another devastating blow.

While the psychosis had diminished, the depression and anxiety became chronic, and I was on medication for more than three years to manage it.

During that time, we decided to try for another baby. We knew that I was at high risk of developing PP again, so it was a difficult decision, but we wanted a brother or sister for our little boy. In 2015, I gave birth to my daughter, and once again, I experienced PP.

Unfortunately, this time, there was no space at the MBU close to home, so I was sent to a unit nearly two hours away, where I spent Christmas away from my partner and our little boy. However, I was pleased to be able to begin my road to recovery with my baby daughter by my side. I was so relieved that we were able to stay together and develop that special bond, with my treatment beginning almost as soon as the symptoms manifested this time around – because we knew straight away what was happening.

I was too ill to return home for Christmas Day, so my then partner and son brought all the presents for us to open together and we made the most of it, playing music and games and enjoying a buffet in the evening. The staff were just brilliant, doing all they could to make our day as special and as normal as possible.

After five weeks, I was transferred to a nearby MBU closer to home to start home leave. After another six weeks, I was able to return home and begin rebuilding my life with my family complete.

Having PP gives you a really different outlook on life - it really changes how you think. But one thing I want other women to know is that they really will recover and go on to live a healthy and happy life. We just need to ensure that women are able to access the right treatment as soon as possible as it can be such a devastating and life-changing illness if left.

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Lobeh’ s story – It wasn’t until I had my fourth child that I experienced postpartum psychosis

 My first experience of psychosis was back in 2009. I was in my last year of university and really struggling with the pressure of studying, my placement and writing up my dissertation. I stopped sleeping for several consecutive days and I just couldn’t shut my brain down.

I was talking really quickly, and became quite aggressive and reactive, shouting in the workplace because I believed people – and even at one stage a cloud – were following me. It wasn’t long before I was sectioned.

It turned out I had experienced a psychotic episode and I was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I had treatment and psychotherapy and, for many years, I was fit and well.

I met my husband in 2012 after I’d qualified in my profession. Everything was going really well, we married had our first child, then our second, and I was still really well.

When I had my third child there were some indications that my mood was changing and that I was going through some hormone imbalances, but I didn’t experience another psychotic episode until after I had my fourth child in 2018 – nine years after my previous episode of psychosis.

Because of my bipolar disorder, I always knew I was high risk for postpartum psychosis. However, having had three children with no problems, I really wasn’t expecting it to happen. Sadly, though, there were lots of complications and trauma around the birth of my fourth child and I ended up having an elective c-section.

When my baby daughter was born she wasn’t breathing and needed resuscitation which meant that we had no body contact as she was immediately rushed off to intensive care. I was fit and well at the time so was officially discharged but I didn’t want to leave my baby so they allowed me to stay. Within two weeks we were discharged together.

The problems didn’t end there, however, and after a few days at home I experienced fits and, as these were markers for an infection, I was rushed back to hospital where I had to undergo more surgery. They found that some of my placenta had been left inside which had caused the problems.

Once the physical risks had subsided I returned home. This is when the symptoms of postpartum psychosis hit me.

Three days after coming home I started erratically gathering items from the home to sell at a car boot sale – I felt compelled to do it, even though I had just come home with my baby. My attention was so often diverted away from my baby and, as a result, I wasn’t caring for her properly. Sadly, I had lost all sense of reality and I didn’t really understand what was happening or what I was supposed to be doing.

I believed that people were trying to take my baby away, I was driving around disorientated for hours with no idea why and constantly collecting these items to sell. Every day it was as though I woke up on a mission, it was as though something else had control of my mind. I was completely confused, lost all inhibitions, was over thinking and over talking. I would find myself in places or doing things with no idea how I had got there.

My husband tried to support me and he sought medical help and spoke with other members of the family. But the problem was, it’s hard to detect postpartum psychosis because how can you know what is normal behaviour after having a baby? It’s only when it becomes really erratic that it becomes more apparent – and at that stage you always need emergency care.

Eventually, having travelled out of my area and being filed as a missing person I was found in an apartment and sectioned.

Why MBUs are so important

I was brought straight to a hospital, however, there weren’t enough beds in nearby Mother and Baby Units (MBU) so I ended up on a general psychiatric ward and separated from my baby. Unfortunately, when you’re separated from your child this can really trigger more paranoia and make things worse.

I was also really scared on the ward which I don’t feel was managed very well and I had a particularly difficult time there. I had just had two major surgeries and some of the women on the ward were incredibly unwell. I got into a disagreement and I remember being kicked and punched. I was found unconscious and sent to A&E.

After I had been on the ward for a month a bed in a Mother and Baby Unit came up, but it was so many miles away from my home and family. MBUs are imperative for the safety and welfare of women who have just had children, and if I had been offered a place closer to home I would have accepted. But as this was so far away I petitioned through a tribunal to instead be discharged.

When you’re separated from your child this can really trigger more paranoia and make things worse

How I found recovery

Every woman has a different experience when it comes to treatment and recovery. In my case, I received antipsychotic medication to alleviate some of the psychosis and then, as I started to come round from the confusion, I started talking therapy to explore how I felt and what had happened. It enabled me to talk about the trauma of the birth which had obviously affected me greatly.

Because I wasn’t with my baby I missed out on some of the bonding time during my recovery so lost my confidence as a mother which was really hard. I also fell into a depression which was really challenging too. Recovery is gradual, and having the therapy and my family and friends around me helped a lot – as did my faith.

I also found lots of help through APP. When I first Googled postpartum psychosis and APP came up in the search, I felt as though I was the only woman in the world going through this. But when I was introduced to the peer support forum I realised that there were many women who had experienced this illness. I joined the monthly meet ups and it was fantastic being able to support and be supported by other women. I am especially pleased that APP is proactively encouraging engagement from BAME communities because mental health is such a taboo subject in some of our communities, so having more knowledge, awareness and engagement is key.

And that’s why I’m sharing my story today. I hope it inspires other women to feel confident in coming forward and asking for help.

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Chloe’s story: I stopped trusting everyone. But now I’m recovered and love being a mum

I had planned for a calming water birth and, throughout my pregnancy, which was for the most part a happy and healthy pregnancy, I saw no reason why this couldn’t happen. However, things didn’t go to plan, and my labour ended up being incredibly exhausting and traumatic.

My little boy, Alfie, was very much wanted and, like all mums, I was excited to meet my baby. Sadly, however, at week 20 of my pregnancy, we suffered an unexpected family bereavement, my pregnancy became high risk due to a fibroid and my blood pressure began to increase. I went into a natural labour at 41 weeks but had pre-eclampsia and, after two hours of pushing, my baby’s heart rate kept dropping due to the cord around his neck. I was quickly prepped for an emergency c section.

The birth

Thankfully, they managed to deliver my little boy via forceps, but I lost a lot of blood and became anaemic and I was hooked up to monitors throughout. Alfie was eventually delivered, a little bruised but thankfully healthy, at 14.15, and, because I’d gone into labour at 23.00 the night before I was completely exhausted. Alfie was extremely sleepy, not waking to feed in the first 24 hours, but I was assured that this was normal for a forceps birth.

I was concerned that I wasn’t making very much milk and Alfie seemed jittery and a bit yellow, but I was discharged anyway after two nights – only to be readmitted the next day. Alfie had jaundice and had lost 11% body weight in just four days.

At this point they acknowledged my poor milk supply may have been due to anaemia, however, to me it felt as though nobody had been listening when I raised my concerns and this led to me not trusting any of the health professionals (despite my husband and I both being health professionals ourselves). Worse still, I didn’t trust my own instincts as a mother.

Three days later I was discharged again and the midwives were coming to check my blood pressure every two days, while the health visitors were coming several times a week. As the home checks mounted up, it felt as though every visit highlighted my incompetence as a mother and my self doubts and anxiety spiralled out of control.

My symptoms of postpartum psychosis

It all began as the worst anxiety I’ve ever experienced and developed into mania. Before long I had lost all concept of time and of what was real and what was not. I stopped sleeping, showering and eating and went to see the GP. By this point I believed that everyone around me was a doll, I was unable to follow storylines on TV, I couldn’t keep up with conversations and I couldn’t retain information. In retrospect the GP was amazing and immediately referred me to the perinatal mental health team. However, at the time, I believed they were trying to put me in prison, I thought everyone at the surgery was a social worker and that nobody trusted me to be around children. I didn’t feel able to tell anyone this as I thought everyone was in on the plot.

When I got home I refused to take the medication I was given as I believed it was poison that they were using to try and knock me out to get me to prison. I was hearing police helicopters outside and thought my house was full of cameras recording my actions. I paced constantly that night as my husband and baby were sleeping in the lounge (to allow me to try and get some sleep), and I kept thinking my husband was planning to leave and take the baby with him.

The perinatal mental health team came the next morning but unfortunately I had a nurse who was new to her role and she wrongly diagnosed me with postnatal depression. Luckily, my husband is a paramedic and he strongly suspected I had been misdiagnosed so he continued to seek more help.

My behaviour spiralled further out of control that day and, while my parents were caring for our baby, I woke my husband up from a nap to tell him that everyone was dead. He called the nurse back and I was sectioned and admitted to a Mother and Baby Unit (MBU) that night.

My admission to an MBU

When I got to the MBU I thought I’d been locked in prison and I refused to eat, drink, sleep, shower and take medications. I spent all my time pacing the unit trying to find a way out. As I was admitted at night no one was around and I believed they’d locked me up on my own because I was such a bad mum and a danger to others. I thought everyone was an actor and my hallucinations made them appear to have really strange eyes. I also started to believe that my husband was an undercover policeman. I spent hours looking at the photos of the staff on the wall thinking they were somehow linked to my normal life and that they’d all been undercover.

The turning point was two days later when they injected me with antipsychotics. At the time I thought this injection had aborted my baby and sterilised me. I’d also lost 10kg by then as I thought all food and drink smelled and tasted weird and was poison, and I had been told I might need to be moved to a different hospital to be tube fed. I’m a Dietitian by profession so I knew what this meant but at the time I couldn’t take it in. I kept asking the same questions over and over. I swapped between thinking Alfie was a doll and they’d taken away the real baby, to thinking that he wasn’t my baby at all or sometimes even believing that he had died. Because I’d had an epidural when I was in labour I hadn’t felt him be born and this was something I became obsessed with and was talking about as if it was evidence that he wasn’t mine. I thought the TV was talking about me and telling me things like I’d lost my career and would never work again and I believed that the songs on the radio were played especially for me. My husband bought me a magazine and it felt like everyone in it was pregnant and they were taunting me as I could never have a baby (thinking I had been sterilised). I wouldn’t use my phone as I thought it had been intercepted by the police and at first I thought I couldn’t even phone my husband as I wrongly believed he had asked for no contact, despite him visiting and spending most of the day with me every day.

The road to recovery

I eventually started taking medication willingly and began to recover. The first time I was allowed for a walk on the beach with a member of staff and my husband I was so excited but I still had some paranoid thoughts, thinking that everyone was an actor and that if I went into the public toilet they would run away with my son while I was there. But these delusions began to subside.

I was on the MBU for two weeks and think I should have probably been there longer but I was able to convince everyone I was fully recovered -  Coronavirus had made an appearance and I was very aware that lockdown was coming and I wanted to get home before it did. Lockdown in fact happened just a week after I was discharged.

The mental health team reviewed me over the phone and I never disclosed how down I was feeling as I feared they would re-admit me and I wouldn’t be able to have visitors. I really struggled and did not want to get out of bed, leaving my husband doing a lot of the caring for our son. I didn’t feel a connection with Alfie at this point and felt awful that this magical bond hadn’t appeared. I knew I loved him but I was scared that he would never be able to love me.

Another major turning point came six months later when the GP treated me for an under active thyroid and I finally started to feel like me again. It was the final piece in my treatment jigsaw and really made a big difference.

I now have the best bond with my son and he is a complete mummy’s boy! I still feel sad and guilty about the time I feel I missed out on as I felt like I was living in a fog, but I’m so glad what we went through hasn’t seemed to affect him and he is a happy, healthy boy.

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My recovery story: I thought I was in a computer simulation - now I’m back to being the old me

One mum shares her story of recovery to inspire hope...

If you were to ask my best friend a word to describe me, she will for sure say ‘anxious’. It’s a part of me that I’ve always carried and of course it showed up during my pregnancy too. I kept thinking ‘is the baby ok?’ ‘is the baby moving?’ But overall, everything was going fine…that is until the end of February 2020 when COVID-19 starting spreading across Europe. For me, being pregnant and away from home meant only one thing; there was no way my family would be able to be with me for this amazing moment in my life.

At 41 weeks of pregnancy, on 27th May, my little boy decided to make an appearance. I read a lot about people giving birth after pushing for ten minutes or an hour, but that was not the case for me. I don’t want to go into all the details of my birth, but to summarise we had a fair few complications and I felt completely traumatised by the end of the labour.

The days in the maternity ward proved to be more difficult than I had anticipated. I was in a foreign country with no knowledge of the standard hospital procedures, and this unfortunately created lots of unnecessary confusion and uncertainty. Nonetheless, the biggest challenge was taking care of the little one as I had never held in my hands such a tiny and precious human being.

My little baby decided to show his character from the beginning: he didn’t want to be forced in doing something he didn’t want to do (like his mum), which sadly included breastfeeding. We tried for a week to get him to latch, but he was crying so much that the whole process made me really really upset. Breastfeeding was not going to work and that left me feeling really guilty - I felt that I was not able to do the one thing I was supposed to do as a mum. I felt like a failure. It was only after months that I realised that a fed baby is a happy baby regardless of how they feed, and that a mum simply needs to be loving. The rest didn’t matter – I was doing my best.

After five days in hospital, it was time to go home. Unfortunately, after five days of very little sleep in hospital, I realised that the situation wasn’t going to improve at home either and I was exhausted.

I had a terrible feeling of doom, and I thought I was dying

On the first day back, the midwife came to check on the little one and, despite assuring me that we were doing everything correctly, my anxiety didn’t leave me. I ended up having a major panic attack and I feel that, looking back, this is when the psychosis also began.

During the panic attack, I had a terrible feeling of doom, and I thought I was dying. It felt as though my entire body was shaking despite my legs remaining completely still as stone when I looked at them. An ambulance came and I was taken to A&E. I spent a few hours there and everything seemed fine; they discharged me and suggested I get in contact with a perinatal mental health team. Little did they know that they would see me again in less than 24 hours…

Once I arrived back home after the first trip to A&E, things started quickly deteriorating. I really wanted to sleep but I wasn’t able to close my eyes. I began feeling that everything around me was unreal. My husband took me on a walk to show me that everything was just as it always had been, nothing outside had changed, but it didn’t convince me. My mind wouldn’t stop racing and at one point I convinced myself that I was in a coma – perhaps from the panic attack or from the birth – I wasn’t sure I just felt as though I was in another state and that the doctors were trying to communicate with me through computer simulation.

My head was spinning and I kept thinking I needed to pass levels – as though I was in a computer simulation - in order to stop certain situations playing over and over in my mind. It was only when a friend came to visit that she realised something was very wrong and a second ambulance was called resulting in another trip to A&E.

We spent 24 hours in A&E but the situation kept worsening. I was highly paranoid and kept repeating: Is the baby fine? Am I fine? Are we going to be ok? Why me? I was also really worried that I could have harmed my baby as I was not able to take care of him properly.

During this time, I truly convinced myself that I was indeed in a computer simulation. It also became clear that I was having hallucinations. It was as though I was projecting my feelings onto other people’s faces and I thought I could see my husband and the doctor crying, but when I asked them about it the tears suddenly vanished and their faces returned to normal.

It was at this point that another doctor came into the room and diagnosed me with postpartum psychosis.

I wasn’t scared of the diagnosis – I hadn’t heard of it so the name of the illness didn’t mean anything to me. But I was terrified by what I was experiencing and I just wanted it to stop. As things continued to deteriorate fast they made the decision to section me in a Mother and Baby Unit (MBU) which ultimately saved my life.

I had never heard of an MBU and I am not sure they actually exist in my home country.

MBU’s are psychiatric hospitals for mothers like me experiencing severe mental illness. They are a place you can recover keeping the baby with you the entire time. These are amazing places and the doctors that work in there are fantastic people; I cannot praise them enough.

The first day in the MBU was hard as I was still convinced I needed to reach my next level in the computer simulation, and that to do so would save me from being trapped in a coma. A doctor came to explain to me that I was experiencing psychosis and that I would need to begin taking special medications that same evening.

Both the medicine and the ability to sleep for an entire night helped enormously in my recovery. Indeed, the day after, I had a short psychotic episode but it lasted only 10 minutes…and I’ve never had once since then!

Time flew by in the MBU: I gained confidence with my baby and I also met some lovely mum friends, all of who were clearly experiencing their own battles (I wish them all the luck for the future).

My recovery went so well that I was discharged within three weeks, followed by home support from the perinatal mental health team. Coming home was scary and daunting but my husband and my family where there to support me (luckily my family managed to find a flight to reach me). I had ups and down at the beginning. I felt ashamed, sad about my illness and devastated about not being able to breastfeed. Nonetheless, I had my baby there with me and we had a beautiful bond. Everyday I was showing myself that I was in fact able to take care of that little human being and that really boosted my confidence. He was smiling and happy and that was all mattered to me.

After a few months had passed since my discharge from the MBU, the medication was stopped and I am happy to say that I am back to being the old me (and actually less anxious, which is better than before!) This month is going to be my baby’s 1st birthday and life couldn’t be better!

I wanted to share my story to show that postpartum psychosis is indeed a severe mental illness but you can recover very quickly with the right help. Reach out for help and, although you might think you’ll never be your old self again, that really isn’t the case. You will recover. There is help. Stay strong.

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Jocelyn’s story - I don’t know where I’d be today if it wasn’t for peer support

I was living abroad when I became unwell with postpartum psychosis. I had left friends and family behind in the UK and moved to Brazil to get married to a Brazilian I met while teaching there a few years previously. When I became pregnant, however, I did toy with the idea of having the baby in England, but it just wasn’t practical to come back at the time.

Of course, I knew that giving birth and looking after a baby would be hard work, but I had no idea of the scale and intensity of what was to follow...

84% of women in Brazil have C-sections and I was determined to have a natural birth. However, my baby’s heart rate dropped when I was being monitored in hospital and I ended up being rushed for an emergency caesarean.

At that point, everything was fine and I was sent home. However, after about three weeks I developed a fever and had a pain in my stomach. I had it checked out and, through CT scans, they found that they’d left a swab inside me. The language barrier made all of these conversations quite challenging, but one thing I was told by the doctor from the first c-section was that I nearly died due to loss of blood. This added to the confusion and paranoia of who to trust.

This is when things became really confusing for me. I was convinced that, because I’d had two operations, I must have had two babies. In Portuguese, they don’t pronounce Seth, my baby’s name, in the same we that we do in England. Instead they say ‘Sete’ (pronounced ‘Seche’) and it reinforced the idea that I’d given birth twice, that there were two different babies.

I became really anxious and paranoid, and I had a really heightened sense of smell, believing that I could tell which nurse was coming to see me just from the smell in the air.

After leaving hospital for the second time, I kept believing things were happening that weren’t real. We got on the bus in the middle of summer and I was absolutely convinced that I was bleeding everywhere – but I wasn’t bleeding at all. And when one of the drivers came to look at Seth in the pram I was convinced they were staring because I was pushing a pram around with no baby in – I truly believed at that point that Seth had died.

Other delusions included my mistrust of my husband, who I was convinced had installed cameras everywhere, and I stopped eating because I thought that lots of different foods were causing colic. I remember my husband trying to put me in a sleeveless summer dress too and I became really agitated, convinced that he was strapping me into a straitjacket.

I tried to find places or activities that might help to calm me. For example, there’s a saying in Portuguese – banho de sal grosso – which means cleansing yourself in saltwater. So I decided that if I went to the sea it would cleanse me and make me feel better and stop all of the fear and anxiety. So we kept going to the beach one time when I went in the water with my husband I thought I was dying.

I continued to be really concerned about Seth’s wellbeing too. At one point, I thought he was the devil and that he needed to be exorcised to save him – even though I wasn’t actually religious in any way.

As things became worse, we went to see a psychiatrist but, due to the difference in language and my complete confusion, I struggled to get across how I was feeling. They tried to sedate me but then just sent me on my way with six months’ antidepressants in my pocket.

I felt confused, frightened and as though I had no real medical support. To add to that, I was back at work when Seth was just four months old because you only get four months’ maternity leave in Brazil. By that point the psychotic symptoms were petering out (they lasted around two weeks in total), but I had really bad anxiety and depression – in fact, the anxiety stayed with me for over a year after giving birth. Because Seth was so young when I returned to work, I had to have him with me in the classroom where I was teaching English and try to use my hour a day for breastfeeding as effectively as I could.

It was such a challenging time and, feeling alone, I decided to do some of my own research. I started googling postnatal depression but it just didn’t sound at all like my experience. However, luckily, I stumbled across a website about postpartum psychosis and realised that I had all the symptoms. Upon further research, I found the Action on Postpartum Psychosis (APP) peer support forum which felt as though it was the only knowledgeable support that was out there – after all, my doctors hadn’t mentioned psychosis.

Reaching out to people on the forum was a lifeline – it was here that I found other women who had been through what I had. The first woman who responded to me really helped me and we are still in touch to this day. There was no judgment on the forum, no language barriers and I felt free to speak openly about what had happened to me and what I was going through.

We came back to England when Seth was nine months old and I saw some doctors over here who confirmed my diagnosis. As I started to make sense of my experiences, I decided to train to become a peer support worker with APP because I couldn’t bear the idea of another woman going through what I went through with no knowledgeable support.

I honestly don’t think I would be where I am today if it wasn’t for the voluntary peer support that I received. There’s a lot of stigma around psychosis, particularly around PP where people have these ideas that mothers want to harm their babies, but it really wasn’t like that. If anything, I was terrified of something happening to my baby. I was over-protective.

Everybody’s experience of PP and subsequent recovery is unique to them, but there are shared similarities between us and that means the world. It stops you feeling so lonely and ashamed.

Through APP I feel that I have found my tribe – these amazing women who have been through such intense struggles, but who are united in joining forces to help others. And while NHS support often has time restrictions placed on it, peer support is there forever. I’m so grateful to benefit from and, today, play a part in that much-needed service.

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Catherine’s story - one day I did remember him, and I felt like a mother again

There’s a Korean tradition that when a baby is born, mother and baby stay home for the first 21 days. The first 100 days are considered a vulnerable time, and so we are meant to be cautious. It’s a belief rooted in keeping mothers and babies safe from harm, but in modern life, it’s a difficult tradition to follow. For me, it felt impractical and unreasonable, and I spent the first days out of the hospital inviting friends to our home and going out to restaurants and parks. We even decided to travel to the US when my son was two months old on an extended trip to visit family and friends. However, in the back of my mind, I would remember this tradition of confinement, and it was a decision I would question when I was eventually diagnosed with stress-induced postpartum psychosis.

I cannot link my postpartum psychosis to tradition or culture, I’ve learned from this experience that postpartum psychosis can happen to anyone, and I can trace the roots of my psychosis to something that started well before my decision to make this trip.

My psychosis started while I was in the United States, I’d wanted to introduce Cato to family on the West and East Coasts, and to celebrate his 100 days with family and friends.

It was towards the end of our trip, while I was staying with my in-laws that the symptoms of psychosis started. I hadn’t been sleeping for weeks, and the stress of travel and concerns from our families had taken its toll. I did not realise that what I was experiencing were symptoms of postpartum psychosis. I’d become paranoid, believing that my mother-in-law was signalling to me in a language separate from the others in the family. The house had Nest cameras installed for security, but I thought I could hear the cameras in the walls, I thought I was being watched. The warnings and concerns expressed kindly by my in-laws took on a darker meaning, I felt increasingly worried, and I could not sleep. It culminated in a moment when I looked at my son’s face, and his face was not his own, but the face of a devil.

I did not know what was happening. The moment felt too surreal to believe, but it felt so real to me. I did not understand. I knew that I needed to leave the family home, I had a sense that something very bad was about to happen, I just didn’t know what. I begged James, my husband to take us to a hotel, and he immediately packed our bags, and we left.

At the hotel, things descended quickly. I thought we were being tracked, and so I deleted all the apps on my phone. I started to see figures in the halls, people with strange faces staring at me, brushing past me. And my son’s eyes were still like the eyes of a devil. In the hotel, my husband tried to get me to sleep, but I couldn’t. I started losing sense of time, each moment was replicated a multitude of times. I thought I heard the voice of God, telling me that I was in hell, that my life had been a simulation, and that my son was going to die.

In some ways, it felt like a relief to hear this, it seemed to make sense, everything I’d been experiencing, all the stories of my past, of my family’s histories, I could see the patterns in them. I didn’t tell my husband what I ‘knew’, because I didn’t want to frighten him. He could tell that I wasn’t well, and so he asked his parents to come take our son, and then he drove me to the emergency room.

At the hospital, I lost all sense of what was real and not real. I started tearing off my clothes in the waiting room, I was attacking the nurses, they looked like demons. I remember hearing my husband shouting for help and being forced onto a gurney.

The next days are fragmented. I was given different medications, but nothing was working, and I still couldn’t sleep. I didn’t sleep for four days. I lost all sense of who I was, I thought I was my husband, my son, sometimes I was my mother. I remembered different versions of my life, versions that couldn’t be true. My husband would call my parents to come and help take care of me, but I didn’t recognise them. I thought that one of the nurses was the angel Gabriel, and I couldn’t eat because I thought the food I was being given was human flesh. There were times I remembered I had a son, that I knew who I was, but most of the time, I was terrified.

I would experience what I thought was the end of days

After four days, the decision was made that I would be sectioned to a general psychiatric ward. I was transferred via ambulance, and I remember thinking that the medics taking me were taking me to be euthanized. I am still grateful to the medic who held my hand the entire way, while I talked nonsensically and screamed at the animals surrounding us.

At the psychiatric ward, I would experience what I thought was the end of days – it was partly in reaction to the roughness of the staff who were trying to calm me, but it ended with me stripping off my clothes and urinating on the floor. I was sedated, and for the first time, I slept. I do not know how long I slept, I think it was for two days, but I woke up in a blank room with my hair tied in a strange way, with fragmented memories of who I was and what had happened. I spent eight days in the psychiatric ward, following instructions, attending the classes and waiting desperately to be released.

I was released to the care of my husband. I felt like myself, but I know now that I still wasn’t well. My time away from my son had taken its toll – I felt completely separated from him, and I had no memory of my bond with him. It felt physically painful to touch him. When I thought about it later, I would believe that this was my mind’s way of protecting him, of protecting him from a mother who could not be trusted.

We would return to London, where I was referred to the perinatal mental health team. A few weeks after psychosis, I would fall into a deep, clinical depression. It happened suddenly, where one morning I woke up, but I couldn’t move or get out of bed. Those months were some of the most difficult times of the experience. It felt unending, and I felt despair, because I couldn’t imagine being well again.

My husband made the decision to keep me at home instead of admitting me to a mother baby unit. One day when I was feeling too much pain to lift a spoon, my husband called my psychiatrist, and she referred me to the mental health crisis team. The crisis team would visit our flat every morning. Each visit forced me to get out of bed, and they would give me a task for the day. I started keeping lists of simple tasks – making a cup of tea, brushing my hair. They would smile at me, even as I sat unmoving and silent, unable to speak. They promised me that I would feel better, that one day this would be a memory. I tried desperately to believe them.

They asked me to spend time with Cato each day, to help rebuild our bond. I would do this as a practice, and I didn’t understand how I couldn’t feel a connection to my own son.

I would remain on an antipsychotic and antidepressant for a year. It was several months before I could start noticing moments of light. I would be sitting and realise I wasn’t feeling pain, that I was noticing the colours around me, and I would know that I was getting better. Those moments would be temporary, and then the darkness would come again, but eventually the darkness would come less frequently, and I would feel I’d reclaimed myself.

The bond with my son took longer to build. I approached it with intention. I went through the steps, and I hoped he would understand that I was working to come back to him, that I was trying to remember.

And one day I did remember him. I was holding him and feeling his weight against my body, and it felt familiar. And I felt like a mother again.

For more of Catherine’s story, you can read her memoir, Inferno, which is out now in hardback and paperback from Bloomsbury. You can also watch this moving film that Catherine recorded in March for the Maternal Mental Health Alliance.

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