11 ways to tackle postnatal anxiety and depression with creativity

Many of us in the same boat (or similar boats) to me know that horrible, gnawing, nervous anxiety that eats away at us and keeps us on edge all the time only too well. And most of us have probably heard that this is caused by a surge of adrenaline when our bodies think we are under attack – the ‘fight or flight response’. But as the attack is not a physical one but an assault in our own minds, we’re not able to use the adrenaline by either fighting or ‘flighting’ so it stays rattling around our bodies and coming out in negative thoughts unless we do some exercise to use it up. It’s a primal thing. Also a primal thing is the need to create. Luckily we don’t need to spend our days building a shelter to sleep in or fire to keep warm by, but we are moving further and further away from getting our hands dirty and making stuff with the rise of gaming and technology – why bother making a den in the garden when we can build a whole world on Minecraft? Why bother digging out paper and pencils and pens when you can download a colouring-in app? Making pancakes? There’s an app for that. Gardening? There’s an app for that. Playing the piano? You get the idea. So I think it’s really important to make sure we still get our fix of creating from somewhere. And we don’t have to be any good at any of these things. It’s about the process of doing it, not the outcome. I love drawing, for example, but technically I’m pretty rubbish. And I like baking, but some of my cakes leave a lot to be desired. So have a look at this list and see if anything grabs you…

1. Write

Whether it’s with a pen or on the computer, just write something. It could be a story, poem or song if you’re feeling artsy. Perhaps a letter, an article or informative piece about something you’re passionate about. Or write about how you feel by starting a diary, journal or blog. Honestly, I had no idea how much I would enjoy writing this until I started. If you’re writing by hand, mix it up a bit and use a pencil or felt tip or charcoal, or use the opposite hand to the one you usually write with, or write with your eyes closed…

2. Draw or paint

This is something I don’t do as often as I would like but love it when I get around to it. Like with a lot of things, the more you practice, the better you get too. A friend bought me a ‘One Sketch a Day’ book which is like a diary or art journal and made from beautiful cartridge paper. I made a real effort to draw in it everyday until I got pregnant and very sick. I’ve been meaning to pick it up again ever since. You could paint in there too or stick bits and pieces in and make little collages or mood boards. I also have a mindfulness colouring book. We know how good practicing mindfulness is for our mental health because if we could manage to live in the present moment we wouldn’t be constantly caught up in the stressful movie of the past playing over and over in our heads or scaring ourselves with anxieties about the future. So the idea is that the intricately patterned colouring pages require enough concentration that you don’t think about your worries for a while.

It’d be lovely to take a sketch pad and sit outside for a couple of hours with a palette of water colours and a paintbrush, but realistically not many of us can manage that with a baby/small child attached to our hair/hip/leg but it’s something to bear in mind. Doodling counts too and it doesn’t all have to be in pencil; Sharpies are great and you can draw on all sorts. I bought and decorated mugs for Christmas presents one year with a Sharpie…

3. Create with yarn and fabric: knit, crochet or sew.

Up-cycle old jeans, get on the sewing machine, do some cross stitch or learn the art of lace making. Apart from hanging out with Mabes, this is my absolute favourite thing to do, especially crochet. I’m a proper crochet geek. It’s easier than knitting, I think, and there are loads of things you can make. I find the whole process therapeutic but also get a huge sense of satisfaction when I’ve finished something. In fact, I have an Etsy shop called Charcoal Beach where I sell some of my creations, from crocheted greetings cards and scarves to baby wear and handmade blankets. You can visit here if you’re interested.

4. Play music

As with all of these ideas, you don’t have to be any good at it to enjoy it. Matt bought me a keyboard for my birthday which I had used a grand total of zero times in the last year, what with the seemingly never ending vomiting and then a little cherub to look after. But recently I’ve managed to squeeze in a bit of piano time and actually really enjoyed it. I mean, I’m no Mozart; I’m just slowly relearning the same couple of tunes I’ve been playing since I was a teenager but it doesn’t matter (except to Matt who has heard the same two pieces churned out over and over again). Also, Mabel is happy to listen or join in so it’s not even something you have to make baby-free time for.

5. Sing and dance

I’ve never been a singer, unless you count being part of Junior Choir at school, but love belting a tune out when nobody is around, whether it’s an old favourite tune or one of Mabel’s songs. Even the Iggle Piggle or Upsy Daisy songs are allowed but only because they make Mabel laugh. If you want something a bit more structured you could try joining a choir. There are loads around when you start to look and lots of different types; gospel, rock, contemporary, classical, church and even barbershop. Some places even have adult choirs where you can take your baby along. There are definitely dance groups you can take little ones to; a friend of mine loved ‘Sling and Swing’ group where you wear your little one in a carrier or sling and dance…

Upsy Daisy and Iggle Piggle from TV’s In the Night Garden (for those of you lucky enough not to know already)

6. Bake and cook

Try out some new recipes or make up your own and tinker about in the kitchen. I’m not a huge fan of cooking but have actually discovered that I quite enjoy cooking Mabel’s meals and I do like baking. (Come on, who doesn’t like cake?) The only reason I don’t do more of it is because I just eat it all which is not terribly helpful when I’m trying to eat a little more healthily…

7. Grow something

Green fingered folks have loads to choose from in terms of gardening. If you aren’t lucky enough to have a garden, why not look at renting an allotment or getting a window box? For something a bit lower maintenance, house plants don’t need to much looking after and cacti even less, or for something to grow with the children try good old cress which will even grow on a wet paper towel.

8. Make or build something

I get a big sense of satisfaction from mending things or doing little house jobs like putting pictures in frames onto the wall or putting together a piece of furniture and I’m sure that’s why I enjoyed preparing Mabel’s nursery so much; I made bunting, a patchwork quilt and some cushion covers (see number 1!) and then hung the bunting on the wall, put her cot together complete with handmade quilt and hung personalised prints in frames on the walls. The internet is full of ideas for things to make and at home, like ornaments, soaps, candles, notebooks, fridge magnets, picture frames…the list is endless. Or build a den or tree house or something with Lego, or shape a creation from clay or Play-Doh.

9. Take photographs

Get your digital or instant camera out and be a tourist in your own town. We can all be photographers now that smartphones have such great cameras on them. I love the whole process of taking a photo, tinkering with the filters and putting it on Instagram, though that’s probably more to do with the fact that all the photos I take are of Mabes and I like showing her off.

10. Upcycle furniture

I know, this sounds a bit ambitious. I certainly haven’t the time or inclination to start sanding old TV cabinets and smothering them with shabby-chic Peach Whisper furniture paint, but it’s a very popular hobby and (I’m told) quite easy to get started. Just grab yourself a bargain dining chair for a couple of pounds from a charity shop, give it a lick of chalky paint, staple a new bit of fabric onto the seat and voila! There’s a helpful little vid here.

11. And finally, if you still crave the technology…

If you really insist on sticking with the computer or tablet, there are apps, apps and more apps; compose a piece of music on Garageband, make a digital collage of happy photos on Pic Collage or Baby Pics, or do some drawing or doodling on an art app – there’s a good article here. But only if you must..

I hope you find something here helpful. Do you have any creative activities that help you? I’d love to hear from you.

And if what I have written wasn’t enough to convince you, listen to one of the greats instead:


 

There’s more to postnatal life than getting thin

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As if it’s not enough that you’ve got a whole new life to adapt to and a little helpless creature to care for, you’re also expected to ping back to your size whatever figure. I was adamant that I wasn’t going to be bothered about this- having a baby is a reason to get fat, right? Finally a valid excuse for having a wobbly tummy. But you can’t help picking up a bit of negativity from what you see around you.

Malicious media

Adverts on TV for nappies or formula featuring lovely slim mummies, a crowd of celebrity endorsed weight loss DVDs and countless books on the latest diet trends. Not to mention celebrity magazines raving about how quickly stars have shrunk back to their pre-pregnancy shape after ‘ballooning’ to an enormous size 12, or how Kim Kardashian looks ‘chunky’ after giving birth (I mean, how dare she?!) And then there are the joys of social media. When I started babymabymama, I also started an Instagram account to show off my lovely baby girl. So when I’m happily hash-tagging away, Instagram suggests things like #postpartumbody #postnatalfitness and #fitmom. I had no idea getting your ‘bikini body’ back was such a big deal until i was bombarded with messages from mums trying to sell their new-mum diet and exercise programs. I was confused. Who decided this is the most important thing to do after you’ve had a baby? I thought bonding with your squishy new BFF was the most important bit. What about knowing that your body will probably never be the same but that it doesn’t matter? And to be honest, I think it’s a bit boring. I’d much rather see how many cute faces your baby has made than how many pounds you’ve lost. I want to see big-eyed, dribbly babies in cute rompers, not rapid weight loss before and after shots. We’re putting too much importance on getting thin and it makes the women who are perhaps struggling with postnatal depression or just feeling exhausted and hormonal feel worse.

I’m not a fat potato

Now I don’t want you reading this thinking that I’m just giving myself an excuse for being massive. I didn’t actually gain as much weight as I thought I would when I was pregnant because I was very sick, and even after the sickness I just didn’t really fancy eating much. Then the postnatal anxiety also kept the weight gain down. So I’m about a stone heavier than before I got pregnant. And I can’t really blame Mabel, to be honest. I can only blame the postnatal cake eating I have partaken in! But I’m not complaining because I’d much rather have gained a few pounds from eating cake when I’m happy than not being able to eat due to postnatal anxiety.

Enter the demons

When you’re having a bad day and mentally listing all the reasons you’re not a worthy mother or human being, it becomes easy to tag onto the end of this, “and I’m fat”. Not only are you a total disaster, you also look hideous naked. But i know those thoughts are only short lived. As new mothers we should be proud of our bodies, whatever their size and shape. Where did this baby come from?! You baked it for 9 months and now it’s turned into a baby. Your body grew with her and changed with her and provided all the nourishment and security for her to grow into a little bean ready to be born into the world. Then there’s the childbirth – our bodies just knew what to do. We might not have thought we knew what was happening but our bodies did. We are amazing. A few extra wobbly pounds stuck to our hips and thighs should be the last thing on our minds.

Healthy mind

We all know how beneficial exercise is for helping to tackle anxiety and depression. It helps burn off some of that nervous energy and adrenalin that makes us feel so bad and is therefore important to our mental health. So If you want to, exercise your way back into your skinny jeans. But only if it makes you feel better, only if it has a positive impact on your mental health and only if you want to do it. Otherwise, take the pressure off. Don’t do it because you think you ought to. Please don’t let your new body cause you any unhappiness or define you. Love every lump, bump and stretch mark because it’s part of you. Be proud of you and what your body has achieved.

I’d love to know your thoughts ladies and gents. ❤️ xxx

Fajitas in the bath

Now you’ve all seen a few (or a million if you follow us on Instagram at @babymabymama) photographs of the delicious little thing that is Miss Mabel Lavender, I thought it was time to tell The Birth Story!

A brief history…

About 6 years ago, after a laparoscopy (operation using a teensy camera to look at your insides) to investigate some abdominal pain, it was found that I only have one ovary. Not the cause of the pain, but a worrying discovery for someone who can’t bear the thought of not being able to get pregnant or having children in her life. The consultant’s words have rung in my ears ever since, “Do not leave it any later than 35 to try and get pregnant.” Tick-tock. TICK-TOCK TICK-TOCK TICK-TOCK. Although 35 was about 9 years away, it suddenly gave me a finite amount of time. What if it takes years? What if I need IVF? What if I can never be a mum? I can honestly say, I thought about those words every day for 6 years. By some miracle, when it actually came to it, we were amazed to fall pregnant straight away. In fact, I was shocked. Years had been spent imagining countless trips to doctors and specialists, endless record keeping of monthly cycles and the possibility of IVF. So we got lucky.

I’ll have a P please, Bob

Anyway, after what felt like a very long 9 months of vomity grossness (not that I’m complaining, I would go through it all again) we were finally ready to meet our little chicklet. I had been told by so many people about first babies being late that when my due date came and went a week after leaving work, I still thought I had a couple of weeks of waddling around and watching daytime TV to go. But Mabel had other ideas. There I was, minding my own business and watching Blockbusters at 4.30 in the afternoon and vaguely considering what to start cooking for dinner when I stood up and my waters broke. Just like that. Contractions started at 10 minute intervals and all I could think was that I wasn’t ready yet! After phoning Matt and my parents I got into a warm bath and stayed there until Matt arrived home from work. The contractions were totally manageable for the first few hours. The water really helped and they only lasted about 30 seconds. But after extra hot fajitas (only after I’d eaten them did I consider that I might regret spicy food during the ‘pushing phase’) in a hot bath the contractions worsened and became more frequent. Matt made several calls to the hospital and each time we were encouraged to stay at home for as long as possible. At around 11pm when the pain was finally becoming too much and the contractions were every minute and lasting for a minute we set off for the hospital.

Is it your first?

After a long and painful waddle to the maternity unit, a miserable midwife examined me with a miserable plastic speculum and told me I was only a very miserable 1cm dilated and should go home. I know childbirth is supposed to be painful, but knowing now how bad it gets, I really was in agony at that time and couldn’t stand the thought of not only the walk back to the car, the journey home and climbing the stairs to the flat, but waiting 12 hours before doing it all again. “Is it your first?” she asked, “you’ll be a while yet,” she informed us with a patronising smile and stroke of the arm. After an hour of trying to drag myself off the bed, said miserable midwife informed us it was her break so off she pottered leaving us scared, alone, and me vomiting in pain. It took about 20 minutes to make what should have been a very quick walk back to the front doors of the hospital, by which time I had started to push and quite honestly didn’t know what was happening to my body. I sort of thought that your contractions just got worse until the baby appeared somehow but actually your body does this crazy trembly pushy thing that you can’t control. So I was stuck in a deserted hospital with no hope of making it back to the maternity unit or to the car, and I certainly couldn’t stay hunched over the stark, metal waiting room chairs in the foyer that we had to be buzzed in and out of by a security guard. All I had was Matt, and he had no more clue than I did about what we should do and couldn’t even leave me to get help.

An angel appeared

At that moment, by some miracle my parents appeared and insisted that actually I wasn’t going home because actually I was having an actual baby and we needed to move quick. At that moment, a woman appeared in the empty corridor who just happened to be a midwife and who just happened to be carrying with her all the equipment needed to deliver a baby. An angel, my mum and dad believe. Anyway, angel or not, this extraordinary woman rushed us back to the delivery suite and we were handed over to a wonderfully supportive and encouraging midwife. Mabel was born 36 minutes later at 2.31am. It was that quick. No time for the water birth I planned. No time to watch the box sets we were told we would need to help pass the hours, or to eat the bags of healthy snacks we came prepared with to help me through a long labour. Not even time for pain relief other than a few gasps of gas and air. A brand new nightie remained folded away in my hospital bag, along with shiny new slippers and redundant birthing plan.

The part in the corridor, well that was scary. But last half an hour was so empowering and amazing I would do it again in an instant. It all went rather smoothly in the end, but I wonder whether the speed at which it all happened and the panic and anxiety I felt when stuck in the corridor contributed to succumbing to postnatal depression. I wasn’t being monitored and neither was Mabel so the outcome could have been very different and that’s a really scary thought. The advice I should give now would be to follow your gut and say if something doesn’t feel right, insist on staying in hospital and so on. But it’s really difficult in such a brand new situation to know what your instincts are telling you, and when the medical professionals that you put all your trust in are telling you to go home and that it will be a long time, well, you simply believe them. At least I know a little more what to expect next time…

12 things that might help you avoid postnatal depression


The internet is full of tips for a healthy pregnancy – eat healthily, do gentle exercise, take your vitamins yada yada yada. All important stuff of course, but what about mentally preparing for this baby? When I was pregnant I was totally focussed on excitedly ticking off the weeks as my due date approached and thinking about the birth. Of course you need to be prepared for the birth, but actually, every mum I’ve spoken to said they didn’t follow their birth plan. You have to go with the flow to a certain extent. And once it’s over, although it provides a great story (I almost gave birth in a deserted corridor but I’ll save that tale for another time) it actually forms a small part of the whole journey of becoming a mother. You don’t want to think that postnatal depression and anxiety will happen to you, but at least if you’ve thought about it and can recognise it, you might be a little better equipped to deal with the black fog if it does seep in. Obviously I didn’t manage to avoid PND but I think these things might have helped…

1. Think about whether you’re likely to be affected.

Unfortunately, postnatal depression affects a lot of women whether they’ve had mental health problems in the past or not.(I haven’t included a statistic here because from what I’ve read it ranges from 1 in 10 to 1 in 3 and that’s only the women who seek help.)  If you have had mental health problems in the past, you won’t necessarily get postnatal depression but I think there is no harm in preparing yourself. Other factors which might make you more susceptible include:

  • Pregnancy sickness or Hyperemesis Gravidarum – I had horrendous pregnancy sickness which left me bed bound for several weeks. Although I didn’t feel depressed at the time I’m sure it must have contributed to my mental state.
  • Having no close friends or family
  • Relationship problems
  • Stressful life events such as bereavement, loss of job or divorce
  • Financial problems
  • Illness of your baby
  • Difficulty breastfeeding

“Check yourself before you wreck yourself,” says Matt. I think we can shoehorn his input here…

2. Know the symptoms.

Because I’ve had brushes with depression and anxiety in the past, I could recognise the symptoms and was able to get help. It felt like one of the old bouts but worse. But women get all kinds of different symptoms and it must be really scary if you have never had mental health problems before and think you’re just going a bit mad. I know I spent a lot of time googling the symptoms and just feel worse because I didn’t tick all the symptoms on a list or because I seemed to have it very different to other women. That led to all kinds of confusion and inevitably made me feel worse. “Oh, they have it worse than me, therefore I am useless for not being able to cope when mine isn’t even as bad as that” or “Oh, I have it worse than them, therefore I am useless for letting it get this bad and I will probably never get better.” (You absolutely will get better, by the way, so please remember that because you might feel like you’ll never be able to outrun the black dog of PND.) Anyway, the NHS website list of symptoms can be found here.

I didn’t actually get any of the symptoms about Mabel so it must be so much more difficult when you have negative thoughts about your baby as well as everything else…

3. Think about who you could talk to.

I was lucky enough to have Matt, my parents and some friends that I could talk to, as well as a health visitor and doctor, and even then it was hard. So make sure you have someone you can talk to about how you feel.

4. Talk about it early if you think the dark clouds are gathering.

Just start talking to your partner or a friend or parent or whoever. Talk rather than looking on the internet: 99% of the time, what I found on the internet just made me feel worse. Nip this in the bud!

5. Be selfish.

‘Selfish’ is a strong word, actually. It’s not selfish to put yourself first sometimes and say what you want, especially in the early days. For instance, if you decide you don’t want any visitors in the first couple of weeks, then insist on it and stick to it. My wishes weren’t listened to when this is what I wanted, and I had people coming in and out while I was a hormonal, blubbering, milk-leaking zombie with a baby constantly attached to my boob, while also contending with a slow flow of midwives coming and going. And when I did  get a bit of time where neither me nor the baby was crying or breastfeeding, I felt like I had to pass my brand new parcel of loveliness to all the people I didn’t want there in the first place! You will never get those first few days back so make sure you make the most of those cuddles and don’t feel pressure to hand him or her over. I wish I had been more insistent about this. I think getting support and making yourself happy in the early days can help prevent the black demons of PND creeping in.

6. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t breastfeed.

I’m going to write a whole post on this another time, but in brief, don’t worry about it. I breastfed for a month and then changed to formula and I think we can all agree that Mabel is hardly wasting away. Don’t compare yourself to other mothers and don’t google things. Just because you don’t have it as bad as some mums it doesn’t mean you have to carry on if it’s not working for you. Also, be aware that midwives and health visitors will all tell you different things which can be really confusing. I’m not sure what to advise about this really; lots of people would say trust your instincts but I overthink things so much that I have no idea what my instincts are trying to tell me!

7. Be aware of your thoughts when you’re on your own.

Having a baby is so wonderful, but they can’t chat much to you at first! In that bit of time around when my PND kicked in, so when Mabel was about 2 months old, I spent a lot of time being pinned down by her napping. If you can enjoy this time that’s fab, but I think it gave me way too much time to think and worry. I didn’t even notice it was happening at first so watch out for the signs. For me, I started to feel anxious and worries about every decision I had ever made and beat myself up about anything I could think of. It was a horrible grotty feeling. I’ve heard it described as a black dog before; sometimes it’s an overweight Labrador squashing the life out of me but most of the time it’s a wiry Jack Russell yapping at my ankles, reminding me of every mistake I’ve ever made.

It can sometimes take a bit of time to identify it, but the sooner you recognise it the sooner you can challenge the thoughts and talk to someone.

8. Don’t feel guilty about anything.

You can’t just switch your feelings off, but you really shouldn’t feel guilty. You’ve done an amazing thing bringing a baby into the world and that little bundle of joy is all you need to concentrate on. Very simply, there is no point worrying about the past because you can’t change it, and there is no point worrying about the future because it isn’t here yet. Of course it’s normal to worry a bit about the future and make some plans, but lots of the ‘what if…’ worries aren’t helpful. I’m going to talk more about this in a post about the cognitive behavioural therapy I had.

9. Postpone other stuff.

If you didn’t manage to divert that pesky thought train before it derailed and caused havoc then try postponing the worries to when you’re feeling stronger. Maternity leave is not the time to reassess your life and make big changes, in my opinion. You have enough on your plate with looking after a shiny new baby and you don’t want to miss out by trying to map out the rest of your life. I think I tried to do this to give me a bit of security because having a baby shakes up your world so much. It might be helpful for some people but I just felt like I was going around in circles. You also tend to be financially worse off during maternity leave because new baby + maternity pay or no pay = poor mama. So you feel like you’ll never afford to do any of these grand plans. Remember that it’s normal to not have much spare money now and as long as you can afford to live, that’s OK. As my brother George says, “You can earn more money but you can’t earn more time.” One of his wiser sayings.

10. Try to get as much sleep as you can.

I’m not saying ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’ because I got sick of hearing that! Do it if you can, but you’re not failing if your baby only wants to nap on you and therefore you can’t sleep, or if when you lie down for a nap you’re so hyped up on adrenaline that’s trying to help you cope with this brand new life that you can’t sleep. It’s been proven that anxiety is linked to sleep deprivation so do try and get some zeds if you can.

11. Avoid alcohol and caffeine.

It can be tempting to reach for the coffee when you’re exhausted but caffeine can exacerbate anxiety and it certainly makes me more jittery. Any more than one coffee and I get twitchy. Personally I’d rather battle tiredness than anxiety. Alcohol, on the other hand, doesn’t make me anxious but it affects my sleep and the demons come back ten fold the next day. It’s really not worth it.

12. And finally, know that it gets easier.

Having a newborn is totally amazing but it’s pretty difficult! If you love every minute of it that’s brilliant but if you’re finding it hard then just know it will get easier. You won’t always feel like you have no clue what you’re doing and you won’t always be functioning on 2 hours of broken sleep per night. Mabel is almost 7 months old and I actually feel like I know what I’m doing! I’ve even weaned her onto solid food which seemed like an impossible task just a few weeks ago and she is sleeping through the night at last, even though we’ve had about a week of 5am get-ups! Each phase will pass, so enjoy it as much as you can, but if you can’t then remember it will pass soon. 
XXXX

Adventures with Postpartum Depression

Mabel

There I was, merrily filtering and hash-tagging the shizzle out of more gorgeous photos of Mabel to clog up everyone’s Instagram feeds when I receive an inbox message from one lovely lady in Pasadena, California. Would I like to be part of her series of podcasts all about postpartum depression she asks me.

‘Adventures with Postpartum Depression’ is a brilliant series by Courtney Novak, a mother of two who first suffered from maternal mental illness in 2013 when her daughter was born. She runs a PND support group in Pasadena, is writing a book about her experiences and is creating this podcast to help other new mums (moms) who are going through the same thing. So I jumped at the chance to take part in her project. We had a Skype interview and Courtney was so easy to talk to that I rambled on comfortably about the ups and downs of the last 6 months. Today she has just released my episode to the world! My interview is episode 10 but I would really recommend listening to the previous episodes too.

Courtney’s website is brilliant and can be found at www.ppdadventures.com.  You can listen to the podcast ‘Adventures with Postpartum Depression’ here on iTunes or here on podomatic now!

That’s all for now folks xxx

9 things for the dark days…

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1. Don’t make any big decisions

Take the pressure off. On dark days I would obsess on whatever it was that I was worried about at the time and try to solve it. The problem was, it was usually something that had already happened, was out of my control or wasn’t really a problem in the first place and therefore it wasn’t really solvable. My mind would go round and round trying to think it through to the end to either make myself feel better about it or find a solution. Overthinking literally never makes me feel any better or gets me to a solution. You can’t just stop ruminating, as much as you’d like to, but tell yourself you’ll deal with it when you feel better and that to be quite honest, you aren’t capable of making any big decisions at the moment. For example, I stayed with my lovely mum and dad when I was at my worst who helped me look after Mabel and gave me some TLC, and when I returned to Brighton I was absolutely convinced all I wanted to do was to move home to mum and dad. I was ready to pack up and move, it would solve all my problems, I hated Brighton and it was definitely what I wanted to do. After a very tearful discussion with Matt, he convinced me to wait until I felt better. I only agreed on the condition that we could discuss it again when I was feeling calmer. Silly man, I thought, thinking he knows me better than myself. Lo and behold, though, when I felt better I realised that moving wouldn’t solve all my problems at all and that I do love living in Brighton. We might move one day or we might not. But if we do, it won’t be a knee jerk reaction. Silly man did know me better than myself after all…

2. Take things a minute at a time

We’ve all heard the phrase ‘take it one day at a time’ but sometimes a whole day is too big. When Mabes and I have been up since 4.30am, I feel like I’ve done half a day’s work by the time Matt leaves for work at 7.30am, so when you’re a bundle of anxiety and self-doubt, the thought of up to 12 hours before he comes back through the door is just too much. So break it down further, whether it’s hour by hour, feed by feed or minute by minute. If you’ve ever seen ‘The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ she says,

“I learned a long time ago that a person can stand just about anything for 10 seconds, then you just have to start on a new 10 seconds. All you’ve got to do is take it 10 seconds at a time.”

I mean, it’s just a silly TV show but I think the quote is brilliant…

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Elly Kemper as Kimmy Schmidt
3. Get out of the house

For two reasons: Getting a bit of exercise by walking around, and seeing other people if you manage to make it as far as a baby group. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do this though. It’s just that I found that if I could get myself together and drag myself to a baby group where people didn’t know me, I would have to smile and make small talk and pretend I was OK and I would end up actually feeling OK for a little bit.

As for the exercise bit, I’m not one of those mums who jogs with her pushchair, stopping every 2 minutes to do star jumps in front of it so I can still bond with baby (I really have seen this on Hove seafront). But going for a bit of a walk helps burn some of that nervous energy and get rid of some of the adrenaline that’s giving you such an anxious stomach. It’s better if you can walk with someone else though otherwise you’re in potential overthinking territory…

4. Eat something

I probably should say ‘eat healthily’ but if you have no appetite because of the anxiety/nothing in the house/no time to make anything, just eat anything. Even if you don’t fancy it. I promise it will take the edge off the nervous stomach and give you a bit of energy. (A handful of dry cornflakes to stop me throwing up with anxiety in the morning at my worst! Sorry that’s gross. I promise it won’t get any more gross…until I share my birth story maybe!)

5. Be mindful

This takes practice and I really haven’t mastered it yet but the idea is that you just be in the present moment. It’s so hard to stop thinking about the past and the future when you’re anxious but try to be mindful of what you’re doing whether it’s changing a nappy or having a shower or eating. Neither the past nor the future will change by just worrying about them. Therefore there is no point in worrying at all. Worrying is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but doesn’t get you anywhere.

6. Don’t bother with housework

You’re exhausted from lack of sleep and being so busy and recovering from the birth and battling with those pesky hormones, and the vacuuming and tidying will all need doing again anyway so just leave it for now. Nothing bad is going to happen and you need to give yourself a break. Also, I saw this the other day and thought it was just lovely:

Quotes About Rocking Babies

7. Talk to someone

If you find it difficult to talk about your feelings then this is a tricky one. Talking won’t suddenly fix things but will lighten the load a little bit and might stop you from feeling so lonely. My go-to people are Matt, my dad and a couple of friends. I’ve also seen four different doctors at the surgery I go to and they’ve all been incredible.

8. Stop comparing yourself to other people

This is so hard to do because sometimes I don’t think we even really realise we’re doing it. It’s automatic. But it’s very destructive and always ends in negative thinking. ,I’m not as happy as them’, ‘she’s better than me because she’s still breastfeeding’, ‘she’s lost all her baby weight and I look like I’ve eaten a baby’… We’re not all supposed to be the same and we are no better or worse than anyone else, we’re just different. Also, we’re normally comparing ourselves to what we assume about other people. I think Facebook has a lot to answer for; we don’t share average photos of average days, we share beautiful, radiant, filtered photos of us looking blissfully happy, but nobody is like that all the time. People would have no idea about what I was really feeling while posting all the gorgeous photos of Mabel. We don’t really know what other people are going through.

9. Don’t blame yourself

I am still working on this one. I feel like either I don’t really have depression or postnatal depression and that I’m using it as an excuse for my failures, or I do have it but it’s my fault  for being such a failure. Either way, I can’t win. But the fact is, postnatal depression is a medical condition that can happen to any new mother, regardless of their situation. It’s frustrating that there is still such a stigma attached to mental health issues; we wouldn’t feel embarrassed about talking about or taking medication for diabetes or asthma, for example, and this should be no different.

Anyway, I hope you can sift through the waffle and take something vaguely useful from this! Even if it’s just one thing that makes things a little bit better I’ll be happy. Let me know what you think and what’s helped you. And remember, (this is Matt’s contribution to the post by the way) it will all be OK in the end, and if it’s not OK then it’s not the end.

xxx

No but really, this time it really is the worst thing ever…

I have lost count of the number of times I have thought or said this. You’d think I’d learn. Or at least see it coming. But every time I have a new pang of anxiety, it doesn’t merely feel like another pang of anxiety…

“This isn’t just a symptom of my condition this time. I feel this awful because I really am a disaster and this really is this bad.”

Even though I can see when I’ve calmed down that it was just the latest thing to worry about, whether it’s money or Mabel or my relationship or work or something I’ve said or something I’ve done, I can’t seem to stop another panic from coming. Each time it feels like the real deal and I don’t think I will ever be able to feel better because “this time it’s different”. I worry about everything, but the rate at which these worries gain momentum and spiral out of control is scary. I can start by seeing someone on TV with some interesting job or other, for example, which immediately makes me think about me not being a career woman or ambitious or earning tonnes of money or owning a house or being married and before I know it I have convinced myself yet again that I am a total disaster and have wasted my life and have never achieved and will never achieve anything. It seems ridiculous when I write it down, but at the time it is so, so, painfully real and leads to such self hatred.

“Be kind to yourself.”

Lovely, lovely advice, but so difficult to believe you should be kind to yourself when you really don’t think you deserve it. “Take an hour for a lovely long bath or read your favourite book or go for a walk.” Great ideas, but all of these things simply provide an hour of empty space where I can ruminate over all the bad decisions I have ever made or things that have ever gone wrong, as well as the future. The massive, unknown, scary, daunting future.

What an ungrateful, miserable cow.

I know. And that only makes me feel worse. The whole time I am jabbering on (in my head or out loud) about how terrible I feel, I am completely dismissing anything good in my life; most importantly, beautiful baby Mabel. After being told by doctors that I may have problems conceiving, and preparing ourselves for a long journey to parenthood, we were more than a little surprised to get pregnant as soon as we started trying. So I know how lucky I am, and remembering that so many women would give anything to be in my position makes me feel guilty. But postnatal (and any form of) depression can happen to anyone at anytime and it’s not your fault.`

Although I probably sound self pitying, I’m not writing this for sympathy. I just hope someone who is feeling a bit mad might read it and think, “At least I’m not the only one.” Because you are never alone when you have a baby, but at times you can feel incredibly lonely. So make sure you talk to someone. I am lucky enough to have a partner, family and several friends who I can talk to honestly about this stuff, and a doctor who has been brilliant. I am currently taking anti-depressants and having CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and it’s a big old journey, but we’ll get there eventually. The feelings pass and after each panic, where I really don’t think I’ll ever feel better, I always always do.

First blog post

Welcome!

My first post! What to say…well, welcome to Baby Maby Mama: Me writing/talking about being a mum to beautiful Mabel (Baby Maby) and all the ups and downs of becoming a new parent. I’m 31, live in Brighton with Mabel’s dad and love my new bezzie. Mabel is almost 6 months old and I’m finally finding my feet a bit. Well I can see my feet now at least so I’d say that’s a start. And did I mention I’ve had postnatal depression for the past 4 months? Hmm, well now we get to the truth of why I’m starting this blog; to share my experiences in the hope it might help someone else who feels like they’ve woken up in a parallel universe, where the world kind of looks the same but you feel…well, a bit mad. 😬