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My whole life, I never quite understood what anxiety was. When people would say they were anxious about something I was that person innocently saying 'just don’t worry about it'.
Little did I know that is one of the worst things you can say to someone in the middle of an anxious episode. ‘If we could not worry we wouldn’t worry!!’
So when I began to experience anxiety prior to and following the birth of my second son, I didn’t know what was happening!!
Why can’t I sleep at night? Here is a little narrative of what would go through my mind.
“What would happen if my son fell off the front retaining wall? I have to go to the shops tomorrow… but I have to take the boys, so I’ll put Owen in the pram and I’ll put Ethan in the wrap. But then I’ll have to put the wrap on before I leave the house so it’s easier when I get to the shops. But I’ll have to buy petrol with both of them in the car which means I have to get them both out… or can I run in and pay super quickly…. Then when I get to the shops what if Ethan poos in the wrap and Owen cracks it and runs away from me while I’m holding Ethan or feeding him in the family room.”
I could go on for hours, and often would. I would lay in bed at night thinking about what time Ethan was due to wake up. Thinking if I went to sleep now I would probably get 2 hours, then another 3 after that then I’d be lucky to get another 2 after that before Owen was up. And I would struggle to add that up… 2 + 3 + 2 = so many super strong coffees tomorrow.
So after my self-induced lack of sleep, I would spend the next day cranky and on edge, with a fog of anxiety gripping at the back of my neck. That’s how I felt it. I’m sure everyone is different. But the back of my neck and my shoulders would forever be tense when the anxiety was hovering.
I would snap at Owen for dropping something, I would get angry at Ethan for wanting to cuddle rather than sleep and I would switch off the second Jeremy got home because I didn’t have to do it all when he was home and I simply had nothing left in the tank to be a wife. I felt like that was another job I had to do and I just didn’t have the energy because Ethan would be awake again in so many hours and if I went to sleep now I could get so many hours sleep. And repeat.
I recognised something wasn’t right fairly quickly because I had never experienced anxiety like this before. Sure nerves before an exam or on a first date, but not this paralysing, fear evoking, confidence reducing anxiety. This was new. I struggled to decide what Ethan needed. I struggled to deal with Owens frequent tantrums and attempts at attention seeking. It would take me 15 minutes to decide whether I wanted a tea or a coffee and even then I would get half way through drinking it and regret my decision.
I never thought I would need to see a psychologist but here I am. It is the decision that has helped me recover from my Perinatal Anxiety and Depression.
I went to my GP to ask for help as I could tell something wasn’t right with me. I wasn't reacting to basic things as I used to, I would get angry easily and I would cry ALL THE TIME! I got a referral for a session with a Psychiatrist, to which I thought, I don’t need a Psychiatrist. But my GP told me she would just assess me and my progress to determine whether I need medication to assist my recovery.
My immediate reaction was NO WAY JOSE!! I don’t need anti-depressants, I’m not that far gone. But the Psychiatrist explained that just like an asthmatic takes ventalin, a depressed person takes medication, to get them to a point where they can use self-help techniques to get better. Medication to a depressed or anxious person gets you to a neutral point where counselling and self-help techniques can be effective. So I saw the Psychiatrist twice, once alone and once with my husband so he could get a bit of an insight into what was happening and what would be happening to help me get better.
She determined that I was mid-range. I could choose to take medication and use that alongside counselling. Or I could begin counselling and attempt to recover without it. I decided I felt confident enough to go ahead without medication. That isn’t taking anything away from the people who do need medication. It does help so many people, it just wasn’t part of my journey.
So I began seeing Gabrielle once every 2 weeks. For the most part we booked the sessions so I didn’t have to bring the kids with me and could talk freely without having to focus on them.
In the beginning I had no idea what to expect. I went in feeling like I was in an interview. She asked me how I was and I thought well I’m fine… now. And with a few questions the conversations just flowed. I would gradually remember things that happened in the weeks prior and would chat about them and she would help me though. I don’t think I got through one whole session without crying. And everytime I did, Gabrielle would pass me the tissues and remind me that crying was a good thing. In order to release the emotion you have to cry. It’s so therapeutic.
Some weeks I would be having a great 2 weeks and get there and think well what are we going to talk about I’m doing fine this is a waste of time. Then we would start slowly talking about what we had been doing and how I reacted to the events of the last few weeks.
In other sessions, she would say so how have you been and I would burst into tears just saying oh fine! Clearly a lie! I never once felt judged. She explained the nature behind kid’s emotions and behaviours when I couldn’t understand why Owen wouldn’t leave me the hell alone when I had only had 3 hours sleep.
She reassured me that what I was doing was hard. 2 kids in 2 years, working nights at the pub, building my Arbonne business and putting pressure on myself to be more. That was a lot. I would always down play just how much I was doing and always be putting pressure on myself to be doing more.
Gabrielle helped me to see how my personality of loving being organised and in control and on top of things and perfect and tidy and AND AND… wasn’t helpful and was actually holding me back in my recovery.
I’ve put in a lot of effort learning how to step back and deal when things aren’t how I expected or wanted, especially when it’s out of my immediate control. And this definitely helps when I feel the anxiety creeping up again. When Owen throws all this toys out onto the floor for the 5th time that day after I asked him not to, it really takes a lot of gentle self-talk to make sure my reaction doesn’t evoke another tanty from him or me!
I’m slowly learning how to talk to myself how I would talk to my best friend. It takes effort and practice. We are so used to pushing ourselves, after all that’s how we get anything done right! But when it comes to illnesses such as this, we really do need to be kind to ourselves and not beat ourselves up because we decided to stay in our PJs all day, or because we finished off that block of chocolate. My advice to any Mum or Dad struggling with PNDA, is to reach out and talk to someone. Start talking to yourself in a loving and gentle way when you feel yourself struggling. And just keep trying. It is hard, but it is so worth it.
At this stage I don't have any more appointments booked in with Gabrielle and sometimes I wish I did! Purely because it's a great place to vent everything out and debreif after tough days. But I know I can always go back for an additional session and that isn't a failure or a back slide. I enjoyed my psychologist session and I benefit greatly from them.