Acceptance is the first step
When I started writing about Post Natal Depression, I was coming out of it. I had been in the mire and fog of it for about 3 years, on and off, and I was finally starting to see colours and feel joy in my heart again on a regular basis. The reason I started writing was mostly because I was so profoundly grateful to be coming back into a settled and content headspace, but there was another reason:
When I was in the middle of it, a set of events led me to face facts and accept that I had depression. These events included sustained daily rages against my husband and children, the need to scream into a pillow on a regular basis, over things that seemed very small to other people, but had a huge gravitas to me. Another regular event was not being able to get out of bed to say goodbye to my husband in the morning, even though I needed to get up to tend to the children. But the thing is, even after I accepted my situation and sought help to resolve it, I don’t think I ever REALLY FULLY accepted it. I remember I kept whispering to inner self that things weren’t that bad, I was just having a bad day every now and then. I kept telling myself to harden up: this isn’t depression, I would say. It wasn’t as if I was suicidal or anything. Now THAT’S postnatal depression. There were other things that I clung to: I had bonded just fine with my children. You don’t love them if you have postnatal depression: you don’t feel anything for them. I had seen the movies and read the stereotypes.
What I DID accept was that I wasn’t happy, and that this wasn’t right, so I started on the stairway to wellness, taking the steps I was instructed to take, and being quite thoughtful and invested in my own journey.
It was only after I had felt well for a whole month without a bad day, a month of feeling normal and settled and not full of rage, that I finally had the full picture of how bad things had actually been. This was when the true acceptance settled in my heart. When I was better.
When you start to feel like you are coming back into the light, it makes you want to break down all over again in sadness for the path you have just walked. Because when you are well, you have a perspective that can no longer deny just how unwell you were.
One doctor put it to me in a way that really helped me to achieve a level of acceptance in order to move forward:
She drew a straight line on a piece of paper. Then she drew a line, representing my daily ups and downs, ebbing and flowing above and below this constant straight line (my happy medium).
“This is the normal ebb and flow of emotion,” she said. “Sometimes you are happy and sometimes you are sad, and that is part of life.”
Then she drew a new chart, again with the same steadfast straight line. But this time, my ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ were all happening UNDERNEATH this Happy Medium.
“At the moment, even at your happiest, you are still lower than a normal emotional pattern.”
If you do not accept that you have a problem, there is no possible way for anyone to be able to help you, least of all the only person who can actually begin to resolve this: YOU.
This was a God revelation moment for me, which helped me to accept the reality of my childrens's poor health, and to make the changes necessary to heal them.
When this well of acceptance filled me up, I had to find an outlet for it, and so I began writing a blog. I was quite overwhelmed when I began talking about my PND experience on the internet, because of how many friends and complete strangers contacted me privately to tell me that my story rang so true with them, that they had similar feelings of grey nothingness and despair, but very little joy. And almost every single one of them ended the sentence my saying: “not that I have postnatal depression” or “not that I am anywhere as bad as you were.” They meant it kindly, not wanting to take away from my experience, but they also meant it literally. It is true that some of these women didn’t have PND, and were just struggling on the edge of it, because mothering is such a massive mind shift, and that can be REALLY hard. But many of these women did have it, and hadn’t yet accepted it. I was so grateful to God for giving me a little job of good works to do, that I could help these beautiful, sad mothers to open their eyes and see that this wasn’t how it needs to be. I could help them to begin the process of opening their minds to the hopeful possibility of being happier.
Again, this was God putting me on a training course, because I was going to need the skills of helping mothers to accept the reality of PND, in order to help guide mothers of sick children to accept the task ahead of them: healing those children by making huge, inconvenient dietary changes.
It can be the tiniest moment when someone realises a truth, but I felt that God had put me in this position where I could help bring about that moment, by allowing me to hold up a mirror. It made me feel like my experience with this awful empty sadness had actually given me a purpose and a reason, beyond motherhood. And for the first time, I didn’t feel guilty about wanting a life and a purpose outside of motherhood.
Can you believe it, I was actually finding myself in all this mess.
This is an excerpt from chapter 15 of The Good Mood Book, available for purchase as a PDF ebook here.