Continuing with the theme of Maternal Mental Health, today we have a powerful and moving blog post written by Daisy’s very own Executive Director, Sian Gilmartin.
Given my area of work I should have been aware of the risks, the likelihood or perhaps even the inevitability of becoming a postnatal depression statistic. As we tick off the list of risk factors that applied to me at that time: stressful life events; previous PND; lack of support network – it seems impossible to imagine any other scenario.
At the time, I was looking in to the eye of a perfect storm and only seeing the calm in the centre. Looking back, I can see the twists and turns of damage it left in its wake. In my most hopeful moments, I can see a stable path with as gentle a rollercoaster as my hormones will allow, before we hit what many fear but I long for – the menopause: release from this hormonal hell!
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)
I had never heard of PMDD before, but some 3 years after the birth of my 2nd child, 3 years of deep despair, agonising frustration, isolation and anger – anger doesn’t seem to do the emotional turmoil justice, the depths of the emotions seem inexplicable somehow – the search for answers began. It’s often described as: “an abnormal reaction to hormone changes related to your menstrual cycle” – sounds simple enough right?
Herbal remedies, supplements, acupuncture, diet changes, exercise, zero-alcohol, and the contraceptive pill were all part of the search for a solution. Only along this path did I learn about the reality of PMDD, reading as much as I could on the subject, listening to the differing opinions on it (was it just severe PMS or something entirely different?).
The seemingly simple little tick list that appears in the literature on the subject defining my whole life, goes like this:
- Mood Swings – check
- Depression or feelings of hopelessness – yep
- Intense anger and conflict with other people – my poor parents who we were living with at its peak – eek!
- Tension, anxiety and irritability – I had this in spades!
- Decreased interests in usual activities – erm, yep
- Difficulty concentrating – Yes!
- Fatigue – Ha!
- Change in appetite – if that means piling on 2 stones, then yes
- Feeling out of control – Hello?!
- Sleep problems – well, I had two wee ones so that was a given
- Cramps and bloating – I think this is the only one I didn’t tick off!
- Breast tenderness – slightly skewed here due to breastfeeding, but we’ll say yes!
- Headaches – YES, thanks to the stress causing a terrible jaw and teeth grinding issue that plagued my teeth for years
- Joint or muscle pain – tick to that one too, sore hands and feet to top it all off were a bonus
Educating my own GP on what it was along the way led to popping pills being the best ‘solution’ on offer.
Did I have PND at all or was it always PMDD? Or did one morph in to the other as I neglected myself and found myself choosing stress over self-care as my ‘go-to’ emotional state? I wonder in the moments I feel like a passport photo of myself (expressionless, void of emotion and still) has my ‘wiring’ been altered forever?
The Road to Acceptance
It’s been nearly 6 years since my daughter was born, 8 since my first dalliance with PND – but in hindsight I can see that it’s been a lifetime of unhealthy patterns, hormonal blips and less than ideal nurturing grounds for the powerful transition to motherhood.
For now, I accept that a combination of factors keep me on an even keel: being alcohol free; dog walking and 20mg of Fluoxetine a day keep me from being the “Fire Breathing Dragon” (as my kids and I call my PMDD alter ego with the kind of affection you might give to a comedy panto villain).
Other things are more of a daily battle of wits between surviving and perhaps entertaining a more positive mind-set: caffeine, sugar, more exercise, more sleep, stress reduction. All seemingly at odds with the stressful identity I have given myself, and often part of the story I tell myself: ’the self-employed single parent’, like this alone means I should be stressed, alone and suffering?!
I have accepted that PMDD will be a part of my life now, something to be always mindful of, watching out for triggers and trying to maintain as even a hormonal state as I can. My two children and I laugh as we make up funny stories about hormones and their rampages through my mind. We chat about my rollercoaster of tears and tantrums when the stress mounts and have been known to enjoy a ‘family-scream’ together (very therapeutic) when tipping over the edge looms. We all pay attention to the lunar cycle and prepare ourselves for when my cycle more often than not times itself with the full moon. My kids both know the ‘centred-breath’ we use in Daisy and have been known to remind me to use it!
It’s a challenge – yes, but also a blessing: the three of us together have a deep understanding and appreciation of each other’s emotions and how internal and external factors can shape our mood. We have mastered the art of using song and dance, silly faces and games to boost our endorphins or divert us from tantrums (not just mine I should add!). I am grateful in the moments when comparing my monthly cycle records, of the vast improvement I can see now, where perhaps 20% of the month is a challenge rather than the 80% of years gone by.
In a conversation with my Mum recently on the subject, we explored the comparing ideals of a life filled with joy versus a life filled with purpose and meaning. It is in these thoughts I find my own version of joy. It is in the depths of the compassion and dedication that the teaching community within Daisy displays every day, by supporting women on their own journey through motherhood that I find my meaning. Our purpose is not defined by preparing for birth, teaching baby massage or educating couples on baby care….it is defined by the fundamental belief that every woman should have a supportive hand on their journey, no matter how smooth or turbulent that road may be – it should never be travelled alone.
It’s OK not to be OK.
Love Sian (a.k.a Mrs Daisy or Mama D).