First of all, a big hello to my new followers!! I'm so excited that I have people following my blog who don't even know me....very blessed.
Since I last wrote, my blog post was published on Mamamia and I got so many positive responses to my struggles. I worried a bit that I'd made myself too visible, and too open. I said a lot of stuff in there that I can't take back - I came out of the closet as a mentally ill person to my Facebook friends. That's scary stuff....I worry sometimes that I put people off, that they won't want to be friends with me if they know all about me. And at the same time, I guess it opens a dialogue that's amazingly healthy and helpful to be a part of. Then again, is it too much info?
I've been thinking a lot lately about my time in the psychiatric ward of a hospital. I wanted to share my experience...because let's face it, the average person in the street doesn't know what it's like (or do they?). So, I have always had depressive iss-yews, but the months after I had Alex was the first time that I ever had the experience of staying in a psychiatric ward. I'd developed Post Natal Depression with Alex, that at first presented as anxiety. Fair enough, we thought - and started some coping strategies. I read some books and wrote gratitude lists. I spoke a lot to my friends in AA. I didn't want to seek psychiatric help, as I felt I'd been working towards handling this. So I tried. My maternal health nurse was extremely worried about me.... My results on the Edinburgh Depression Scale were off the charts. Yet, I tried to fob her off "No", I said "I don't have Post Natal Depression - I'm just an anxious person". I walked everywhere. I tried soothing techniques. I went to sleep school. I tried to bond with Alex. I tried to breastfeed. I watched the clock constantly, and one morning woke up with gastro. Terrible gastro. Yet, I wasn't throwing up or going to the toilet. And something was sitting on my chest. I couldn't swallow. I must have been sick. Surely there was a virus going around?
I went to the doctor that day, trembling as I unloaded the pram from the back of the car and tried to snap it together. Loaded Alex, my gorgeous baby (who I was terrified of), into the pram and waited for the solution. I saw a different doctor, and as I outlined my symptoms, he smiled and looked at me kindly. "You have Post Natal Depression and Anxiety", he said. "You must go on antidepressants and put the baby on the bottle". I was instantly relieved and hopeful. The solution was found! I drove home feeling happy for the first time in ages. I called mum to come over from Albury to help me wean him and organise bottles. I waited for things to get better. They didn't.
I was terrified of being a mum. Terrified of Alex crying and terrified of not being able to make him stop. Panic and dread flooded me every time he cried. I hated breastfeeding. I felt disconnected with my body. It hurt. It took ages. I took to watching the clock to see how long he was feeding, how long he would sleep, how long I'd been awake, how long I had to sleep, how long until Richard went to work, how long before he came home. I became obsessed with sleep and time....until time became my enemy. Time seemed to be stuck. I was stuck. I sometimes wished that he would go away, so that this feeling would go away, yet I loved him fiercely, and was terrified that something would happen to him. I was terrified of being away from him, scared that he would be in an accident and die. Scared that something would happen to Richard, scared that I would hurt Alex. I was terrified. And things started to happen to me. I had never, ever wanted to kill myself, but suddenly it seemed like a good idea. To stop the insanity, to stop the madness. I was sick of the whirlwind of thoughts in my mind and the constant fear, nausea, anxiety and churning of my stomach. The constant weight on my chest, the palpitating of my heart, the urges I felt towards myself and to my beautiful baby boy.
The church organised a roster so that I didnt' have to be by myself. Someone would arrive while Richard was about to leave for work, and the shifts would change over during the day. Richard would come home. The whole day was an excruciating passing of the seconds and minutes. I was trapped in deep, deep and cloying misery. I had ceased to be myself. I stopped being able to eat or sleep. I couldn't imagine coping. I had started cutting myself, just to stop the thoughts. I had never done this before....I had worked through my issues - why was it happening now?
Alex got a place in the mother and baby unit, and we moved over. Richard came to visit and we tried to be a family - pretty hard when you're in a hospital. I tried so hard not to talk to Richard about how I was feeling. I felt like I was dead inside. I felt like I wanted to escape. If it wasn't for the love I felt for all of them, that I knew I felt, I would have just checked out. I was in agony.
I transferred to Banksia house at the Austin after a few days, as it was a public hospital, and I met some lovely women. Sam and Alicia and I remain friends to this day. We got used to bathing our babies and trying to normalise the situation. But I was still terrified. I still felt like I was a million miles away from everyone else. And I was stuck in a hospital. I saw psychiatrists and psychologists, I took my pills. But nothing helped. After a month, they sent me home. Things got worse. I started seeing another psychiatrist in Albury, who prescribed some new antidepressants, sleeping pills, and anti anxiety tablets. I couldn't cope. People were around me all the time. I wanted to escape. I told them that I could cope and overdosed. I called Mum and a helpline as I took the pills. I didn't want anything bad to happen to Alex. A neighbour came over to be with him. I still cry when I hear the story about my sister in law, Catherine, driving away with Alex. My poor, poor baby. It wasn't that I didn't want to be with him - it was just that I didn't want to be with me any more. I couldn't cope with the desecration and agony that was living in my head - the counting down of the moments and living through each day without any hope or life.
I was taken by ambulance to the Albury Base Hospital and admitted to Nolan House, their psychiatric wing. Mum and Dad lived in Albury and came over to be with me. And this time, it was different. I was taken to a hospital room and had most of my possessions removed, particularly anything sharp. I had a bed with hospital bedding and a communal shower. I still couldn't sleep or eat, and I was terrified. The seconds and minutes were agony. There were large, high, brick walls around the outside of the ward. The inner gates were locked. Some of the nurses were nasty. Once it was 10pm, you had to go to bed. There was no wandering around. You couldn't watch TV late at night.
The days were marked with military precision. There was a schedule of group therapy, coping exercises, walks in the morning with one of the nurses, and mealtimes. The meals came on a cart, with plastic covers. I can't see those plastic covers without getting a shiver down my spine. They meant that you'd survived part of the day. Another section of the day was over. I was surprised at how hard it was to pass time. Time was still my enemy - I would wake at 5am, in panic and anxiety, and force myself to wait. I couldn't stay in my bed.... I would try to read but was unable to manage more than a couple of words. It was torture. Suicide was a constant thought. I couldn't justify it but the ending of this agony had become paramount. The suffering became worse the longer I went through it. There seemed to be no end and I had no hope. I saw my psychiatrist and he advised a medication change. I was to have sleeping tablets. I was not given anything for my anxiety during the day. They wanted me to try and cope. I still have a piece of paper where I have calculated how many more hours it would take before I could see my psychiatrist again, with the time I slept taking out. I was in prison, but it wasn't about my surroundings - it was all in my mind. I couldn't escape.
Some of the people around me were terrifying. There were no other mums there with stories to tell of husbands who were confused and feeding schedules. These were unwell people. And some very nice people. I remember a real estate agent who had a gambling problem, and who had driven his car into a pole rather than cope with his problems. He did really well in therapy and recovered quickly. His depression was reactive and he was going to get his life back together. There were people who came in every six months to get a course of Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT), as it reset their brain chemistry. Every time they came back from their sessions, they went to bed, slept, and woke up a step closer to themselves. It was amazing. I was jealous of the people with lots of medication, who had to take it often. Why couldn't I have more medication? Surely that would make me feel better?
The walks and the times we were allowed outside were the worst of all. It only served to highlight our incarceration when we were given freedom. I remember going on a walk with the other patients and realising that we were about a kilometre from my mum's house, where Alex was staying. She was coming to visit me with him later that morning. I longed to break away from the group and run towards them - but I knew that would only cause more trouble. I remember thinking that this is what it must be like to be in rehab - and I thought that looked so cool in all the Hollywood movies...and how wrong I was to wish to be in rehab all those times I found sobriety hard going.
I remember being on a trip to the supermarket over the road, and seeing a woman my age buying groceries. I remember wishing that I could be that woman. I remember thinking, "one day, I will be out of here. One day I will be that woman, and I won't resent having to get those groceries. I will be glad that I am getting those groceries and that I'm not here".
The next time I went on a shopping excursion, the fact that I felt so far away from that woman was too much to bear. I stole a pack of 24 panadols and when we got back, I took them all. I thought that everyone would understand that I couldn't live anymore if this was all that I could be. I cried for myself, I cried for Richard and I cried for Alex. I cried for my parents and for my family. I was so loved but I couldn't feel any of it. I was imprisoned, I had ceased to be a person, I was a series of symptoms and agonies. I wasn't me. I was dead inside.
I couldn't believe it when nothing happened. I was so upset that I smashed a mug and tried to slash my wrists. That didnt' work either. All it ended up doing was landing me in the isolation ward, where I wouldn't harm myself or others.
That day, when both of those things happened, and when my liver tests came back totally normal, and I sat trying to make sense of why I was still here, when I wanted to die, I realised that there was a reason I was here. A reason why God had kept me alive. It was hard and I couldn't understand it, but I remember writing in my diary that "THIS IS SERIOUS! PEOPLES LIVES ARE AT STAKE!". I suddenly realised that it wasn't all about me. That I wanted to stop being in hospital. That I wouldn't get any better until I became responsible for getting better. I realised that I wanted to go home and start trying to live and be a proper mother to my son. That I wasn't going to get any better for a while, but as one psychiatrist said "This is a severe depressive episode. We don't know why it happens, or when it will end - but we do know that as long as you keep on living, you will get better."
Lots of other things happened, and it was a while before I got out of the hospital and even longer still before the episode ended and I found my way back to where I am today. But, I still remember it. I still remember that there is a reason why I am here today. And I still remember to be grateful when I am buying the groceries and I don't feel like it - because I could be the other girl, and today I'm not. Today I'm a million miles away from her. But I carry her in a tiny piece of my heart, because she's taught me to be responsible for me.