Below is the story of Amy Steele, one of our graphic designers here, who has shared her experience of post-natal depression to raise awareness for mental health issues and to try and reduce the stigma surrounding it. As part of this, Amy has created the ‘Believe in Happy’ campaign to help people through mental health issues, and to encourage people to recognise a mental health illness the same as they would recognise a physical illness.
Read a shortened version of Amy’s story below or read her full story here.
During my pregnancy, I didn’t feel great. Physically or mentally. I wasn’t happy about being pregnant and however much I tried, I couldn’t get excited about the arrival of our baby. Instead, all I felt was an impending sense of doom and a feeling that my life was over. I didn’t share how I was feeling with anyone as I felt guilty and didn’t think they’d understand.
I tortured myself with feelings of guilt as there are so many people that want children and can’t have them, yet there I was dreading becoming a mother. I kept thinking to myself ‘everything will be ok once she’s here, I’ll be happy and full of love!’
Maddie was then born and I felt numb. She was handed to me and I waited for the rush of love but it didn’t come. I told myself that I loved her but I felt nothing. I had a sickening, claustrophobic feeling that this was my life now. It felt like a physical weight pressing down on my chest and I felt an overwhelming sense of regret at becoming a parent.
The first night at home was the worst night of my life. Maddie screamed non-stop and I was convinced that my lack of maternal skills would result in her dying. I had been awake for over 96 hours at this point and was extremely on edge. I was frantically googling EVERYTHING and making myself sick with worry.
The midwife arrived the next morning for our check-up and I couldn’t control my tears. I was told that it was just ‘baby blues’, but I told her that I was scared that I was going to accidently kill Maddie from my lack of expertise and I didn’t want to be a mum anymore. She looked at me and said I would be going back to the hospital.
Back in Hospital
Back in the hospital, I was told that how I was feeling was ‘normal’ and I just needed to try and get some rest. I felt so stupid, I was so on edge and anxious. I was starting to realise that this wasn’t just ‘baby blues’, I wanted to die. Like, actually end my own life right that second.
The midwife came to check on me and I kept asking her over and over again to end my life. I was sobbing and saying ‘please just let me die’. Doctors came in to tell me that everything was going to be ok, they were going to help me. Of course, I didn’t believe them. I felt like I had reverted back to being a child again. I felt vulnerable and very unable to function as an adult, let alone a parent. Every little thing was a struggle and I hated myself.
I felt so unbelievably low and desperate. It was the worst feeling I had ever felt in my entire life and I couldn’t see it getting any better. I was tired of living. Tired of caring so much about what others thought of me. Tired of hating myself so much. Everyone would be so much better off without me.
I saw my opportunity and bolted for the door with the intention of ending my life. I wanted the pain to stop once and for all. I ran for the exit but was tackled by a midwife. She bundled me into another room and clung onto me so tight whilst I sobbed uncontrollably.
I was then sectioned under section four of the Mental Health Act for my own safety. This meant I couldn’t leave the hospital for 72 hours. I was assessed by doctors and psychiatrists and it was decided that I was very unwell and was placed in a Mother and Baby Unit, three hours away from home.
Mother and Baby Unit
I was devastated and petrified! I was escorted up to the MBU and had to be sedated for the journey. We arrived at the hospital and I was assessed by another doctor at 1am. I was exhausted, distraught and drowsy from the sedative. I was sectioned again under section two, which meant I could be detained for up to 28 days.
Every second felt like an hour in there, so the thought of staying there for another 28 days was excruciating. I wasn’t allowed out of the unit or hospital unless I had a chaperone. I rang my dad in tears and he said he would help me ‘get out’ so I could come home and get the help I needed there.
I couldn’t even go to the toilet without someone knocking on the door to check on me. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that I was there for a very good reason and it helps a lot of people get better but personally, I felt like I was in prison.
After a while, I was discharged on ‘home leave’. But I still had that claustrophobic feeling and felt extremely desperate and lost. What now? I was out and thought I would be over the moon, but no? I sat in the back of the car and thought of every single way that I could end my life.
I moved into my parent’s house with Maddie. I didn’t even want to set foot in our house as I associated it with how I felt before going back into the hospital; it was a huge trigger for my anxiety and depression. I became very distant from my daughter and didn’t want to be near her. Every little sound or movement she made triggered my anxiety.
I was constantly telling myself that my life was good and so many people have it worse. Which just added to the guilt. You cannot talk yourself out of depression. Just like you cannot talk yourself out of having the flu or a broken leg.
I was exhausted even though I wasn’t doing much apart from existing. I had no appetite and I didn’t enjoy any of the things that used to make me happy and nothing excited me anymore. I felt like I was living in a deep, dark hole and there was no way out. Making any sort of decision was difficult. I didn’t like thinking about the future as it seemed so dark and drab. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d genuinely laughed and enjoyed something.
My parents helped me through that time immensely. My mum would take care of Maddie and do the night feeds for me so I could try and establish a sleep routine again, and my Dad was my councillor.
I fell into a routine of waking up around 4am and waiting for my mum to bring Maddie into my room so I could breastfeed her. I would always wish that she would hurry up and finish but she would feed for over an hour each time; I felt so trapped. I would then go and sit with my dad before he went to work.
Road to Recovery
I didn’t believe that I would ever feel better but slowly, with the help of family, friends and professionals, I learned to let go of the guilt and accept that I had an illness. I was then able to really begin my recovery.
One day, I received a bunch of flowers from my next door neighbour and I was so touched that what I was going through was being recognised as an illness. My grandma also sent me a get well soon card and when my doctor came to visit, he saw it and said ‘I wish more people would send cards for mental illness, they can really help.’
As I began to feel stronger physically and mentally, I would force myself to do little things like make myself breakfast and get dressed. A small task that gets taken for granted by most but a monumental achievement for someone suffering from severe depression.
I would add another small task to my routine each day until they eventually became second nature again. I didn’t want praise or attention for my small victories but the fact that I was getting it from my parents and mental health team spurred me on even more. I was determined to overcome this illness.
Thoughts of suicide became less frequent and my emotions levelled out. I was trying hard to bond with my daughter and would take her out for long walks by myself. The walks turned into a visit to the shops and one day it dawned on me that I was actually enjoying spending time with my daughter instead of fearing it. I finally felt like the clouds were clearing and I was climbing out of the hole I was in.
Support and Final Thoughts
The overwhelming support I have received from professionals, family and friends is amazing. I’d always be so afraid to burden people with my ‘problems’, so I would keep them bottled up and put on a brave face. I wanted to be the strong one, the funny one, the one people relied on but it all got too much. Now I know that a problem shared is a problem halved and by talking about how I’m feeling doesn’t make me weak, it actually makes me strong.
I still have ‘down days’ and certain ‘triggers’, but I am so much healthier and happier now and am proud of how far I have come. I have worked hard at my recovery and kept going when all I wanted to do was disappear.
My advice is please don’t suffer in silence. Accepting help was the best thing I ever did. Remember that you are NOT alone and there are people out there that WANT to help you too!
I now want to try and help others that are going through similar experiences and want to use my platform as a designer at Funky Pigeon to create meaningful cards and gifts, which can really make a difference to someone who is suffering. An idea that my doctor subconsciously gave me all those months ago.