The Postnatal Project is something that I started working on in January 2016. I was so passionate about researching, creating content and putting it all together. Most of it was written in the middle of the night while I breastfed Cadence (so I apologise in advance for any spelling or grammatical errors!)
I was excited to shine a light on the darkest time of my life and also on the issues that I have faced seeking support within a small community - until those issues became bigger than me.
I was suddenly put inside of a tiny box - judged. This box began to fill to the brim with assessments, prescriptions, appointments, referrals, symptoms - and most of all - stigma.
I was left to my own devices in this box - for months and months - and told to swim. If I drowned, it was my fault. If I escaped, I was "disengaging" from the "system". Damned if you do, damned if you don't.
It was only until I started having to cancel coffee dates with my mummy friends and miss out on time with my daughter to attend appointments that I realised - what am I doing?! And then a wise woman asked me a single question that reiterated what myself and my family had asked all along: "how do you feel when you leave these appointments? Is it helpful?" (Check out The Holistic Nurse on Facebook for more of Liz's amazing wisdom).
No. No, it wasn't - and I left feeling worse.
When my journey began, I was ashamed. My beautiful, healthy daughter was finally here - and I was sitting on the couch with bleeding nipples and a Pristine prescription - trying to remember to smile at my own daughter. The midwife said that she wouldn't learn to smile if I didn't smile more often: "you have to give her a good face - otherwise you'll never get one in return and she'll simply cry all the time". The CAFHS nurse said that I couldn't let her see me cry: "she's too young and will be distressed by your inability to regulate your emotions. You need to be kinder, wiser, stronger". I needed to take control of my situation so that my daughter felt safe.
I resisted seeking support within the mental health system for a long time. I had seen a psychologist and my GP but I finally reached out to request an assessment when Cadence was 8 months old. I decided that my reputation would be dead along with me if I didn't do something - so what did I have to lose?
"Can we limit who has access to my information?" I couldn't stop thinking about my dignity.
I maintained this focus to the point of obsession. Until I realised: "wait, why am I trying to be secretive about my experiences when at home I'm working on The Postnatal Project? Writing about how we can be stronger than the stigma? What does it say about me if I'm not willing to practice what I preach?"
Then I looked up the definition of dignity. The state or quality of being worthy of honour or respect. Why was I seeking to be worthy? I am already worthy.
So I said: "I've changed my mind. I want to set a good example for the community and try to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health. I don't care who knows".
Well. That was the statement that broke me. Being so brutally honest with all of the professionals I was engaging with about how I was feeling had somehow hindered me. Suddenly, I was going to be detained under the mental health act. "You're not getting any better. This has gone on for too long". I was distraught (which probably didn't help the situation). It wasn't until I had my fiance, Brad and my mum come to the clinic to explain the context of my situation that I was free to leave. No one was speaking with me directly - just to each other on the phone backwards and forwards - while I sat in the cold, hard chair - helpless. I have since decided to cancel all future appointments - and place a bigger importance on self care.
After this occurred, I decided to delete this website. If my story was going to be treated this way in a professional setting, how would it be treated within the general community? Professionals would look at this and think: "who the hell does she think she is? She can't even help herself - how can she help others?" It wouldn't be perfect - because I wasn't. But then I realised: "I don't want it to be perfect". I want it to be authentic. I want it to be "me". So here I am. It's nice to meet you.
I will finish by saying that this venture has been more beneficial to my recovery than any professional support that I have received. I am not claiming to know everything - or to be an expert. However, I feel as if I can offer something that you may not be able to receive in a professional setting - authenticity - because in a mental health setting, it's often not acceptable to discuss your own journey. If I was a nurse working with cancer patients and had survived cancer myself, I would discuss this with patients - to build rapport, to show empathy, to support my patients as best I could with treatment and planning. However, this can be frowned upon in a social work or mental health setting. It steps over a line. I worry all the time that I've spent 4+ years at university getting my social work degree and won't be able to get a job locally due to my engagement in local services. But another wise woman in my life asked me yet another profoundly life-changing question: "why would you want to get a job with them anyway? Go into private practice."
For now, I just want to continue on my empowered journey to recovery from postnatal depression and keep updating this page with information and links in the hope that I can support others. I want my journey of healing to help you heal. We can heal together.
Follow The Postnatal Project on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to keep in touch! Or email firstname.lastname@example.org - I'd absolutely love to hear from you.