Today’s post is an anonymous story from a lady who has visited us in the past. Many thanks to her for sharing her story with us. We are all looking forward to a time when we will be able to meet in person again and run our weekly sessions at Flo’s. Until then, we’ll still be here with our virtual café: please see our closed Facebook group for details.
I experienced post-natal depression after the birth of my son. It was sudden, brutal, and for a long time, it left me a shell of a person.
I’d never received a diagnosis of mental health problems before the birth of my son, although on reflection I’d probably been depressed on and off since my teenage years, something which was later renamed during a therapy session as: “You won the battle every time for a number of years; this time, you lost.” I found this oddly reassuring: it had taken strength to continue studying, working, and living, while suffering a mental health problem without support.
I didn’t know what depression felt like; no one had every described it to me and no one had ever spoken to me about mental health problems. So for a long time, since the onset of post-natal depression, I had no idea what was wrong with me.
I felt raw, on edge, I struggled to hold a conversation with anyone for fear of crying, I couldn’t watch TV, read a book, or really engage with my partner. No one asked how I was, and I was playing the motions of being a new mum. I went to baby groups, but I didn’t really say anything to anyone. I stayed home a lot of the time for fear someone might in the end ask if everything was ok and I might explode.
After a few months, I started to realise that I might need some help, but I didn’t really know where to turn. Was there anything that could be done about how I was feeling? This was still before I’d had a diagnosis, and I didn’t even realise I was depressed. I was starting to feel desperate.
It was during this time that I considered shaving my head. The idea started bubbling that if I did something that showed how distressed I was feeling, someone might notice and I might get some help. I recognised that I was wearing a mask that everything was ok and I wanted, desperately, to remove it and for someone to see how I was feeling.
I watched a TV documentary about Britney Spears (probably where I got the idea from, to be honest) and I remember the look in her eyes when she was shaving her head in that hair salon. I knew that look. The desperation, the fear. I started looking on the internet for answers, and I found some: a mental illness. It was freeing. What I was experiencing had a name and some people recovered from it. I also found something else: The Motherkind Café.
The Motherkind Café touted itself as a group for mums to come and talk about their mental health and wellbeing after having a baby. This is probably what I need, I thought at the time. The group met weekly, not too far from where I lived. It took a long time for me to pluck up the courage to actually go. I was worried what it might be like. It was in an actual café: what if everyone looked at me and knew why I was there? What if I was recognised? What would happen when I went? What if no one was friendly or I was the only who was unwell and the people there rejected me? To actually attend, I would have to make myself vulnerable.
But I did go. I shouldn’t have been worried.
The Motherkind Café was held in a side room to the actual café (Flo’s) and when I walked in, I was greeted by the smiling face of one of the volunteers. She asked me if I’d been before and I said no, then she offered me a cup of tea and invited me to have a seat and let my baby enjoy the toys. I was asked to fill in a few bits of information about myself by one of the volunteers and then we had a chat.
I struggled at first to say what I wanted until the lady I was talking to shared her experience of post-natal mental illness, I didn’t need to shave my head to show her I was suffering, she knew, and even made herself vulnerable to show there was no shame. Her story resonated with mine, and I felt accepted. This lady was well, I could be too.
I told her everything and she listened and then she touched my hand and said if I wanted, we could talk about some things I could do to get better and I said yes.
I won’t say the road to recovery was easy, but that conversation started it. The GP and health visitor were suggested to me and I spoke to both of them. I take medication now and I’m happy, something I realised I hadn’t been for a long time. I went to the café a couple of times and not once was I made to feel unwelcome, or that I was taking up space. I was accepted. I’ve since moved away from the area, but with Covid-19, I’ve seen that the café has been somewhat disrupted. I hope it can open again soon and I hope anyone reading this can gain the confidence from my experience that you will only find support there with those wonderful women.