I am a mum of two healthy and vivacious little girls. I am a wife to a husband who is supportive, driven and encouraging. I live a life filled with purpose, colour, laughter and adventure. I have wonderful friends and am surrounded by love, and I am so thankful. However, last year I found myself in a place full of darkness and isolation. I now know that a large part of it was due to severe sleep deprivation and the many changes and challenges that had happened within a small period of time in my life.
For a while, though, I was in a very dark and scary place. I found myself looking at my three month old baby and not really liking her or feeling connected to her, wondering if I could take her back to the hospital and even sometimes wishing I could turn back time and undo her, The days were very long in those early months. All I can really remember is a cloud of heaviness. I would often have 20 seconds of courage and say (feeling terrified) to my husband: “I think I am depressed”.
My husband would simply reply to me: “Hannah, I think you are just tired”, and in the moment I would agree with him. The answer seemed to fit with the reality of early motherhood. For a few days, maybe even weeks, I would feel fine. Then, somehow, I would find myself back in that place of isolation and darkness. I would snap at my children and be less tolerant of people in general. I would find myself not wanting to engage in conversation with people I cared about and, when out doing things that I loved with others, I would still find myself feeling alone and not really present. I would watch the world spin around me and felt like I wasn’t spinning with it. At home, I counted down the hours until my husband would come home so I could sign off, go to my room and be left alone.
I didn’t know how to talk about it or how to explain it. What I did know was that it wasn’t fun. One day, I had a particularly bad time. My younger girl wouldn’t stop screaming and the older one was being – well – a classic “terrible two”. I somehow ended up in the laundry room crying and thinking: “I can’t do this anymore, I need help”. In another 20-seconds-of-courage moment I messaged someone close to me.
Me: “I am in the laundry bawling my eyes out I need a break and I need sleep can you come and help me”
Her: “sure what do you need shall I come over tomorrow?”
I thought to myself, “YAY! I can sleep tomorrow and things will feel much better!” But they didn’t. I was still snappy with my children. I still felt like I was walking under a cloud. I still felt isolated and alone. I still felt like I wasn’t coping with the sleep deprivation, two children and the load that was my life.
I come from a family, where appreciation of mental health is fairly well established, so thankfully I was always very self-aware. I also had a wonderful friend who had suffered severely with postnatal depression so I was on the lookout for signs of it within myself after giving birth to each of my girls. The experience of being in some very dark and scary mental spaces taught me to recognise when I am not ok. However, being aware of it was one thing; knowing how to shift myself out of it was another – I found the latter quite challenging.
Another moment of bawling my eyes out came when listening to my children screaming their heads off and not feeling like I had it in me to go out and help them. I feared I could hurt them and it felt like I couldn’t function as a wife and mother anymore. I remembered that, when I first got pregnant, someone I knew had said to me: “My wife used to work for Plunket Line. If you ever find that things are too much I’m sure that she will be happy to talk to you”.
I picked up my phone and sent a text asking for this lady’s number. I wish I could say I called her straight away. I didn’t; it took me another five days of clawing through to get enough courage to make the phone call. It was a Saturday morning when, while my husband was home, I got into my car and drove to a quiet spot. I picked up my phone, dialled her number and then stared at it for another five minutes. So many thoughts running through my head: what would she think, she was a stranger after all, what would I say, how would I say it, maybe I actually was ok and a good night’s sleep would fix the problem – my brain was running crazy.
Finally, I found another 20 seconds of courage and pressed the call button. It felt like it was ringing forever before she answered with this gentle, calm and quiet voice – a complete opposite to what I had been expecting. I started talking and, soon enough, mumbling my words through tears, trying to make sense of what I had been feeling without saying I was depressed. I think I only talked and cried for about three minutes before she started asking questions.
Did I feel like I was going to hurt myself? No. Did I feel like I was going to hurt my children? Only when they wouldn’t stop crying. Had I gone for many walks? No. Had I spoken to my friends about how I’d been feeling? No. Had I been sleeping? No. What had I been doing for myself? Nothing.
As we began to talk and unravel the whirlwind of my emotions, she offered me simple yet solid advice:
1. Get outside every day.
It didn’t matter if it was for a long time or a short time; I needed to just get outside.
2. Get dressed and do my makeup every day.
I like to look good, I like to wear makeup so she told me to do it daily even if the kids had to grizzle for a little bit.
3. Chase the sunshine.
It’s something I love to do.
4. Sleep when the baby sleeps.
I always struggled with this because I find it hard to relax when there is stuff that needs to be done. I also enjoy a clean living space, so I created what I like to call “the hour of power”. For one hour, while the baby was asleep, I would clean like a mad woman and do as much as I could. At the end of that hour I would stop, look at my clean house feeling accomplished, and then I headed off for a little nap.
I still do my hour of power today and really enjoy it. It gives me focus and energises me for the rest of my day.
5. Ask other mothers to support you.
I was to highlight some women that were in my world, but further along in their parenthood than me. I was to share how I had been feeling and ask them to “walk” alongside me and make sure I wasn’t alone every day.
She told me to try these steps for a few weeks and, if things didn’t improve, head to my GP.
So I did as she suggested. Most of it I found quite easy and enjoyed my small daily victories in what seemed like a life consumed by children. The last point, though, felt like choosing to be really vulnerable with people and it was a tough one. It took me a while and required a “large” 20-seconds-of-courage moment. I didn’t call the ladies; I texted them, which seemed easier and less confronting to start with. I just shared how I was feeling and that I was actually finding things tough most days. I said it had been suggested by a professional that I find some ladies I could trust and be honest with.
The beautiful thing was that my simple text message opened a whole new world of relationships and help. They were more than willing to walk alongside me, be my sounding board, cook me dinner when I was too tired, take my children when I needed a nap, remind me to get outside and chase the sunshine and to let me know it was ok not to be ok in that moment.
Things improved dramatically for me. After two weeks the days were still long and I was still exhausted but the cloud lifted, step by step with every bit of chasing sunshine and every hour of power. It lifted when I started to be ok with letting the baby grizzle for a few minutes so I could get ready. It lifted with every coffee I had with my ladies. They would make me laugh, tell me they got it and remind me I was amazing and had incredible children.
I watched a movie once called We Bought a Zoo. There is a wonderful scene there, in which a father is giving a sound advice to his teenage soon in regards to telling a girl that he likes her. It goes something like this: “You know all you need is 20 seconds of courage, 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery and I promise you something wonderful will come out of it”.
I know it is not always easy to ask for help, to confess that life is harder than you think it ought to be. But for me the 20 seconds of bravery led to the dark cloud over my head being lifted. After implementing some fairly easy and practical daily routines into my life, I was able to cope a little better, enjoy life a little more and put a support network in place so I didn’t feel alone and, on the dark days, I could find the light.
I know that even if it hadn’t worked and I had ended up at the GP, my bravery still would have been worth it and something wonderful still would have come out of it. My 20 seconds of bravery were scary, nerve wracking, even terrifying but they were totally worth it and yours would be too.