This is probably going to be the most open and honest post I’ve ever written (so far) and probably the darkest. It covers a decade of my life that I practically pushed under the rug in order to move past. A lot of the details are foggy but the feelings and emotions and life lessons are all too vivid.
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I Had No Clue
I remember sitting on the cold plastic chair in the hospital waiting room, resting the clipboard on my ever increasing baby bump, filling in the form about my mental health. I very vividly remember thinking “I’m not going to get postnatal depression, I’m going to be fine”. Now I’m not the most optimistic person in the world so it still shocks me when I remember this.
I have struggled with my emotions most of my life, feeling every little thing deeply and constantly criticizing myself when I don’t reach the impossibly high standards I set for myself. Add to this the fact that I’d had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome since I was 7 and had been unable to work full-time hours because of it. Did I not realise that Motherhood was more than a full-time job? Had I not read about the effects of severe sleep deprivation? One would think I didn’t realise I was having twins, yes that’s right, not just one life-consuming addition to the family, but 2.
This must have been during the second trimester, that magical 3 month period where “the glow” is at its peak. The morning sickness had finally subsided, my energy levels had increased somewhat and my mood was elevated with joyful expectancy and a naive perception that the rest of the pregnancy would be just as enjoyable.
Whilst I was the type of person to make plans ahead of time in order to get organised and prepared, I was also the type of person who lived in the “now”, thinking on and dealing with the present and all the emotions and feelings that came with that. So because I felt good in that moment, I couldn’t perceive that things could change, and so dramatically, nor that my experiences throughout the coming years would redefine the type of person I was.
As you can imagine, incubating 2 babies was an exhausting task. My energy levels plummeted pretty fast in the 3rd trimester and by the time they were finally born at 37.5 weeks, I was completely over it.
The euphoria of having 2 gorgeous little people, that were part of me, my flesh and blood, with my brown hair and brown eyes, was blissful to say the least. I think my favourite times in life have been those precious few days I’ve spent in hospital getting to know my babies (spoiler alert, I have 5 now) but after coming home, reality hit harder than a freight train.
I struggled through the days, barely keeping my eyelids open and the nights were beyond horrible. For the first two weeks, while my husband was off work, he would help by changing one boy while I fed the other, but once he went back to work, I was on my own because “he” needed his sleep and apparently I did not. I would rush one baby through his feed while the other one was crying in his cot, but for some reason they both had a habit of falling asleep 5 minutes into a feed and I could not wake them. So I would put the first one down and grab the second one, change him and feed him.
Now, the boys were waking every hour and a half because if one woke up the other would also wake, plus since they were falling asleep 5 minutes into a feed, they would be hungry again not long after. I had had a c-section because twin 1 was breech, so getting up several times of a night was painful and difficult to say the least. After 6 weeks of 5-6 feeds every night, I was beyond tired and was feeling very defeated. The health nurse tried to teach me the twin feed, with one under each arm like little footballs, but every time I put one baby on, the other would slide off. She told me I had to keep them awake by tickling them or talking to them, but it never worked and the dynamics of trying to get two babies onto my lap (without tearing my c-section scar) when no one was around, was definitely a lesson in futility.
I became so overwhelmed and felt so completely useless that when someone suggested I try formula, I abandoned all dreams of exclusively breastfeeding (which I’d assumed would be the only way I could feel like a ‘real’ mum) and switched to bottles.
This made life a little easier, I had two bottles and two hands, life was sweet. They would drink the whole bottle and fall asleep for a few hours at least. Unfortunately since bottles aren’t warm on demand like booby milk, I would have to calmly handle the crying as I ran to the kitchen to heat the bottles, and as I changed two nappies and often outfits if they had leaked through. Calmly handling it, worked for a few weeks but as time dragged on my energy supply went beyond rock bottom and patience was something I could no longer find, no matter how hard I tried.
When they napped during the day, I was finding myself just enjoying the quiet and the alone time instead of catching up on sleep like I should have been, so by the time the boys were 4 months of age, I was completely exhausted and the strength it took to stay awake during the day was like trying to walk up hill on the bottom of the ocean. Unfortunately I wasn’t blessed with good sleepers and every technique I tried for getting them to sleep through the night either didn’t work or required more commitment than I had the strength for (It would be at least 2 years before they would sleep through the night, and by this time I would be pregnant again and in my 3rd trimester).
I was so completely shattered that even thinking about facing another sleepless night made me cry, in fact everything made me cry. There was no energy left in my body, I felt weak, drained, dizzy, lethargic, disconnected and miserable. Little did I know at the time but apparently having children makes Chronic Fatigue worse, and I’d just had twins. My body was protesting, my mind was protesting and my emotions were all over the place. I couldn’t see any hope of things changing (because I was that ‘live in the now’ person) and I wasn’t looking forward to anything at all. The doctor diagnosed me with Postnatal Depression, assuring me that it would get better eventually. Little did he or I know that it was just the beginning of 8 long years of mental torture.
Depression is such a difficult thing to talk about. When your in the midst of it, it consumes you completely, the thoughts and feelings associated control your entire being, sucking the life out of you and causing you to feel like a stranger in your own skin, but when your well again (like now) it’s hard to remember what was so bad, why you let yourself get to that point and how you could have hated yourself so much. I get small reminders of it sometimes when my youngest are sick and not sleeping or when circumstances get beyond my coping abilities but something changed later in my life that brought me to a much better place. (I will talk about this in Part 4)
This is where it gets real, and deep and dark. It’s hard for me to talk about what my mind went through back then but I think it’s important to share the raw realities of depression, so others can understand they are not alone, that there are people who get it, who have been there and come out the other side, stronger and happier.
Not quite sure where to start with this, there’s so much that contributes to depression, so many thoughts and feelings and circumstances. I was overwhelmed to say the least at having two babies at once and even though I had a lot of help from my mother, I felt alone in it when it came to my relationship with my husband. I felt he was unavailable physically and emotionally and I was left to try and deal with the mental load alone. I always managed to find a smile when the camera came out but underneath it all I was dying inside.
When the boys were just 17 months old, I fell pregnant again. We were surprised but excited, thinking how nice it would be to have a little girl. I was incredibly nervous as I was struggling to deal with the first two let alone another one and I was terrified at our first ultrasound that we’d discover a second set of twins. I was shamefully relieved to see just one little peanut on the ultrasound screen! Out of 5 children this would be my one and only little girl.
Taking care of twins whilst pregnant was difficult to say the least, as the Chronic Fatigue worsened again and I suffered a lot of pain in the last trimester. Thank God I had my Mother there to support me, in fact we were living in the same house with them at the time as we were building a house together. My parents were a great source of support, but the dynamics of two mums in the house caused tension every now and then and added to the stress and anxiety that I was feeling.
The doctor had put me on anti-depressants that I would later discover were actually causing more depression and prolonging my symptoms rather than helping them. Plus my doctor failed to inform me that they would cause mild withdrawals in my newborn which sent me into a whirlwind of Mum Guilt that took months to get over.
The birth of my daughter was an exhausting one. I decided to try a natural birth and was in labour for at least 15 hours and had 3 epidurals which didn’t work. I ended up losing a lot of blood and after the umbilical cord had been around her neck, my daughter was not breathing when she was born. It took them working on her with the oxygen mask for what seemed like hours (in reality it was more like a couple of minutes) before she started crying, and I can tell you there was no greater sound.
After being awake all night in labour with an hour of pushing, 3 failed epidurals, 3 tares, a 2 litre blood loss and a very stressful birth, I had to fight immensely hard to keep my eyes open so I could hold my baby and give her her first feed. I didn’t get to sleep until that night and then I was awake every 20 minutes because of the withdrawals that made her want to suckle constantly.
A difficult birth became a difficult recovery which would lead to two rounds of corrective surgery in the coming years. My daughter suffered reflux and feeding became a struggle that would force me to put her on formula at 3 months of age. I felt like I’d failed her somehow even though I knew it wasn’t my fault. I believed that breast feeding was best for my baby and wanted to continue it for at least a year this time, so there was a great deal of disappointment in that.
So with 3 children under the age of 3, I pushed through the extreme fatigue that came from none of my children being good sleepers (my boys gave up naps 2 months before my daughter was born) and the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome that drained me of all energy and joy.
My Darkest Days
It wasn’t all bad, there were many happy moments. Watching my children play with each other and grow and learn was an amazing privilege that kept me going. It gave me a reason to keep getting up every morning despite how intensely difficult it was. They were my life, my breath, my very purpose. God had blessed me with their care and I’ve never felt any greater love on earth than that of my love for my children, but with that great blessing, came great responsibility and I felt the pressure like a rock under thousands of feet under the surface of the earth. I didn’t want to let anyone down but felt like that’s all I did.
I put my children first in every way possible, I came last in my own mind and felt it was selfish to think about my own needs. It was an enormous effort to get out of bed every day, but I did, because my kids relied on me. I built up this idea in my mind of the perfect mum and it looked nothing like me. I did the best I could every minute of the day but couldn’t reach this impossible standard I had set for myself, so mum guilt, frustration, anxiety and depression became my best friends. We spent every moment of the day together, we became inseparable for 8 long years.
I was tormented day and night with despair and hopelessness, believing it would never get any better, hating God for what I believed was his plan, to put me through hell, give me more than I could cope with, give me a condition that made me exhausted and unable to gain any energy, allow me to marry a man I had nothing in common with and who didn’t seem to love or understand me. The thoughts that tortured my mind every minute of the day, wouldn’t allow me to enjoy anything. I couldn’t feel happy, ever. Sometimes I just wanted to die. I hated myself for not being who I wanted to be, who I believed I should be and wished God would take me away from the world and the life that I really thought I hated.
I would get so frustrated with my inability to cope with the chaos of 3 little kids. I would try so hard to stay calm but would inevitably blow up, then hate myself for it and end up crying in the corner of my room, telling myself I was pathetic and useless and didn’t deserve children or even to live really. I was unhappy in so many ways. Unhappy with myself, unhappy with my marriage, unhappy with life at home, unhappy with not pursuing a career first before starting a family, unhappy with my relationship with God and unhappy that I was so unhappy. I was angry, so angry with my life and with myself because I wasn’t finding peace and happiness in all the blessings I had. My world just got darker and darker.
I tried so many medications, some made me feel suicidal, some made me feel jittery and weak and others made me feel completely numb, I could neither laugh nor cry, I hated this the most, not feeling at all. Eventually someone told me about a doctor in a private practice who was trialing an epilepsy drug with patients with depression so I decided to go and see her. She put me on the medication and it wasn’t long before I was feeling better. The antidepressants were not good for me and I truly don’t believe they are good for anyone. I believe they make depression symptoms worse, not better. This medication was so much better and helped me to be able see the bigger picture.
Whilst I improved, I wasn’t cured (not yet anyway). I could see things in a better light and could see where my problems were, but there were so many areas in my life that needed changing, one of them was my marriage. I tried to work on making my marriage better but felt after a while I was the only one trying to make it work. After a difficult recovery from a tonsillectomy my health declined again and I found I was getting a lot of pain in my joints and muscles. I developed a neuropathy that made my nerves hypersensitive and my scalp felt like it was alive with creepy crawly things. It was the most irritating, frustrating and painful thing I could imagine. Of course this didn’t help my outlook on life and depression began to steal my resolve once again.
In the midst of this I started doing some counselling and came to a decision about my marriage. I wanted out. I found myself hating him. We never talked anymore. I never felt we had any kind of friendship and I didn’t trust him. What he told me was not what he told others and he truly didn’t seem to care about what I was going through. Whether this was true or not, I don’t really know but I know that I felt like I’d made a mistake getting married so young and I was convinced that our relationship was the reason I was so depressed.
I had hated our marriage for a very long time but was taught growing up through the church that God hated divorce and I was under the wrong assumption that if I got divorced, I would go to hell. I tried for so long to make it work and to hang in there for the kids sake, but after hearing about other Christian’s who’d gotten divorced and moved on and reading some Christian literature about God’s grace after divorce, I decided it was what was best for me and (in my mind) him as well. It wasn’t until years later that I would discover the real reason our marriage failed (I will discuss this further in part 4).
So I moved out with the kids, into my parents house (the house we had all built together, before we asked to be bought out) with my husband telling me he would fight for our marriage (he never did) and I began a year of mentally bashing myself for failing to keep my family together. I thought I would be happier with a fresh start. I thought healing would begin immediately but I soon discovered that God was putting me through a gruelling process of refinement that would feel like punishment at the time but produce a shining diamond in the end.
It wasn’t long after we separated that my ex husband found someone else to date and I felt like I was right all along and I had meant nothing to him. I didn’t want him back but my feelings of worthlessness increased to the point that I began comfort eating. My weight increased as did the pain in my joints and muscles, I was always tired, always sad, always finding it difficult to keep up with the kids and wondering what the point to life was. Had God abandoned me? Did he hate me? Was he punishing me for my divorce and my inability to be the good person I wanted to be? Or was it me and my self hatred that was causing me to be in so much pain mentally and physically?
I was referred to a neurologist and a rheumatologist and diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. Whilst it was a relief to finally know what was going on in my body, it was devastating to know that I had a condition there was no known cure for. They put me on very strong painkillers and anti-inflammatories but I found that this only increased my weight and made me feel even sleepier. I was now trapped in this cycle of treating the symptoms only to make the problem worse. I hated it and I couldn’t understand why this was happening to me. I never wanted my life to end more than I did at that time in my life. I stopped talking to God completely for a while because I was tired of asking him “why?” and not getting an answer. I was sure he’d stopped listening to me anyway and I felt like I probably deserved it.
Looking back now it was only the grace of God that got me through and kept me from turning to destructive habits and substances like so many people with depression can get caught up in. God was my rock, my foundation that kept me from self-destruction. Only my faith kept me alive and present so that my problems didn’t become my children’s problems.
It was whilst I was in the midst of the total despair and complete self loathing, that God brought along a friend who would introduce me onto the path that would eventually bring me back to him and allow him to transform me from a lowly, ugly caterpillar to a beautiful butterfly, flying free from oppression and darkness, taking me to a happier, lighter place of self discovery and purpose.
That, however is a story for Part 4.
There is so much more to my story than I can cover in just 4 parts but I will share bits and pieces throughout other articles in time. Some things have to stay private for a while, as for many reasons, now is not the time to share it, but one day it will all become part of my Life Story.
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I believe everyone has a story to tell and whether you believe it or not, your story could be an inspiration to many. Many who are on the verge of giving up completely or giving in to all the things that will lead them onto a path of self destruction. I know now there is hope, that nothing is ever pointless or useless. There is a purpose and a plan and a reason for every season under heaven.
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