Last April I climbed up onto the roof of my house and threw myself off into a greenhouse fracturing my spine in five places and breaking my ribs. Four days earlier I had my baby daughter, Oona, two months prematurely. I now know that I was suffering from a rare mental illness called post-partum psychosis. It hits one in a thousand women and makes you lose all judgement. I'm one of the lucky ones. Other women have lost their lives or killed their children during an episode. I had no history of mental health problems. It hit me like a ton of bricks. Or a greenhouse.
I was able to discharge myself from hospital before my episode despite showing signs of psychosis. I'd stalked the corridors in the post natal ward shouting "I'm psychotic." An overworked and tired looking doctor saw me and told me I needed sleep. The nurses lost my notes on the day I left hospital. By the Saturday when the incident happened I hadn't slept in four days. I slipped through the net. I'm not planning on sueing the hospital, I don't hold a grudge against the staff, but I do have personal experience of the mental health system and I've seen first hand how appallingly over stretched the staff are.
There are things about the incident that I can now laugh at: the fact that the old peoples' home whose greenhouse I destroyed were having a fete that day, that I was bare chested, that I brandished a garden fork and leapt over a barb wired fence like a banshee. But at the time, and for many months after, I was living in a nightmare.
After spending a week and a half on a trauma ward I was sent home (I wasn't ready) and looked after under the care of the home team (woefully inconsistent) and my amazing friends and family. I couldn't even say the word psychosis. I certainly wasn't facing up to what had happened. A week later I was back in hospital, having had another episode, albeit less dramatic than the first. I was sent to a women only psychiatric unit and I was scared. I had more episodes. I wet the bed. I thought the staff were making a documentary about my life, I thought my sub conscious was telling me what to do. All of my own deep seated predudices about mental health patients came out. I remember, during one of my episodes, shouting at the other patients that they were all mad (I was probably the most acute case on the ward and in fact the other women were there for different reasons: domestic violence, anxiety, OCD.)
The staff tried their best but never had any time to really talk to me about my fears. I only had one session with a mental health nurse. However, by the time I left the ward, I'd realised that I too had mental health problems, I'd ventured out to the day room, I'd sung with the other women on the ward, danced with the patients and, by the end of my time there, I felt a real sense of cameraderee and, dare I say it, sisterhood. I was also grateful that throughout my time there I'd been allowed to continue visiting my daughter in the premature ward.
After my week and a half on the psychiatric unit, I was admitted to a Mother and Baby unit-I was lucky. If I'd been living in Belfast where my mum lives or Stroud where my dad is, there would be no provision for me. If you suffer from post partum psychosis in Northern Ireland or Gloucester, you are on your own. I was recovering well and making the most of the occupational therapy (art, gardening, cooking) as well as the talking therapy that was provided and invaluable. All the time I was visiting my darling daughter on the premature ward.
Oona joined me two weeks later and, in what seemed like a sick joke, the depression that often follows post partum psychosis, kicked in the following day and knocked me sideways. It was harder to deal with than the psychosis, because it was me, but an empty shell of who I am. I couldn't hold my daughter, I couldn't smile, I couldn't sleep. I was anxious all the time. It took weeks for the meds to kick in and they were the longest weeks of my life. In the end a little book on Mindfulness that my husband gave me rescued me. One anxious morning I decided to fold some clothes mindfully and the process brought me down from my anxiety and allowed a relationship with Oona to start to flourish again.
I had two months in the Mother and Baby unit before being allowed home with Oona. On getting home, it felt like my recovery had only just begun-I felt very isolated having not met any mums during NCT, and I felt like my story was so different and would put off other mums. Children's centres were a lifeline for me and I was lucky that my husband was around to share the load (I'm devastated for other mums that so many children's centres are now being closed thanks to our current thoughtless government) Slowly I began to make a few friends, some of whom I've told my story to and whom I'm extremely grateful to. The more I talked, the more people came out of the woodwork with their own stories of battles with mental health problems. I was lucky to be referred to a mindfulness course and a group for other women who were struggling with motherhood. We regularly meet up and have become firm friends.
Nearly a year later, I only just feel like I've recovered from the trauma of what happened. My relationship with Oona was affected by the depression and it's taken me a long time to accept that I don't feel the love flowing all of the time but that's ok. On a good day, I feel like what happened to me was a gift. It's made me appreciate the moment much more, it's made me love and appreciate my family more deeply, empathise with others who have had mental health problems, and the meditation I now do has brought a peacefulness to my life that I didn't have before. Ultimately, it's taught me that the most important thing in life is love.