Sunday 27 December 2015

What is postpartum psychosis?

Regular viewers of Eastenders are full of questions right now.  Does Stacey have PND? Who is the dad, if it's not Martin or Kush? Why is she acting so strangely?

The Eastenders team have already revealed that Stacey is in fact suffering from a rare birth complication called Postpartum Psychosis (PP), which sadly is not all that unusual in women with bipolar disorder (such as poor Stacey).

As someone who has been through it, and come out the other side, I thought I'd gather some thoughts together on the subject.

This is not a dream
Hallucinations (auditory and visual) aren't like having a bad dream or being a bit trippy.  There aren't any blurred edges or ghost-like figures or spooky whispers in the dark.  Hallucinations were as real as the world around me today: I could see, hear, touch, people who I experienced as completely there.  I remember the situations now, just as I remember what I had for dinner last night.  I reacted to them as if they were happening to me, right there and then.

This is not a joke
I guess it is possible to have a "benign" or even quite pleasant psychosis.  That's not my experience, but it must technically be possible.  But psychosis seems to be rooted in trauma and distress.  So it manifests itself as brutally and as nastily as the innermost reaches of the brain can conjure up.  Unfortunately for me (someone who devoured horror novels as a teenager) my brain could conjure up plenty of darkness and depravity.  Worst fears, tortures, humiliations - they were all brought to the surface by psychosis.

This is it.
I fought the psychosis like a woman possessed - because that's what I was.  I wasn't going to take it lying down: being suffocated, burnt alive, alone forever, dragged to hell.  I fought it.  Because I had to. It isn't the psychosis itself that is dangerous (after all, it is all in the head) but it is the real, physical, reaction to it.  The natural human instinct to run, fight, escape.  Psychotic people have jumped from buildings, thrown themselves onto roads, lashed out at others, become so mentally distressed they make themselves physically sick.  This is why PP must be treated as an emergency, with intensive inpatient treatment (ideally in a specialist Mother and Baby Unit).

I was very lucky to have been admitted to the MBU relatively quickly, where I was safe from the physical effects of the illness.  The psychosis could run its course under careful clinical supervision, and there was absolutely no risk to my baby (who was being expertly cared for in the ward nursery).

I won't give any spoilers for Eastenders fans, but viewers will need to brace themselves: Stacey's journey will be raw and real and incredibly moving.

For lots more information (as well as support) please see Action on Postpartum Psychosis: 

Wednesday 23 December 2015

Ghosts of Christmas Past

With less than 48 hours to go, Christmas 2015 is looking like my first properly mental-illness-free festive period in my adult life. 
*Touch Wood*

I don't know if this counts as seasonal affective disorder, but for whatever reason my mood never fails to dip towards the end of autumn, just in time for full-blown depression for December 25th.  Merry Christmas!

Ways I have spent Christmases past: 
- in tears 
- in debt (having overspent on credit cards on loved ones' presents, to make up for my horrendous moods)
- in a state of numbness 
- in a mess (unable to summon the enthusiasm to wear something festive, or blow dry my hair, on slap on some make-up).

December 2012 shook all that up: I was on home leave from psychiatric hospital, my eight week old son in tow.  I was just grateful to be alive, to be lucid, to be a person in the world, to not be in hell any more.  Those few hours spent at home cemented in me what was important: health and happiness. Family and friends. Sanity.  Nothing else mattered.  Not the presents I bought, the clothes I wore, the smiles I offered. 

The following year, we relished the chance to be properly together, just the three of us.  It was low-key, but special.  I was still somewhat fragile, but on an even keel.  We got a tree, we cooked a big roast with all the trimmings, we lovingly prepared a stocking for The Boy.

The year after that, I was recovering from a spell of acute anxiety.  I had taken on perhaps one or two too many commitments over the summer and early autumn, which led to one or two restless nights, which led to a real fear of becoming psychotic again. This "relapse" shook me to my core, and I spent Christmas 2014 still reeling from it.

But this year - 2015 - I can honestly appraise myself as being OK.  I've been busy, for sure, but with The Boy now at nursery I finally have some regular "Me time".  I can tell very quickly when I'm becoming a bit over-anxious, or irritable, hypomanic, or down.  I have the tools (some of which learnt on Mental Health First Aid, some just through experience) to self-correct and stay on track.

So, this Christmas, I will be raising a glass to Good Health and giving thanks for what has been by all accounts a great year.  I'm grateful for every day of good health I have.  But with a super-excited three year old in the house, I am especially grateful for a happy and healthy Christmas day.

❄️ Merry Christmas! ❄️