Friday 5 May 2017

The Four Stages of the Tour De Recovery

After surviving a severe postnatal mental illness, I felt almost euphoric.  I survived Postpartum Psychosis.

I. Can. Do. Anything.

I felt invincible - as if going to hell and back had somehow given me an armour coating.  And the bond I felt with my son? Well, although it had been forged in a mental hospital it seemed all the more unbreakable for it.

Surviving any illness that lands you in hospital for so long is an achievement, for sure.  It takes you places you could only ever dream about before and teaches you more about yourself and your relationships than you ever thought possible.

But the immediate recovery period is not *the* recovery.  It turns out, recovery is a life long journey.  I don't mean to dishearten anyone: the journey is unpredictable, erratic and hard.  But it is also awesome, amazing, and life-changing.

Stage one of the journey: immediate aftermath / initial recovery.  As I mentioned above, you can feel almost euphoric during this stage.  Surviving a life threatening condition can make you feel invincible.  And there is a huge amount of relief too.  You are one of the lucky ones, you have your little family intact, and now you are full of gratitude and thankfulness for - life.

Stage two of the journey: your first set back.  A difficult but important staging post to get past.  For me, it came as a nasty shock one day.  I had been happily bowling along with my almost-one year old, marching from baby massage to rhyme time to play dates and parks when a stranger accosted me outside my house (I had parked him in the buggy fast asleep at the bottom of our front steps, for just a minute) and accused me of neglecting my child for leaving him unattended. That one very short altercation was enough to evaporate my fragile confidence and send me into a tail spin.  Was I good enough? Would I ever be good enough?  Luckily for me, I pulled through this. It took a lot of soul searching and a lot of support from my nearest and dearest but I came through thinking. No, actually, I WAS a good enough mum and most mums would have left their sleeping child within view at the bottom of the steps for less than a minute.  But the episode was important, as it taught me that my confidence was important and that I had to take steps to ensure it was protected.

Stage three of the journey: finding your fellow riders.
Without your peloton you can't get up that hill.  Finding your tribe, your gang, the women (or men!) who "get it".  I can't begin to describe how thankful I am for my family of fellow PP survivors, #PNDhour participants and all the friends I've made in the perinatal mental health world.  And for the friends from before my illness who have pulled through with me and for me and helped prop me up and made me feel - normal.  I was lucky to find my voice through twitter and blogging, and in turn many other voices joined me.  Having a support network like this (whether virtual or real life) is imperative.  It is one reason why peer support is so effective and should be a high priority for all local commissioning teams.

Stage four of the journey: taking in the view.
For many months (if not years) all I could think about was maternal mental health.  Perinatal clinical networks, RCPsych quality assessments, speaking engagements, media work - you name it, I was on it.  I was like a blinkered cart horse, pulling my "lived experience" load all over town, but not really seeing anything other than the road ahead.  More recently the blinkers have come off and I'm able to enjoy my life without constant reference to perinatal mental health.  I'm still involved, but it is no longer what defines me.  I work (part time, in a fun job that suits me fine).  I read (a lot!).  I exercise.  I'm involved in local politics.  I'm also a mum.  And then (way down the list) I'm also someone who needs to take care of their mental health.

I'm not at all perfect.  I have days where I panic that I am slipping into a depression or spinning into mania.  But I take my pills and I protect my sleep and I get out the house and go to work or the gym and do what I need to do.  And my son has a mum who loves him with all her heart, but who no longer has to define herself by the first three months of his life.  He's a busy four-and-a-half year old and has places to go and people to see and he has little time for wallowing. :)


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