I want to share my story about PNDA, not for any reason other than that if it helps even one person take a step towards healing themselves and their life, then it was worth writing this. As a health professional, I am not one to usually share the personal details of my life with my clients; instead preferring to maintain a strict boundary of privacy and professionalism so the focus remains solely on the patient and their immediate needs.
However, over the past 18 months, I have come to realise that my humanness, our humanness, is part of what connects us all. I have found that to be able to help people the most effectively, is to help them know that they are not alone and by sharing my experiences I can allow them to acknowledge and embrace their perfection, progress and healing – no matter what point in their journey they are at, no matter how broken or how strong they are feeling in each moment. To be able to walk side by side as we move towards our destination can foster hope, strength, connection and love – all qualities we ache for as humans being; a silent acknowledgment of camaraderie and support as we move forward through this life; and even though our journeys are all different, the destination is ultimately the same – to come home to love.
“Sometimes life is going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith”
Close your eyes. Imagine your child in your arms, how much joy and love they bring you. How complete you feel when the child you dreamed and hoped and prayed for finally arrives – their smell, their warmth, their perfection.
Now imagine your child in your arms again. You look down, and all you feel is emptiness. No connection, no happiness. In fact, your reaction is a surprising one of “Really?! Is this it? Why on earth would anyone want to have kids?” There’s no joy, just anxiety, sadness, panic and fear. You may feel like you resent your child, or want to give them away, secretly wondering what the hell is wrong with you, feeling lost, ashamed and confused.
This is just one of the many faces of Post Natal Mental Health Disorders (PNDA). It creeps up on women AND men, in an array of cleverly disguised forms, sucking the life out of them, rendering them helpless and lifeless. There are only a few other things I can imagine that could be more heartbreaking and soul destroying than being robbed of your chance to enjoy motherhood; to look down at your own child and feel resentment, disdain or even worse, feel nothing. To be trapped in a hole so deep that you can’t see the way out. Where even just getting out of bed in the morning is the most monumental task of the day, and you count down the hours, which pass excruciatingly slow, till you can crawl back into bed again so you don’t have to think about the nightmare you are living every day, which is your life. To be constantly gripped by fear so intense that it makes you feel like you want to throw up or that your chest is going to explode; or that you just want to sleep for the rest of your life because when you’re asleep, you don’t have to feel anything. To see your loved ones watch on helpless and scared as the person they know and love falls apart and disappears; compounding the guilt you already feel, about ruining their life too. To make matters even worse (and this is in NO way, anyone’s fault), they won’t ever really understand what it’s like to feel surrounded by people who love you and still feel like you’re trapped in a prison cell with no doors and no windows. Exiled from your life by your own mind and body that is revolting against you.
People tell you to think positively and to be kind to yourself, well-intentioned but misguided. This is depression we’re talking about – a potentially life-threatening imbalance of chemicals in your brain that makes you think and feel that life just isn’t worth being alive for. It’s as simple and complex and devastating as that.
Although this story is about my path of healing rather than the illness, I’ll touch briefly on what led me to this point. It doesn’t matter so much what the illness was, but what it represented and why I was given this experience to grow and change my life. Being a health professional, I thought I knew what Peri-Natal Depression and Anxiety (PNDA) was; when in fact all I was aware of were the stigmas and stereotypes. I thought PNDA meant that you hated your baby and you couldn’t cope with looking after them. How wrong I was! Even more so, I thought I was the type of person who would NEVER get PNDA. I have learnt many times not to challenge the universe with the word ‘never’, because every time I use it, it comes around to teach me that exact lesson I was sure I would “never” need. I had completely underestimated the power of depression; a force so strong and overwhelming that it can take lives. This was certainly one of the most humbling experiences of my life so far.
Experiencing PNDA was like watching a train crash, and I was the train. It felt like my life was crumbling in slow motion, and I was powerless to stop it. I felt like I was on the outside looking in, horrified at how I was thinking and feeling and behaving but unable to control any of it. I watched on helpless as the person I knew as myself turn from a healthy, radiant woman to an anxious, lifeless stranger I didn’t recognise.
Some days I got angry. WHY ME? And I already knew the answer to that one coming loud and clear from the universe. WHY NOT? At the time, I didn’t know what else to do. Repeatedly getting up every day and not recognising myself or my life felt like it had been happening for way too long and at that point I’d had enough. But I knew deep down that if I kept feeling sorry for myself, if I kept blaming external circumstances and didn’t turn inwards to figure my way out of this, I would still be in the same position in 6 months, 12 months time and that was NOT an option. I didn’t want to feel like that for one second longer than I had to. “If nothing changes, then nothing changes”. So I did the only thing I could at that point. I got on my knees and I started praying. This was my first lesson in learning not to take things personally (something I’m still working on!). The universe was never out to get me, shit happens – and it was up to me what I chose to do with it. So I chose to live. (Good choice I think ☺)
Now, I have strength and courage and hope. But most of all, I have faith, that no matter what comes at me, I will be able to handle it. It’s a choice see? That’s been my biggest lesson. Everything that happens comes with a choice. My default used to be to crumble and cry, and now, it’s to accept and strengthen. It’s my choice, – everything that happens or doesn’t happen in my life is MY choice. My only job is to keep my energy high and to choose from a place of intuition, guidance and power and to trust that – I WILL BE GUIDED.
Article by: Sally Broadhurst
Sally is a Naturopath and yoga teacher based in Brisbane, Australia. An eternal student, her passion lies in studying and teaching the intricacies of physical, mental and spiritual health and our relationship with the world and universe around us through private practice, yoga and workshops.