So Friday didn’t turn out quite how I had expected.
I had a plan you see. My evening was to consist of putting the little one to bed and then relaxing with an intravenous drip of diet coke, so much chocolate that my sugar levels would do the running man all night and writing. Lots of glorious, glorious writing.
Only it didn’t quite pan out as planned. But of course.
One unfortunate turn of events, turned into two, then into multiple, until I was wringing my hands in over-dramatic despair, shaking my fists and generally plunging into an abyss of self-pity culminating in the admission that I am, indeed, an idiot of the highest order.
I won’t go into the details, but after finally managing to lasso my panic, it prompted me to revert to a phrase I have used before:
Writing – the best therapy you’ll never have to pay for.
After just an hour of writing, and focusing on nothing but writing, I felt better. A damn sight better.
You see, writing is my therapy and something I discovered I couldn’t live without and this discovery only took place just under four years ago.
Before then I rarely wrote anything. I did write when I was younger, but if I’m being completely honest, I preferred to read rather than write. It just seemed easier, you know.
What changed that? I had a baby.
Okay, so that’s not strictly true. I didn’t give birth and then suddenly say “My word! What an experience that was! I must write a novel!”
No. That’s not what happened. Actually, what did happen was that I spiralled out of control. Not only did the panic stampede through the Pamplona streets in my head, it soundly caught me with it’s horns and threw me about like a rag doll until all the stuffing was knocked out of me.
If ever there was A Series of Unfortunate Events, I was in it up to my neck.
After a thirty-six hour labour and emergency caesarean, I found myself stranded in the hospital for a week. My first night proved to be the omen of all omens. Unable to barely move through pain and with a screaming baby by my side that I couldn’t even pick up, let alone look after, I cried. In fact, I didn’t just cry, I bawled, quite literally like a baby, until the expectant mother in the bed opposite (Caroline, a true angel) offered me a few reassuring words and called for the midwife. The midwife swooped in and took the little one away for a few hours ‘to let me get some rest’ and I was faced with the realisation that not only was I incapable of moving, I was also incapable of looking after my own child.
After that, my hospital stay got worse. A breast feeding enforcer arrived and looked at me like I was an amoeba when I told her I had no intention of whopping them out, no, not even for my baby. At night time I listened to the cries from the psychiatric ward as one patient literally screamed for hours and begged for someone to kill him. Oh and let’s not even talk about the bed bath from Elizabeth, the auxiliary nurse who went places where no one but my husband, my doctor and three shifts-worth of midwives had ever gone ;-). I cried so much that week and half the time I wasn’t even sure why.
Two months into my maternity leave, another rung down the ladder of madness I went, when the company I had worked at for almost ten years went into administration. With quick and clinical precision, the powers-that-be whipped the rug out from under the staff that had served them loyally, some like myself for many years and we were thrown out into the cold. I was terrified. I had a two month old baby that I needed to help provide for, what was I going to do? The majority of my colleagues dispersed into the ranks of our former competitors and I was left floundering amongst a sea of nappies, night-time feeds and post-natal depression.
I threw myself into interviews that I wasn’t prepared for nor wanted to go to. I tried working from home, something which ended up doing me more harm than good. My confidence, which was already at an all-time low, plunged further into the murky depths of no-return and I couldn’t help feeling like I was failing at everything: failing to uphold a position I had done successfully for almost ten years, failing to be a good mother as I was having to focus on things other than my child and generally failing to keep a hold of my fast-diminishing faculties.
I knew I was losing it. And sometimes I think that’s worse than when everyone else sees it and you don’t. Because when you know that you’re losing control and can’t do anything to stop it, and when you despise yourself for being so weak and useless, it just magnifies every failing and every feeling.
I wasn’t just treading water anymore; I was full-on drowning and I felt like no one was throwing me a rubber ring.
Exhausted from it all, I finally relented and took myself off to the doctors. Now, let me just say I am quite sure there are marvellous doctors out there, doctors who recognise signs of PND, doctors who are supportive and sympathetic. Whilst my doctor did believe I was depressed, she didn’t think it was connected to PND and gave me a choice: pills or counselling. I knew nothing about either and opted for counselling, wary of the stigma of taking pills for a mental health issue. Fast forward a number of weeks later and I found myself in front of a very nice, but again, very blind lady counsellor who, after just an hour, summed up that I had “quite clearly suffered a great deal of loss in my life” and asked me if I had ever thought about committing suicide.
Screw this, I thought, and never returned.
What I did do instead was write. In those first few weeks after giving birth, I had an idea for a story, inspired by two foot of evil bastard snow outside my door that had kept me confined to my house. As the PND grew in intensity, so did my urge to write. Ever opportunity I got, I wrote. I snatched moments here and moments there. When my little one slept during the day, I wrote.
And during those small snippets of time, when I threw myself into somebody else’s world, somebody else’s head, I forgot. I forgot about me. I forgot about what was in my head and forgot about my problems. Everything was about Sarah. I lived, not in a semi-detached house in a rather quiet cul-de-sac in Bedfordshire, but in a small, rather grey cottage out in the woods, surrounded by snow and haunted by ghosts from a past Sarah was desperately running away from.
Over time, instead of waiting for someone else to throw me a rubber ring, I somehow managed to fight the tide and crashing waves that had threatened to take me under. Instead of treading the waters again, I actually learned to swim.
Eighteenth months in and I managed to get a new job (one I still have and am fairly good at) and about two years in (although quite when I cannot say for sure) the PND was gone. Now almost four years down the line, I’m still writing and when times get a little fraught, as they did on Friday night, I curl up with my iPad and I write.
Even people I know who are not writers have said to me that writing, whether that be just writing their feelings down on a page or writing themselves or somebody else a letter that will never get posted, has helped them deal with the problems in their lives.
Never underestimate the power of words. When in doubt, write it out.
So Friday didn’t turn out quite how I had expected.