Early next morning my family rang the doctor back. By this time we were all very bewildered and exhausted. The emergency team came to our house, it consisted of my GP, a nurse, health visitor, consultant psychiatrist, a social worker and a student. I didn’t want to talk to anyone and was very confused. I thought I was going blind. I also had the notion that I was the main character in a fly on the wall TV documentary. I was still mixing people up and I thought my GP was AJ’s father, who had died some years previously.
I sat on a cushion on the floor in the sitting room dressed in casual clothes and a bright orange head band. The social worker crouched down to my level. She spoke loudly and clearly to my face. She asked if I knew that something was wrong, I said I did. She suggested that I should go to hospital under a Section 2 order. I agreed. I was taken off to hospital in an ambulance with AJ, uncertain of my fate and very frightened. H and J were left holding the baby. I was admitted to an acute adult mental health ward where I would be assessed and treated.
The next day my sister and aunty J came. My sister’s car broke down en route and I kept phoning her to find out where she was. I was impatient to see them. When they arrived I was really hyper and excited that they had come. Aunty J is a midwife and specialist lactation consultant so she helped me to breastfeed and express milk for Munchie. We used formula as well and we all struggled to get to grips with making up bottles and sterilising them, it was all new to us. As I had never considered bottle feeding I had no clue as to what it entailed. AJ was later dispatched to walk the dog and have a pint at a local pub. He needed to clear his head and wet the baby’s! I became increasingly confused and H and J were very concerned on AJ’s return. I was delusional, mixing people up, had strange ideas and was not making sense. In our living room there was a row of photos above the kitchen archway and I struggled to name family members correctly. I was speaking in the other languages I know (Spanish and Italian) as well as English.
I had a bath to try and relax and I wouldn’t be left alone. AJ gave me a sleeping tablet which worked but I later woke up screaming. H and J looked after Munchie through the night. During the night I was preoccupied with death, overtaken with terrors and thought I was going to die. It was terribly frightening for me and equally alarming for my family. The attacks came and went and I screamed through the night. I thought I was alone at times and AJ, H and J consoled me. The emotions were so strong and it was hard to come out of it. It was a very physical feeling too. My mind was racing and I wrote copious notes and drew scribbly drawings. We played some word games like scrabble and talked about future plans with Munchie in order to distract me from my wandering mind. Aunty J taught me how to back slang my name, which meant I became ‘Imimay’, I thought it was great! I started to invent a game in my head that I needed to complete before I could go to sleep, the difficulty was I kept setting new objectives so it was an impossible task. I had the idea that if I could complete this game I could beat death.
Now and again H would bring Munchie to me as we sat together in the sitting room but I didn’t want to hold her or was perhaps afraid to, it was as if I knew I couldn’t look after her. AJ rang the mental health crisis team in the middle of the night and the assessment team said they could come and do an assessment but would be unable to act at that hour so my family decided to wait until the morning.
After everything that was happening AJ was upset and he found he couldn’t cope with looking after all of us and essentially I wasn’t looking after myself. He spoke to me about this and I was overwrought. We went to see my usual GP who specialised in psychiatry. The doctor diagnosed postnatal depression and prescribed antidepressants. After seeing the doctor we went to the supermarket to get some formula milk, it was decided that we would combine the feeding so that I was able to get some rest. At the supermarket I was acting strangely, hyper but then emotional, something I now recognise as ‘mania’. I later phoned my mum in great distress, screaming for help down the phone. That night I got some sleep but I woke up distressed. I had my first episode which was extremely frightening. We later found out that I had been misdiagnosed and consequently the antidepressants had had an adverse effect, in fact triggering an episode.
AJ and I have tried to recall how the events unfolded after our daughter was born almost three and a half years ago in the days that led up to me being hospitalised and in what we now realise was postpartum psychosis.
Early on I was exhilerated, I remember drinking a glass of champagne and being drunk instantly, then passing out! I was hyper.
Having trouble with breastfeeding came as a huge disappointment and I gave myself a hard time and could not relax. I wasn’t settling into motherhood as instinctively as I had expected and this was a huge source of anxiety.
People came to visit and I was insensitive to social conventions, not considering that they may be embarassed by me flopping my boobs out without a care! I am usually quite extroverted so we didn’t realise that me losing my inhibitions and not caring was perhaps an early sign of the symptoms found in psychosis. Everything is new so you lose reference.
Over the next few days I was fidgety about breastfeeding, I had no patience with it and found myself getting frustrated when Munchie didn’t latch on easily and I complained about the pain. I had low tolerance. Breastfeeding seemed to get harder not easier and I was hard on myself and wouldn’t let myself relax. I dreaded breastfeeding. I didn’t give up, throw my hands up in the air and go to bed which wasn’t like me as I love my sleep!
Two or three nights in I started not sleeping. AJ and I would go to bed together and he would sleep for a few hours but when he woke he would find I wasn’t there but instead fussing around Munchie or around the house. I was obsessing about doing menial tasks which was very uncharacteristic. I wouldn’t let myself go to sleep until these silly menial tasks were completed. I had forgotten how to look after myself and was irrational. The midwife was concerned about me and suggested I saw the doctor. I saw the GP and she told me off, she pointed out that I had to look after myself if I wanted to look after my baby. I had to rest.
This is the story until around day 5 or 6. More to follow…
I am going to attempt to put down on paper what happened to me prior to being diagnosed with postpartum psychosis (sometimes called puerperal psychosis) – sorry, WHAT? I’d never heard of this before it happened to me.
Munchie was born in early December 2010. I was ecstatic, the little girl I had wanted had arrived safely. I had been lucky enough to have a pretty simple labour in a midwifery-led unit and thanks to the Tens machine, a fabulous yoga instructor, the birthing pool and of course my fabulous husband, all had gone pretty smoothly.
We were discharged the next day and to begin with things seemed to be going OK. However, by the time the 5 day check came around I was hyper and very excited and some small cracks were starting to show. I started to have difficulty sleeping and breastfeeding was becoming harder rather than easier. Giving up breastfeeding simply did not seem like an option to me. I remember screaming in distress at the thought of failing to breastfeed. My midwife recommended some different remedies to help with the soreness of my nipples and I saw a doctor to discuss the sleep problem. Lack of sleep wasn’t due to the baby but instead my inability to relax. I now know that this was the beginning of ‘mania’. The doctor gave me some sleeping tablets and I managed to get a few hour’s rest, not enough. At this early stage it was really tricky for my husband and I to know how much of what was happening was normal new baby woes….