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         My Song today (Tuesday Sept 4th 2018)

Janele Monae, Make me Feel
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Everyday Challenges
Hi, Firstly I would like to introduce myself.  I am Rebecca and I am a Senior Executive Assistant at an Investment Bank and have been for just over 8 years.  I am also mummy to Zachary who is now two years old old.
So a little bit about me.  I hail from Essex so true to form, my first “proper” job was as an air hostess for British Airways.  I was part of the Gatwick based “beach fleet” and for two years spent most of my days sunning myself on beaches in the Caribbean and America. Can you believe I gave that up to work in banking! I have a very sweet tooth so love to bake calorie laden cakes for friends, family and colleagues and could definitely survive on chocolate and green tea if I had to. I have an ever increasing collection of Emma Bridgewater pottery and my absolute ambition which I will do one day is to wing walk, much to my families horror.
My experience of post natal depression and anxiety started with what should have been the best time of my life, having Zachary.
Three weeks before my baby's due date while I was downstairs in the auditorium getting a Town Hall ready for my boss to present my waters broke.  I would like to think I was pretty relaxed. I carried on, went upstairs started to send emails letting people know I probably wouldn’t be in now for a while and cleared my desk. 

I explained to everyone what had happened… they all flapped while I looked up online what the traffic was like to see if I should get the train home or maybe take up the offer of a taxi home.  We got the train!  This sums up my entire pregnancy, I was chilled and I carried on as before I was pregnant.  I loved being pregnant but it didn’t really impact on our lives, we still went on holidays, I still worked long hours and I felt great, not once did I anticipate what was going to happen.
Zachary decided to take his time to arrive, putting me through what can only be described as a barbaric birth.  My waters broke Tuesday evening, Zachary didn’t arrive until Thursday at 5.31pm.  I won’t go into the finer details but those of you that have children will be able to relate and those of you that don’t, well I don’t want to put you off. Zachary was born by a second pull forcep delivery following a failed ventouse pull, failed first forcep pull, and an episiotomy.  I saw Zachary for a few seconds and then was rushed into emergency surgery due to severe blood loss and a forth degree tear. Despite Zacharys obvious facial and head injuries he was perfect and scored a 10 on the apgar score, so he was a real fighter and already doing us proud.
After my surgery I was taken to a holding room and was able to properly meet Zachary for the first time. 

“There I was with this little person looking at me for everything and I was looking at him thinking so when does it happen…. This gush of love, this overwhelming feeling of protection, this unbreakable bond… where is it?"

I was exhausted from the two days of contractions, the horrendous labour, I couldn’t use my legs at all and was in significant pain down my back and into my hips. There I was with this little person looking at me for everything and I was looking at him thinking so when does it happen…. This gush of love, this overwhelming feeling of protection, this unbreakable bond… where is it?
We stayed in hospital for two days of which I don’t remember much, it’s a blur of people visiting, nurses telling me off for not breast feeding and me being in agony.  I desperately wanted to feed Zachary myself but because I had gone into shock following his birth my body shut down its milk supplies so as much as I wanted to I couldn’t do it.
On reflection the PND hit me immediately. From the day I went home with Zachary I suffered from awful anxiety about everything.  I went from being a very self assured, confident and some may say arrogant person to questioning everything.  I couldn’t even decide what I wanted to eat without asking my mum or my boyfriend if it was ok.  I couldn’t sleep because I was worried that I might not hear Zachary cry and it felt like my brain was churning over 100 miles an hour. But the most haunting memory is I felt nothing for Zachary, I knew I had to care for him but I still didn’t feel anything for him.  I remember looking in the mirror and seeing this completely different person.  Why did I have a baby, what had I done.  I begged my mum and my boyfriend to take him away and look after him for me.  Before I had Zachary I had this idea in my head of what I would look like with a baby, what I would feel like with a baby, what I would be doing with a baby.  The reality was the complete opposite, in my head I was a bad mum and then the crying began.  I cried all day and night, no matter what anyone did I couldn’t stop.  I couldn’t be alone, with my friends and family having to do shifts to make sure someone was always there, but it wasn’t getting any better. For two weeks my midwife and health visitor visited daily telling me it would pass and it was just the baby blues.  That every new mum has these feelings and in a few weeks I would look back on this time as just a little blip.  But I knew they were wrong, I kept telling my mum that they were not listening to me.  Like during my labour when I told the nurses that Zachary was stuck and they said he wasn’t, they were wrong again.  We moved from my house as a family to my mums so it would be easier for her to help and also to try and enable me to get some sleep as I hadn’t slept for more than a couple of hours since having Zachary. 
15 days after having Zachary I asked my mum to take me to my GP, the midwife and health visitor were not listening so hopefully he would.  I needed him to. “Its just the baby blues and it will pass”, “every mum goes through this stage”.  “I am going on holiday for three weeks, come back when I am back and we can see how you are then”.  I cried the entire way home, I felt like my brain needed rewiring but no one was listening to me.  I needed help and I needed it now.

The following morning I asked to go to hospital, surely they would help me.  My mums husband took James and I to a&e and my mum looked after Zachary.  
Within two hours we were seen by a psychologist “Rebecca, you have what we call postnatal depression, we are going to help you and you will be ok”.  Finally it wasn’t the baby blues, someone was listening to what I was saying and was there to help me.  We made a plan based on the Edinburgh scale where they rate mental health in new mums based on their answers to a number of questions.  The plan was that on the following Monday in 2 days time a mental health crisis team would visit me at home and prescribe some medication for me to help me relax, to calm me down and get me better.  This broke my heart, I didn’t want to be a mum on medication, I didn’t want to be crazy or a nutter, I just wanted to be me, the me before Zachary who was “normal”. 
 I was embarrassed I was going to have to take tablets to function, I was angry this had happened to me, I was upset I wasn’t the mum I had dreamed of. Unfortunately the visit from the crisis team came and went but it wasn’t soon enough, the medication would take up to six weeks to kick in and I needed help now, I needed help today.
I had hit rock bottom and I needed to make alarm bells ring so that people would understand what I was feeling and going through.  I told my mum and boyfriend I wanted to die and that they should look after Zachary.  
On the 9th November I was admitted as a voluntary inpatient into Basildon’s mental health assessment unit without Zachary.  Zachary stayed with my mum while I was assessed by a psychiatric team and placed on 24 hour watch.  I was never going to kill myself but I knew I wasn’t well and I needed help, this was the only way.  For the first time since 19th October I slept.  I slept through the wails from other patients, the banging of doors, the screaming of people trying to hurt themselves, the shouting of police bringing people in, the crashing of nurses dragging people out. I slept all night in a room with the lights on and door open, I was exhausted but I was relieved.  Nobody should ever have to see the things I saw in there or hear the stories I heard but I was heading in the right direction, I was getting help.I spent two nights in that unit while they found me a place at the rainbow mother and baby unit in Chelmsford.  Rainbow is specialist 5 bedded unit. which provides mental health care and treatment for women during the late stages of pregnancy and up to one year after the birth of their baby.  There are only 23 of these units in the country and Rainbow is the only one covering the south east, I was so lucky to get a place there as my other option would have been Kent. 
​My first few days there were a blur, I felt that I was locked up, that I was mad, that I had a type of post natal depression and shock that no one had ever had before and that they wouldn’t be able to cure.  I was convinced that I would be there forever.  I slept in a small room with Zachary next to me in a cot.  The doors all have the tops cut off of them so the nurses can check you when you are in there, and for the first three days you have 24 hours a day supervision.  We laugh now as they say it is like having a discreet shadow.  My shadow was a 6ft 9inches guy with size 14 feet, the deepest voice and the broadest shoulders, I definitely wouldn’t have called him discreet.

I spent 8 weeks in the unit as an inpatient taking part in talking groups, activities and talking to the other women and staff that worked there.  At first I wouldn’t leave what had become a safe space to me, I slowly learnt to trust the nurses and support staff, I had started to sleep and eat but I didn’t want to leave.  So slowly we introduced short accompanied walks around the hospital grounds, these then became visits to the coffee shop and then going into town with my mum and Zachary to do a bit of Christmas shopping/having lunch out.  As the medication started to work I started to feel me coming back.  It wasn’t the old me I accepted that, it was the mum me who had Zachary and who loved him and he loved me. 
My recovery wasn’t completely straightforward as the hospital told me it wouldn’t be.  I would take three steps forward then two steps back.  The brain is a complex thing so it takes time for the medication to work and be right for the individual.  But the two steps back were much more manageable and took a lot less time to get over, we started much to my boyfriends annoyance calling them wobbles!
After a successful 5 day home visit over the Christmas period I was able to be discharged on the 6th January into the care of my mum/partner and the community team.  It was a bitter sweet goodbye as I had grown to feel very safe there as it had been home for Zachary and I for a long time and I had great relationships with the staff there. But the reality was that I was better and I didn’t belong there anymore, that part of my life was done and I needed to start on the new job in hand, being a mum.  Being in the unit allowed me to let the medication do its job, but it also taught me so much more and the biggest thing was acceptance.  I had to accept I was ill, I had to accept I needed help, I had to accept it would take time but also, and a big one for me… I had to accept I would get better. 
My recovery continued once I was at home.  I started taking Zachary for short walks on my own to get a hot chocolate at the local coffee shop and these lead to going out to the local highstreet, each time getting further and futher out of my comfort zone.  It wasn’t easy, and I did a lot of anxious sweating! But I did it and I could see I was looking more and more like me again.  I continued with the medication and started CBT with a councilor for six weeks.  This involved learning how to almost rewire my brain and deal with the thoughts and worries I was experiencing. I learnt to prioritise the important worries over the things I couldn’t control or didn’t need to worry about and learn to relax more.  

What the future holds
We are not alone
Why I talk about
PND & Anxiety
Now over a year on from my discharge from Rainbow I am back working full time, I am still on medication but I accept why.  It doesn’t make me a crazy mum, it makes me a better mum.  The mum that Zachary deserves and the mum I want to be.  If I was diabetic I wouldn’t dream of not taking my medication, so why did I worry about taking it for my brain. I still suffer from anxiety but I know I do, I know what it is and I know how to deal with it.  Everyone suffers from anxiety but it comes in all different guises.  I think on reflection I have always suffered from it, but previously my way of dealing with it was to control everything.  I don’t have to be everything to everyone, I can say no. 
A big help for me has been knowing I am not alone.  The recent media attention to celebrities such as Adele has also made my friends and family understand the illness.  Before I was diagnosed I was ignorant to mental health and post natal depression.  You may have seen the Eastenders storyline featuring the character Stacey Slater who suffered from a different type of postnatal mental health illness call physcosis.  Rainbow were the unit they based their unit on and they were consulted throughout to make sure the storyline was as realistic as possible.

I talk openly about my experience because you never know who is listening and I want to help expel the stigma.  Don’t be afraid to ask people how they are especially those that have been through something different to their normal every day life, not just having a baby.  We all have brains, we are all able to suffer from mental health illnesses, because unfortunately it doesn’t discriminate.  And don’t be afraid to tell people how you are feeling.

Rainbow Mother & Baby Unit
Other UK Mother & Baby Units

I also want to help to raise funds for the Rainbow Mother & Baby Unit.  As you know the majority of the NHS is underfunded, the unit started as a trial and is actually an old office unit converted into a residential space for the mums to stay in.  At the moment to access a sensory room which is beneficial to both the mums and babies the nurses have to take the patients across two car parks in all weathers and through the dementia unit to use their sensory space.  This is a daunting experience for the mums and often puts them off of going.  It is my hope to be able to help Rainbow pay for their own sensory equipment so watch this space!

Mental illness is not a choice but you can chose to get better, you can live with it and I believe it can make you a better person.
I had to put my hands up and stop for a while.  I had to accept the situation.  There is nothing wrong with asking for help.