Kate's motherhood story - My mental health journey
At the start of June, just before Vinnie’s 1st birthday, I was diagnosed with Post Natal Depression.
Truthfully, I think I’d been struggling with it for a very long time, but always passed it off as being part and parcel with being and overtired and an overwhelmed working Mama.
It’s been the most difficult experience of my life to date and it’s taken me this long to build up the courage to share my story.
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Some of the beautiful photographs of Sophie and her fam were captured by Sophie from Sister Scout Studio.
I felt (and still do) such shame and embarrassment about my diagnosis. I felt like a big failure. I couldn’t believe that it was happening to me and I didn’t even realise - after all the time I've spent campaigning for and talking about mental health. I felt so silly and I’ve barely been able to talk to anyone about it, not even some of my closest friends.
It was really hard for me to spot. I was tired, I couldn’t concentrate, I was finding it difficult to leave the house and to socialise. But I just told myself that this was a normal part of being a new Mum and that it would pass. Anyone that asked about me got an "I'm fine, I'm just tired" and honestly that's all I thought it was.
Before long my concentration got so bad that I could barely get through the day. I would lose the keys and misplace my phone and my wallet every time I put them down (my formerly elephant-esque brain would ordinarily be able to recall these things before I'd even forgotten where I put them).
I couldn’t bear to open my inbox or answer my phone. I had to cancel all my workshops and lie about why. I couldn’t even listen to anyone talking - it was like I just wasn’t there. I could hear the words but nothing was computing. I could barely carry a conversation with my husband. I was crabby and irritable all the time, and the only thing I looked forward to every day was going to bed.
It was like I was stuck in this great big fog. Everything was dull and clouded. And still I didn’t realise that anything was wrong.
But while all this was happening, my husband had been rallying the troops behind me. He was speaking to my Mum, his Mum and our closest friends to try and help me understand that perhaps I wasn’t coping as well as I thought. And I'm so lucky I had someone as compassionate, patient and supportive as him to put a gentle hand on my shoulder and say hey, I don't think you're okay, but I'm here to help you. I honestly don't know where I'd be without him.
I can’t really remember how it all came out to be honest, other than that Sam sat me down and told me that he’d noticed some worrying signs and he didn’t know how to help me. There were lots of tears and disbelief, but also a little bit of relief that I didn’t have to keep struggling on my own.
I couldn’t really believe it was happening to me, and part of me still feels like I’ve failed (even though I know that’s completely ridiculous, being unwell is hardly a failure).
It’s taken me a long time to accept that having post natal depression doesn’t make me a bad Mum.
Another very cruel symptom of having an unhappy brain.
I LOVE my son. I love him fiercely and with every fibre of my being. I've never had any troubles bonding with him nor him with me. I LOVED being pregnant, I had never felt more comfortable and confident in my body or myself in my whole life. I LOVED giving birth, I felt like a total superwoman goddess and my midwives told me my experience was more perfect than textbook. I actually can't wait to do it again. I LOVED breastfeeding and only weaned Vinnie a few weeks ago at 14.5 months. I love being a Mum, and I know I'm a good one. These are all good things, aren't they? So how could I possibly be struggling with post natal depression?
I've never been good at slowing down or taking time to rest, and I'm even worse at asking for help. I've worked myself so far into the ground that my brain is now demanding I stop.
Just this week I had to pull over while driving home from the market because I couldn't keep the car in the lane and I could barely keep my eyes open. My heart was racing and I was so frightened, I felt like my body was just shutting down before my eyes. I actually thought I might be dying.
It was really scary but has also really helped me understand how serious this illness is, and in some ways it's taken those severe physical symptoms for me to accept my diagnosis instead of keep fighting against it. Taking care of your brain is so important, but unlike a cut or a bruise we can't always see when it's broken, so it's often the first thing to get neglected when things get a little (or a lot) busy.
I wish I could say I'm safely out the other side of this awful experience but truthfully I'm not. I've still got such a long way to go and it's taking me a really long time to accept that the best thing for my body, my mind, my baby, my relationship, and my business is to just stop and take a breath. For however long that may be. Busyness for me has been a trap - a coping mechanism so that I don't have to think about anything or pay attention to how bad I feel. But it's not working and it has to stop.
Thinking back to early in my pregnancy I keep wondering if there's something I could have read or listened to to be more prepared for what I'm going through, and honestly I'm not sure there is.
Every mental health journey is completely unique and unpredictable - it's tied so closely to my personality (it's all happening inside my brain after all) so this is all panning out on a path designed especially and exclusively for me. But even though this is very much my personal journey, I hope that there may be something that other Mamas can identify or resonate with, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last few months, it’s that I’m definitely not alone.
What I have come to understand about myself through this experience, is how I measure my worth and my value to others. For as long as I can remember, my achievements have always been very obvious and very public - straight As at school, awards, a cracking ENTER score, acceptance to the interview-only course I wanted to attend at uni, scoring an internship in my second year, landing what I thought was my dream job, starting a business, winning more awards, building a large social media following, joining my husband on our second business venture. Etc etc. You get the idea.
When Vinnie was born, all of these things suddenly became so unimportant to me, but I was so used to measuring my life and my worth by them that I found myself floundering with no idea what to do. I was desperate to press pause and spend time with my son (a luxury I wasn't afforded as a full time biz Mama sadly) but at the same time, my brain desperately craved a framework for achievement by which to measure myself.
My whole world turned completely upside down in a very unexpected way - that had nothing to do with not absolutely LOVING being a Mum because I think it's the bloody best gig in the universe - but more with being forced to learn to give myself the pat on the back I've always relied on from others to power my self esteem.
I'm not quite sure of that makes sense, I can barely string two words together these days, but I've had to start from the beginning and try to reclaim my identity. Who am I? What's important to me? What are my values? What makes me good? Most importantly, what makes me happy?
At my worst, I really believed the answer to those questions was "nothing", which is hard for me to write and I'm sure hard for people to believe. But that's the thing about mental health - you have to learn to separate the unhealthy thoughts from the healthy thoughts, all while using the very organ that's making you so sick in the first place. No wonder it's so hard.
Through all of this I can't help but feel grateful for the experience. I've always been passionate about mental health, and anxiety is something I've always had to manage, but this has been a whole new level of unwellness and it's been completely eye opening. And I feel so sad for any other Mamas (or anyone for that matter) who have felt or still feel this way, because it's confusing / isolating / lonely / frustrating / exhausting / overwhelming /all the things.
And while I'm not quite out of the woods just yet, what I do hope is that by sharing my story, deep while I'm still in it, I might encourage someone to also put their hand up and say I'm not okay, or to have the confidence to recognise these symptoms in themselves or someone they love.
My deepest gratitude to my amazing husband, who's been a true advocate for mental health awareness from the moment I met him, and my family and friends for throwing all their love and support behind me during this really difficult time. It's uncharted territory for all of us and we're all still learning, but it's heartening to know our collective experience might help someone else.
And to anyone else that's struggling or that's supporting someone who is, know that you're definitely not alone, and that this is just a small chapter in your life journey that will ultimately make you a stronger, smarter, more compassionate human. And that can only be a good thing.
I’m a people-pleasing over achiever that believes in soul mates, sleep-ins and that everything can be solved with a smile. I’m passionate about mental health, love flowers and have a background in writing and communication. Together with my husband, I own 2 x flowers businesses, Mary Mary Studio and Little Jar of Happiness. I’m obsessed with my little family, adore my husband and love to feel the sun on my skin.
Children: 1, Vincent Fox, 15 months old.
Motherhood in 5 words: Joyous, empowering, challenging, rewarding, illuminating.
Fav family friendly place: Lux Foundry, our favourite cafe before and after having a baby!
Coffee order: Chai latte, full fat milk!
Biz: Mary Mary Studio and Little Jar of Happiness
Mary Mary Studio is a boutique floral design studio specialising in luxe, statement blooms for all occasions.
Little Jar of Happiness is our daily flower delivery service that supports mental health, with $2.50 donated to beyondblue from every single jar, every single day.
The information in this story is a unique and personal reflection of the writer's experience. If you have any specific questions about any medical matter you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider. If you think you may be suffering from any medical condition you should seek immediate medical attention. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information on this website.