We live in a time when we’re gradually coming to acknowledge the reality of maternal mental illness. I hope that telling my story sheds some light on what it’s like to experience this, and how it can be overcome.
Eight years ago, I found myself in a mental health ward. I had a nearly five-month-old baby and a two-year-old, and I was suffering from psychotic depression.
Backtrack a couple of years and I was a new mother. I was anaemic after my labour from the extra loss of blood. I felt unwell and sore, but my body recovered.
I was perfectionistic about my son’s sleeping, feeding and waking times. I kept meticulous records. I wanted to do things ‘right’. I had been a primary school teacher, but motherhood was a whole different job.
People buzzed around my baby and me, packing boxes to help in our upcoming move to Coffs Harbour on the mid north coast of New South Wales. Family members visited from afar, and I addressed ‘thank you’ postcards and revelled in the knowledge that I had everything I’d ever wanted—a husband, a baby and soon, a new life at the beach.
But ten weeks after the birth of my first child I slid into postnatal depression. My husband Nathan and I had moved from a town where we had family support to a coastal paradise where we knew no-one. Nathan started a new job driving trucks, but I was overcome with sadness.
A storm engulfed me. Navy-coloured clouds filled the sky. Thunder boomed and crashed. Streaks of lightning bolted to the ground. Everything was dismal and grey.
Joy was gone. Day after day was bleak. Week after week and month after month there were few sunshiny moments. And this was all before I had the psychotic episode!
The person I had built Nicki to be was crumbling. My image blurred like a smeared watercolour painting. It was as though I no longer existed.
Who was I?
I wasn’t a teacher. I was a mother, but a pathetic one. I was a wife, but not the lover and best friend I had once been to my husband.
I was a mess of hormones and chemical imbalance. I was sick.
The lowest point came two years later, after my second child was born. I ended up spending three and a half weeks in a mental health ward. My husband took time off work and brought both of our children to see me in hospital twice a day. I breastfed my baby and pumped breastmilk for him as well. This was a medical emergency and there was no Mother Baby Unit near me.
It was a frightening time. I took antipsychotics and tried to rest and understand what had happened to me: I was sick, and this was the process I needed to undertake to become well again.
Despite how low I felt at that time, I am a survivor. I have a biological predisposition to depression and anxiety, so it has been a long road to healing. But the care of health and medical practitioners, together with the friendship and support of many beautiful women, has helped me along the way. I can now look back with thanks to God for bringing those people and services into my life.
The journey to mental wellness looks different for each of us. I believe we all need holistic care to get there. For Christians, it’s a process of learning to take care of the whole person God has made us to be—our body, mind and spirit.
Some of the things I did to become well include:
- getting a mental health care plan from my doctor (GP)
- talking with psychologists and counsellors
- taking medication (antidepressants and mood stabilisers)
- exercising (beach walks, tennis, gym)
- taking baths and drinking chamomile tea to help calm me at night
- drinking smoothies made in my Nutri Ninja
- taking supplements on advice from a naturopath
- learning about my menstrual cycle and its impact on my mood
- going to church and having people pray for me
- starting a gratitude journal
- learning about thinking styles and how to change my negative self-talk
- reading the Bible and having the Bible read to me
- adjusting my expectations
- going to play group
- being real with my friends and family members
- asking for help.
My children are now eight and ten years old. I am still married to Nathan. We still live in Coffs Harbour, in the same house we’ve been in for ten years. We have some of the same beautiful neighbours surrounding us. And yet life looks vastly different to how it looked all those years ago. I am thankful to God for holding me through everything that has happened and bringing me out the other side. I have learnt to hold on to these truths from God’s word:
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
The righteous person may have many troubles,
but the Lord delivers him from them all.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
(2 Corinthians 12:9a)
If you are battling with maternal depression, beautiful mum, I want you to know that you can make it with God's help. This is a winter season of your life that won’t stay forever. The seasons change. Sun will light your soul again.
If you think you or someone you know is suffering from postnatal depression, please seek professional help such as the Gidget Foundation.
Nicki Jeffery is the author of ‘Faith-based Travels: A Devotional Guidebook for the Faith-filled Traveller’, ‘Encouraging Mums with Hope: Light in the Darkness of Maternal Depression’ and ‘Precious Michelle: A Sister Reminisces a Life Lost to Suicide’. Nicki lives with her husband and two sons, their puppy, cat and four chooks on the mid north coast of NSW, Australia.
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