Trigger warning! Mentions extremely upsetting psychosis episodes
Reflections on Resilience: My Journey Through Postpartum Psychosis

Reflections on Resilience: My Journey Through Postpartum Psychosis

Embracing the Struggle: The Beginning of My Postpartum Psychosis Journey

As the calendar turned its page to March 1st, 2024, I found myself enveloped in a myriad of emotions, marking the third anniversary of my encounter with postpartum psychosis. 3 years ago I told my husband at 4am it was "time to smother the baby" I mean WHAT? The thing that he didn't know about was the choir of angels I had in my head telling me she was too good for this world and was too perfect, so G*d was calling her home. I've never even really considered myself religious, so this came from absolutely no where. I mean I wouldn't call myself an atheist either, but growing up in Northern Ireland in the 80s (think Derry girls, if they weren't Catholic) it just wouldn't have been on my radar!

Discovering Solace: How Action on Postpartum Psychosis Charity Helped Me

Stumbling upon the Action on Postpartum Psychosis charity was a turning point. Our health visitor was a godsend, she found the charity that talked my family through what was happening, while the general psychiatric team tried every medication under the sun to get me to sleep. In the end I was voluntarily admitted to the Bluestone unit where I would slowly "come-to" and realise I was very sick and alone without my babies in a place where others where even more unwell. It was a tough existence, I cried, I pined, I argued, I refused to sleep on the bed, I made them open the art room at 3am so I could spend the full day colouring... I'd lost myself and felt like I'd lost my family because my own mind was playing tricks on me. It all began because I was a little worried about having anaemia! Obviously this turned out to be a gross understatement of the situation I was truly facing...

I remember leaving the unit, finally going home, but I was numb, so doped up I was not present in the room I was sitting in. But I was me again, more fragile and scared than the person I was before, still that was the best we could have hoped for at that time.

I had a long road of recovery ahead of me... Ellie and Simon from APP were on the phone when I got into the car for the ride home. That was the day my true recovery began. I had survived the worst of the symptoms, reached rock bottom, and from that moment on I was making my way back up out of the deep hole I had so suddenly dropped into. APP's support through the darkest days, and the solace found in the advice of other survivors on their forum became my lifeline. I asked the mummy's in the APP forum about everything! How can I work again? How long does it take to recover? How do you know if you are becoming unwell again? Can you become unwell again? What if people treat me differently? I needed a lot of help and support and know I wouldn't be here if they weren't as amazing as they are.

The Power of Connection: Finding Support

If I struggled to go out alone, planning to meet a friend compelled me to leave the house. This simple, yet effective strategy was a stepping stone towards regaining my independence. I had to learn to drive again after being unwell for so long, I think at the end I didn't drive for more than 5 months. A Home Start volunteer, Grace, helped me manage the mental load of motherhood and trauma. Our meetings became a space for reflection and planning, instrumental in my recovery. We are still firm friends even though I normally ring her even now with some sort of drama or trauma to discuss lol!  

NHS CBT Therapy for PTSD and OCD

After some time of coming to terms with everything I asked for therapy, I previously had CBT for an eating disorder more than 15 years ago so I knew it would be a huge benefit for me. And oh wow I wasn't wrong! At first I didn't think they would help me, I mean how could they? I had thoughts that demons are alive and constantly in my periphery, I really loved the movie Constantine, that's the only thing I could think of anyway. Turned out I had OCD, which isn't about cleaning, but about dealing with intrusive thoughts (which I never knew existed until my therapy) in a way you think is helpful but is actually a cycle. I'd love to go into it but it's a lot to handle so I'll leave a link here to rethink mental illness and you can read into it. Basically I had an intrusive thought "what if I died in childbirth and this is all a dream?" Then "what if I fall asleep and don't wake up?" Eventually we thought about certain compulsions I did to "fend off" the intrusive thoughts like ruminating, seeking reassurance and checking. Then I had to work on the feelings around not doing those things. Pretty complex but the treatment was amazing - let me know if you want me to go into more details on that in the comments below. I also never knew that when people say they "have trouble sleeping" they sometimes mean the reflex that jerks you awake, which is all anxiety and a mask of insomnia which if left untreated can lead to psychosis.

 The PTSD treatment was harder, I had to relive my worst week in a safe environment and then fill in the gaps with what I know now... then read the manuscript over and over again, until I became slowly de-sensitised to the memories and the flashbacks slowed until they stopped. I learned to ground myself as well, GAD Ground, approach discriminate - I found it very hard not to grab hold of grounding as a compulsion, OCD and PTSD struggle to co-exist and often I worried my PTSD would flare up my OCD! 

Embracing Small Victories: Living by the "Too Big for Now" Mantra

A mantra developed with my nurse, "too big for now", helped me focus on gradual recovery. It taught me patience and the importance of celebrating small achievements on the path to doing bigger things one day. I would make myself little lists for the week and slowly build them into bigger things. I'm happy to say we don't even think about things like the below now, we just pick something to do and go do it! 

  1. Walk to the shop with 1 kid 
  2. Walk to the shop with 2 kids
  3. Drive to the shop with 2 kids, park only if there is a parent & pram space.. etc

Last year I took the kids, alone, up a mountain, only to have the youngest kick off and the oldest want to go further up said mountain, so I ended up picking up the bad mummy award, as well as my daughter as I carried her screaming down the mountain. All the while the eldest trailed behind me complaining about how close we were to the top! 

I got some funny looks from other hikers, but I think when you've literally been in a psychiatric ward (sectioned mind you) you don't mind someone "thinking" you might have a screw loose.

Rekindling Hope: A Bucket List to Mend a Broken Heart

Creating a bucket list inspired by the book "Bucket List to Mend a Broken Heart" and joining the "Adventuring Women of the Wild NI" Facebook group encouraged me to climb mountains and embrace sea dips, rekindling hope and joy in my life. I read the book when I was in France, I actually started the list when I was there. 

  1. Cycle around Paris
  2. Climb Slieve Donard
  3. See the Northern Lights

It was funny I just thought, "yeah I'm going to rent a bike while I'm here", but we didn't, we ended up getting a lime electric scooter and it was incredible to just fly around Paris and see all the sights without getting stuck behind groups of tourists going at a snail pace taking in every sight and sound! 

I joined the facebook group and just asked "Can I climb Donard alone?" and I was encouraged to just go for it, so I did! I mean when I got to Newcastle I had to ask which towering mound was actually Donard... And I was overtaken by a 75 year old man with a heart condition, but I did it! I spent a full hour at the top just absorbing my first mountain, and I knew it was not my last. After Donard I started to ask in the group - "anyone going to the Mournes this weekend?" and tagged along! I'm pretty sure I've inspired a few bucket lists along the way which is really cool! Errigal in Donegal has been a favourite so far but I plan to take my hiking further in 2024 maybe even across the Irish sea! 

A lot of our DayDot Journals are inspired by the views and amateur photography I've taken when out and about in Northern Ireland and one of my favourite diaries Lavender Dawn is based on a view I spotted in Donegal in October. I wouldn't say photography and art are my calling but I'm enjoying designing notebooks that the world is not unhappy about - that's the best you'll get from me in terms of a compliment to myself. 

Finding Joy in Simplicity: The Importance of Mundane Moments

Once a month I try to climb a mountain or have a sea dip, that's my self care, I don't check my phone, I don't keep track of any times, I just follow the group and have the craic. Apart from that I'm learning to find joy in the mundane, like weekends where we wake up early, pop to the latest bistro for breakfast (thanks TikTok for keeping this list long and full of flavour) then a trip to the park with my kids. They taught me that happiness isn't about lavish holidays, but about cherishing simple, everyday moments. My kids are these funny, smart, tiny humans who have a wonderful personality filled with curiosity and light.

What have I learned: Recovery from Postpartum Psychosis 3 years on

Every PP anniversary I take stock, I reflect on the previous year and I thought this year I hadn't recovered the way I did last year, like I thought healing was linear and should always be up... but this year I've opened up my wound to the public, raising awareness and starting DayDot Journals so it's going to feel like I haven't got as far last year... but actually instead of up and up, it's up and spreading out.

Last year's pp forum post for my anniversary was insightful and full of hope. I ended it with 

TLDR; PP is only a blip in our lifetime and one day it will become a memory in a wee box that you carry about. It won’t weigh the same as it once did, it won’t be as black as it once was, maybe even the box will contain some nuggets of wisdom you can pass on? At least that’s how I feel…

So knowing that I wrote that last year how do I feel this year? My Postpartum Psychosis trauma box is no longer black, it's a rainbow, a rainbow of DayDot colours

Resources and Further Reading

It might have been difficult to read this post, please look after yourself and get in touch with the below networks if you feel you need to reach out.

  • Action on Postpartum Psychosis (APP) Network - A charity and network offering support and information to those affected by postpartum psychosis.
  • NHS - Postpartum Psychosis - Official NHS resource providing detailed information about postpartum psychosis, including symptoms, causes, and treatment options.
  • Mind - A mental health charity in England and Wales offering information and support for anyone facing a mental health problem.
  • Samaritans - Provides confidential support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those which could lead to suicide.
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Tara's favourite notebooks inspired by the home she loves

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