Postnatal depression didn’t just make Taylor Glenn anxious, it also undermined her whole identity as a comedian. She felt part of her had been “amputated” because “nothing was funny anymore”.
The 38-year-old mum was low and irritable but downplayed her symptoms to avoid having the “PND label” and the perceived consequences of it.
Detached and desperate, Glenn felt as if she was failing her daughter and “shouldn’t have had her”.
But now, the comedian is determined to rebrand the label of PND, so women don’t feel ashamed and can get the support they need.
“I was constantly paranoid about judgement and felt a sense of shame around it,” she tells The Huffington Post UK.
“I think many other women (and men) have a mixed relationship with the label.
“The reasons for this are a heady mix of ignorance around mental health issues and issues around how women are viewed and judged for their appearance and performance.”
The idea that women diagnosed with PND are given a “label” is something Glenn is determined to quash.
“On the one hand, it’s a relief when you can put a name to something, to normalise it and think: ‘This isn’t me failing, this is me experiencing an illness’,” she says.
“That should be empowering, and hopefully, it is for those who end up being diagnosed or identify with the symptoms.”
However on the other hand, mothers are judged at every turn and that comes with a huge pressure, Glenn explains.
“’The Perfect Mother’ has become its own caricature which we joke about and a million blogs try to deconstruct and rally against – but for every blog or activist movement which fights the stereotype, there are media articles which reinforce the dreaded ‘supermum’ myth, pitting us against each other where there is no need for competition,” she says.
Although being given a legitimate medical label should “exonerate women” from shame and judgment, Glenn says there is a way to go before the world progresses and accepts that PND is a “real thing”.
She adds: “I see ignorance about it, and other mental health issues every day (such as) ‘Pull yourself together’, ‘Just an excuse to be lazy and self-indulgent’ and ‘You just can’t hack it, admit it.’”
I see ignorance about it, and other mental health issues every day.
Following the birth of her daughter, Glenn was honest with her husband about how she was feeling.
“It was like it was my own failing making me often not enjoy something which was supposed to be so wonderful,” she explains.
“I think the worst part was the anger which would bubble up. It was so frightening and I would feel out of control, then incredibly guilty.
“I was unable to really laugh or find anything funny any more – it’s like that part of me had been amputated and I wasn’t sure who I was any more.”
She told a couple of close friends about her PND diagnosis, but kept it a secret from most people.
“It’s hard to know what to say to a woman who’s a new mother when she’s confessing some pretty dark thoughts,” she says.
“I would put on a brave face quite a lot or else I’d hide out on bad days.”
Thankfully - between her husband and her friends - she had a strong support network who were able to help her.
But she didn’t always ask for help when she needed it.
I would put on a brave face quite a lot or else I’d hide out on bad days.
At that point, Glenn unexpectedly found something else that began to make her feel “human again”.
She’d seen the social media craze called “100 Days of Gratitude” trending, where people posted daily about things they were grateful for.
“I was really low and felt pretty bitter and resentful about anyone feeling grateful about anything (and guilty that I wasn’t always feeling grateful myself) so I started tweeting quips using the hashtag #aBillionDaysofParenthood,” she explains.
“It was really cathartic and it made me start to feel human because I was starting to be able to joke about things again.”
At this point, Glenn had already cancelled most of her scheduled gigs after her daughter was born.
But there was one show she hadn’t cancelled because she’d really enjoyed the venue a couple of years earlier.
“I thought, I’ll try this out and did 20 minutes of new material about parenthood and figured I’d bomb, and that no one would want to hear my dark and bleak experience of motherhood,” Glenn says.
“But it went really well. A comedian friend of mine, who is also a parent, convinced me to turn it into a show and slowly but surely it’s evolved into a one-hour show.”
Did it help her get through PND? “Absolutely,” she adds.
“In the sense that I think processing something which you’ve gone through is just as important as getting through it at the time.
“It’s helped me take control of something which felt so out of control for a long time.”
The show ‘A Billions Days of Parenthood’ starts with Glenn’s life before being a mum and covers the process of deciding to have a baby, the pitfalls and difficulties of pregnancy and birth and then into the deeper realm of parenting and her candid experience with PND.
“It’s hard to describe the show without making it sound really serious because the topics are, but my deal with myself was I wouldn’t do it unless I could harness laughs from start to finish, and with varied audiences,” she explains.
“My inspiration is all very true to life. I have not made up details just to create a show – I’m really putting myself out there and saying: ‘Here’s my story. It’s been a hell of a ride, and I’m ready to laugh at it.’
“I want to normalise the craziness of it and say out loud the things we aren’t supposed to say.
“I think if more people embraced that honesty we’d be a lot better off.”
Glenn says her show, medication, therapy and social support, were all necessary tools to help her get through PND.
Her advice for other new parents going through the same thing is not to remain in the dark about it and to ask for help.
“It might feel scary,” she says, “but it is the only way to discover that you’re not alone, and that these feelings and thoughts are manageable.
“Also, to see through the tricks that PND plays on your cognition – you will believe you are deserving of guilt, of shame, of beating yourself up, and you’re not.
“It’s the nature of the beast and although it’s hard, it’s so important to question your own thoughts when they’re being skewed by the condition.”
Taylor Glenn: A Billion Days of Parenthood is at Just the Tonic the Caves from August 4-28 (not 15) at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
This summer The Huffington Post UK is spearheading an initiative helping families thrive, with a focus on parent wellbeing, the challenges facing stay-at-home and working parents, friendships and navigating the landscape of modern parenting beyond the 2.4. To kickstart the campaign, Jamie Oliver will be guest editor on 15 July 2016, bringing a focus on feeding healthy families.
We’ll be sharing stories and blogs with the hashtag #ThrivingFamilies and we’d like you to do the same. If you’d like to use our blogging platform to share your story, email firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved. Jamie’s new cookbook Super Food Family Classics, published by Penguin, is on sale at £26.
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