15/04/2012 08:54 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

Systematic Adjustment Disorder: I Felt Like I'd Lost My Identity

Systematic Adjustment Disorder: I kept thinking, 'Is this it?' David Turner

Claire Smith, 42, had two children, a business, an enviable life. But when baby number three arrived, her mental health deteriorated and she was eventually diagnosed with Systematic Adjustment Disorder.

Here, she tells us her story...

What exactly is Systematic Adjustment Disorder?

An adjustment disorder linked to stress. It's usually caused by one event, like a bereavement or a relationship breakdown, but in my case, it was several things that had happened around the same time.

Tell us a bit about the lead up to your diagnosis

I had two children, Charlie, eight, and Lyra, six, and ran a shop, which I loved - and I think it gave me a real identity. I felt I'd got the work/life/family balance right. Then, when I got pregnant with my third child, Miller, now three, even though the pregnancy was planned, it all just became too much, financially and emotionally...


I just couldn't do it all any more. I closed the shop on the Saturday and my son was born on the Tuesday.


At first things were OK, and I actually enjoyed 'standing still' for a while. But as the months passed, I was finding it increasingly difficult. I'd gone from having my job and my shop to being a SAHM in such a short space of time, and I missed the adult conversation and the stimulation. I tried to talk to a friend about it but she just told me to grow up. So I started thinking it was me, that I was worthless, that I should appreciate what I had, that I wasn't worthy of my family...

What was a typical day like for you at this point?

I just felt completely overwhelmed. I was so tired all the time, and when I wasn't, I was frightened of being tired. I had no energy, and even the smallest tasks like going to buy milk or post a letter became a massive hurdle - it would take me hours of stressing to psyche myself up to do the most simple errand. But I couldn't talk to anyone about it. My husband, Ken, was running out of patience because he didn't understand what was going on and I wouldn't talk to him. I was losing patience with the kids, too.


At the centre of all this was the overwhelming feeling that I'd lost my identity. I felt I was a 'nobody'; that I had given up my freedom and any sense of who I was.


I was nervous talking to people, especially friends who worked, in case they asked, "What have you been up to?" and I couldn't answer that question. And to compound things further, I also thought that there was something physically wrong with me - like a brain tumour or something - and that terrified me. I was a mess.

Systematic Adjustment Disorder: I kept thinking, 'Is this it?' David Turner

What made you decide to go to the doctor?

The turning point was a massive argument with Ken. He kept suggesting things for me to do and I was just like "I can't, I can't". I ended up crying on the bathroom floor for about two hours, and at this point I knew something was very wrong. The next day I went to the doctor, which in itself was a huge deal - I sat huddled in the waiting room feeling like the smallest person in the world.

What happened then?

My GP was amazing. He let me cry and when I started to explain how I felt he told me he didn't think it was depression. "You are very aware of what's going on", he told me. "Plus, you are in control enough to want to do something about it - you have an Adjustment Disorder".

Suddenly everything fell into place. He prescribed a low dose of an anti-depressant called Citalopram, and I left the surgery feeling like a huge weight had been lifted.


For a few days after the appointment I felt elated. I think just the fact that somebody had understood and acknowledged that there was something wrong made me feel better.


But about four days later I crashed and burned again, so I started actually taking the anti-depressants. Then, two weeks later, things started to improve at last.

Systematic Adjustment Disorder: I kept thinking, 'Is this it?' Claire Smith

How are things now?

Good. I was on the anti-depressants for 18 months and then I had the confidence to come off them. My GP also organised for me to have CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), which was fantastic. CBT was an initial meeting with my counsellor then several phone sessions.

It changes the way you think, encouraging positive thinking. It did this by me taking very little steps, not doing anything I felt was too 'big' Occasionally I still have 'bad' days but instead of letting them drag me down, I just put it down to it being 'normal'.

What would you say to someone reading this and thinking, 'That's me'?

Get help.


I think it's difficult for women who had a 'life' pre-children to make the transition into motherhood. The repetitiveness of life as a mum can be very overwhelming.


I feel very lucky though - I got the support I needed and I have three healthy children. We all have our different battles and this was mine. If I can prompt just one person who feels they can't cope to go and talk to their doctor, then I'm glad I've told my story.

Can you relate to Claire's story?