Do you know five mums? Chances are that one of them struggles with post-natal depression (PND). I bet you know more like 50 mums. So that's 10 struggling with PND or another mental health issue. Do you know who they are?
I bet you don't. Not because you're a bad friend. But because PND isn't something we generally talk about. It's still a taboo topic. And even worse - when you are in the midst of it you think that there is something wrong with you and that you should hide your feelings from those around you, in case they think you're an awful mother.
So this Post Natal Depression Awareness Week I am supporting PANDAS and wanted to share my story. Because I was that one. That one who suffered with PND (and also anxiety). I wasn't expecting it, and it took me a while to work out what it was. I thought I was just an awful mum who didn't say things like, "gosh little Charlie was up all night...but I just look into those darling eyes and I don't care anymore!" I cared. Or more worryingly...I didn't.
I'd been a "success" until this point - top grades, top university, top career. Surely I could handle being a mum, right? So when I found I couldn't - and that I was struggling - it knocked me off balance. I was strong. I could just think myself out of this right? Plough on?
What I struggled with was the loneliness. Being left for hours on end in my house with either a sleeping baby (don't want to risk waking him to go out!) or a screaming baby. And the more time I spent in my house, the scarier it became to leave. What if he screams the whole time, what if I burst into tears, what if...
I started to panic in the most mundane situations. In a cafe with mummy-friends. Standing in a queue at the supermarket. At the thought of being on my own. In my living room, with my son and nobody else to talk to. And I got to the point where my world was getting smaller and smaller.
Eventually I got help. But it took a while to get the help I was after. I wasn't keen on medication. Maybe I should have taken it. But to me it was going to make me feel even more out of control. So I sat on a waitlist for months to talk to somebody. And tried to work out why I wasn't like all the mums around me.
So when I started getting better I got thinking. What would have made those awful months better for me?
One thing would have been to know that what I was feeling was not uncommon. And it didn't make me a bad person. I needed help, but that wasn't my fault and I hadn't failed. I didn't need to pretend I was ok, to hide that I didn't feel like "adorable Charlie's mum" sitting next to me. It was just the hand I'd been dealt. I was so thankful for the support I'd received and couldn't fathom how tough it must be for mums without this.
And this got me thinking. I started working on two projects.
Firstly, to speak out and make PND less of a taboo. This ranged from talking openly to friends - in some cases those who were pregnant to let them know that if they were unfortunate enough not to feel life was all sunshine and pink lemonade, that that was ok and I was here to chat. Whatever they said to me wouldn't shock me anymore. To setting up #ShoutieSelfie last May to get everyone talking (well shouting!) about maternal mental health.
Secondly, I feel so passionately that loneliness was the factor that gave me PND that I'm turning my local Whatsapp community into an app called MummyLinks so we can reach more people. MummyLinks is the safe place to meet local mums for ad-hoc playdates as it's invite/approval only.
Not another site to sit on the sofa chatting/arguing about how best to raise our kids. Or to collect more online friends because they fit our preferred profile. But to get us mums, off our backsides, out of the house, and meeting local mums. Not just those who are struggling, but perhaps especially them.
I hated picturing a mum like I was, stuck at home feeling like she just wants to get out and have some adult conversation - but with nobody local to meet. Let's face it, when you aren't feeling confident some of those baby classes just make it worse! But meeting a fellow mum for a coffee, or soft play, or at the park. That might just be manageable.
I am passionate about turning the darkest months of my life into a positive. I'd love you to help me along this journey. This PND Awareness week, encourage your mum friends (or mum to be!) to look after themselves by building a local community around them.
To start using the website please ask to join our Facebook Group (you'll need to await approval from someone you know using MummyLinks)