If you had told me 10 years ago that I would be diagnosed with post natal depression I wouldn’t have believed you. I was a super happy positive confident life be in it girl who learnt from her mother that there was no need to take an umbrella out as all she could see in a black sky was the tiny bit of blue. My girlfriends at high school would say that even at my angriest moment I would still have a big smile on my face. Every morning before school I would get up an hour before I had to and head down to my door less garage where I had set up a bit of lino, a ballet barre and mirror and I would dance – not giving a damn about the curious looks of those walking or driving by. I did it because I loved it and it made me feel so good.
Fast forward to 2008 and I no longer wanted to even get out of bed in the morning. I didn’t want to leave the house in the day. I would count down the hours until night-time and then go to bed dreading the number of times I’d be woken up in the night. What I thought would be an incredibly joyful time in my life – motherhood – turned into one of the darkest. I was punching my brick walls with anger as I went up the stairs of our home to settle one of the kids. Once, in a moment of fury and frustration, I stabbed a knife in the cutting board, snapping the top off it. I’ll never forget my oldest daughter’s look of terror at one of my fits of rage.
If you like this post then check out: Signs, Symptoms and Support for Postnatal Depression.
If my pregnancies and births were anything to go by, motherhood should have been a breeze. During my first labour I was convinced I could f eel the head of my baby but my husband had a look and said, No that’s not the head there’s no hair. He had joked around so much during our birthing classes and had it in his head that we should be waiting for the contractions to get further apart not closer before we went to the hospital. I was also terrified that we would get there and they would tell me I was only a few centimetres dilated and had hours and hours to go that I stayed at home. It took him leaving the room for a minute for me to decide I was going to push and in one go out came my baby. When it happened again with my second baby in the middle of the night standing up on my parent’s bathroom floor, my nicknames became Push-Push or in close circles the Magic Vagina.
A few months after my latest pinch-myself-birth I was lying on my bed having just put my newborn, Ruby, to sleep, and my toddler, Stella, started crying. Instead of jumping up to comfort her as I normally would, I didn’t move. A thought popped in to my head loud and clear. A thought so foreign to anything I had thought before, ‘I’m going to kill myself.’ It then kept repeating over and over. From that moment on, whenever I found myself feeling stuck or frustrated or dark, this voice would begin: ‘I’m going to kill myself. It became my secret mantra that I told no-one of. Why? Because I was so ashamed.
In my moment of rock bottom where I found myself sitting on the floor with my secret chant getting louder and louder in my head, I didn’t know that every 3 hours someone in Australia takes their own life and the number of women who end their lives has increased by 26 per cent in the last 5 years. I just thought there was something wrong with me and only me. I thought I was a total failure. Failing as a mother to not be enjoying every moment. Failing in my household to not be able to keep the house clean, as a wife because I had closed my self off from my husband, and failing to myself that I couldn’t talk myself in to being the calm, carefree earth mother that I had expected myself to be, swanning around my house making muffins as my children wafted around me. I didn’t know that depression killed more people in Australia and the U.S. than cancer. All I knew was that I was so ashamed at the way I was feeling and so I didn’t tell anybody. Not my mum. Not my best friend. Not my husband. I thought I should be so grateful for everything I had. How dare I complain that I was having a hard time and I wasn’t feeling good and not able to cope. I had a beautiful, healthy baby, a toddler who was full of laughter, a husband and a family that I could call on.
I have always resisted asking for help. I come from very stoic stock: no matter how sick you are you respond with, ‘I’m fine. I’ve twisted my ankle but I’m fine.’ There are many stories of my farmer grandfather in the paddock being bitten by a snake or chopping a finger off and continuing to work as normal. The problem has to be pretty serious for anyone in my family to even take a paracetamol. It took my husband Felix to look me straight in the eye and say to me in a way that was kindly trying to hide his desperation, “Honey, you know you falling apart means the whole family is falling apart” to wake up to the fact that I had to go and get some help. Feeling like a total failure, I made an appointment with my doctor.
When I arrived in her office and full of shame admitted how I had been feeling (I didn’t tell her about the suicidal thoughts – that part was still too hard to admit), I expected her to tell me to toughen up and get over it. However, to my complete shock, she told me what I was experiencing was post natal depression and gave me a prescription for anti-depressants. I didn’t know there was such a thing as Post Natal Depression and couldn’t believe that I had it. I took the piece of paper and was about to get up and go when my doctor put her hand on mine and said, ‘You know how you get on the plane and they tell you to put on your oxygen mask first before assisting others? That’s what you have to do.’
Arriving home knowing I only had a few minutes until my family would charge through the door, I sat down on my bed with my prescription for anti-depressants on my bedside table and sat staring at it. I felt myself exhale like I hadn’t done for a long time. The anti-depressants made it all feel very real. I knew a few people taking anti-depressants and had absolutely no judgement towards this medicine but there was something about them sitting there that got me thinking. They told me what I was feeling was real and I had to do something about it. I knew in that moment that trying talk myself out of how I was feeling wasn’t the answer. It hit me that I had been so focused on making sure that everyone else’s needs were taken care of that I’d totally forgotten to take care of myself. Somehow in that darkness I decided that before I took any medication I would first commit to doing one thing every day that could be my oxygen mask. But what could I do? I exhaled again and closed my eyes.
Then like letters being written up in the sky, through my tears I saw what I needed to do.
I had stopped making my body a priority, and as a result my mind and soul were in a terrible way. I had to do something to start bringing myself back. Reclaiming my body, my brain and my spirit.
Straight away my mind started bombarding me with excuses:
I’m too tired
I don’t know how to start;
I won’t be able to stick to it;
I’m ashamed of my body;
I don’t have time;
and how the hell do you do it when you are feeling at your lowest, completely overwhelmed? I could hardly get my children out of the house or hang out the washing let alone do some kind of exercise.
But I also knew that I had to try something so the next morning after I made myself the promise to move, I put a television show on for my kids, went and stood at my kitchen bench and, even though it was the last thing I felt like doing, I practised some of my old ballet barre moves: raising my leg up and down behind me, then some bending and straightening of my knees. I’ll never forget feeling this tiny bubbling of emotion, a kind I hadn’t felt for so long that it took me a while to recognise it. It was hope. I did ten push-ups at the bench, and the feeling of strength through my body sparked an inner strength that I thought was lost. I only lasted two minutes before my daughters called out that they needed something, but that was all I needed. That sense of achievement and connection to myself, brought me back for another few minutes the next day and the next and to this day movement continues to be my oxygen mask.
Being back on my “ballet barre” kitchen bench was what you could call my third accidental birth – this time of a change of mindset and where I learnt some powerful lessons. These lessons led me in to the work I do now where every day I wake up and am propelled to be bold and be the change.
I learnt that an all or nothing approach when it comes to exercise or self care can hold us back from taking any action at all. Rather than waiting until you have the time, energy or motivation to get to the gym, start with 20 squats when you are brushing your teeth tonight. While you’re waiting for the sink to fill up with water before you wash the dishes do 10 push ups. When you get in to bed, lie on your back and do 20 cycles of your leg. Don’t try and meditate for twenty minutes if it feels too hard. Set a timer on your phone for two minutes, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.
Because two minutes is so much better than nothing. All those moments you give back to yourself add up to make a difference to the way you feel and how you are with your family. And perhaps it’s actually the smallest of steps that can have the greatest of impact. Because you begin. Waiting for the conditions to be perfect keeps us stuck and in the past. Action – no matter how small – propels us forward. It gives you back the power and allows you to play the heroine in your own life, not the victim.
Fitness Expert and Author of Two Minute Moves
“The excuse-buster from Down Under’ Best Self Magazine
Facebook and Instagram @twominutemoves