I remember: I remember being busy, I remember being tired, I remember the toe curling pain of breast-feeding, I remember the way my body tensed at nap time when one or both of them stirred or whimpered in their sleep, I remember my husband trying to gently wake me to feed, again. I remember all of that and sometimes I still feel some of the bodily sensations, the fear and helpless, that overtook our lives that day.
But what I really remember, the memory that has never faded in time, is the one of when my body and mind lost all sense of reality, the time when my whole being, our whole lives, began to swirl headfirst into a world of uncertainty, confusion, chaos and tears.
I was teary at Mexican with my sister and brother-in-law; I was tired, show me a mum with two sons, 16 months apart, who isn’t? It was our first night out, nothing that extraordinary really, just the sense of fatigue and parent guilt of being away from your two small babies and loving/hating being away from them at the same time.
THE day. The next day…
Our doorbell was ridiculous! Each time it was pressed it played one of those horribly corny tunes that conveys the whole world is happy. SH**! Bra off, trying to rid my hounded breasts of the mastitis they were carrying, I opened the door. There was my sister-in-law, Lisa, carrying a bunch of flowers and a pie for my lunch. I remember thinking, “What? Now that’s weird and … that is breast milk squirting all over my feet”. I hurriedly shut the door, accepting the flowers and pie, reassuring Lisa, who apparently knew better, that I was fine; tired, unwell, but fine.
From the time I shut that heavy, heavy front wooden door, happenings became tainted memories, but I’ll give it to you the way I remember it. Curled in our bed, a bed I loved and continue to love, a safe haven converted to a whirlwind of tears and exhaustion. I held our phone somehow, I phoned Anthony and I cried. I told him I didn’t know, I didn’t know what was happening, that Lisa came and… I remember telling him I didn’t know if the boys were ok. I remember walking, so slowly, with such trepidation, such fear to each of their rooms to check them, not caring if they were actually ok, but just doing as Anthony instructed me over the phone. I could do that, I could follow simple instructions (yeah, me) and, of course, they were sleeping soundly…
I vaguely remember the weeks that followed: gp visits, medications trialled and tested, visits with a psychologist, sitting on a couch and watching Anthony and others close to us raise our boys. I can’t, however, remember how long this nightmare lasted.
What I have written only very crudely depicts what was a life changing, relationship altering experience for our family. I told you little of the irrational thoughts, the paranoia and zero confidence I carried in my pocket, sometimes still do!! Another time maybe…
For me, tonight, having come to the other side of this journey, there is one message that shines above the depression and guilt. I talk of the precursor symptoms I held as a child, adolescent and young adult. These are the symptoms I watch for in our boys and hope, pray to god, the statistics are currently accurate at 1 in 4, not 1 in 3. Still, look at my immediate family: my brother, mum and I. That’s 3 affected in one family right… I really need to be prepared, don’t I? I think I am. Are you?
As a child and teenager I carried variable symptoms: irritable bowel behaviours, severe separation anxiety, the “not cool” enough thoughts with friends, the invasive need to be at home, the home sick nights at sleep overs… What would have been, I wonder, if we knew of mental illness then, what we know now?
This is my complete motivation for the A Path To Follow initiative; to use what we know now to the advantage of our children’s futures; for them to understand, experience and live a life where they are supported in their normal and otherwise experiences with the knowledge that mental illness is not a weakness but a medical condition worthy of as much attention and respect as any other medical illness.
Do you know of anyone who needs A Path To Follow?