My story...Sarah Penn
The darkest time I can remember came about 5 weeks after my daughter was born. I had been badly depressed throughout my pregnancy, and had felt periodically suicidal all the way through. Initially after the birth I had been surprisingly ok, but over the following weeks the fatigue built up and my feelings of hopelessness, despair and anger grew and grew. I could no longer look at my baby.
She had become a thing of darkness, a weight I could not bear. I couldn’t see any way out while I carried on living.
If I gave her up I knew this would cause unbearable sadness and regret. If I kept her I felt like my life had finished, I would just stay alive to meet her needs. I also knew my mental state would inevitably affect her: as I saw it she would grow up irrevocably damaged by me, even if the scars and harm would not be visible. I was convinced she stood a better chance in life if I ended mine – and freed her from the constant negative effects of my mental illness. Of course I knew losing her mother would also do her harm, but in those times I thought the harm would be less in the long run.
In some ways things got worse once I asked for help. Professionals seemed to try and minimise the negative things I felt and read a story of hope where there was none. As my husband pleaded for help and people saw that we desperately needed it, we felt more hopeless than ever. We were told I needed to be admitted to hospital, then told I couldn’t be until other steps had been taken or I had got worse. This sent us into a downward spiral. We had accepted we could not cope. But there was nothing to help things to improve. Again and again I had to tell people how badly I felt but no one offered any hope of feeling any differently. Except for Happy Mums. Katherine and Amy were the only ones to offer practical ways to get through each day and their own stories gave me some hope others had survived feeling like I did.
When I was finally admitted to a mother and baby unit I had lost all sense of what was happening or what I thought the future held. The summer-camp routine of baking, puzzles and daytime TV held me close, the doors locked behind me, my time was measured on charts and reports. People asked me many questions and accepted my answers, however bad I thought they were.
Early on, one of the nursery nurses asked me if my baby had smiled yet. I answered that she hadn’t and I didn’t think she would ever learn – because nobody smiled at her.
But in less than 2 weeks she was smiling – those first twitchings of new muscle lighting up her face. Like bubbles rising to the surface, or laughter in a school assembly, she taught me something I had long forgotten – that joy is as much part of the human condition as sadness.
Since that point, the road to recovery has been extremely winding and rocky. There have been days and weeks where it has felt like I am right back to the beginning. But slowly, piece by piece, I have grown stronger. First by attending support groups at Happy Mums, then by volunteering and finally with employment. I have found hope for myself because I have needed to find it for others. There is no single thing that has fixed me: tablets, psychology, exercise, time away from my daughter have all helped. Working in an environment where people understand and I know have felt similarly also helps. Being able to do meaningful work has been invaluable. Writing my blog helped me in lockdown and continues to give my life meaning. It has been scary at times, like when I had a call from social services, but also so uplifting.
I suppose the point of my story is this: I am not a naturally hopeful person, and my tendency to depression and low mood mean I can often see only the bad in myself and the world. The hope I have found has been hard to see. It has sometimes been the tiniest pinprick of light in a vast universe of darkness. But sometimes all you need is a tiny spark. Sometimes when you are honest about how you feel, others surprise you with kindness and love. People you do and don’t know relate to your words.