Guest Blog Living with an invisible illness – PND

This week we have an inspiring interview from Trace who blogs at about many and random things including PND. I met her only a few weeks ago but her sparkyness makes me smile daily.

What is your invisible illness?

I’ve bagged a few over the years. Looking back I think the depression/self-image issues were there from an early age and were the catalyst for my self-harming, as I started around the age of 12 and I’ve had good and bad episodes on and off for as long as I can remember. But truthfully, the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak, was adding into the mix post-natal depression following the birth of our first child. Throw into that the loss of my dad who I’d spent the last month of that pregnancy visiting back and forth in intensive care and you’ve got a winning formula for a breakdown. Sorry, I’ve always used sarcasm as a self defence mechanism – why let someone else take the piss out of you when you can beat them to the punchline, eh?! And don’t get me started on self-sabotage! I started contractions at my dad’s bedside in ICU. It was a Sunday and the day before the consultants had told us “there was a way back”, that was my mantra all through labour and delivery. Three days later they turned his machines off.

I had so many plans for my maternity leave but they went down the toilet. I became a recluse. I shut myself off. Physically and emotionally I was wrung out. I developed a slightly blasé attitude towards painkillers and started self-harming again to cope and I buried it, I buried all the hurt and the anger and the shame deep within myself until two years later, when I completely broke down after smashing a glass onto the side of my wrist.

People ask you how you’re doing in passing, but truthfully the majority of them only want a ‘fun size’ answer (like those tiny milky ways you get in multi-pack bags) and sometimes, when that heavy fog is at its worst, you lack the capacity and the words to summarise the whirlwind tearing through you. The best line for me would be Rachel’s from Friends: “But today, it’s like there’s rock bottom, 50 feet of crap, then me”.

I believe in talking about mental health because it’s all we can do to raise awareness. It’s a disease and illness like any other, but unfortunately we don’t have glory wounds to represent our battles – we carry out bruises on the inside.

– Has your illness ever prevented you from doing things with your children?

Not so much now, but for the first two years of my eldest child’s life it certainly did. There was no question that I loved her but at the same time I felt numb, completely detached from everything, I felt like an imposter in my own life, a complete fraud as a mother. I’d see all these other mums who seemed to glide through life making everything look so effortless, and I’d spend most of the day traipsing around in my PJs trying to stop myself from doing anything manic, trying to push the thoughts away.

Even now, so many years on, I carry that guilt with me, that I didn’t do enough with her. All her milestones have a veil over them, as though I’m recalling them through a smoky lens.

Not that I think by comparison I’m a perfect mum now – I don’t think there is such a thing, but in a way I think we all have a secret cape just to be able to keep going and doing the endless groundhog day of chores (the holy triangle of hell known as the pots/washing/ironing) and school runs (whilst restraining ourselves from taking out the completely gormless feck-wits that idle in front of us whilst we’re having a heart attack trying to escape the shame of going up to the office again).

But since I sought help and began my journey into recovery I know to be kinder on myself when I do have a bit of a wobble and I can feel the fog coming on, and I ask for help. It’s a balancing act trying to look after yourself and others, particularly as a mother, which makes it even more important to take care of yourself both physically and emotionally.

– Does having an illness get you down and how do you manage that?

For a long time I felt defined by it. Mental illness is like that horrid green lurgy monster that clings to that poor chap’s back on the Benlyn advert. It’s a bloody tricky sod to get shot off. Truthfully I don’t think you ever lose it, I think it’s a matter of time and perspective, and the amount of effort you put into that recovery means learning to love the person you are, looking in the mirror and learning to like what you see, and to look past the reflection and see that the real person to save you from yourself, was there all along.

The thing that I remind myself every day, is that behind every label and its associated stigma is a person. I’m not a label; I’m not a bunch of behaviours for the clipboard brigade to compile into a nice neat list; I’m human being.

Sure I have an illness, but that isn’t WHO I am, it just happens to be something I suffer with from time to time, but it’s not all that I am. Also I can differentiate between my normal nuttiness and the behaviours triggered by my depression – there’s ‘me’ and then there’s the depression I suffer, which in my mind is a separate entity, though we both own a timeshare over my brain, we live separate lives, and I need that to be distinct. It’s important to me to acknowledge that I am my own person, the depression is a part, just a part, of what makes up me.