Please be aware that Lucys story content may cause distress to some, for this reason it comes with a Trigger Warning.
Lucy experienced PPP Post Partum Psychosis.
It was July 2009 and I was 9 months pregnant with my first child. I had a trouble free pregnancy and had been generally well throughout. I started to swell towards the end of my pregnancy and looking back, this was the start of the pre-eclampsia. My baby was due on 14th July and was a few days overdue so I was starting to get very fed up and by now I was laid up a lot to keep the swelling down.
I left the hospital with my brand new baby girl and I remember thinking if I just get home, everything will click into place. I still hadn’t slept at this point and had been awake for over a week. As we drove away from the hospital, all I had were feelings of fear, worry and anxiousness. I did not know what was going on in my head and everything around me felt odd and slow moving. I remember panicking as I kept getting the sensation I was bleeding. I would frantically check myself all of the time. The last thing my mum said to me before she left was “call if you need anything”. She knew that something wasn’t right.
I was so confused in my head. I had to take medication at certain times throughout the day. I remember writing it all down as I was so confused. I tried to change Miley’s nappy but it was really hard. My gross motor skills were slipping away from me and I had no idea why. I didn’t realise that I was slowly spiralling out of control and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I telephoned my mum as I needed her to help me. They tried to get me to sleep using calming music and massage but nothing was working. I just couldn’t switch off. I was so desperate. I remember closing my eyes and trying – I must have been close to sleeping but I suddenly sat up in a bolt upright position shouting at the top of my voice “I don’t want to die!”! My mum slapped me. It was a spontaneous reaction – she just didn’t know what to do.
I was still aware of Miley and trying to do things for her, but it was all so muddled in my head. I had so much going on in my brain I was restless and was up and down walking around the house saying “Am I dying?” I would tell everyone I was going mad but they would assure me that everything was fine and I was ok. This wasn’t enough for me though – I couldn’t control my thoughts or what was happening. The next day Tom got me an appointment with the local GP. I was hoping to be prescribed sleeping tablets. I remember saying to my mum that something didn’t feel right in my head – I thought I had postnatal depression. I went to the doctors but left empty handed as the doctor was aware I wanted to breastfeed. I remember the noises and the busyness of the surgery. It all seemed like it was staged and not real life. I returned home feeling completely desperate as to what to do next. I continued to say odd things. My mum cooked for us and I remember sitting at the table trying to eat it. It was like my hands didn’t work properly. I don’t think I hardly touched it as I was so preoccupied with what was going on in my head. The evening went on and I was becoming increasingly agitated. I was shouting and demanding to being taken somewhere. I was begging to be taken to St Laurence’s (the local Mental Health Unit). I said I needed help and I became very angry. At one point I was sat on the stairs shaking the banisters with all of my strength. “Take me to St Laurence’s, I’m going mad” I repeated over and over again. I threatened to leave the house several times saying “I’m going to get out and run in the streets naked and tell everyone I’ve gone mad”. My mum and sister (Jenny) locked all of the doors and all knives were put out of reach and sight. They tried to calm me down and the local out of hours doctors were called. My sister said she sneaked out to call my dad – her words were “I don’t know what is happening, but it’s bad, you’ve got to get here quick”. I lay on my bed and doctors came to see me. I thought I was on my death bed and everyone was waiting for me to die. I thought that reversing vehicles beeping outside was a hearse which had come to take me away. I tried to leave my room, but my dad was trying to calm me (with no luck). He tried to contain me in my room but I stamped on his foot with great force and he couldn’t stop me. My sister and brother in law (Carl) also tried to calm me. He was talking to me reassuringly as I lay on the sofa but I changed quickly and tried to escape. The door had been left unlocked as they’d not long arrived so I bolted for it. I was frantic and had so much strength. Carl couldn’t believe it – he had to use every ounce of his strength to get me back into the house. I can remember doing it now. I can honestly say I felt like I was possessed by the devil. I was completely pain free at this point which was unheard of considering I had only had a baby 3 days previously with an episiotomy.
My mum and Tom were caring totally for Miley by this point. She had become a distant memory as everything else in my head had completely taken me over. Everyone was frantic with worry as they were trying to contain me and care for Miley. My mum called upon her friend who was a retired Mental Health nurse at 2am. She had no other choice and they literally had no idea what was happening to me or what to do. She came out and spoke with me. I was quite calm and explained everything that was going on in my head including the birth, how I felt I was dying and the fact I thought I was going mad. She knew as soon as she looked at me that I would be going to Bodmin Hospital’s Psychiatric Unit. Soon, various calls were made and two social workers came out to assess me. I informed them on how the world was going to go mad and this was the start of my religious life-saving journey. The social workers informed me I would be going in. The relief which came over me was immense. I felt so happy and excited. My sister Tracey said I started to pack a bag immediately like I was going on holiday. I couldn’t even remember what I had packed – I had someone with me at all times. My brother in law stood at the top of the stairs. I thought nothing of going to the toilet with the door wide open with him just there. I was completely out of touch with reality. I made my way downstairs to Miley who was lying in her Moses basket. I went over and said “Bye-Bye bubba, I love you” and left without a care in the world that I’d just left my brand new baby girl behind.
My dad drove us and I sat in the back between Tom and Carl. I remember telling my dad to stop because all of the cars are going to start crashing because the lines in the road are all wriggly and not straight.We pulled up outside the hospital and were taken to a side room. I could not tell you what they asked me but I was saying that the world was going to go mad! I was taken to my room which was on a locked ward. I had somebody outside my room watching me all the time. Tom settled me in and I must have been given medication. I looked out of the window and said “All of the birds are flying upside down!” I think I then got into bed and rested for a bit but I was seeing and hearing things constantly. The next day is very blurry. I was shouting out of the doors, frantic to get out. I had people either side of me restraining me. I attempted to block up my door with furniture to stop anyone from getting into my room. I was up and down the corridor with staff trying to calm and reassure me – it all became a blur.
The next thing I remember is being put into a more secure room upstairs. I have no idea how I got there but in my head the room was padded and white. I look through the peep hole and saw two eyes looking at me. I recognised the eyes; it was a mum from my work place looking at me. I quickly calmed as I had been very high with thoughts. She came in and we sat down together. I explained everything to her that was going around in my head. I explained to her that I was on a life-saving journey and that when you die everyone goes to heaven. I said that because of the birth, it has been a process to go through and everyone thought I was dying. I believed that if they got everyone to come and see me (who I had seen since the birth) until now, I can be alive. I said ‘if you don’t trust me I will go mad and I mean mad – you need to help me stop myself but you won’t have the physical strength to stop me”. She spoke to me and it gave me calmness and comfort. I was then taken back to my room and settled in. I was relaxed on my bed and in and out of sleep. Nurses kept coming in to check on me. One particular nurse reminded me of my auntie (even sharing the same name – Yvonne). It gave me comfort.
I became very paranoid with staff – I was convinced that they were trying to poison me with the food or trying to kill me with the medication. After the medication was distributed, I would pretend to take it or would hide it under my pillow when the nurses left.
Tom would come and visit me and I wouldn’t even ask how Miley was. Tom and I would find ourselves arguing because he couldn’t believe what I was saying. I went on to believe that the hospital had got plumbers in to poison the tap water in my sink. I would find myself writing down all of my thoughts and beliefs on what was happening to me. I asked my family to telephone the Reverend as I needed him to come and bless me with holy water. I wrote lots of prayers asking Him for His help to get me home to Miley.
I managed to get a staff member’s phone and accessed my Facebook account. An old friend of mine had put a status up saying how grateful to God he was as He does all things well and knows exactly what is best for us all of the time. I responded underneath with a comment asking people to pray for me.
On the 17th day of being sectioned, I wrote that I felt like I was on the set of a horror film. I just wanted the nightmare to end.
Tom would bring Miley in to see me and we would spend time together. I found it nice but very difficult as holding her proved a challenge. My head was still full of nonsense. I was informed that I could go home for short visits, 2-3 hours at a time. I was so happy at the thought of this but once I got home I would be itching to go back again. I just couldn’t do it – it was all too much.
I felt like I was being watched all of the time and receiving personal messages from the TV, radio, magazines and newspapers. My mum had to throw them in the bin and the TV had to go off. I would say to Tom that I needed to go back even though we had plenty of time. I was so restless and confused – I even believed the credit crunch was my entire fault!
There were several meetings for my care plan. There was funding in place for me to go to a Bristol Mother and Baby unit, but because of distance, my family were unsure of this. My family had lots of discussions and it was agreed that I could go home providing I had somebody with me at all times. This was day 18 of being sectioned.
It was really hard being back home. I was still not in control of the psychosis and every day was a battle I had to fight. I would be very up and down and I just wanted to escape and sleep – the only time I was free from the nightmare. I still couldn’t watch TV or read magazines and newspapers. I felt like people were constantly watching me. I would push myself and muddle through the day but I didn’t go far as going places was a huge struggle.It was now September and I was still on medication. It all got too much and I attempted an overdose. I just couldn’t carry on. This nightmare had to end and I just couldn’t do it anymore.
Gradually, around November, the psychosis lifted and I just had depression to fight. Miley was the best medicine! She certainly got me through it. It was a hard fight, but I did it! I am so grateful for the huge support from my family as they were such a huge part of my recovery.
I returned to work in the February and everything was going well. I did have a few panic attacks from time to time and I struggled with feelings of guilt. I felt like I had failed Miley as I was not there for her. I knew it wasn’t my fault, but my head wouldn’t let me forgive myself.
I have to say that making the decision to have a second baby was what made it right for me. I was obviously worried, but I knew everything was going to be fine. There were lots of plans and medication in place but I didn’t need any of it! Esmee was delivered at midnight and we both went to sleep with no trouble. When I woke the next morning, I woke Tom with tears of happiness saying “I’ve slept and I feel normal!” It was such an overwhelming relief!
Some people were shocked at the thought of me having another baby after Miley, but I say you cannot judge as everyone is different and has different ways of dealing with life events. Some wouldn’t have had another, but I had to. It closed the book for me on my personal experience of surviving postpartum psychosis.
Postpartum (or puerperal) psychosis is the most severe type of mental illness that can affect new mums.
It is a rare condition affecting approximately 1:1000 women (whereas postnatal depression is around 1:8.)
Postpartum psychosis usually develops within the first two weeks or even the first few hours of giving birth and can happen without warning.
It is more common in first pregnancies and when birth has been complicated or traumatic.
Fluctuations in hormones and sleep deprivation can also play a role.
If a woman has a family history or previous episodes of severe mental illness before or during pregnancy, this also plays a part in having postpartum psychosis.
Postpartum psychosis should be treated immediately as a medical emergency as symptoms can rapidly get worse and be life threatening to mother and baby.
The two main symptoms are:
– See or hear things that are not there.Delusions
– Believe things that are not true.
These can severely disrupt a woman’s perception, thinking, emotions and behaviour. She may also behave in a way that is way out of character and experience mania, paranoia, loss of inhibitions, may be restless or agitated, depressed, severely confused and her mood may change rapidly.
She may not realise she is ill and it would be up to her family and friends to spot the warning signs and take action.
There is now a perinatal mental health team in Cornwall for pregnant women with a pre-existing mental illness for those at risk and for women who encounter problems for the first time during or after their pregnancy.
The majority of women make a full recovery, and often very quickly, provided they receive the right treatment and support (ideally being admitted to a mother and baby unit if possible).