For the last week, I've reading and hearing about the anniversary of the London bombings and having strange this-is-where-I-was-when-this-happened feelings. I remember watching the London bombings unfold on a TV set fixed high on the wall behind unbreakable perspex in a locked psychiatric ward of a Melbourne public hospital. That very morning I had woken up in a strange place, not knowing who or where I was. The two explanations I had come up with were either that I had done something very, very bad and was in prison or that the space time continum had warped and I was the main character in Woman on the edge of Time by Marge Piercy, a book I had read and loved when I was at uni. Watching riot police and bombing victims on TV, I thought the latter and that the world was coming to an end. As I was to be told many times over the next few weeks, I was not well.
The signs that I was not well had begun to show a few weeks before. Strange stresses in what had been a post baby bliss started to erupt. During a shopping expedition to buy a cot for Grace who was still sleeping in a bassinet in our room, I slapped Gerard during an argument. This was something I would normally never, ever do. Then about a week later there was The Savers Incident, a shopping spree where I spent over $150 on clothes I would never wear and stuff that I would never use. Given that this is a secondhand shop, this meant bags and bags, so much so that I couldn't walk it all home in the bottom of the pram. I knew it was wrong when I was at the checkout, but couldn't stop. Later that night, trying things on, I took the tags off items I knew I would return. The next day mum came over and helped us exchange most of the stuff for more sensible items. Even then I was still filling the trolley with funny things, like lurid polyester sheets, which I hate. Mum would say, you don't want that do you? I'd reply, no, then put it in the trolley.
At this point we started asking for help. Something wasn't right. We saw the maternal health nurse who agreed that something was wrong. She started talking mother baby units. Then I started seeing doctors. My theory was that as I was losing weight, all the pot I had smoked in my youth was being released from my fat stores. The doctor thought I might have post natal depression. But I knew I wasn't depressed, it was way weirder than that. It was freaky, I became obsessed with Big Brother. I tried to breastfeed Grace constantly and couldn't sleep because I had to be checking her all the time. I couldn't remember that I had just checked her. Needless to say Gerard became very worried and called my sister who called the rest of my family.
Eventually it was decided to take me to the hospital emergency department. I have very disjointed memory of this, shapes, patterns on the floor, different rooms, windows and the cat scan machine which I thought I was the circle in Stargate. Next thing, I woke up in a self harm proof room with a foam mattress and very small window. I had been diagnosed with postnatal psychosis and put on some very heavy duty medication.
A couple of days later, I was moved to a larger ward, which believe it or not was actually quite pleasant. There was an art room, TV lounge and snacks appeared magically at all hours of the day. There were lots of people stranger than me walking around. Watching television, it was apparent to me that the world had gone crazy. My family visited everyday with Grace and after about a week I was moved to a mother baby unit in the outer suburbs.
My memory was still very shaky. Every morning I would have to ask the other patients or the staff why I was there and constantly sought reassurance that I hadn't done anything bad. It was some weeks before I was allowed to leave the building without a worker present. Grace seemed to take it all in her stride. She was just over three months old and took to the bottle without a fuss, she was happy being looked after by Gerard, my mum and my sister but equally pleased when reunited with me. In hospital, she started sleeping through the night. I think the hardest part was being separated from Gerard. He visited heaps, even stayed over but he was separated from his little family which wasn't good.
The mother baby unit was like a cross between boarding school and what I imagine prison to be like, with some therapy thrown in. There were group meetings or activities morning and afternoon, consultations with specialists and dodgy art therapy that I used any possible excuse to get out of. As the hospital took public and private patients, women were from varying backgrounds. Most were being treated for post natal depression or anxiety. One had a very irritating personality disorder and I was not the only person to have issues with her. On the whole though, I became quite close to these women and their babies. We got to know each others families, shared stories and bitched about the staff (most of whom were quite nice, but in such a hierarchy bitching is inevitable). As far as public health services go, it was pretty good.
I was very lucky to have a huge amount of support from family and friends who did beautiful things like ensuring that there was never a day when I didn't have a visitor, even though it was a very long drive. And who bought me the exactly right things from home. An afghan rug. Things for Grace. Crochet supplies. Gerard's thoughtful selection of CDs, the ten best I would want to be on a desert island with. We have different taste but he knew exactly what I would like. I played The Handsome Family Singing Bones and Beth Orton's Pass in Time over and over. Too much snack food. Photo albums. And of course, answers to my constant questions.
Why did this happen to me? Hard to say. Apparently it is one of those things that happens to a small percentage of women out of the blue. I was probably more at risk having had depression before. There's also been discussion since that I might have a mild underlying disposition towards being a bit bipolar, or having, as one doctor put it, a wider range of moods than normal. Having a complicated obstetric history may also have put me at risk. After Grace was born, I was joyously happy and often quite energetic. I thought that everyone felt like this after the miracle of having a baby. Especially so, after many unsuccessful pregnancies. Apparently not. It stunned me to learn as I recovered, that the extent of my happiness and the amount of energy that I had in the months after Grace was born, was not normal.
Once we were out of hospital and home again, I got well very quickly. I was off all the medication by Christmas and had started a gym program to lose all the zyprexa and lithium weight. There's a fifty percent chance that if I have another child, (at my age unlikely, but still possible) that I would have post natal psychosis again. Now I go and see a a psychiatrist every six weeks or so, just to make sure that I am well. I try to be careful about getting enough sleep and leading a balanced life but sometimes when I get a little stressed or anxious, I feel a hint of the mental disorder that I felt then and worry about getting sick again. The doctor reassures me this is normal and quite understandable. But most of the time now, I feel (normal) happy and quite sane. And it feels good. Really good.