“Oh…so you look okay, but you’re still not well?” The question isn’t meant in an unkind way but, those who struggle with Postnatal Depression (PND), know all to well that it’s a question on many lips or minds.
Mental illness isn’t like a cold or flu, there isn’t a straightforward tablet to grab on the supermarket shelf. Part of the clue is in the term “illness”… PND is an mental illness. It can’t and won’t be curved overnight, in a week, or normally, just within a month.
It affects the mind, obviously, but for local lady Lindsay Robinson, and many of the other thousands of mums from Northern Ireland it’s also a ‘silent disease’ which impacts on emotional and physical health and on personal circumstances like family, friends, work life, finances etc.
Lindsay is wife to Gavin and mum to toddler Reuben, she lives and works in Belfast, she loves American country music and reading, writing, Netflix and chips with curry sauce. However, after being diagnosed with PND in 2015, her world turned upside down, and she has since become dedicated to raising awareness of perinatal mental health and helping to improve the support available for all who struggle.
“I’m passionate about reminding parents that they are not alone and that there is help and hope to be found,” explains Lindsay, originally from Portstewart.
“I have postnatal depression”…words I never expected to hear myself say. But three and a half years after my baby was born that is my daily reality. I never knew what PND really was, and I certainly never expected to be ‘that mum’.
“PND as an illness is like a dark, deep, black hole. No mum asks for it and, as yet, there is no way to stop it occurring. Because of the stigma, we often don’t talk much about it.
“For mums who struggle, it’s a lot to do with fear – what will people think about me, what will it say about me as a woman and as a mum? For others, who don’t suffer, it might be because they are afraid to ask the wrong question or say the wrong thing. Either way, there has been too much silence around it, for far too long.
“During my two year journey to be diagnosed – yes it did take that long – I became very ill. Like many mums, who suffer, I found it hard to be heard by health professionals. When I did try, I was dismissed and in many ways told ‘to get on with it’. This sent me into a deep spiral of becoming mentally, emotionally and physically unwell, to the point I was ready to give up on life altogether. I begged to be ‘locked in a room’ and the key thrown away.
“My heart was broken into many pieces as this was not how I assumed motherhood would be. I was so ashamed of myself for feeling how I did and failing at my most defining role in life.
“I was exhausted trying to pretend to be ‘normal’, all the while dying inside, wanting to fall into the dark hole that beckoned me daily. I believed that I had ‘missed the mum’ gene, was internally flawed, and bound to feel this way forever. It turns out that was simply not true.
“When my son turned two, I spoke my true feelings, again, to a different health professional. He listened. He got it. When I had finished he said “you have Postnatal Depression, but you are going to be ok, I’m going to get you the help you need.”
“Those words were such a relief to hear and were the first step on the road to recovery. He was true to his word. I have been on medication since that appointment – antidepressants which really work for me. He referred me to a mental health unit and with regular sessions there and some private CBT, with a friend, I am now well on my journey of recovery.”
After being diagnosed, Lindsay decided to play her part in helping to change the PND stigma and now runs a blog called ‘Have you seen that girl…?’ which shares tales of life, motherhood and recovering from PND.
She continued: “Speaking out, talking about and being honest regarding my struggles and illness has also been part of the healing process. Through that, I have met so many other mums who have struggled, or are currently battling PND. Sharing stories is a great way of supporting each other, of helping each other remain positive on the tough days, and celebrating the successes we have along the way.
“My blog has now become a forum for other mums to share their story of PND, while meeting others who are looking to connect. But, just as important to my recovery, is the love and support of my wonderful family and friends.
“Those who have listened to me share and said simply nothing. Those who have sat with me on a difficult day or practically helped to look after my son, to allow me a much-needed break. I would not be where I am today, without them. My amazing husband, son, parents-in-laws, and wider family circle are key reasons I am getting well.”
Giving ‘bags of hope’ to those in need
Lindsay has recently started to reach out even further to others with ‘Bags of Hope’.
She explains: “Bags of Hope are simply an encouragement, and a reminder, that even on the darkest days there is light and hope and that you are not alone. The bags were crowdfunded and have been supported by local businesses. At present, we have funding to create around 1,500 bags.”
Each bag includes a ‘Have you seen that girl?’ leaflet (printed by NI Design) and colouring book and pencils (designed by Molly Cara Murray, a local young women who is an art student at the Ulster University), a candle (sponsored by Give INC), tea bags (donated by Thompson Tea in Belfast), chocolate and sweets (donated by Lynas Food Service, Coleraine), a voucher for Tribal Fitness Session and special discount voucher for Bambino Massage NI.
Lindsay added: “My plan is to get these bags in the hands of parents all over Northern Ireland. You don’t need to have an official diagnosis of perinatal mental illness to know that parenting can be tough, at times.
“I hope to bring them to events where I am asked to share my story or speak with mums and dads; to work with local charities, groups and organisations who are organising events about Mental Health and Wellbeing and provide them for those; as well as getting them into the hands of individuals who are struggling.’’
Tomorrow two Portstewart parent and toddler groups, Teenie Tots and Baby Zone, are coming together to hold a sponsored Pramble to raise funds for Bags of Hope.
The groups, which hold weekly meetings at Portstewart Baptist Church, have chosen Bags of Hope as this year’s charity after Lindsay, who is orginally from Portstewart, once attend Baby Zone.
If you would like to take part in the Pramble simply come along to Portstewart Baptist Church car park this Saturday (May 20) at 10am for 10.30am walk.
There is no entry fee although donations will be most welcome. Refreshments will also be available at Portstewart Baptist Church after the walk. There will also be face painting, a bouncy castle and much more.
If you’d like more information about Bags of Hope email Lindsay at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to her website at www.haveyouseenthatgirl.com/