Trigger warning: discussion of Postpartum Psychosis
I had never experienced a mental illness until Postpartum Psychosis (don’t worry I hadn’t heard of it either until it tried to kill me) turned up uninvited, unexpected and very much unwelcome at the most inconvenient time of my life - days after the birth of my son. The illness came on hard and fast and ripped through my family and I like a hurricane, landing me waking up on my first Mother’s Day (I know) in a psychiatric ward. I had experienced a healthy and happy pregnancy, there no warning signs that I could get so unwell - I didn’t even know it was possible to get so mentally unwell so quickly after something as natural as a having a baby. Even when I was struggling and showing symptoms of the illness I was diagnosed with‘Baby Blues’– well this was NOT crying a bit too much at Bake Off. This was rampant delusions, severe insomnia, gripping paranoia and suicidal thoughts. I remember thinking - if this is ‘normal’ how is anybody doing this? How have we not died out as a species? And WHY are we keeping this stuff a secret? It’s a conspiracy! It seems we are all too aware of the psychological changes in our bodies during and after pregnancy and labour but nobody talks aboutwhat it can do to us psychologically. Everybody talks about what parts of your body you might ‘lose’ after birth - nobody talks about the bit where you could lose your mind.
And because of that, I believed it was ‘just me.’ Well, it turns out I was wrong.
Either first-hand, on the front-lines of, or felt the ripple effect, many people have been touched by some form of post-baby-arrival mental illness. Many of them believing that it was ‘just them’ too. And so the conspiracy lives on! There are many ways to bring a baby onto this earth and many, many ways to become a parent. It is not in the simple act of carrying a child in your belly - I can tell you that. And I realised that many of my big questions were universal - how is my kid alright but I’m running around with my head on fire? Why do I feel so fragile and scared? how can I be a parent when I need parenting so badly myself? Why am I so good with other people’s babies and so terrible with my own? Why is this so hard? How is everybody doing this? Why is everybody pretending they’re ok? That they’re enjoying it? And why on earth did nobody tell me?
HA! And they said I’d be glowing!
There is shame. There is silence. There is stigma. All of which makes it really difficult to put your hand up and say, ‘I need help.’
So, I held onto the fact that asking for help was the greatest mum move of my life. I made a promise to myself that if I ever made it out alive that I would NOT stop talking about this illness. I wanted to out the bully, pull the mask off the killer and talk. I wanted to make the podcast I wished existed when I was unwell. In actuality- just two humans having a chat, yes, but the power of an empathetic hand in the darkness, the comforting voice of reassurance that pulls you out of the storm.
We are told so much, over and over again to listen. Listening is so important, but there is a deep connection in the recovery of process of sharing. Exchanging experiences from real humans, unique voices from all walks of life, those moments of relief that hold you close, that say ‘Sure it was hard but I got the help, and I made it out alive.’ Talking is a healing currency, it can normalise, it can shrink fear. Talking is a bridge.
The hardworking producers at Broccoli and I made this series during some of the toughest months, globally, the world has ever seen. As a team we were faced with both universal and personal challenges and have still, as with many of the guests too, not even met in real life. I am three years away, almost to the date, from my illness. I live alongside my experience every day. Recovery is still very precious to me, keeping my head screwed on is my main priority. I have a toddler that needs me, plus, it turns out, I really like not being mad. So, this, for me, was a risk - I was dealing with precious potentially triggering cargo here, the themes are delicate, sensitive and heavy - but the guests have such a lightness of touch, were so beautifully generous and courageous, all coming from a place of kindness and love that I totally lost myself in their stories. I didn’t wobble once, if anything, only found myself colouring in the outlines of my recovery even more. How proud I felt of the human resilience and robustness. Saying that, I didn’t account for how much I would feel, how much I would cry - nor how much it would matter. I didn’t realise how much I seek connection as a person. How much I needed to hear somebody say, ‘it will be ok, look at me, I’m here, aren’t I?’
Zombie Mum is just that. A hopeful conversation of empathy, kindness, compassion and sur-THRIVE-al.
A conversation that could make a difference, that could even go on to save someone’s life.