My guest and peer Teresa Hawkes bravely shares her own story of pre- and post-natal depression and postpartum psychosis with us, and how she moved through the darkest period of her life.

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It’s not uncommon for people who have given birth to experience post-natal depression, sometimes called “baby blues” — which actually downplays the dramatic effect it can have on one’s life. But even if they know the possible signs and symptoms, due to the way our society works, they usually believe THEY are the problem, THEY are being a bad mother or parent and that they should get their act together and cope with it all alone.

Let’s call BS on that!

My guest and peer Teresa Hawkes bravely shares her own story of pre- and post-natal depression and postpartum psychosis with us, and how she moved through the darkest period of her life. Today she encourages people to get the support they need and tries to leave a little sparkle wherever she goes, giving others hope that things CAN get better.

About Teresa:
Teresa Hawkes is a mother of four boys from Northern Ireland who went through her own journey of pre- and post-natal depression, and postpartum psychosis after having her youngest child. Now she is passionate about empowering and educating folks around all things menstrual cycle and menstrual health.

She has completed the Red School Menstruality Leadership Program in 2022, holds a diploma in Mental Health and Wellbeing and a degree in Mother & Toddler Yoga.

Get in touch through her Facebook Page or reach out to her via email.

Ressources we mentioned:

Support 2gether (charity in Northern Ireland)
APP-Network (Action on Postpartum Psychosis)

And just as a reminder, I also offer support through life crises and challenging transitions like the transition into mother-/parenthood, so if you feel called to get support from me, learn more HERE, book a Connection Call or get in touch via email!

[00:0035] Lisa: Hi, and welcome everyone to another episode of the Fireside Chat about Taboo Topics series. It’s a series of conversations I have with people about topics that I find aren’t nearly enough talked about in our society and that I want to bring awareness to. And my guests also want to bring awareness to, because only when we are aware can we do something about it and change the world in the process.

Today I am joined by Teresa Hawks and we are going to talk about postnatal depression and psychosis. I know that a lot of women or people who have given birth suffer from postnatal depression, and again, this is rarely talked about, so people feel so alone in this. They don’t know what’s happening.

And that’s why we want to have this conversation today to help you understand, if you or if a friend is maybe going through such a period, what you can do to support yourself or to get support. So Teresa is a mom of four boys, which in itself deserves a lot of respect. I definitely have to say kudos for doing this. It’s tough work being a mother of four and you’re doing a great job. And she has gone through periods of postnatal depression and postnatal psychosis, and is willing to talk about that with us today. And I’m beyond grateful that you do and that you want to share about this vulnerable topic.

By now she also supports others and supports an organisation who working with women and people who have given birth who go through or have gone through postnatal depression to, again, raise awareness and to change something in the system. Theresa welcome today!

[00:02:45] Teresa: Thank you, Lisa. I always tell people I have five boys because I include my husband onto that as well. Sometimes it’s hard.

[00:02:59] Lisa: Oh yeah. Would you like to share a few more words about yourself?

[00:03:08] Teresa: Yes. I have four boys, my eldest is 10, nine at seven and five. And today because I thought I was chatting to Lisa, I thought I would brighten myself up. I’m putting a bit of makeup on and some Christmas earrings to bring that Christmas spirit, a bit of Christmas sparkle, cause I like to leave me a bit of sparkle wherever I go. So …

[00:03:30] Lisa: And that in itself is a beautiful message, leaving sparkles wherever you go.

[00:03:35] Teresa: It is because a part of my life was so dark. It was, looking back now, I might get a little bit emotional talking about it. I was just a robot, just doing things just for the sake of doing them.

Probably with this conversation, I just wanna say this is my journey and what I’ve done to help myself might help others or it might not. And I wanna bring awareness of ante-natal/post-natal depression and postpartum psychosis to the forefront because it’s not talked about enough. And we’re not aware of the signs and symptoms of it.

And I know with postpartum psychosis, it can actually happen quite quickly with some people. Some mothers can get it straight after birth, some mothers can take it before they’re due, with mines, it kinda happened through a bit of time, I think I experienced it with my last wee boy.

My eldest boy is ten, one boy nine and seven and five – I’m actually surprised I got all their ages right. But I took it with my last wee boy, five years ago and suppose with my first child as well, I went through antenatal depression, not realising cause I remember going to the doctor and saying to him “I’m very anxious about giving birth. And a bit scared as well of giving birth.” And then he referred me to a counsellor and I went to see that counsellor and she came in, she was very tall, very skinny, very glamorous looking, high heels on her and she was like “Right, what’s a problem?”” And I says, “Well, I’m scared of giving birth.” And I can’t remember the exact conversation, but it more or less ended with “If you need me, give me a ring and goodbye.” And that was it. And then I suppose I felt there was nothing wrong with me and just normal and it’s just a normal thing people worry about and mums go through and that was it.

And then with the first birth, it didn’t go the way I planned. It was an emergency C-section and my husband rushed away. I was signing these documents in case I lost my life, not being able to have another baby, you know, all these things. And for me it was quite scary and I remember after having him, I felt so guilty.

I was crying for about six months or longer because I was wondering why, why was my body letting me down? Why could my body not give birth the way my friend did, my other friend did, my sisters did? I was questioning everything. And I remember the midwife coming in and saying to me — cause over here and the NHS, the midwife comes out for 10 days — and she was like “You’re very lucky your baby came out the way it did through the, they call it the sun riff way.” You know, it was supposed to be easy, but it wasn’t easy, it was hard. And then I remember only lately somebody said to me that it really doesn’t matter what way you give birth because birth’s birth, no matter if it’s a C-section, natural birth or forceps delivery, whatever, it’s still a birth, the baby still came out of you, it’s still a birth.

And some births, yes, are harder than others, natural or C-section. You know, it’s a difficult procedure to go through, but I think if I was given the right support, the right information, I would’ve been more aware of that experience and more prepared for it. Because they do say knowledge is power. So then after that…

[00:07:40] Lisa: And if I may just jump in here because I think that’s something very crucial and that we see in our modern hospital system. It’s about body autonomy. As you say, you weren’t really clear on what to do, you were already scared, but that fear wasn’t met with empathy. It was just “You have to go into hospital and go out of hospital as quickly as possible.” and that leaves an imprint on us, on our bodies. And that also informs if your body feels safe in that environment or not, and so of course, it’s not your body that’s failing you. But it might seem that way, and you reproach yourself while it’s not at all your fault. It’s about the fact that your autonomy has been taken from you and that’s the worst thing that can happen, when you feel powerless.

[00:08:37] Teresa: Yeah. And the choices were taken away, the choice and understanding was definitely taken away. And then I breast fed, again, this is my story, but there’s a myth over here that when you breastfeed, you don’t get pregnant. But that’s not true. You do get pregnant when you breastfeed cause I got pregnant very quickly with my second boy and again, it ended up an emergency C-section. And then we moved house and then I had my third boy and his birth was very traumatic again. It was, because I was so eager to have a natural birth and believed that I could have it, but again, my choice was taken away from me.

It was a birth, it was a forceps delivery. Again, tear and all that as well. It took longer to recover from that. And then we moved house again, and then I had another boy. And again, I had to change healthcare systems and when I moved house the third time, I knew nobody in the area.

I lived beside my mother and father for a while, so I lived in an area where I kind of knew everybody and everybody would stop and talk to you, and then moved to an area where, yes, I had my mother-in-law, my father-in-law, but they had their own things going. My mother-in-law had a job, my father-in-law was in the farming. There was really nobody, no support at all. And I know we didn’t live that far away, but for me it did feel like ages away. I lived 45 minutes away from my mother as well, so I felt so isolated, so lonely, I didn’t wanna change doctors because I moved to another area. I was very anxious about that.

And then I did change (doctors), but before, I had my fourth child. I couldn’t taste any food. I knew I had to eat because the baby needed to get nutrients. My husband was away one night a week, so I was literally left on my own for one night a week, and I was starting to have these dreams, like really, the dreams were like a horror movie.

I could have probably wrote a horror movie, they were that bad. I couldn’t talk about them and I didn’t want to tell anybody about them cause I thought people are gonna think I’m mad, I’m crazy. These dreams were so dark, so bloody and so gory and it was just, they were not nice at all. So I was in lack of sleep because of that.

I couldn’t sleep at nighttime, my husband was away one night a week. Then I was trying to get one child up and ready and go to school, plus take another two out with me as well. I was just walking around like a robot. Like there was no life. There was no life there. It was just mechanical, doing it. And I remember going into the school and the principal said to me “How are you?” And I was like “I’m still alive.” And I literally meant that. I really did mean that I was still alive.

And then the fourth child came along and I didn’t try for natural birth that time. We went for a C-section, and that’s when I started really go downhill. I fed him myself as well, the dreams were getting worse, I was very emotional. I felt like, I dunno if you’ve ever seen the Harry Potter movie, it was the one “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” where they have like a moaning ghost in the toilets called Moaning Myrtle. I felt like everything was just down. And even getting dressed, sometimes I would’ve went to bed with just clothes on because it was just easier for me to get up in the morning to get the children out.

Then there was a decision whether to brush my hair or brush my teeth, you know? I know that doesn’t sound like much, that was just where I was at that stage of my life. And I remember the youngest boy, Jacob, putting him in the car and taking the boys to school and every time he was in the back of the car, I had to check and check cause I thought I had run over him, I’d driven over him, like, an anxiety of that. And whenever I was getting the boys into the car, I him left sitting in his car seat and then I got the other children in, and then all of a sudden “Did I put him into the car? Is he in the back of the car? Did I drive over him?”

That was every day. And then my husband, because he was away one night a week, he would’ve been home on a Tuesday night at half seven, because he worked in Belfast and we lived about an hour and a half away from Belfast. So if he wasn’t home by half seven at night, I was like, “Where the hell are you and why are you not home?” And he might’ve only been, like, five minutes late, but he had to be home for half seven or he would’ve just got the cold shoulder when he came home from his job. And I would’ve been really cross, really annoyed, wouldn’t speak to him. And you know, he didn’t know what was going on either.

Now, we thought maybe it was just the move and the house, not putting everything together, like the births I went through. I didn’t talk about the dreams, so he didn’t know about the dreams. So he was doing what men do best, and I don’t mean that as a… I suppose this is just our story, he would just go out to work, did what he did, came home, did what needed to be done on the house. The two of us went to bed, didn’t really speak, got up in the morning, next day, did the same thing. It was just like Groundhog Day every day. It was the same thing.

And then, I can’t remember when, actually, I think Jacob might have been two and a half months when I started, when I really couldn’t sleep. I was getting up and again, I couldn’t taste anything and I started doing these behaviours, I felt that there was ghouls in my head. I dunno if you’ve ever see the film Scream, where the person wears this white mask. I felt they were inside me and the only way to get them out was to go outside my house, up the field, there’s three trees and I had to go down on my knees and literally roar, like coming from the pit of my stomach, really, really loud because I felt if I had let them out in the house, they would’ve done something to the boys.

And I couldn’t comprehend, I couldn’t understand what I was doing. I had to do that, and then when I came in, I would run cold water over my hands, to try and take the thoughts outta my mind to focus on the sensory, the cold. And then I had to walk up and do the bath as well, water on my feet. That was happening two or three times a day or more, I can’t actually remember how many times that was happening.

And then I started doing rituals, because we moved into the new house and all I felt was darkness. I wanted to open up the windows, let the light in, and get the darkness out. So I was running around the island, putting salt around our kitchen to keep the darkness away and trying to get the light in. And our kitchen floor, I was using water and I had to have ice on my hands as well, again, for the coldness to take the thoughts away, there was water everywhere. And then my husband Ryan came up with this idea, why don’t you use ice packs outta the freezer?

So that was actually quite, that was brilliant. That was a really, really good idea. So we started using ice packs and then I got involved with a charity. Well before that, all came to a head, where those behaviours were getting intense and quite serious. I got involved with the charity called Support 2gether. And I remember, Ryan said he would take the day off work and I said, I think you need to take the day off work. And I remember getting up and, I just couldn’t cope. I was just on my knees and I was outside squealing, and Ryan had to take the children to school.

And I was like, “Why? What? ..”, I didn’t even speak to him, I put a message on the group, please, come home and help. Please help. And I am so grateful for that. I’m getting a bit emotional now, cause I haven’t really talked much in depth about this, but, one of the ladies from the charity came out and I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t hear. I, not that I didn’t want to hear, I just couldn’t cope with, with the input of everything around me, even the voices of my children.

I was trying to get them to be quiet, and play quiet games with them and getting them to go to bed. There was no TV allowed, I couldn’t have TV on. And I remember her coming out and I remember just walking up back and forward and just talking about the past, things that came up in my childhood. Obviously I went through a bit of depression when I was younger and didn’t realise it because my mother had severe post-natal depression and back then there was no help.

And I don’t know if she had experienced postpartum psychosis as well, I’m not a hundred percent sure, but she had it, she had it quite bad herself. So I don’t know as a child whether I picked things up and they stayed in my body not recognising it. And then whenever I took really sick, it all came out, just everything was coming out.

I didn’t really know what I was saying and I thought the devil was in me. And I didn’t really wanna take medication because I thought I could do this myself. I could get myself better. But we went then to see the doctor, we got a mental health appointment with the doctor, and I remember going, I had a notebook where I read everything out, all the darkness was coming out, and I read it and I couldn’t even speak to the doctor. And I had to say to Ryan “I can’t talk. Can you give that to the doctor?” And Ryan was doing all the talking for me. And I remember I had Jacob up my arms and I had this gold cardigan on me and I was soaked in lavender and Jacob kept sleeping the whole time because of the smell of the lavender.

But it was the only way, the smell, again, was taking away the thoughts, was me coping, was a coping mechanism for me. To get me out of my head and try and get my attention to something else. So that was okay. And he sent Ryan down to the pharmacy to get me, a medication to lower things down a bit and it worked.

And then we were sent to get assessed by a community psychiatric nurse. So we went there, I went there to assess, and because I had the medication within me, he was like “Oh, you’re not gonna be staying in. You seem fine. You’ll be okay. You can come back in here next week.” And when I went back out to Ryan, he — am I allowed to curse? (Yes.) Ryan was like, “What the fuck am I gonna do with her for a full week?” Because he knew what I was like when I was off the medication. And that was only one tablet.

So when I went home that night. Again, I couldn’t sleep. I was starting to do the rituals, the thoughts were saying things to me when I was walking up and down the kitchen. I had to get the ice pack. I was going right again, really roaring from that pit of my stomach, like, really roaring. And again, the lady from the charity Support 2gether, she advised him to make another mental health appointment for me.

I don’t think it was the doctor, this time, it was under the CPN (Community Psychiatric Nurse), so this time they assessed me again and then we were sent home. And I remember Ryan coming down to the rim. I was knackered because I hadn’t slept the night before and I slept cause I had medication in me, and he was like “What do you think about going into hospital, into the mental health hospital?”

And I took a while to answer him because I started to think then, logically I would probably have been sectioned, which means they would’ve forced me to go, so I thought of my boys, “I can’t keep going the way I’m going or something’s going to happen.” and my decision was then, “Right. Okay.”

That was a hard decision to make, but it was the right one to make as well. Definitely. And even before going into the hospital, I had all these thoughts — and they’re only thoughts — I wanted just to ruin my life. I wanted to ruin me. I thought, what if I go out and get drunk and just have sex with random people? Or even the boys, not with the boys in the car, it was myself, what if I drive out? Cause we live along a busy road. What if I drive out in front of this truck? And that would be me. You know, these thoughts were coming into me, but again, I never talked about them because, I suppose when you speak …

[00:22:57] Lisa: We don’t talk about these things.

[00:23:01] Teresa: It’s reality, like, something’s not right here. Or again, being seeing to be crazy and I was just in such a negative place, everywhere I went, I felt that people were very negative against me. Like when they say you attract what you feel or you attract what you see, but because I was on such a low vibe, in a low, negative energy, I was attracting those people.

They were like “Isn’t this an awful day? Oh, there’s nothing” to look forward to.” You know, that was feeding my anxiety, that was feeding my depression, that was feeding the darkness. The darkness was there, but it just grew and grew because I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t know. I didn’t know.

And then with the postpartum psychosis, I was really scared. I didn’t know what I was capable of. I didn’t know if I was capable of hurting my children. I didn’t know if I was capable of hurting my husband. And when I went into the hospital, there was a lady, she kept walking up and down past, I was taken into a room to be questioned, a consultation room, but it was in the ward.

So there was people walking up and down, but I thought it was the doctor cause she kept looking in, but it was another patient. And I kept saying “Why is there people walking up and down?”” And then they came in and I was questioned and questioned over again, but I couldn’t talk, again. I had to let Ryan do all the talking for me. There was colouring books sitting out on the table and I was looking through them and some were quite buzzy. And there was one that I thought, “Right, if I do this colouring book …” it was like you colour with your right hand first and then you do your left hand. After a day or two after I got settled and I thought, “Right, when I do this colouring work, within six months I’ll be flying, I’ll be better, I’ll be doing this, I’ll be doing that.”

That’s not the way it works. And you can’t put a tiny scale on how long it takes you to get through that journey of post-natal depression and postpartum psychosis, cause everybody’s different and it affects people in a different way. But the only thing I can say to help others is, bringing that awareness to yourself. And it is hard to sit with yourself, and it’s hard to console yourself and have that sympathy with yourself. And it’s only you that can make it better. You can go to the counsellors, you can go to the doctor, you can go to the mental health team. Yes, they all help, but it’s up to you to do the work, cause nobody can do it for you. And we’re all worth it, we’re all worth to being well, you know, we are who we are and I can understand why some people are in the darkness, because it takes a lot of work to get out that darkness and it’s hard. It really is.

[00:26:19] Lisa: And it’s really powerful that you say that. It’s us who have to do the work, that is powerful and courageous and not something many people embark on, because it is at times painful. And also because you start taking back the responsibility for your own healing, or at least for part of that healing. It means you overcome this situation that has happened before where you felt so powerless. Because that’s the antidote to when we feel completely powerless, looking where we can take back control. And I think sometimes we use all these very strange ways to try and take back control. I mean, you having these thoughts of going out, getting drunk, doing something is also a way of at least feeling something again and having some control over your life.

[00:27:16] Teresa: Yeah, it is. Cause all I felt was numbness and cold. And even towards Ryan, it was like, it was like as we had a job, you know, that we just do these things, go to bed at night, wake up, do the same thing. As long as the children got fed, us as a couple, as a relationship didn’t exist. We were just there and that was it.

And even with him, me and him had to work on ourselves in our relationships, cause through that journey of the postpartum psychosis, post-natal depression, I changed and he changed a bit as well, because I was getting more independent. And I would say thanks to him and he was picking me up the wrong way and then I was picking him up the wrong way and we were clashing. So we went to counselling to sit down together and we brought more understanding and love into our relationship, which is great. We’re in a better place now. Yes, it still takes work, it still takes time to work on us as a couple, cause we are a busy house. We have four boys, and sometimes we need to reconnect.

We need to reconnect together as adults, as individuals, and not as a mom and dad, as a man and a woman. And you do need to do that as well, definitely. To be able to talk about things. And again, it’s through this work that I have done myself and he has done at the start, I suppose going through the journey, my journey only really started when I was aware of having to go into hospital to get the help. And I always liked this quote, but I wrote it down here, it’s Mary Oliver, she’s American poet, “The Uses of Sorrow”: Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.” And that stuck with me for a long time and I love that because when I look back in my journey of ante-natal, post-natal depression and postpartum psychosis, I wouldn’t be living, though. I’d still be in that darkness. I’d still be in that void.

It was only when I started going through my own journey and getting the help, I realised I can make choices. And that was really, I know it sounds really simple and it’s a really easy thing to be able to realise that you do have choices. But I suppose because whenever you’re brought up as a child, you follow the culture of your family, you follow your friends, you follow what you think you are, which sometimes can be quite wrong, as not who you are.

You wanna be more, but you don’t believe in yourself, so you just follow the crowd. And I remember her taking me out of the hospital, that lady who works for “Support 2gether” charity, and she took me to the shop and bought Ice Lollies and she bought actually two Ice Lollies, two different ones. And she was like, “Which one do you want?” And I was like, “No, you pick first.” And she goes, “No, I’m not picking one until you pick one.” And I was like, okay. And whenever she did that, but she didn’t realise she was doing anything for me, I never realised it either. And then I came back into the hospital thinking “Oh my God. I can make choices. I can say no and I can say yes to things.” That was such a big thing for me. And I know that sounds probably really simple to some people, and an easy thing to do, but sometimes …

[00:31:10] Lisa: Simple, not easy. I always say it’s simple in itself, but it’s not easy, especially when, as you say, we’ve been brought up in these conditions, trained to make everybody else happy.

[00:31:24] Teresa: Yes. Yes. And that’s so true. So that was the start of my realisation that I can actually say no and yes to things, which was a big, massive learning curve, definitely. And that’s when I started going on the journey. When I came outta the hospital, that was really when the journey started, because there were still habits, there were still the behaviours. And you know, even the walking up and down that I would’ve done before I went in the hospital, I still needed to do that, to get through whatever I was going through. And plus, there was other things I needed to do to keep myself well, like taking medication, getting sleep and rest, eating food. It was doing the behaviours I needed to do to get me through certain parts of the day.

I was like, if I was getting overwhelmed or anxious, I was maybe doing the walking up and down. I couldn’t drive. I would drive, but I couldn’t drive because of the medication I was on. I think I was on three or four different types of medication and I don’t really want to go into that area of medication because again, medication’s a big thing and everybody’s medication is different.

So I had to take that, but it was only for then, you know? If I had to drop the medication, if I hadn’t got the rest, if I hadn’t done all those things, I wouldn’t be sitting here chatting to you, you know? And some people, you say that postpartum psychosis and post-natal depression is a taboo subject, it very much still is a taboo subject. Sometimes these illnesses can take people’s lives, can take somebody’s mother away, can take somebody’s daughter away, somebody’s wife away, and it’s so sad when that happens and that person could have been saved, you know? And you hear about it so many times, you know, not a lot, but you hear of it now and again, and it is reality. It is life.

So if we’re not aware of these symptoms, if we’re not aware of our mind, and if we’re not aware of — there’s a very fine line between, you know, dying by a suicide due to mental illness and being well, because this can happen so much, so quickly and sometimes it can happen over time and not recognising it is happening over time.

[00:33:52] Lisa: Yeah, it’s the slow dying inside, right? As you say, you feel numb, you feel like a robot.

[00:33:59] Teresa: Yeah it is. And I remember going back, cause there was, you know, the behaviours that I would do, and I had explained to Ryan, “I’m only doing this because I need to do this now. It’s not I’m getting sick again. It’s, I need to do this.”” And there was also a big fear, “What happens with this comes back again? What am I gonna do?” You know, that was at the start, but now I am more like, “Right. Okay. If it does come back again, we’re both educated and Ryan knows about it. I know about it. We’re able to act more quicker.”

We’re aware of the signs and the symptoms, so if it does come back again, and I can’t say if it will or not, it might and it might not, because I do hear some people, it’s probably also true for menopause, sometimes you can get psychosis with menopause, that’s way down the line yet, but at least I’m aware of it and Ryan’s aware of it.

And I remember feeling mentally unwell again. There was a couple times I had to go back to the GP [General Practitioner], the doctor, and we had to go on call in the middle of the night one night because I was really not well. And we went to the doctor and I think he was of a different nationality from what I was myself and spoke a different language and I was like, “Oh my God, he’s not gonna understand a word I say, or he’s not gonna understand me and it’s gonna be terrible.”

But that was my thought. But whenever I would end to speak to him, he turned around and he said to me, I know what that’s like. I’ve lived with that. And see, as soon as he said that to me as a professional GP doctor, I was able to go, [exhales] “Oh my God.” That was such a relief that he understood what I was going through and I’ll never forget him. Cause he said to me “Go home and I will get you sorted out tonight.”” And he did, he did get me sorted. I never got readmitted again, but there was a couple times I had to keep going back.

And then, because on the journey of recovery different habits would’ve slept in, like eating food, my eating habits would’ve gotten really outta control. Eating sweet stuff, like one time, I was eating four Mars bars a day just because I could do it and nobody was watching me, but I didn’t realise I was harming my body as another form of self harming. And then when somebody told me there’s like 16 teaspoons of sugar, if I’m right in a Mars bar — I was eaten four of those a day.

And then, me and Ryan went to counselling and he noticed the eating, but he didn’t have the words to say to me “I know you’re eating four Mars bars a day, cause I can see the papers in the car. I would’ve ate them if I was in the car going to pick the children up for something or if had to go and do shopping. It was a habit. I was picking them up and then I didn’t realise I was sitting in the car eating them. A

And we went to counselling with that and we were able to work through that and he would say, “Right, I know that you’re eating. I’ve noticed that you’re eating sweets.” or “I’ve noticed you’re eating bars of chocolate, what’s going on?” So you know, that’s been a big … Yes, it was hard at the start, cause when your man asks you what’s wrong, You’re like, “Nothing, I’m fine. There’s nothing wrong me.” Now he’s more open and the menstrual cycle has been a big part of me recovering as well, it definitely has.

Knowing what day I’m on. I think today I am on day, I think I’m day 15, which is kinda a good time for me cause I feel like energetic. I do feel a bit anxious, nervous speaking to yourself about this, but I feel good today. I really do and a bit sparkly, earrings and all.

[00:37:56] Lisa: Yeah, you do sparkle!

[00:37:58] Teresa: Thank you. Thank you.

[00:38:01] Lisa: Yeah, I’m really glad that you do sparkle and that you allow yourself to sparkle and as you say, bring a little bit of sparkle into every day. And one thing I also wanted to point out or to go back to, in that moment when you experience that post-natal depression and psychosis, and I believe when others also experience it, even when you are aware that it exists and you might know what it looks like, especially women and people socialised as women will go “Yeah, but my symptoms aren’t as bad. I can still cope.”

So we even have this mechanism, we’ve learned this mechanism to minimise our suffering. And similar to what you said, “Nothing is wrong. No, no. I can cope.” And it’s good to have a supportive husband like you have, and have this open relationship with him where you can talk about it.

[00:39:01] Teresa: Yeah, and it took time to get there. But also as women, especially over here in Northern Ireland, you’re probably the same, “Just get on with it.” You know, “You’re okay, just get on with it.” And because I felt it was my choice to have my children, it was my responsibility to bring them up and I didn’t need to ask for help.

And I felt so alone. I felt I couldn’t ask for help, cause I felt I’d just be told No, you know. So I felt like it was my responsibility, but I’ve got better at asking for help, because sometimes we do need to ask for help. We’re not meant to do this all alone. When you look probably years and years ago and different cultures, women all help each other.

And you know, it’s kinda getting a bit lost now, because I think women are expected to do so much. Like have a job, raise as a family, keep a house. You know, years and years ago it was like, you know, you kept a house and looked after your children. And yes, it’s good for having independence, women have that independence of having a job as well, but that needs to be a bit more relaxed. So even on ourselves as women, we need to be more relaxed of ourselves and say, “Right, what can I do today? Do I need to do this today or can I let that go?”

And another good thing I use for myself is the word pause. I love that word “pause”, because you know, sometimes, well, I get a bit stressed out by doing the housework, whatever, and somebody said to me, the housework will always be loyal to you, no matter what. It’ll always still be there, every single day. So sometimes I’ll pause that, I’ll pause the dishes and do them later.

Or if I’m doing a course, there was a course I did there, the year of Covid, it was mental health and wellbeing coaching. And I really did feel it was too much for me, cause I had the boys at home. It was two days, once a month and I was getting childcare sorted out and it was, you know yourself, when you’re doing courses, you need time to be able to read books, to get the resources. And I thought myself, you know, I need to put a pause in this and then I spoke to lady and she says, “Yes, that’s okay.”

So was I able to reconnect in with that course last year and actually finished it this year. So, you know, things can be paused. I think when we use the word stop, it’s very like “Right, that’s it.” You know?

[00:41:28] Lisa: Yeah, yeah.

[00:41:31] Teresa: Pause.

[00:41:32] Lisa: So much softer, right? So much more feminine.

[00:41:35] Teresa: Yes it is. And even with the menstrual cycle, I’m sure you’re probably the same, these days that we’re like, “Yes, let’s do this. Let’s get this done today.” And there’s other days, “No, I can’t do that.” And I would, sometimes, I talk to my boys about the menstrual cycle as well, because whenever I was going through my journey of post-natal depression and postpartum psychosis, nobody came to me, none of the professionals came to me and said to me, “Right, what’s your menstrual cycle like?” And that’s such a big part of our lives.

And I remember from when I was very young, I would’ve been very emotionally challenging, I think, would you use the word or just didn’t understand, you know? I was a bit naive, I didn’t understand my menstrual cycle, I didn’t understand what it was. I just thought it was this horrible thing.

[00:42:25] Lisa: You know, I don’t believe it’s naive. We are simply not taught, and even the medical system doesn’t know everything about the wonder our cycle is, right?

[00:42:36] Teresa: Yes, that’s so true. And now I know, like, where I’m at within my cycle and where I’m at with my emotions, cause it’s a big thing as well. So there’s some days I need to “Right, okay, I’ll go slow today.” Maybe the next day I’ll be on fire, I’ll be able to make bread, clean the house, do some volunteer work. I do some volunteer work with the charity Support 2gether.

I also do a bit of volunteer work with this other charity called APP. They’re based in the UK, they’re called Action on Postpartum Psychosis. They’re actually, anybody anywhere can sign up to them. They’re great online support, so you can get online support if you need extra support. It’s like peer support worker, people who have experienced post-partum psychosis. It’s just peer support, and peer support’s amazing as well because when you get, even with Support 2gether, the charity I got involved with in Northern Ireland, they were amazing support to me. Definitely. I wouldn’t be here without them, I don’t think. I wouldn’t be here.

And I know you spoke there earlier about people saying about having these symptoms and saying that they’ll cope with them and they’ll get better. I can, and this is my experience, and then when they’re saying that, I say, please, if you experienced any of those symptoms, just talk to anybody. Just talk to someone that you trust and if you need to go and get help, get it.

Because they could only get worse. Like, I thought I could cure myself, and only for the intervention of Support 2gether, the mental health team, you could be sitting here writing another story. I could be sitting here writing another story. My boys could be. You know, it’s for your children, for yourself. You deserve it. You deserve to have a life with lots of light, love, sparkle. So you do. Everybody does.

So yeah, I would really, yeah, cause I did think, you know, cause again, medication, everybody sees, again, that’s another taboo subject, but medication is like, “Oh, you’re gonna get addicted to it. It’s gonna be tough.” And I heard somebody saying, one of my friends saying, “Oh, that’s her life. She’s gonna be addicted to it. But it’s not that, if you have a heart problem, if you’re a diabetic, if you’re, you need to take medication to keep yourself well, you know, if you don’t take that medication, if you have a heart problem, you’re not gonna get, you’re not gonna be well. So it’s like our mind, sometimes we need to take medication. I’m still on one of my medications now.

[00:45:17] Lisa: And you know, that’s the thing. You are on one. So yes, for a time you might need to take all of that medication. And also at the same time you were looking to find ways that support your whole body and system, so that at one point you wouldn’t have to take all of them anymore.

[00:45:35] Teresa: Yeah. And you know, one is fine. Yes, I used to have those disagreements with myself and all. But if it keeps me well, if it keeps my self, as part of my self-health/self-care, as part of my healing, then why not? You know what I mean? I’m doing it for my boys, I’m doing it for myself, I’m doing it for my husband. Because at this time I feel like everything is kind of turned around now, that I’m actually well, I’m able to do things. I’m looking forward, I’m taking this time out now, yes, doing a bit of volunteer work, but next year, I’m gonna explore different things, be able to do different things, hopefully go back out into the world again and shine.

[00:46:19] Lisa: Mm-hmm, sparkles! Spread some of your sparkles. I would love to see that! Yes.

[00:46:18] Teresa: Yes, yes. Definitely.

[00:46:30] Lisa: Thank you for sharing all your story so openly. Yeah, I think it’s a big support to anybody watching who experiences similar things or suspects that a friend might go through that.

Maybe as a form of a summary, what are the main symptoms you think — in your perspective, of course, it’s shaped through your personal experience and it doesn’t hold true for everybody — but what are the main symptoms people need to look out for in themselves or in their friends and their spouse? And where would you direct them to, where can they get help if they want to?

[00:47:20] Teresa: Yeah. Well, it’s very hard to say because sometimes it can be very, mine was very, I suppose it was ongoing from when I had my first, my first boy, there was the symptoms of the fear of the birth. You know, going to get help and then was made or felt like I couldn’t contact anybody. But if you do feel like that and if you just don’t feel a hundred percent, or there’s something that you used to love, that you don’t love anymore or you’re just feeling like “There’s no life in me.”, just seek out help! Go speak to somebody you trust. Speak to the doctor, speak to somebody, you know, and even with your husband.

Even for husbands, sometimes you might think “She’s just being a woman.”, but it’s more than that. Sometimes if you know your partner’s changing, it’s not because of you, it’s because of them. It’s because they feel it inside themselves. And we wanna feel something, so sometimes what we do is, we take it out on other people, to get, to feel even worse about ourselves and they don’t mean it. I said, horrible things to my husband and I didn’t mean it. But looking back now, I just wanted someone to hate me so much that I could justify hating myself.

So yeah, it’s a very difficult one, but if you just notice that there’s even a change in personality. So one of my covers, that would’ve been if me and my husband went out, you wouldn’t think there was nothing wrong. We would’ve smiled and laughed and chatted, but as soon as we got back into the house, the mask came off, the language, the words, you know, berating him, not in a bad, bad way, but just trying to get … Yeah, cause you were putting on a show and it takes so much energy to let people feel or think that you’re great, not great, but you’re good.

And it’s okay not to be okay. It’s okay. It takes a strong person to say, “Look, I need a little bit of help here. I need to speak to somebody.” You do have the APP, Action on Postpartum Psychosis, and men can reach into that as well, spouses can reach into that, friends can reach into that as well. And then in Northern Ireland, you have Support 2gether.

And just, you know, if you look up numbers, I’m sure there’s a wealth of knowledge out there for people to look into it now, but you know, when there’s life, there’s hope, and that’s a lot. Like if even a little bit of hope. You know, for me at the start of my journey, it was taking each minute, each minute to go by, and that minute might have been just “Right, okay, I need to rest.”

Because when we go through that journey of that darkness and keeping up appearances for other people and do what we need to do as a mom, you know, when you look at the list of things that we have to do as a mom for a baby, never mind for other children. And our first is always the hardest, the first is when you start to really learn. It’s so difficult to do all that and try to keep up appearances, and it takes a lot of work in our minds to do that.

It’s like going to the gym. If you go to the gym to do an Irish workout, you know, running the treadmill, lifting weights, whatever else you need to do in that gym to keep your body physically fit. Well for your mind, when going through that journey of darkness, it takes a lot of work and it takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of effort to put on that appearance when you go outside your front door to say, “Oh, everything’s great. Everything’s good.”

We need to rest. We need to rejuvenate our minds. We need to just be still, and that’s the hardest thing in life to do sometimes. I hope that helps …

[00:51:16] Lisa: Be okay with not being okay. Because it is okay to not be okay.

[00:51:22] Teresa: Yeah. And its only for now. It’s not for, you know, sometimes we go through these stages like “I will never…”, I was going through that, I was worried about my children going turn out like me, and not going to be able to drive, but that was only for then. That’s changed. Now I’m able to drive, I’m able to have a conversation with yourself. I’m able to go and pack my boys up. I’m able to have fun. I’m able to laugh, you know?

And they, I would then be open about life as well, about, you know, we do sometimes, once a week, where we do our family gathering or we gather in the sitting room and we do 30 seconds of breathing. I have to keep it very short for them. And I would say what day I’m on my cycle and they’re “Oh my, not again, not about the menstrual cycle again.” But it’s to let them know that I’m sad or cross, it’s not to do with them, it’s me, you know?

Cause sometimes they do things, yes, children do things. At the end of the day, we all do things when we’re younger, but sometimes we do things for fun and your parents might be really cross. I’m trying to think, like the boys sometimes would go and get sweets and stuff and all but I’m not cross, I’m just, because they hadn’t asked, or that they’re allowed sweets and stuff, but it’s not because I’m just cross for the sake of it, or annoyed. And sometimes we are, but it’s not to do with them. It’s ourselves, you know, and I think it’s so important for them to know that. That it’s not to do with them, it’s just what’s going on inside here.

[00:52:50] Lisa: Wow. Phew, I don’t know, you dropped so many nuggets in this whole conversation. It’s unbelievable, the growth that you’ve gone through, the shining and sparkling that you already do, the Christmas-y feeling that you bring to our conversation. It’s, yeah, thank you from the bottom of my heart for being here today.

[00:53:12] Teresa: You’re welcome, Lisa, thank you for having me.

[00:53:14] Lisa: Thank you for being this beacon of light.

[00:53:17] Teresa: Yeah. Because I wanna empower woman. But then when I was sitting in the hospital, one of my thoughts was, you know, I have four boys, I wanna empower them as well. You know, yes, it’s good to empower women, but it’s also very important to empower men because if men understand life and understand, you know, mental health and the menstrual cycle, different things with life, then they’re more compassionate. They’ll be more compassionate and understanding of women. And if they don’t know, how are they supposed to know how to treat women? Or some statements could be like, “Oh, she’s on her thing. Don’t bother her.”

But that’s, that shouldn’t be the way it should be said. You know, it should be said, “Oh, you’re on your cycle today, are you bleeding today? Can I make you a cup of tea?” You know, I wanna bring my boys up that if they have a daughter or a wife, that they’re not gonna be embarrassed to sit down and talk about their menstrual cycle or birth or mental health. That they can have a conversation and not getting embarrassed, and ask them what they need.

And that’s, you know, even if you don’t have your menstrual cycle, we need to do that for ourselves every day. What do we need today? Do we need a hug from somebody? Do we need to cocoon ourselves? Do we need to hibernate? Is this phone call really important to me? Can it wait till tomorrow? Because life’s life at the end of the day.

[00:54:42] Lisa: And you know, this is like the core wound that many of us have this “I have needs, but I don’t feel worthy of having them met.” And so many of us don’t even understand our own needs anymore. And that’s why I love that you show this practice of asking the other for what they need and helping them understand what they need. It’s awesome. And for yourself, obviously you also, you go inwards and ask, “What do I need? What would feel supportive and nourishing today?”

[00:55:14] Teresa: Yeah, cause sometimes we reach out for other things like drink, unhealthy food, TV, you know. When sometimes we just need to go for a walk or sometimes we just need to sit with ourselves.

[00:55:30] Lisa: Thank you Theresa. Do you have some closing words or something that you feel needs to be shared right now? Your message to the women and men and non-binary people watching right now?

[00:55:45] Teresa: Just, you know, there’s always light at the end of the tunnel, no matter what you’re going through. I know sometimes it seems like there is no, but there is. And I always go back to that quote. I also love “When there’s hope, there’s life.” and that I just feel that’s so powerful as well. So very definitely.

Because I never would’ve took the effort to put make-up on, or these earrings on. It’s only now that I, it’s not selfish, it’s just sometimes I like to bring a bit of colour to people’s lives and I hope I brought some colour to this conversation as well. Cause it is a taboo subject and it’s nice to have a bit of lightness and a bit of laughter or two.

[00:56:26] Lisa: Yeah. Thank you for being here. Thank you for going through that Dark Night of the Soul and coming out the other way to support people.

[00:56:37] Teresa: Yeah. Yes, and thank you for having me, Lisa. I really enjoyed speaking to you today.

[00:56:42] Lisa: You’re welcome. I wish you a beautiful day.

[00:56:46] Teresa: Yes, me too.

[00:56:48] Lisa: And speak to you next time.

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