GPH Real Stories - Gabrielle's Story

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August 14, 2018

Gabrielle

I suffered from Postnatal Psychosis- a rare but serious mental health condition that can affect 1-2 in 1000 mums in the first 12 weeks post-birth. It causes significant changes in mood, thoughts and behaviours, including paranoia, hallucinations and delusional thinking. Causes are not completely understood, but is most likely a result of hormonal changes, sleep deprivation and other biopsychosocial influences.
I had always dreamed of becoming a mum. I was married to an awesome guy, living in Victoria, and felt content in my career. Life was good and I was ready to start my family.
Pregnancy was relatively smooth sailing. I continued to exercise until the final weeks of pregnancy and I felt physically and mentally prepared for birth and motherhood.
David shot into the world after an uncomplicated and extremely quick birth. I breastfed every 1.5-2 hours, meaning very little sleep. I started to feel "just not right", but as a new parent learning the ropes, I'm not sure I knew what right or normal really was.
I was unable to sleep and I felt my mood plummet. I became teary, felt very overwhelmed and had no confidence in myself to care for David. I got a referral for a psychologist and started anti-depressants, however I very quickly descended into the oblivion that I came to know as postnatal psychosis.
I shut down. I became a shell of my former self. I stopped talking, I stopped eating, my thoughts were racing at times, other times I felt completely numb. At my worst I couldn’t function. Engaging in basic care for myself and my baby was impossible. I felt like I was standing in a hurricane of my terrifying thoughts.
I was lucky that I got psychiatric assessment and treatment relatively quickly. However I continued to suffer ongoing symptoms of depression and anxiety, and felt exhausted. I put on nearly 20kg from the anti-psychotic medication. Recovery was painfully slow. My mind had shattered into a million pieces and I had the task of slowly putting them back together piece by piece. But piece by piece I did. With a hell of a lot of support from friends, family, and my church I made it through the darkness.
My mental and physical health improved, I was filled with renewed hope, and moved back to Wollongong.
Planning another baby, Andrew and I were fully aware of the risks: there was at least 50% chance I would become unwell again. This time I knew was going to be different. I linked up with a Psychologist at GPH and a private Psychiatrist and we developed a plan for monitoring and discussed the importance of adequate rest and support. I really did think I had beaten it this time around.
I recovered really well from birth and focused on rest, recovery and connection with Joshua. My first feeling something wasn't right was when Joshua was about 5 weeks old, but there were only tiny things that would have indicated my mental health was starting to deteriorate.
When I again became acutely unwell and couldn’t function, I ended up in the PECC ward at Wollongong Hospital. This was extremely frightening and I felt like a prisoner. I wasn’t with my young baby and that completely tore me apart. I guess I won the psychosis lottery twice.
I engaged in individual counselling support from my Psychologist at GPH as well as an 8 week Group Therapy Program with other mums who suffered post-natal mental health issues, which was integral to my recovery. I’ve now became a Volunteer Community Champion for Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA), inspired and passionate to raise awareness about
perinatal mental health and to use my story of pain and recovery to reduce the stigma around mental health and provide a message of hope.
I learnt that mental illness can happen to anyone and definitely doesn’t discriminate. The perinatal period in itself is a particularly challenging time of transition and adjustment for ALL women, whether you struggle with mental illness or not.
It’s ok to not be ok, and it’s ok to ask for help. For those that do have their struggles, help is out there and you will recover.
Despite the darkness, brokenness and fear I experienced, love and hope always trumped. I am forever a changed woman for the better, and despite being brought to the depths of insanity two times, I am forever thankful for my two little boys and the sunshine they bring to my life 

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