Recognising my post natal depression and the creative habit that helped turn it around

Before my child was born, I had a great career as a designer. I had my own business, I was able to travel whenever I wanted, go out when I wanted, and generally led a life designed around ME.

After my child was born, I felt lonely, isolated, sad, and I was grieving the death of my life before my child, but I didn’t know it. My entire existence had changed overnight and my life was suddenly not my own.

I struggled for a long time in silence. I was unhappy, I cried a lot, I didn’t feel like going out and often I didn’t even want to get out of bed. It was when my partner said to me “I love you, but, you are depressed and you need help!” that I finally came out from under the covers (quite literally) and did something to help myself reignite the spark of creativity that had gone out, doused by the waves of tears and emotions that come with motherhood.

When I reached a point of near hopelessness, I decided that I needed to make a change because I didn’t want to be in this desperate place any longer. I think as mothers, we grossly underestimate the effect and changes childbirth has on our minds, bodies and our souls. And without support, it can quickly spiral into depression, isolation and some challenging mental health issues that are not only bad for us, but could potentially be bad for the baby we are caring for.

Day 1 of my creative habit

Day 1 of my creative habit

Starting my creative habit

My choice for recovery needed to be something small and manageable. And most importantly, it had to be something creative that wouldn’t take up too much time. It needed to be something I could do consistently and build upon. I decided to take a photo of my daughter every day for a year. So, starting on her first birthday, I took a photo. And then again the next day and the next and the next. I posted them on Instagram to get them out into the world and document my progress out of depression — but I didn’t label it as such. 

Each day, I spent 10-15 minutes taking photos and picking one that I liked. I then posted it to Instagram and labeled each post as Day 364, Day 365, etc. This daily process took me a total of 20-30 minutes. Some days it was an easy 20 minutes, other days it was the hardest thing I ever had to do. I couldn’t find the right shot, I didn’t have time to do it, it was too hard… any excuse I could think of to quit, but thankfully I didn’t. I kept going because I had to break through my depression and start creating a positive habit for myself. Out of the 365 days I spent creating this daily task, there were only a couple of days that I was not with my little girl. When this happened, I made my partner, my mother, or my mother-in-law take photos and send them to me so I could keep up my ritual. It was not always easy, but I focused on the end goal - I would document a year in my little girl's life and it would be a positive reminder of a difficult time in my life and how I created positive change. 

By no means am I saying that’s all it took for me to move through my post-natal depression, but having something positive and creative to focus on kept me going and gave me hope. I also contribute other things to moving through depression — yoga, eating well and talking to other mums facing the same thing, but this little piece of creativity slowly brought me back into the world.

People who don’t take step #1, will never take step #2
— Zig Zigler

Building up positive habits can have an incredible effect on our minds and bodies. And it can often be a catalyst that moves us to a new and better place in our lives. It is hard work and we need cheerleaders to keep us motivated and enthused. But we need to take action and take it now. Allowing myself a challenge that wasn’t too time consuming meant that spending 20 minutes a day wasn’t out of the realm of possibility. And spending that time everyday yielded the most amazing results:

  • I have documented a year in the life of myself and my little girl

  • I look back and I'm proud of the body of work I created

  • I acknowledge a time that was extremely difficult in my life and found compassion with myself

From this, I pushed myself to do other small challenges such as #the100dayproject and in 2016, I finally committed to and completed my yoga teacher training course (it only took a year and a half!)

Celebrate the small wins

Celebrate the small wins

My advise to any mum who is struggling with similar issues - celebrate the small wins. Find something small you can do that will inspire you, allow you to be creative and possibly involve your child. For me, taking a daily photo allowed me to build up momentum, create every day and bond with my little one. And I managed to document the process along the way. It’s something that I can look back on and be proud of. And its something that my little one will be able to treasure in the years to come. It was just the little boost I needed to bring me back from depression and appreciate the life I have created, the little one I am raising to the best of my ability and remind me that I need to create to live. Its what fuels me. Its what gives me the energy to be there every day for my little one.

This is my story of identifying and acknowledging my post natal depression. Creativity was the tool I used to help me through some dark days. If you’re feeling the effects of post natal depression, then please speak to someone. Don’t keep it inside or try to get through it on your own.

Notice the signs

Here’s some signs to look out for, pulled together by the lovely people at Mom Loves Best:

- Extended periods of feeling sad or overwhelmed, crying often
- Too little sleep, or too much sleep
- Extreme fluctuations in your diet. Having no appetite or binge eating
- A decreased interest in activities you would usually enjoy
- Intense feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Overwhelming anxiety about the baby’s well being
- Lacking the energy to complete simple tasks, like brushing your teeth
- Restlessness or sluggishness, being unable to concentrate
- Feeling ambivalent or having repeated negative feelings about your baby
- Having thoughts about harming yourself or your baby

If any of these are familiar to you, then please seek help. I’ve posted a few resources below that I have personally used for knowledge and comfort in knowing I wasn’t alone. Please remember, it will get better!

Mom Loves Best