Last week, was my book launch. It was quite something, standing room only at the back. People even laughed. And in the right places too.
I did the questions in a different way asking people to either write questions on paper or tweet with the #rattledlaunch. This was to encourage questions from less confident people, or those with a lived experience. We’ve all been at questions at the end of talks that have been derailed by a certain type of shall we say ‘assertive’ person.
Anyway, here are a selection of Q&As
Reach out and ask for help. What is happening to you is incredibly scary, but treatable. You will recover.
I think a lot of women who are experiencing mental health problems after birth don’t ask for help or even tell anyone about it because they are terrified their kid will be taken away from them. I want families in that situation to know about me. That I thought I was Cameron Diaz at my six-week check, that I thought I was going to cure cerebral palsy with dental floss and they still didn’t take my baby away. I was lucky to have had access to a mother and baby unit (even though I didn’t like it at the time) as it meant I could be in hospital but not separated from my son. Unfortunately, not all women are so lucky. But Maternal Mental Health Alliance has been working tirelessly to improve the coverage of Mother and Baby Units in the UK, so things are getting better at least in this country.
Also, try and get yourself a Kai!
Luckily I didn’t get writer’s block. I started writing in earnest just when my son was about six months old and started stringing together his short day time naps into an hour and a half or two-hour block. As soon as I lay him in his cot, I was crack open the laptop, make a tea and type away until he woke up. I did that every weekday and had the first draft in six months. I don’t know if I would have written more if I’d had more time. Sometimes having a restriction like that can help with creativity or productivity. Some people have said to me, how the hell did you write a book in maternity leave, while recovering from postnatal depression? Well, that’s how I did it. Also as I write for a living for a lot of my job as a fundraiser, I’m used to just sitting down and getting on with writing. It also helps to have an incredibly supportive partner and parents.
The most difficult part of the book wasn’t hard from an emotional perspective, it was hard technically. My first draft of the night with the most vivid delusions when I ‘went back in time’ was awful. Have you ever listened to a friend telling you about a dream they’ve had and you JUST WANT IT TO STOP? That was how it read. To improve it, I fictionalised it just a bit. For example, I gave the people involved names, when I don’t remember knowing their names in the delusion. There are some purists in creative non-fiction who say you must never make things up, but here is my logic. My mind/brain made up the delusions when I wasn’t well, my mind/brain made up the names when I was. As in the delusion, the people were as real to me as you all are, and real people have names, I felt it was the right thing to do.
I want more people to know about postpartum psychosis. It is described as a rare illness, 1 – 2 women in every 1,000 births. But when you think about how many babies are born every year that is a lot of families affected. It can be a very dangerous illness as sometimes women hurt themselves or their baby, so the earlier you get medical help, the better. I also want people to know you can get very ill, have this disaster happen to you, but recovery is possible. With the right treatment recovery from PPP is more than possible. Although some have ongoing health issues (like I do) most women can live full and happy lives. I got an email from one woman who’d had PPP saying she’d never been able to explain to anyone what it was like for her, even to her husband, but now she just gives people my book. That is the sort of impact I want to have.
In terms of PND, again I want people (dads can get it too) to feel they can ask for help, and for those around them to notice if they are struggling. Suicide is a leading cause of death for women who have a baby aged between 0 – 12 months. Suicide is also a preventable cause of death. I hope my book will be part of helping to prevent it.
Also, I think it is essential to hear more voices from women who’ve triumphed over adversity. Most women don’t have time to write a book in the first year of their child’s life. There are lots of voices we are missing out on. I want this book to have broad appeal as I want more women’s stories out there too.
Yes please, Dyanne – Trigger can you organise? 🙂
Will – I don’t know about any changes in the incidence of PPP and PND. I’ll see if I can find out.
Nyncompoop – I think, as my parents and husband had been there for me almost through the whole thing, I don’t think anything was a massive shock to them. I showed a draft to my parents and Kai first before sending it to be published and changed anything they didn’t like. As they are proud of me, it hasn’t been hard for me, so that was lovely. I do think it has been hard for some people who love me to read, though.
As my sister, Jo isn’t able to read much as her illness affects her concentration, my parents read it with her in mind and made sure they thought she would be comfortable with the things I’ve revealed.
Joe, I think support and encourage them to get help as soon as possible. And try to encourage them to take medication if the doctors have suggested this. I know it is scary to take antipsychotic medication. It just feels so extreme, but the drugs are effective and work relatively fast for most people. Try and encourage and support them in their parenting. Appreciate the huge effort that the person is making. It is likely they feel like they are a terrible parent. Talk to them about how well they are doing (with specific examples if you can) and reassure them that what they are experiencing is temporary.
If you are worried that they are suicidal, ask them directly. The common assumption is that if you ask it will somehow put the idea in someone’s head. Not true. Poppy Jaman, CEO, Mental Health First Aid England says:
‘The biggest myth we need to bust is that talking about suicide increases the risk of someone taking their own life when in reality talking is the most powerful first step towards safety…’
Here are some questions you could ask suggested by people who have been suicidal. If you are worried about someone take action straight away and get emergency medical help.
In terms of what to avoid, I was lucky I didn’t have anyone saying anything to majorly crap to me but have heard terrible things. I know one woman at the moment with severe PND who’s parents in law have told her she is lazy. Please never say this. Here are some suggestions from Huffington Post.
Kai asked ‘How do you feel about the upcoming Louis Theroux documentary focusing on PPP?
A mixture of feelings really, mainly I’m excited because he has such a big profile, it will raise awareness of the illness and hopefully mean more women get the help they need when they need it. And selfishly, maybe it’ll help sell some books. But nervous too as he tends to do documentaries about people on the fringes of our society, who are weird or strange. I hope he is sympathetic to the women he speaks too and doesn’t sensationalise things too much. But I think he is a kind and sensitive man, so I hope it’ll be done well. It is also weird for me personally to think about watching footage of women behaving strangely and think, that was me. I did that. Or worse. But I think I’ll be OK.
Thanks to everyone for coming along. I had a blast.
If you weren’t able to make it but have a burning question, fire away below…
And don’t forget you can get your copy of Rattled here.