I’m super-excited to have a guest post on the blog today from the lovely Hollie Smith. I got to know Hollie online when she put out a call for mums to contribute to a book she was writing. That book is out very soon indeed (details at the bottom of the post), and she has kindly agreed to write me a post for me about one of the topics it touches on.
A bit about me, um, I am 42, married and have two daughters aged ten and eight. First Time Mum is my tenth book (and my last I think, cos I’m knackered!). Before, and in between, books, I scraped a living as a freelance journalist. However, I always found it a pretty demoralising business, and having submitted my last manuscript – in spite of the fact I was staring unemployment in the face – I vowed I was not going back there! So now I blog, instead and write what I like, when I like. I also work part-time as part of the Netmums PR team.
As someone who’s researched and written three separate books about the challenges of early motherhood, there’s a subject that never fails to touch me, every time I return to it: postnatal depression.
When I write about PND, it’s only ever in the third person. Although I struggled to cope in many ways as a new mum I was never, thank God, forced into a state of actual depression. But in the course of my work, many women have shared their PND stories with me, and it’s given me some understanding, I think, of how awful this illness can be.
One thing I’ve learned about postnatal depression is that it’s horribly widespread. That ‘one in ten’ statistic, bandied about as the ‘official’ figure? I reckon that’s bullshit. Some now say it’s closer to one in five – and in fact, research by Netmums concluded as many as half of mums experience it to one degree or another. Truth is, it’s impossible to put an actual figure on it, because thousands no doubt suffer in silence, or even without realising they’ve got it. And yes, it’s an illness which hits at differing levels – for many it will be mild or moderate, whilst a smaller but still significant number will find themselves totally poleaxed.
It seems there’s no definitive ‘cure’ for PND – or even any clear notion of how best to treat it. Different women take different routes: for some, medication proved necessary and effective, whilst for others, ‘talking treatments’ did the job. For many, it was measures of self-help – coupled with one or other of the above, or the simple passing of time – that eventually saw off the postnatal black dog.
And that brings me round to the main point of this post, really, which is that for a number of reasons, blogging can be hugely beneficial for PND sufferers.
It was my host, DorkyMum – better known in real life as Ruth Dawkins – who got me thinking about this matter. She served (valiantly, I might add) on the mums’ panel for my latest book, First Time Mum, and was among those who shared experiences of postnatal depression (among other subjects). Her PND hit home unusually late, but was shattering, nevertheless. ‘I was crazy; angry; exhausted all the time; weepy; resentful of my son; resentful of my husband. I felt like I was entirely not myself,’ she explained in one of her reliably eloquent emails to me.
For Ruth, drugs were not the answer. In fact, they made things worse. So she ditched them and found her own way through the dark, via a combination of acupuncture, exercise, and some time to herself, which she vowed to devote to a creative outlet. Her blog was born – and the rest is history.
‘Blogging reminded me that I’m a person with interests beyond being a mum and a wife, and one of the main symptoms of my PND was that I completely lost sense of that,’ she recalls. ‘I didn’t feel I had much to offer beyond bum-wiping, and when I went to work events with my husband I had no conversation for people. Starting to write again reminded me that there was something I was good at, and that I enjoyed, and it got me interested in the wider world again.’
Whilst Ruth steered clear of PND itself as a subject for blogging, preferring to air her thoughts mainly on domestic experiences and city life, others have dived right in and used their blogs to address the PND experience itself – and admirably so, for in a world where stigma still hovers around the edges of the problem, it takes a brave woman to empty her soul online.
Those who have gone there say that putting your experiences into words and hitting the ‘publish’ button can be immeasurably positive. This was certainly the case for Ella Tabb, AKA Purplemum, and Lexy Ellis, AKA Mammy Woo, who both suffered severe PND and chose to blog about it whilst in its grip – initially from the psychiatric units where they were being treated.
‘Once my first few posts about it were out there, I realised other people were connecting with my story. I even had a few emails from mothers saying I’d encouraged them to go to the doctors or tell their family how they were feeling with their own depression,’ says Ella. ‘It encouraged me to be as honest as I could about the experience. If I was going to share, it would be warts and all. And as an added bonus, pouring my feelings out in such an honest way was incredibly cathartic.’
A desire to help others and de-stigmatise postnatal illness have been the main motivating factors for Lexy. Like Ella, she took a no holds barred approach in describing how her illness affected her: her posts about it are powerful and raw.
‘My motivation is simple,’ she reveals. ‘I felt that if could encourage one other person to get help by being brutally honest about my feelings and thoughts, then it would be worth it. I felt very alone at first, I want to help others who may feel that way, know they are not alone, remind them that post natal depression is not a choice, or a failing on them, but an illness.’
A blog that began as an end-of-pregnancy whim became a blog with a mission for Clara when she developed PND. I Want My Mummy soon became focused on her battle with depression and before long, it became clear she was by no means alone.
‘Once I started being brutally honest about how I felt, I found my readership suddenly went from a few to a tonne – I suppose there’s an element of car crash type voyeurism behind that – but in the same vein really baring my soul in the way that I had started to became addictive,’ she explains.
‘There is also a lot to be said for putting things into black and white, it anchors very flighty feelings into reality and helps me to order what is going on in my mind at the time. Plus there is something hugely cathartic about letting my thoughts and emotions flow out through my fingertips and into print.’
And if you’re already a well-established blogger when PND strikes, what then? For Karin Joyce of Café Bebe it was a no-brainer. As she already blogged about ‘pretty much everything’ before being diagnosed with PND earlier this year, after the birth of her second child Sam, it seemed totally natural to publish posts about that, too.
‘I didn’t worry about what people would think, I just knew that I wasn’t the only one to suffer from PND and wanted to make it ok to talk about it,’ she says. ‘Also, writing is a sort of therapy for me. And I think more people should talk about their challenges. If more people did there wouldn’t be such a stigma attached to depression.’
One woman who needs no convincing about the power of blogging as therapy is Ellen Arnison. Having first shared experiences and expressed her thoughts on PND, and mental health in general, on her blog, In a bun dance, she went on to write a book about it: Blogging for Happiness. And it doesn’t really matter, she points out, whether you blog the gritty details of what you’re going through, or whether you blog about something else entirely: either way, it can be a tonic.
‘I was already utterly convinced of the power of the blog by the time I was diagnosed with PND,’ Ellen recalls. ‘I used my blog as a first line of therapy at first. I was so swamped by what was going on in my head I was really worried that the children would be missing out on me. My solution was to try to blog one funny or sweet thing about each of them every day. That was all to start with. It really helped, I began moving out of my own misery and paying attention to them for a while every day. Later, I made use of all the other benefits from blogging that include community, self-analysis and humour.’
So it can be cathartic – or a welcome distraction. It can offer reassurance to others in the same boat. And it can challenge stigma. But there’s one other factor that makes blogging through PND so potentially positive, and it’s something you wouldn’t get if you opened your heart in a book, a magazine feature, or a diary. When you blog, you reach out to an interactive community. And that means there’s a flipside to providing support for your readers: your readers provide support for you. Which is perhaps the most healing thing of all.
‘They encouraged me to fight, even when I wanted to die,’ recounts Lexy. ‘They reminded me in droves that I was worth fighting for. They kept me going. I felt loved and wanted. I’ll never be able to thank them enough.’
Ella agrees. ‘Blogging was a lifesaver in the unit. It was a connection to support, and a community who genuinely cared and visited and commented on each post,’ she says. ‘I believe it helped me to heal.’
And so too, does Clara. ‘I can’t even begin to explain how much it has helped me and what a huge thing it is to me when people take the time to not only read my words but to reply through comments or tweets or emails or texts with support and empathy and positivity and kindness,’ she says. ‘It only takes one person to leave words of encouragement and a huge cloud can be lifted.’
I’m not suggesting that blogging is a panacea for PND. If you’re a sufferer, you may find it helps in a small way rather than a big way – or perhaps not at all. And it’s worth noting a point from Ruth, here, that blogging can probably only ever be one tool in anyone’s mental health toolkit.
But surely it’s got to be worth trying, if you’re unlucky enough to be in the throes of this unkind condition? Surely there’s nothing to lose – and so very much to gain.
You may even find, like Lexy, that it turns out to be one of the best things you ever did.
As she puts it: ‘Blogging saved my life. It’s the reason I’m still here.’
First Time Mum by Hollie Smith, published by White Ladder Press, is out on August 2 and is available from Amazon (also on Kindle).