An anonymous story of addiction and perinatal mental health. For Maternal Mental Health Matters Awareness Week. This story not only highlights the need for a mother & baby unit in Wales it also shows that there is even less support for mums suffering from a dual diagnosis. I am afraid it is not just Wales that lacks this support.
One brave mum shares her story with me.
If you met me now you wouldn’t even think I was a recovering alcoholic, you would probably say that I am not the type. Believe me, alcoholism like mental illness does not discriminate. It can happen to anyone.
I started drinking young, I think I was in my last year of high school. It was around the time my paranoia started. I didn’t know it at the time but this was the start of schizophrenia.
School life was awful. I was convinced classmates didn’t like me. I would hear them whispering behind my back. I even thought my best friend was talking about me at times. I took a lot of time off school and I often felt like a failure.
Looking back and knowing schizophrenia can cause these symptoms, I understand that it was all in my head. I was pretty depressed as a teenager.
Turning to drink was an escape for me. I felt alive! I was invincible, I had confidence and I didn’t give a s**t what people thought. I applied the attitude of ‘if you don’t like it, lump it’. When drinking I found the hallucinations I experienced were not bothersome, they were less scary and sometimes non existent.
What goes up, does indeed come down. Drink didn’t always make me feel great. At the peak of my addiction I was downing a half bottle of Vodka before heading out in the morning. I would then continue to drink all day, mini bottles of wine would fill my large handbag.
I would end up passing out. I would wake the next morning, shaking uncontrollably, I would reach for my Vodka and carry on. This viscous circle continued for years until I had an emergency detox.
I was deeply depressed, I was done with fighting with strangers. I looked in the mirror, I was a shadow of myself. I took an overdose.
Emergency services were called and they took me straight to Hospital. They attached me to a load of drips and told my partner I may not make it through the night. My body was giving up. I was starved of nutrients and severely underweight. Whilst removing the overdose from my body they decided to detox me. I can still remember the smell of the detox drip.
I woke up the following day sober. Everything was clear but I felt confused. The only way I could describe it was like being awake for the first time in years.
From there I managed to stay sober, and a year later I found out I was pregnant. I didn’t have any counselling for my addiction, I felt I didn’t need it. I was wrong.
At my 12 week scan and booking I had a chat with the Elan team. The Elan team support mums to be with a history of addiction. After a chat with the Elan midwife she said I didn’t need to be under her care. I had my addiction well under control, so there was no need.
My pregnancy seemed to last forever. It was a good pregnancy, I was excited and happy. My addiction didn’t even enter my mind. I had a perinatal psychiatrist and my usual psychiatrist.
After a traumatic birth. I was sent home with my beautiful baby. The first few nights were hellish. I loved my baby but I felt out of control. My schizophrenia was playing up and my breakthroughs (hallucinations whilst medicated) were getting more frequent.
I was suffering from postpartum psychosis, but to me it felt like my schizophrenia. I believe this was an episode triggered by the traumatic birth.
Feeling out of sorts, I bought a bottle of wine with the intention of just having one. I’d just given birth, I was entitled to it surely! Everyone else got to wet the babies head, why not me!?
Looking back I feel I used giving birth as an excuse to drink. Us alcoholics make any excuse to have a drink when we want one.
That one glass quickly turned into a bottle a night. I genuinely thought I’d beat my addiction. I was in control of the drink!
The drink did not help my mental health at all. Before I knew it, I was in a deep, dark, depression. I was paranoid of everyone.
Why did people want to come to my house to see the baby? What was their intentions? Were they going to report me to the social?
I didn’t think I had a problem, it was other people out to get me. They wanted me to fail at being a mum.
My anxiety and paranoia was so severe that I started to drink in the day. It was the only thing that got me out of the house. I did mange to hide it for a while. I said that it was not an addiction, I had the drink under control.
Again, looking back it amazes me that people close did not pick up on the addiction again. Any opportunity to have a drink was taken. I would suggest to friends that we meet in a pub for food rather than a coffee shop, just so I could have an afternoon drink before the shakes came.
I carried on like this for a few more weeks, thinking I was fine. Then one day it hit me, I was a bad mum. I was thinking about alcohol more than my baby. I was wanting to pick up the life before my detox but this was not an option, things had changed. I was depended upon.
I started to feel more low. I was dealing with psychosis, paranoia, and now guilt! I wanted to die, I wanted to feel different.
I realise now that part of my drinking was to numb my feelings for my baby. I was scared that he would be taken off me so I didn’t want to get attached.
I think that the thought of my baby being taking off me manifested while I was pregnant. I was told more often than not that with my history of mental health and addiction, I would have the baby taken from me. Its hard to say this but family members put this thought in my head.
I decided I needed help before I did anything stupid again. I made contact with a few addiction charities. They were happy to help me but I could not bring my baby along to the groups. This wasn’t an option, I didn’t trust anyone with my baby!
I spoke to my psychiatrist about a mother and baby unit. I was told that the mother and baby unit in Wales was closed so I could not go there. Units in England wouldn’t take me if I was an alcoholic, I needed to be detoxed before they would help!!
I was angry because my alcohol consumption was not as bad as before. I wouldn’t say I was dependant. I think if they had taken me to hospital it would of stopped me having access to the drink.
I called my local drugs and alcohol team. I pleaded with them to detox me. They said there was a year long waiting list. I would have to have an assessment to get on the list. For fear of being reported to the social I hung up the phone. I didn’t give them my name or address.
I knew I couldn’t be an alcoholic and a mum. Luckily my partner was always around to help me with the baby and the baby was never in any danger. Things could have been so different if I was a single mum.
I couldn’t live like this anymore. I needed to do things my way. I decided to detox myself. I abstained from alcohol and took sedatives to numb the unwanted effects of going cold turkey.
Home detox is very dangerous. I was stupid enough to do it myself but I urge others to seek help from their local drugs and alcohol team.
After this I had a chat to my psychiatrist who increased my antipsychotic medication. Slowly I started to feel more like me. I went to a few AA (meetings for those recovering from an alcohol addiction) meetings when I felt up to it and they really helped me. The fellowship is amazingly supportive.
“I just wish there was more for recovering parents”
I feared the addiction and depression would ruin my relationship with my baby, but my bond with my child was not hindered. We have an amazing connection.
I just hope that in the future dual diagnosis will be considered when relating to perinatal mental illness. Social services are taking babies away from mums who just need mental health support. When mental health plays up it is very common for past addiction to resurface.
I most definitely needed a mother and baby unit, so I hope the unit in Wales is reopened.
You can search drug and alcohol teams in Wales here – http://dan247.org.uk/Services_Drugs_Alcohol.asp