Bernadette McElligott lives in Limerick City with her husband and children. She enjoys photography, getting out into nature and crafting. Following the birth of her son 30 years ago, Bernadette started to experience what she now knows was postnatal depression. After being initially brushed off by her GP, Bernadette sought the help she needed and began the journey back to herself.
This is Bernadette’s story.
One of my biggest challenges in life was admitting there was something wrong when I didn’t know what it was.
After I had my son, who is 31 now, I think I was going through postnatal depression but it was misdiagnosed by my doctor. He told me not to be silly. He was very old fashioned. It was completely brushed off. I was told that this was to be expected after having a baby.
I was very good at keeping it bottled up and putting on a big smiley face, pretending everything was fine even though I was so sad all the time. It felt like I was failing life. I had this thing in my head that if I wasn’t the perfect mother, the perfect wife that someone was going to say I shouldn’t be bringing up this child. I’d be up til 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning cleaning the house in case someone came along and said I wasn’t managing. The ironic thing was that I wasn’t managing.
I was very happy in my life but there was just something not right. I couldn’t stop thinking negative thoughts. When I went to counselling, I realised I was wearing a mask in front of everyone.
Things were very dark, like a big black cloud over everything. I couldn’t see a future. I was planning my escape all the time, not thinking how it was affect my family. I just wanted to get away. I wanted it to stop. I just couldn’t see a way out. It was as if my brain never stopped talking.
I just to want to run away, from planning the trip to thinking about where I’d get a job and go where nobody knew me. It was always Galway. That was in my head the whole time. I’d go to Galway and get a job in a McDonald’s there.
I’d tell myself, what are you depressed about? You’ve a lovely husband, a lovely baby, a lovely house. It was just very difficult.
I then changed doctors and as soon as I told her something wasn’t right in my life, she picked up on that.
Going to the doctor and saying to her that I just couldn’t go on changed things. I was very lucky to have an understanding doctor. If I didn’t, I don’t know where I’d be.
I did counselling and went on medication. I remember that turning point when I started to feel like myself again. It was only then that I realised how low I’d been.
Around six years ago, I went back to counselling again. She was very good. I found that things kept coming up about my past. One thing my therapist said was that I had no voice when I was growing up. I was told to be quiet, be good. Lots of things happened to me in my childhood and I didn’t have a voice. I was afraid of my father. You just didn’t make noise. I was always the peacemaker. I always kept everything in. I was always the good girl. I think this could have had an effect on my depression as an adult.
I was keeping things bottled in. When I first went on antidepressants, I felt pure ashamed. I couldn’t tell anyone, except my husband and one of my sisters. I remember being in hospital getting a procedure and they asked me what medication I was on, and I was too ashamed to tell them.
The second time around, a few years later was much easier. It was different. I was older and am very open about it now. It’s not the worst thing in the world. I’m always hoping that someone will notice this and it’ll be easier for them if they’re going through something similar. I wouldn’t want anyone to go through what I went through.
I do think we’ve come a long way, but we’ve still a long way to go in understanding and accepting mental health. You know if you see a post on Facebook, ‘the door is always open’ and that, but how do you know if someone is really going to answer the door to you at 2 o’clock in the morning if you need help? We need to make sure that door is always open in real life.
What I learnt in counselling was that my feelings matter. They’re valid. If anyone was struggling with something, I’d always recommend going to a counsellor. They pick up on things you don’t even realise yourself. If you feel as if you’re not being listened to with your own GP, find another one who will.