Fearful of the Night: On Postnatal Depression and Anxiety

But, to make the build work financially, we had to throw everything at it. My husband worked full time and then went to the site until three a.m. most nights. We got babysitters because they were cheaper than builders and had date nights till midnight together, laying on primer and colour, and stuffing ducting and cubic meters of insulation into the framework. My mother came up for a week here and there so we could have more building date-nights, and so I could write and the kids wouldn’t shut my laptop on my fingers. I sold our old house myself to save on real-estate fees and then we house-sat for almost three months. When he wasn’t working on the house or at his job, my husband was overseas and I was left moving all of our possessions to a new house-sitting place every week or fortnight to save on rent. And we got burgled, twice.

We have a new home. We are so lucky. So, so lucky. But basking in today’s sunshine, I freely admit it was too much for me.

The night-time, when the kids were in bed, was darker than it should have been. I didn’t have postnatal depression, but, like my friend before me, I desperately needed to sleep, and I couldn’t. My brain became tangled in a mess of fear over what was about to happen on the site, what was happening with my children as they negotiated living in a new place so often, what would happen tomorrow or next week or next month. I was sure my husband was about to die in a plane crash/motorbike accident/building-site accident/gang-break-in gone wrong/crossing the road. I was sure my children were suffering and that I was the problem and should just go away for a while so they didn’t need to watch me cry. I lost weight. I felt guilty that I felt these things. I was fine. I could cope. I decided that I needed to push them down and just get through it.

I was crying five times a day. In the supermarket aisle (secretly, silently). In the car outside kindergarten (messily, quickly). In the living room of a stranger’s house (hopelessly, loudly), when the children were asleep in borrowed beds and my husband was still away.

I was crying five times a day. In the supermarket aisle (secretly, silently). In the car outside kindergarten (messily, quickly). In the living room of a stranger’s house (hopelessly, loudly)…

It was my friend who came over when I sobbed down the phone to her. My friend who I had watched dissolving, who came to my rescue. Her regimen of anti-depressants and sleeping pills had had an almost immediately positive effect for her, but, when she came out of the initial stages of her depression she was still dazed that everything had gone wrong so quickly. However, faced with me melting in front of her, she wasn’t lost or dazed – she was amazing. ‘This is too much,’ she said to me. ‘It’s too much for anyone.’ She gave me permission to collapse properly – to collapse in front of someone, instead of in secret. And, for me, that helped immeasurably. I was still scared of the terrifying future out the front door. But I could tell her about it. And from there, I found I could tell a couple of other friends about it, so I didn’t have to sit in it every night, alone. For me, too, there was an end-date to the madness: the build would finish; I would stop having to pack and move and write about houses. My friend laid all that out for me. Then she gave me permission to talk and melt and be a mess anyway.

Now that I am sitting in the sunshine looking forward again, I am thankful for good friends who believe that talking is important. Who don’t let me hide. Who encourage me to cry and call me on my crap with open hearts willing to hear it all. I am glad I’m not fearful of the night anymore and that I know where to turn should it ever start getting too dark again. I am thankful to have seen anxiety and to have been able to move through it without getting stuck. I am grateful the sun is out and my children are well, and while there are still All Of The Things on my to-do list, I can work through them one by one. I am glad to have my nights back. Although I guess that means something entirely different when you’re a doctor.

“When We Remember to Breathe”, by Michele Powles and Renee Liang, is available from www.magpiepulp.com, or as an Ebook. You can also follow Magpie Pulp on Facebook and Instagram

Despite training in law (or perhaps because of it), Michele has been a dancer, producer and writer across the globe, from India to Bosnia, Brazil to Edinburgh. She is now the mother of two small, loud boys, who seem equally obsessed with creating new worlds (mostly under their beds). Her fiction and non-fiction has been published widely and broadcast for radio both in New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Michele was New Zealand’s 2010 Robert Burns Fellow. As an emerging screenwriter, she was one of eight film makers selected for New Zealand’s 2018 Film Up programme.

Renee, a second-generation Chinese Kiwi, is a poet, playwright, paediatrician, medical researcher and fiction writer. She has collaborated on visual arts works, film, opera and music, produced and directed theatre works, worked as a dramaturge, taught creative writing and organized community-based arts initiatives. She organises community arts events such as NewKiwi Women Write, a writing workshop series for migrant women. She contributes to The Big Idea, which links New Zealand’s arts community. Renee has written, produced and toured seven plays. In 2018, she was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the arts.

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