Like most mornings, I woke up nauseous, but I was catching up with friends so tried to push through. I got out the rice cake and sat in front of the TV. A good 20 minutes later, I looked down and half the cracker was still there. I just couldn’t do it. So I got ready and headed out the door. Cristian was spending the morning with Marc so I just had myself to worry about. It will pass. I thought to myself. I can do this. It’s just morning sickness, nothing to worry about.
At breakfast, myself and my other nauseously pregnant friend, ordered vegemite toast and apple juice. What an exciting breakfast out. However, the distraction of the conversation seemed to make the morning sickness fade. So I went along with my day, finishing up breakfast and then heading home to see my boys. The drive home wasn’t great. My stomach was turning and I could taste the apple juice coming back up. Would I make it home? Do I have a plastic bag in the car just in case I don’t? I could feel my breath quicken so I opened the window to allow some cold air on my face. For a moment, it helped.
As I walked in the door, Cristian came running like a ball of energy, whilst I was pale as a ghost and ready to collapse. Thankfully Marc was able to divert Cristian so that I could take some medication, drink some water and just relax. I think the hardest part of it all, was feeling so awful around Cristian. As the afternoon progressed I continued to feel worse, I felt weak and I felt sick. For many pregnant women this is nothing out of the ordinary, just some morning sickness. But for me it brought panic, it brought anxiety and it was the worst thing I could think of.
That evening, Cristian and Marc sat down to dinner, I was pacing around the living area, clutching at my stomach and my chest. My breaths were short and quick; my voice began to quiver as I mumbled things like, “What’s wrong with me?”, “Why me?”, “I can’t do this.” And the worst part, trying to hide my panic from Cristian. Marc proceeded to say things like, “You will be ok”, “What can I do?”, “Take some breaths.” I know he was doing his best, but I was too far gone. I felt nothing could help in that moment.
I just made it to the bathroom, head in the bowl, and there it went, the little food I had for the day. Most other days this would make me feel a little better. But not on that day, things actually got worse. Pale faced and weak, I made my way back to the kitchen. With panic in my eyes, I looked at Marc, praying that he could take this away. In that moment, I recognised the feeling and I realised what this was, a panic attack. This was not my first ever panic attack. Nor was it the first in my pregnancy, but of course, in the moment it felt like the worst ever. It felt like the end.
It was really hard to explain the thoughts in my mind, as I didn’t even know what I was actually panicking about. Was it because I was scared for the baby? Yes. Was it because I was so weak and tired? Yes. I’m sure to many of you this probably seems irrational and nothing to ‘panic’ about. But if you have anxiety and if you suffer from panic attacks, you will understand and agree, that in those moments, every thought is overwhelming. The thought of throwing up, the thought of not, the thought of the baby, the thought of sleeping. Literally every thought made me panic more. I couldn’t switch it off.
The ambulance was called to ensure baby was fine and I was given the all clear. After being checked I felt a little more relaxed. I felt reassured that the baby was fine and so was I. So with an empty stomach, I made my way to bed. I put on my favourite show, Will & Grace, as a distraction and slowly drifted off, all in the hope that the worst had passed. Little did I know that this was just the beginning.
I woke before the rest of the house, and I woke in a panic. This was not a good start. I left the room quickly as I didn’t want to disturb Marc. I entered the living area and was looking around for answers. I had no idea what the questions were but I was frantic. I called my mum as she is a solid support for any moment I need her. After a very short time she realised that I was in a bad way and so she made her way to me. I headed back to bed to wake Marc, as by this stage my breath was so panicked that my lips were tingling and I felt myself almost blackout.
By then, I felt my whole body just weaken, I lay in the bed and rolled from side to side. Don’t ask me why, I felt like I wasn’t even in my own body at the time. Marc and my mum tried many things to pull me out of the moment, but nothing was helping. The ambulance arrived, and once again all was ‘fine’. But I was not fine, I had passed out numerous times and was in tears.
As the paramedics left and the panic attack faded away, I was left in the bed with a tightness in my chest and an emptiness. The thought of leaving the bed or having a shower made me anxious. I needed someone to tell me what to do next, as I couldn’t trust my own mind. For most of the day I felt like only a shell of myself. And the guilt of not being able to care for Cristian made the whole situation feel even more overwhelming.
For the next couple of months, I grappled with anxiety. My anxiety was closely linked to my morning sickness. When I felt sick, I felt anxious. I knew this, therefore I tried to control my sickness, I trialled various strategies, from eating a cracker before I even sat up in bed to avoiding large meals at any time of the day. I was scared to be alone with Cristian. What if I have a panic attack? What if I collapse? What would happen to him? In order to control those fears, I put in place various plans as to what I would do. This, in turn, assisted in keeping me calm.
Months went on and the anxiety was gone, or so I thought. I was sure that with the morning sickness having passed that was the end of anxiety for me. But I realise now that although there may be many months or even years passed, anxiety is something that is a part of me and will creep up at times. After Sofia was born I had another slight attack. Was it the stress of a newborn? Was it sleep deprivation? I can’t truly tell you, but what I do know is that it caught me by surprise. And after almost a year of nothing, bang, there it was again. And this time I felt I had to excuse, no reason for its return. I wasn’t pregnant, I didn’t have a new baby, so why was this happening again? I returned to my psychologist and even had to turn to some medication in moments of panic attacks. This was a really tough decision for me because I didn’t want to need them. It has taken some time to accept that I will have panic attacks, they may come out of the blue and I may need to take something to help them pass.
I chose to not be ashamed, I chose to speak up. In the thick of it, I relied on my ‘village of support’, the people who I could count on in the crucial moments and always without judgment. Those who would listen, those who would do what they could. Both professional and not, if it weren’t for them the road would’ve been a lot more difficult to take alone. In my pregnancy, I had to work with my obstetrician to control my morning sickness. I worked with a psychologist to help control my thoughts and my fears. Talking about it was just what I needed. I did talk about it with Marc, family and friends, but professional help is what I needed. I was not ashamed, I was not embarrassed, I knew that it is what I needed to ensure I could enjoy my pregnancy, enjoy time with Cristian and be happy in myself. I couldn’t continue with the anxiety taking over my day, not allowing me to eat, not allowing me to sleep and not allowing me to feel in control.
Every panic attack is different; every person’s anxiety will vary. Being stressed and suffering from anxiety are such different things. And I think that at times, people with mental illnesses are looked at as people who choose to feel that way, or are overreacting to situations. In my rational state now, I look back as I write this, and see that my panic was over such minor things, but in those moment those feelings were not minor and I couldn’t just ‘get over it’ as many believe. I was not in control. Anxiety is not a choice; it is a mental illness; this is something we all need to remember.
So there it is, a small snapshot of my relationship with anxiety. I decided to share this to raise awareness of the differing impact mental health can have on individuals. The more people who are willing to share their journey, the more acceptance and understanding it will encourage.
Here is a little cheat sheet for you all. This page shares a list of things that helped me personally and a resource list of places to reach out to for support and assistance with mental illness.
Phone Apps that I used for meditation and relaxation.
1. Smiling Mind – a great app for all ages, not only for people with a mental health illness, but also to bring balance to your day.
2. Mind the Bump – a mindfulness meditation tool created for individuals and couples preparing for a baby
3. Relax Melodies – white noise/ nature music to help quiet your mind and tune out of the stress of the day
Websites and Organisations who offer assistance for mental health
1. PANDA – assistance in the recovering of post and antenatal depression and anxiety
2. Beyond Blue – a base for information and support for all ages
3. Headspace - a foundation providing support for 12 – 25 year olds.
If you have concerns about your mental health, call or see your doctor to help create a plan to support you.