Life with young children can be tough – all parents know that. But if every day feels like an impossible battle, maybe it’s time to admit you’re going through more than just a rough patch. That’s certainly something Anna Ceesay believes; the journalist struggled with being pregnant and depressed for some time before admitting she needed help.
Anna, who is 33, says she started to feel anxious and depressed when she was six months pregnant with her second child.
“When I woke up I felt it the most,” she recalls. “It was at those moments, early in the morning, I would feel it physically. I literally felt a sinking feeling in my stomach.”
With a three-year-old daughter to care for, a busy lifestyle and her husband – Rogue One actor Babou Ceesay – working away, she initially dismissed it as inevitable result of trying to cope with everything that was going on. Slowly, though, she realised it was more serious.
Don’t bottle it up
Rather than tell anyone how she was feeling, though, Anna kept her mental health problems to herself. After all, there were too many other things to do – she needed to keep going for the sake of her daughter and to keep life running smoothly.
“You tend to push it to the back of your mind, just carry on with life and carry on with the day to day,” she says in an interview for the BBC. “You put yourself last and keep going on the treadmill of life.”
It was a couple of months before Anna realised she needed help and plucked up the courage to call the PANDAS Foundation helpline – a charity offering advice and support to women suffering from pre and post-natal depression and mental illness.
“Just admitting I needed some support was quite a difficult step for me, because I’m someone who’s always taken pride in being really independent and very strong. To reach out for help is something I’ve never really done before,” says Anna.
Speaking to somebody gave her the impetus to phone Babou, who was in America, and tell him what was going on.
“I’m in the house living every day with her,” he says. “So it was a shock, how she could keep how she really felt to herself. It wasn’t an attempt to cover it up, she wasn’t even fully aware, because it’s gradual.”
Seek professional help
Anna made an appointment to see her GP, but before she could explain exactly how bad she felt she needed to confide her biggest fear – that her daughter might be taken away from her.
“It’s quite scary when you’ve already got children to turn up to the doctor and be like, ‘I don’t thjink I’m mentally well’. I’ve spoken to a lot of women who’ve told me that concerns them, that they don’t want to go to the doctor because they’re worried about the implications for their family and children,” explains Anna.
Luckily, her doctor was able to reassure her. Within two weeks, Anna had her first therapy session with a perinatal psychotherapist. At her second session, when she was almost nine months pregnant, her therapist was able to ease her fears around suddenly discovering she’d need a C-section.
After the birth, Anna took a break but returned to therapy when her son was six weeks old, continuing her sessions for almost five months. She describes it as a life-changing experience.
Support for life
“It taught me that my thoughts don’t need to control me, that I might have anxious thoughts or be affected by low mood, but actually that’s not me.
“It absolutely doesn’t make it go away, and I think most people who have had mental health problems would say the same. It’s not the same as a physical injury where, let’s say you break your leg and then everything is better in a few months. But what it does do it give you the tools to manage it, to feel empowered and say, ‘You know what, I sought help. If I start to feel anxious and low again, I know what I can do’, and that gives you more confidence.”
As a result of her experience, Anna set up Motherdom – a quarterly mental well-being magazine for parents of under-fives.
“When I was at the darkest point, I did feel completely alone. I wasn’t, but that’s how I felt. The nature of any kind of depressive illness is that it makes you feel isolated and I really wished there were more resources out there,” she says.
Essentially, we need to learn to communicate, to talk about and seek treatment for our mental health in the same way we would if we had a physical illness. For mums, while it’s second nature to put our families first, we need to remember our own mental wellbeing is important, too.