Having spent a fair amount of time at the MBU, I was able to see many different women come and go. As much as I was happy for the women that were discharged, I was hit by unexpected jealousy as well. Jealousy and then self incrimination. “What is wrong with me?! What can’t I get my act together and get better like everyone else?!”.
But aside from that, what struck me was just how different we all were. I began to see that postnatal mental illness spared no one. No cohort, no demographic group, nobody. There were older women, first time mums, black women, white women, Catholics, Muslims, professionals, teenagers, city women, country women, single parents, smokers, vegetarians and everyone in between. This is why I feel it is so important for EVERYONE to be aware of mental illness, particularly in the postnatal period. You never think it’s going to be you. Your partner. Your daughter. Your mother.
Anyway, although I was in the MBU for a significant amount of time, there was one woman, let’s call her Sophie, who had been there longer. We didn’t really speak much, but we were always kind of aware of each other. Every time I had a meltdown I’d glance around and see her in the background, pretending to ignore me. But that’s ok I pretended to ignore a few of her outbursts too.
One night, increasingly frustrated by my lack of sleep, I stormed out to the nurses station to try and get some sleeping pills. Sophie was waiting there too and we awkwardly stood next to each other for a few minutes.
Finally Sophie asked: “can’t sleep?”.
“What’s sleep?” I replied with a wry smile. Sophie laughed and then gestured to our dressing gowns.
“We should swap” she said. I looked down and noticed we were both wearing purple gowns. She was short in stature and wearing a long gown trailing the ground, I’m tall and was wearing a short gown cropped below the knee. I laughed and then saw the nurses arriving back at the station.
“You should take this,” she said, thrusting a magazine into my hands. “If you can’t sleep. It always helps me sleep.” I thanked her. I was willing to do anything to get some sleep, and read whatever this magazine may be.
Later back in my room, having been denied medication, I took out the magazine and started to read. And would you believe it? I actually fell asleep! I kept it in my room for emergencies. Nightmares. Insomnia. It was a first aid kit for the weary. When I left the MBU I made sure to leave my magazine on the nightstand, just in case someone else should need it.
Sophie and I were both discharged within days of each other. I still think about her a lot, and I hope that she is doing well.
The magazine? It turned out to be a Coles advertising booklet. Perhaps it was the boredom of reading it that worked so well for us. Or perhaps it was just the comfort of knowing someone else was going through the same thing. Either way, I do remember having a fair few dreams about cooking… 😉