Janice went 14 months before we actually had her diagnosed as having postnatal depression. For the first twelve months we had lots of excuses to explain why Janice wasn’t feeling so well. I had just finished doing a college degree, we had moved down from Bendigo to Melbourne so there was a relocation and there was a new job that I was settling into. My daughter also had many ear and throat infections which meant Janice had a lot of sleep deprivation and she was constantly tired so we blamed that for why she wasn’t well.
Towards the last two months, before she was finally diagnosed, I could see that my marriage was breaking up. Janice kept snapping at me…it didn’t matter what I did, she would try to find fault with it. As time progressed this got worse and worse. It appeared to me that she was continually deliberately picking fights with me. She was always finding fault. I just couldn’t do anything right. I could foresee how a couple who got married and were going to live happily ever after would end up in divorce.
At this stage I decided to leave home and go to stay with my parents for two weeks so I could get out of the stressful environment and recharge my batteries to go back and take care of Janice. Emotionally I was finding it very, very difficult.
And then came the great relief. Absolute relief that Janice was actually diagnosed with having an illness. It wasn’t us breaking up, but it was actually the illness that was making Janice behave the way she was. Being an illness it was something that they could treat. They could put a label on it and say it was postnatal depression. As a depression it could be treated and go away and finally I would be able to get my wife back.
This gave me some understanding and the appreciation to realise, and this is what helped me through alot with my struggles with Janice, that it was not Janice snapping at me and biting my head off. It was the postnatal depression changing her behaviour causing her to do this to me.
One night I was considering my vow and what I had said to Janice. I had said that I would marry her and stick with her in sickness and in health. Here came the time, now we were in sickness, that there was a requirement that I maintain this vow. I made a commitment to do so.
One night Janice and I were walking to get some fish and chips. To get to the shop takes about I0 minutes so we were walking along with the baby tucked up in the pram, and all the way there I was telling her
“Janice I love you, I love you”. I was telling her that if she were never to recover I would love her. That if the way she is now is the way she would always be, it didn’t matter, I would love her.
I managed to get through to her that I loved her but it took all the I0 minutes of us walking down there for me to say this because she kept interrupting saying “But you can’t love me, you don’t love me. I don’t love me. I hate the way I am and I hate the way I treat you.” But I convinced her that I loved her. And it wasn’t because of what I said but because I meant what I said.
On the way back from the fish and chip shop Janice opened up to me and she revealed to me that her greatest fear was that I was going to walk out on her, and if I did that she would blame herself. She would say it was her fault because of the way she had been treating me although she didn’t want to treat me that way, she just couldn’t help it.
I think it was from this point that Janice slowly started to get better.
Once we had the diagnosis that Janice had postnatal depression it didn’t take away Janice’s change of behaviour, so there was the requirement that I develop some survival tactics to be able to take care of what was going on.
The first thing I had to deal with was the way Janice kept exploding at me. I found that a very simple and effective way was that when she would explode, and it would continue for four, five maybe six minutes with Janice venting perhaps a week’s anger at me, I would simply stop what I was doing, I would look at her and I would say nothing. Experience had taught me that if I so much as in the slightest way tried to defend myself, it was like trying to put out fire with a can of petrol. It didn’t work.
A classic example was one night when we were doing the dishes and one of the pots had a little bit of custard left on it. That was a catalyst to set Janice off – it wasn’t perfect. She spent a good five minutes rattling off her week’s anger at me. So I put the dishes down and looked at her and she continued and continued and then stormed off, went to the bedroom and slammed the bedroom door. Five minutes later she came out and all in the one breath said to me “You knew I was off my tree didn’t you? I hate you doing that.” And then in the same breath she said “Thank you”. At last we had proof that this was working.
Other times I would come home and find the dishes were half done, the vacuum cleaner was in the lounge, the washing was half done and the bed was half made. What had happened those days was that Janice had started doing the dishes, but the anxiety of doing the housework meant that she had to start the vacuuming and so she would go and do that. While she was doing the vacuuming she would realise that she hadn’t done the washing so she would go and do that. Then she realised she hadn’t done the bed and so she would leave the washing to go and make the bed. Then while doing the bed she would realise she hadn’t finished doing the dishes so she would go back to start the dishes again. While doing the dishes she could see the vacuum cleaner in the lounge so she would start the vacuuming again. This vicious cycle of frantically running around the house would finally get to her and she would realise that she would have to stop. She would spend the rest of the afternoon making herself tea and reading.
So, often I would come home and find the dishes half done, the vacuum cleaner in the lounge, the washing half done and the bed not made. What it meant was that I had to take on the responsibility of the housework when I got home. I would have to do the dishes, vacuuming, washing – hang it out and bring it in and so on.
So it became my responsibility to take care of the house. I also did the cooking most nights of the week. Here we found some help by finding out what was the simplest but most nutritious meal that we could have. And surprisingly baked beans and eggs with toast has a full range of nutrition.
Also it pays to get some help. Janice got a letter from her doctor to say that home-help was necessary because of her psychiatric state. That allowed us to get home-help once a week from the council. My parents came down to stay with us for a week and when they saw the state of what was going on they decided they would stay for 6 months. What they would do was to come down from Kyneton every Monday night and then go home every Thursday or Friday to have time for themselves as they needed to get away too.
For dinner have at least one night out when you go to Pizza Hut or somewhere like that so you are not constantly stuck in the house with the dishes and cooking. Take the kids with you.
Accept any offers of help. If someone comes around and says “I know you are having a bit of trouble. I’ll do the vacuuming”, don’t be too proud. Accept any offers of help.
As for husbands, you will need to have time out for yourself where you escape and do what is necessary for your own self-pleasuring. For me it was model aircraft. I made and flew model aircraft. This is my passion and this is where I spent what spare time I had. It wasn’t much but I did manage to get a couple of planes done.
When the recovery starts you begin by first of all with one good day per week. Then you have two good days per week. Then you progress to three good days per week and you think things are really getting good. A common mistake, I found, was that when Janice was well she would use her good days to catch up with what she hadn’t done during the week. That was a major mistake because every time she did too much she would use up her good health and she would get sick again from doing too much. And if she got sick then we would have to start the cycle all over again where she was well for one day per week, then well for two days the next, etc.
So it became my role as the husband to monitor Janice’s recovery. When she was doing well and she felt that she could cope I got her to write out a list of what she wanted to do that day. I would go through that list and I would strike off at least half of what was on it, and suggest she could do what was left. That way we maintained Janice’s sense of well being because it was very fragile. While she was well it was very easy for her to do too much and become sick again.
Emotionally this was one of the hardest times of Janice’s postnatal depression for me to cope with because one week she would be well and do too much and the next week she would be sick and I knew that we had to start from scratch again. This would be hard on me because I would have to go back to doing all the housework again.
In conclusion I was able to cope with Janice’s postnatal depression because, what I had come to understand was, that it was not Janice. The change in behaviour, her snappiness, her treatment towards me was not Janice. It was the postnatal depression.
At the end of Janice’s recovery I felt like I had given my all, given everything that I had and had nothing left to give. I felt emotionally drained and I felt that I could not handle another bout of PND if it was to happen. Since then we have had another child and again Janice suffered postnatal depression but we were able to understand it and get onto it very quickly.
Now Janice is well, still on medication, but well. Also we are thinking of having another child and maybe another after that to make our family complete. Yes we are prepared to go through postnatal depression again as we have found that postnatal depression is not the end of the world.