How my post-natal depression turned out to be anaemia

lonely-1822414_1280Sitting on the edge of the bed in a wet towel I screamed; “Just make it stop! Just make her stop crying!!!” I’d slept, I knew I had, but I was lifeless and empty. I had nothing left to give my non-stop screaming baby.

At this point I knew something was really wrong with me. I was scared. I’d never felt like this before. I’d never been diagnosed with depression or had any previous episodes where I’d felt this low consistently, but baby number 2 seemed to have defeated me. I was sliding into an abyss of never-ending numbness. I was exhausted, I could barely keep my eyes open, and the crying – it was probably easier to identify the times when I wasn’t crying than when I was.

I think I’m depressed

During a visit from the health visitor, who got me to complete the mandatory questionnaire about how I was feeling, I laughed (the first time in ages) when it said something along the lines of; “Do you feel like the days are pointless?” and “Do you find yourself crying for no reason?” All. The. F***ing. Time. Was my answer.

“You’ve registered as being on the scale for post-natal depression,” she said to me.

I can’t say I was surprised. Something was wrong and I knew it. A day after her visit I somehow managed to drag my body out of the house with a 4 year old and my 5 week old baby to go to the library. When I got home, I had a knock on the door from my neighbour.

“I just wanted to let you know that you left your front door open,” he said. “I came in, and said hello, but there was no answer so I shut it for you.” A nervous laugh came out of my mouth as I tried to remember shutting the door but I couldn’t. My memory, which has always been pretty good, was completely blank. I tried to remember what I’d had for breakfast that morning and I couldn’t. I couldn’t remember any of the minor day-to-day details.

I was terrified. What was happening to me?

Why do I feel so strange?

On top of crying all the time, and being utterly exhausted, I was starting to feel dizzy and I was getting heart palpitations on and off during the day.

When I laid down to sleep, it felt like something heavy was sitting on my chest and I couldn’t breathe.

My plentiful milk supply had disappeared almost overnight, and all my food tasted really strange. Spaghetti hoops that tasted like perfume? I’d just had a baby, so granted I wasn’t exactly fit, but hauling myself up the stairs was all it took to leave me feeling like I was on top of a mountain breathing the thinnest air around.

The fog that surrounded my brain was a constant, dull presence that made even the simplest tasks difficult and no matter how much food I ate or sleep I had I was lifeless.

‘Is this what depression feels like?’ I thought.

Accidental diagnosis

By a fortunate coincidence, I’d had some blood tests done at my GP’s about 10 days earlier because I’d had crippling stomach pains after giving birth. The receptionist called to organise a phone consultation with the doctor, and four days later I heard; “Your blood tests have picked up that you’re very anaemic.”

I quickly typed into Google all of my symptoms and low and behold, there they were under anaemia. But there they also were under post-natal depression.

After being grilled by the doctor about my blood loss after birth and telling me perhaps I was bleeding internally (!!!!) I was put on a 6 month course of very high dose iron tablets.

I won’t lie, within about a week of taking them it was like someone had switched the lights back on. The fog that had surrounded my head, had gone and while I was still very tired I could think clearly.

Coincidentally I bumped into my health visitor in the supermarket and she couldn’t believe the transformation. Neither could I.

Don’t be afraid to ask for a blood test

Now I’m not a doctor, but I would urge women everywhere who feel like they might be depressed after having a baby or have been diagnosed with post-natal depression to ask your GP for a blood test. It might not give you any answers, but then again it might.

My experience shows that post-natal depression and anaemia can mimic so many symptoms of each other that it really is worth asking the question.

Post-natal depression symptoms from the NHS website

  • a persistent feeling of sadness and low mood
  • loss of interest in the world around you and no longer enjoying things that used to give you pleasure
  • lack of energy and feeling tired all the time
  • trouble sleeping at night and feeling sleepy during the day
  • feeling that you’re unable to look after your baby
  • problems concentrating and making decisions
  • loss of appetite or an increased appetite (comfort eating)
  • feeling agitated, irritable or very apathetic (you “can’t be bothered”)
  • feelings of guilt, hopelessness and self-blame
  • difficulty bonding with your baby with a feeling of indifference and no sense of enjoyment in his or her company
  • frightening thoughts – for example, about hurting your baby; these can be scary, but they’re very rarely acted upon
  • thinking about suicide and self-harm

Anaemia symptoms from the Boots WebMD website

  • Fatigue and loss of energy
  • Unusually rapid heartbeat, particularly with exercise
  • Shortness of breath and headache, particularly with exercise
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dizziness
  • Pale skin
  • Leg cramps
  • Insomnia

I’ve highlighted the physical symptoms that appear on both lists, but it’s also worth reading this Livestrong article on how anaemia can affect your mental health.

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