Last week I hit rock bottom.
It was Monday morning, the baby was having a nap and I had an hour before I had to get her up and fed and get myself to buggy fit. To maximise the baby-free time I had, I was ironing. I was suddenly overcome with how unhappy I was, and found myself crying dramatically. I collapsed to the floor clutching the ironing board and gasping for air in-between sobs.
18 months ago I would have been in work, probably with a hot cup of tea, having my morning meeting with my team, talking about whatever tech project we were doing. I would be wearing heels, and a fairly tight-fitting dress, and a normal bra which my pre-breastfeeding boobs would pertly sit in. I would laugh easily and see the fun in everything. At lunch I would go to the gym and do a high impact, high intensity work-out. After work I would probably go for a pint with friends, or I could meet my husband for dinner, or go to the cinema or do anything I wanted. It was a different time, and a different me and I am mourning the loss of her.
I have, what I am repeatedly told is, an ‘easy’ baby, I had an ‘easy’ labour, I have an incredible husband, I have a supportive family, and yet, I am so desperately unhappy it sometimes hurts to breathe. Throughout this whole mad process of creating a tiny human I have lost myself, I don’t recognise my body, or my mind or my life. I feel trapped, and repeatedly ask myself ‘is this it?’.
Where did the fit, happy, ambitious, light-hearted woman go?!
Whilst crumpled on the floor clinging onto the clean laundry crying my heart out, the urge to run away was overwhelming, and so (after arranging suitable child-care) that’s what I did.
On Friday afternoon I drove from Kingston to the South Downs to go and stay in a Shepherds hut I found on airbnb. I went armed with my walking boots, kindle, notepad, some food and a bottle of wine. I needed to clear my head, take some time to reflect and physically exhaust myself in a way I hadn’t been able to do since before I was pregnant. I needed to rediscover me. Me without a baby or husband or anyone else who expected or needed anything from me. I finished breastfeeding two weeks ago and it marked the end of 15 months having to share my body in some way with someone else. I needed to reclaim it.
The Shepherd’s hut was perfect.
It was located in the grounds of the most beautiful house but tucked away where no-one could see overlooking a little lake. I spent the first evening having a glass of wine whilst revising the walking route I had been given by the couple that run the hut, a 20km walk along the undulating hills of the South Downs Way. It was so peaceful, just the sound of owls and crickets kept me company and I felt my shoulders drop a little and my breath deepen, I was by myself and I didn’t have to be anywhere.
In the morning after a lazy start I packed my rucksack with some food, waterproof and a map and headed off for the start of my walk. Within minutes I knew this had been what I needed, the sun was shining and the lack of buggy to push made me feel light and springy. I briskly walked through fields and paced up the first big hill. The physical exertion and the sunshine on my bare arms warmed my skin, and the smell of sweat mixed with the sound of my heaving breathing brought back many memories of various half marathons and triathlons I have done in the past. My first realisation: I miss having a physical challenge to work towards.
I pushed on through an overgrown path of wild flowers and clouds of butterflies erupted around me. It was beautiful and I couldn’t help smiling and cooing with delight at the sight of it. After a good 30 minutes of walking uphill the trees finally gave way to the most breathtaking view across Sussex right to the coast. It was stunning and I felt so lucky to be able to enjoy this moment, huge expanses of hills, fields, distant towns and so much sky! It reminded me of long walks I used to do in my childhood. My second relation hit me then: I needed to get out of London more.
After a little stop for lunch I consulted my map and set off again, a thunderstorm was due to hit in the next hour and if I was quick I might make it to the only pub on the route in time to shelter from the rain. This was not to be, despite my excellent map reading skills, thanks to my Duke of Edinburgh orienteering award when I was 14, I went way way off track and found myself facing an exceptionally steep slope I would have to negotiate in order to get myself back on route. It was at this precise moment the heavens opened. I mean really opened. My high-end, high-tech waterproof jacket and walking boots, were sadly no match for this storm, within minutes I was soaked through. I started to giggle. I was trying to get down the slope but found that it was a bit slippy and the momentum was propelling me forward. I was soon running down this slope shouting ‘arrghhhhhhhhh’ but laughing at the same time, it was genuinely a bit dangerous but the image of what I must look like was something I found uncontrollably funny. Upon reaching the bottom I doubled-over laughing so much I thought I might wet myself. Thanks to lots of kegels I stayed strong. My third realisation struck: I’m a happy person! I’m the person that laughs in the face of adversity not crumples. It was nice to see that person emerge again.
The rest of the walk was glorious.
I walked through rain, then shine and in the end a hail storm, to finally return to the hut soaked through and smiling. I had a 20 minute hot shower, guilt-free, and spent another 20 minutes brushing my hair, slathering on a body oil (again left over from my pre-baby life). I heated up some food I’d brought and relaxed with my book. I felt like a new person. Actually not a new person, I felt like an old person, I felt like an old me!
The next day I returned home, refreshed, merrily aching and generally lighter in spirits.
I’m not saying I’m fixed, or that PND just requires a long hike to shake it off.
What I do believe, however, is that whilst being a mum has changed me in so many wonderful ways, it is important to remember the old me is still in there and needs a little love and attention now and again.
If you recognise yourself in my story, please do get help. You can start here.