Charlotte runs Recovery Mummy, a charity for women affected by postnatal depression and addiction, and is studying counselling. She’s also an NCMH Research Champion, helping spread the word about our research. This is her story:
My name is Charlotte. I’m a married mum of two boys who are both under the age of 4. I am a born and bred Cardiff girl and I love to spend time with my family. We love to spend time outdoors (no matter what the weather!) and enjoy baking cakes, reading and doing arts and crafts.
I first started experiencing difficulties with my mental health when I was around 7 years old. Around this time my parents were going through a violent divorce and I think this is what triggered my illness. I remember feeling anxious and it was only many years later that I realised that the feeling of complete despair wasn’t ‘normal’ for a child. I also began to see and hear things that weren’t there which I found quite frightening.
My anxiety has never left me, and it is still something I have to deal with every day.
By the time I was 15 I had developed anorexia. I was still getting panic attacks and episodes of psychosis would flare up with my moods. If I was having a hard day I would start to have audio hallucinations…whispering from another room is the one I experienced most. I started to drink alcohol as a way of coping. I didn’t drink every day because I couldn’t get my hands on it often enough, but I did feel that when I drank I forgot about my obsession with eating, I didn’t get panic attacks and I didn’t care about the bullies at school. I began to self-harm.
At the age of 19 I developed bulimia and experienced a mix of high and low moods. I was studying pharmacy and working in a doctors surgery dispensing medication, but I’d taken four overdoses and was drinking heavily so couldn’t continue with work or my studies. I was under the care of a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with borderline personality disorder, and later bipolar disorder.
I was drinking daily, I was reckless, I didn’t care about life and would often live for the day, which can be very dangerous.
At 23 I had my first detox; I didn’t realise that it can be life threatening for an alcoholic to stop drinking suddenly and one day I just decided I didn’t want to drink. This resulted in me being admitted to A&E and having an emergency detox. Afterwards, I started experiencing anxiety, panic, paranoia and psychosis more severely than before and was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder.
I started taking new medication which helped, but I was still getting lows and took another two overdoses.
I became pregnant when I was 25 and for the first time in my life I actually felt ‘normal’. Unfortunately, this was short lived and when I was around 28 weeks pregnant I started to feel paranoid and hallucinating again. I had a traumatic labour and when I first looked at my son I felt uneasy, that he knew I couldn’t protect him. I had the wildest hallucinations I’d ever experienced…I was suffering from postpartum psychosis.
My postpartum psychosis wasn’t initially treated in hospital – the mother and baby unit in Cardiff was full and the closest alternative was Bristol. I fell off the wagon and started to drink again to help me cope. I wasn’t fully dependent on alcohol but the crisis team refused to take me to a psychiatric ward when they found out I’d be drinking. I took another overdose and was admitted to hospital where I was given medication, and treatment continued at home. I had a CPN visit me weekly for about a year.
It’s taken me many years to feel good again and I had another son in 2014 without any problems. I’m almost 30 now and although I still have severe anxiety I no longer take medication. I’ve just been discharged from psychiatric care after 15 years and I’m really happy.
I’ve set up a charity, Recovery Mummy, for pregnant women, parents and children affected by addition and postnatal depression, which holds support playgroups and offers one-to-one support. I’m studying counselling and also do training in substance misuse, domestic violence and child psychology.
I will always be able to get psychiatric care if things get bad again but for now I am enjoying life.
I found out about NCMH earlier this year and was happy to help with their research. Knowing that my contribution could help improve how mental health problems are diagnosed and treated in the future is a great honour, and I’d encourage other people to come forward and help.