Definition: ‘The Black Dog’ – depression or sullen mood – was famously used by Britain’s WWII leader Sir Winston Churchill referring to his own depressions. When writing to his wife, he talks about a German doctor who may be able to help: “I think this man might be useful to me – if my black dog returns. He seems quite away from me now – it is such a relief. All the colours come back into the picture.” It is against his own personal history that the ‘Black Dog’ takes on its contemporary dimensions; re-configuring depression as something from which one can separate oneself, something to be named, lived with, transcended.
The wonderful Sarah Young who works in a senior position within a mental health unit (“so I can make a difference in others lives”), contacted the campaign with her story:
“I’ve started following your campaign and it had really connected with me. I’m not sure if my story helps or if you will use it but if you do and it reaches out to one person then my struggles would not have been for nothing.
My little boy is two now but when I was pregnant I was undecided about breastfeeding. I read all the information about but just wasn’t sure if it was for me. Partly due to the fact I live with chronic depression and severe anxiety. I didn’t know if I could feed my baby in public. However when my son was born, I gave it a go.
His birth was straightforward however breastfeeding just didn’t quite click. I spent a night in hospital which increased my anxiety after the birth. I battled on after leaving hospital and still it was torture. Not just the pain but also the amount of times my son wanted to eat.
I reached out to a breastfeeding support group and they welcomed me in. They were all lovely people but I felt so isolated. Sitting there for an hour I have never felt so alone or like a failure. Each way I looked someone was breastfeeding and it just emphasised my thoughts of “what is wrong with me” or “I’m a bad mum”! The whole time I was there my son slept and in my head I kept praying he wouldn’t wake up as I didn’t want to evidence how useless I am at being a mum already after only 2 weeks!
This continued for weeks. I battled with trying to feed myself and topping up with formula, not wanting to go out as I was scared to try and breastfeed but also ashamed that I was also using formula. At this time my mental health was deteriorating too. I had struggled with my depression through my pregnancy and I knew I was walking a fine line between coping and the black dog taking control.
After 6 weeks, and I remember the day very clearly! I had managed to get Archie to sleep, at which point my mum visited and our dog did her welcome dance which in turn woke Archie up. I sat and cried, I was broken. All my fears about motherhood took over, I was a failure and how could someone like me with mental health problems ever be ok at being a mum; to top it off I can’t even feed my own son.
I cried to my mum and the next day I made the decision that Archie would be formula fed. Looking back it is probably a decision that I should have made much sooner but as my husband will agree, I am stubborn! I have probably spent most of the time feeling guilty about not being able to breast feed. But I tried and that is all I could do.
My son is happy, healthy and fed and I now realise that it doesn’t matter how a baby is fed, all that matters is that they ARE fed! I write this while sitting in a coffee shop and first sign I see is a breast feeding friendly sign. I used to read these signs and it was like a trigger to the negative thoughts, now it doesn’t have the same hold!”
Mental health and motherhood is such an important issue for the Don’t Judge Just Feed Campaign. We are despairing when we hear of cases where feeding pressures in society have led parents to develop PND or relapse with their existing condition(s). We can speak from personal experience on this subject.
We thank Sarah for her bravery in sharing her story. We encourage anyone who thinks they may be suffering from a depressive episode to seek advice from a medical professional immediately.
If you are interested in sharing your story, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org