A mother-of-two has spoken candidly about her battle with postnatal depression that left her contemplating suicide – and how she was able to turn her life around by exercising.
Lizzy Willamson, 40, from Sydney, said she was always an ‘extremely capable’ and ‘positive’ woman.
But she eventually found herself in a dark moment in her life about nine years ago where she would have suicidal thoughts.
‘I felt like all of that had vanished and I had a constant mantra in my head that was “I’m going to kill myself, I’m going to kill myself”,’ Lizzy told Daily Mail Australia.
‘I would hold my little baby at the top of my apartment and look out the window and have these thoughts about throwing her out the window.’
Lizzy Willamson (pictured) is a mother-of-two from Sydney who experienced postnatal depression so severe that she often had thoughts of her killing herself
Lizzy started having those thoughts after giving birth to her second daughter Ruby and she went on to battle the condition by herself for eight months.
‘I’d be punching the brick walls of my house, screaming at my children in a way that scared them and scared myself,’ she said.
‘It was like a dark cloud surrounded me wherever I went, it was feelings and emotions I had never felt the extremities of before, this feeling of anger, this feeling of darkness, this feeling of being overwhelmed.’
Lizzy had previously been a dancer who loved performing and said that these feelings weren’t like anything she had ever experienced.
‘I felt like all of that had vanished and I had a constant mantra in my head that was “I’m going to kill myself, I’m going to kill myself”,’ Lizzy told Daily Mail Australia
‘Everything felt like it was too hard to do,’ she recalled.
‘I remember sitting on the floor of my apartment and looking around at the housework that needed to be done – the washing that needed to be put away.
‘It was like I was paralysed to do anything, it all felt so hard.’
The reason that Lizzy didn’t seek professional help was because she was ashamed of herself for feeling so down.
‘I thought that with all that I had, two healthy babies, a husband, a roof over my head, a supportive family, I had no right to be feeling this way,’ she said.
‘I thought that I should be really grateful and loving every moment of motherhood because of how lucky I was to be a mother.
‘But I felt like such a failure that I wasn’t loving it and that I wasn’t coping.’
Lizzy had previously been a dancer who loved performing and said that the feelings she had during her depression were unlike anything she had ever experienced
Lizzy didn’t want to admit to anyone that she was living with the thoughts of her wanting to kill herself because of the feelings of failure attached to seeking help.
‘I thought I was the only one that felt like that because I didn’t tell anyone, I just thought that there was something wrong with me,’ she said.
‘I look back now and think that I missed out in a way, I missed out on enjoying that time, that connection with my two children, my husband and being able to connect with friends.’
She said the further she went down the downward spiral the harder it was to seek help, which she finally did when she hit rock bottom.
‘I was sitting on the floor, my daughters were upstairs crying, I felt like I couldn’t move,’ she said.
‘There was nothing wrong with my body but I felt so emotionally paralysed and there was the voice in my head saying “I’m going to kill myself”.’
Lizzy didn’t want to admit to anyone that she was living with thoughts of her wanting to kill herself because of the feelings of failure attached to seeking help
‘I just went “OK, I need to take my husband’s advice”. I didn’t tell him the extent of what I was feeling but he certainly could see it.
‘He was telling me: “go get some help, go see your doctor, please, the family is falling apart here”.’
It was the thought of her family and her marriage falling apart that gave her the push she needed to reach out.
‘When it all went beyond me and my feelings that’s when I called up my doctor but it felt so hard to make that call, I really felt like that call meant I was a total failure,’ she said.
A lot of women Lizzy has spoken to have shared the thought that if they ask for help it means that they too have failed as mothers.
It was the thought of her family and her marriage falling apart that gave her the push she needed to reach out
‘It’s scary because when you’re not coping as a mother you think about what people are going to say to you, are they going to say that you’re not capable?’ she said.
‘What’s going to happen with you and your children? What if someone says you’re not in a fit enough position if you’re acting this way?”
Lizzy was also scared that her doctor would simply tell her to ‘get over it’.
‘I thought she would say “look at what you’ve got, you’re making all this up, there’s nothing wrong, just get over yourself” because these were the words I was saying to myself,’ she said.
‘I would lie in bed and think about all the things that I had done wrong as a mother, it was crazy the kind of expectations that I set and I know so many women set as well.’
When her doctor said she had postnatal depression she was shocked, it wasn’t something that she had thought about.
‘She took me through what that meant and she took me through the importance of seeking help and seeing a counsellor and she gave me a prescription for antidepressants and said that was an option,’ she said.
When her doctor said she had Post Natal Depression she was shocked, as it wasn’t something that she had thought about
‘She explained to me that when you get on a plane you have to put your own oxygen mask on first.
‘She was looking at me the way that she must look at so many other mothers who are doing absolutely nothing for themselves, telling us to do something for ourselves, it was really great advice and a real wake up call for me.’
Looking back now Lizzy realises that what she was thinking wasn’t normal for her and that she should have been running to the doctor straight away.
But because she was in such a dark cloud these kind of thoughts became her normal and she didn’t question it.
Looking back now Lizzy realises that what she was thinking wasn’t normal for her and that she should have been running to the doctor straight away
‘Every day I would be like “get over it get over it” but I couldn’t.
‘In hindsight I look at it and see that it was very out of character but I was just in the thick of mother hood trying to do the best I could every day, I didn’t take any time to step back and take a breath,’ Lizzy explained.
The crux of it all is the fact that Lizzy was looking after everyone else and forgot to look after herself.
‘I was eating my kids soggy left over crust for lunch instead of making myself a meal, I was taking them to dance classes so they could move their little bodies but I wasn’t exercising.
‘I was reading them lots of books to expand and broaden their minds but I wasn’t reading anything myself.’
The crux of the problem was the fact that Lizzy was looking after everyone else and forgot to look after herself
Although antidepressants were on the table Lizzy decided that she wanted to try other options first.
‘I was once a dancer and movement used to bring me so much joy, so even though I knew I could take those antidepressants I wanted to try exercise first,’ she said.
With a busy lifestyle looking after two children that were only 20 months apart Lizzy didn’t know how she was going to fit exercise into her life.
Before long she decided that even a little bit of exercise was better than none so included two minutes of it in her day.
‘I pretended the kitchen bench was my ballet bar and started doing some plies, squats and some sit ups., so then I took a little moment every day and I would do this little work out,’ she said.
‘Because I was in such a bad head space, this little work out made me feel like I could do it and this sense of achievement helped me over a period of time.
Nine years later Lizzy still makes sure she exercises and although there are days she struggles, she makes sure to reach out for a helping hand
LIZZY’S EXERCISE TIPS
1. Thigh dancing
Start by getting into the deep bend position of a grand plié
Bring both knees in towards the centre of your body.
Open them back into your starting position. Once you get the hang of this move you can go as fast as you like.
2. The steering wheel
Take a wine bottle in each hand and imagine you are holding a steering wheel
Drop your left arm down slightly like you’re turning your imaginary wheel to the left, keeping your elbows up and triceps lifting.
As you bring that arm back up, drop to the right
Lizzy ended up not taking the antidepressants and said that once she started moving she began to feel better in herself which helped her open up more to people.
‘It was a very little step that caused this big ripple effect,’ she said.
‘Exercise is so good for your mental health but if everything feels too hard and you’re too depressed, 20 or 30 minutes is too hard to do.
‘It’s not a magic cure but its a step in the right direction.’
A month later her daughters Stella, now 10, and Ruby, now nine, asked her to dance and although normally she would say no, this time she said yes.
‘I just looked them in the eye, something I hadn’t done in months, and I felt this joy which I contribute to the exercise,’ she said.
Nine years later Lizzy still makes sure she exercises and although there are days she struggles, she makes sure to reach out for a helping hand.
‘There are days I can still feel the black dog nipping at my heels but it’s OK, I have the tools now,’ she said.
For confidential support 24/7, please call LifeLine Australia on 13 11 14.