“My dad turned up to the house and asked me why the lounge curtains were still drawn. It was nearing lunchtime. This simple question sent me reeling in panic. I felt as though I was on the verge of being found out – though for what I couldn’t quite figure out. I remember feeling that with this simple question my dad was unlocking the door to an ugly part of me and revealing it for all to see.”
Brutally frank but infused with delicious humour, Bonkers, the debut book by mum-of-two Olivia Siegl, is the kind of book that changes attitudes. Certainly my attitude.
Olivia shares what it’s like, what it really feels like, to live day after day battling with severe Postnatal Depression and the even more frightening Postpartum Psychosis. Her direct style of writing means you’re living in her head, feeling her confusion, anxiety and her primal fear.
“I had drawers and cupboards filled to the brim with nappies, all organised in order of size and calculated down to the last change and the time when she would need the next size. I would visit the drawers daily and run my hand over the neatly packed and organised nappies – and I would feel a sense of fulfilment and achievement. A feeling that I was in fact a good mum. These drawers and their ridiculous level of organisation were the proof.
“However, on the day of Nappygate, I opened the drawers to find there was a whole row missing of Size 4 nappies. Panic gripped me like nothing I have ever known, my final strand of logic and common sense left the building and I was tipped over the edge and into the ravine of the illness.”
As I read, I realised a) how unbelievably lucky I was to have somehow avoided the debilitating mental health issues that we know many of us struggle with after birth and b) (with a sinking feeling) that one of my friends had clearly been suffering with some of these symptoms after having her first baby – and none of us had known.
Oh, for a time machine. Instead of staring at her uncomprehendingly, thinking ‘how strange that she’s anxious about pushing her pram on city pavements because she thinks it will get sucked into the road’, we should have stopped and helped. Helped her tell us more.
Instead we offered practical help – let’s meet somewhere next time that we can drive to. Hey, she looked amazing, was a breastfeeding master and seemed more in control than the rest of us.
Olivia successfully hid her feelings of total despair, emptiness and feeling like an unfit mother for a long, long time – from her family, friends and loving husband.
It’s the ‘behind closed doors’ nature of postnatal mental health issues that is the driving reason behind Olivia’s mission – to talk about mental health, the times we get it wrong and the times we need to ask for help.
“I can’t do this.
“I think I’m going crazy.
“I need help.
“Please help me.
“With the release of these words and my fears I felt as though I had been set free. It was terrifying and at the same time an incredible relief to finally own the fact that I was ill. That I was desperate for help.”
And Olivia does eventually get help. And the help helps. And she turns things around – but not without a long fight.
And of course the book’s called Bonkers. We wouldn’t expect anything else from the fast-taking, self-deprecating ‘Yep, this is me’, Olivia.
Her blog was originally called The Baby Bible – the NO Bullshit Guide to Motherhood. Full of frustration, a touch of merry madness and a heap of anger, Olivia wanted to share what she saw as a betrayal of new mums. Her version of motherhood wasn’t the one she’d read about or dreamt about. Hers was not the Instagram world of parenting.
Olivia reveals that she’s now channeled that anger into a need to help others. As she told MFM, “My book is for every mum feeling pressure to be perfect. For every mum questioning if they are good enough. For every mum struggling with their maternal mental health and not believing they will be well again. For every mum doubting if they can follow their dreams. For every mum doubting if they can do it.
“Take it from me you can and you will!”
Buy Bonkers from Amazon for £8.83 or £5.99 on Kindle
Read more about Olivia Siegl’s Every Mum Movement