Brave Leeds mum talks of battle with post-natal depression

Emma Sheppard pictured with husband Nick and sons Noah, five, and Matthew, three. 'PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Emma Sheppard pictured with husband Nick and sons Noah, five, and Matthew, three. 'PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe

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At one stage Emma Sheppard saw no way out from her battle with Post-Natal Depression. Debbie Leigh reports on her brave battle with the condition.

WITH two young sons, a loving husband and a beautiful new home Emma Sheppard’s life to the outsider would have looked the picture of family contentment.

However underneath the surface Emma’s life was in turmoil as she battled with the deep depression and anxiety that Postnatal Depression so terrifyingly brings.

It was only when her suicidal fantasies began hijacking her thoughts several times a day that Emma realised she was at breaking point and had to seek help. Life following the birth of her second son Matthew had steadily grown harder and darker until she felt so drained and distressed, she couldn’t go on. Thankfully, unlike many women who have felt there was only one way to end their pain, Emma received the lifesaving support she so desperately needed.

A midwife at North Manchester General Hospital for seven years, Emma believes “professional pride” was part of the reason she struggled to confront her illness – the idea that “this shouldn’t be happening to me, I should be able to cope.”

She said: “I didn’t seek help and I didn’t admit it to myself until really I was absolutely desperate. I was having suicidal fantasies several times a day.”

I used to sit in the garden crying, looking at the rocks and thinking ‘could I smash myself over the head with the rocks?’

Emma met husband Nick through an online dating site in 2008 and 20 months later, when Emma was heavily pregnant with their first son Noah, they tied the knot in York.

Matthew was born in April 2011 and a month later the family moved to Pool-in-Wharfedale. The relocation was so that Nick, a repository developer at Leeds Beckett University, could be nearer to work.

But Emma had left her beloved career, no longer had family support nearby, had a newborn and an 18-month-old to look after, was seriously sleep deprived and living a new house that was effectively a building site.

Most people would crack under that pressure. But while the occasional meltdown is par for the course for most mums with young children, Emma was struggling with something far more sinister: “Lack of enjoyment in anything, lack of ability to cope, constant crying and irritability.”

She added: “It comes on slowly. I felt less and less pleasure with anything, there was nothing that could make me smile at all at the end. Everyday tasks became almost impossible. If one of the kids started crying when I was making the tea I would just have a complete meltdown. I couldn’t cope with the sound of crying and peeling potatoes. Basic tasks became absolutely insurmountable. I couldn’t sleep. When they finally got to sleep I would be lying awake in bed just absolutely exhausted.”

She added: “I used to sit in the garden crying, looking at the rocks and thinking ‘could I smash myself over the head with the rocks?’”

Emma, whose sons are now five and almost four, believes her depression started at the beginning of her pregnancy. But she didn’t seek help until little Matthew was six months old. When she finally went to her GP she was referred to The Mount, a specialist unit in Leeds.

“She and Matthew stayed there together for around two months until her mental health was stabilised with the help of medication, meditation and psychological therapy, and doctors were sure she was no longer a risk to herself. That saved me really. My husband has been amazing, I couldn’t have got through without all the support I had. I wouldn’t be here – I would have put myself in front of a lorry.”

Emma believes that if more people admitted how difficult parenthood can be there would be less incidents of depression. She said: “There’s still a culture of ‘look how perfect my life is’ and it really isn’t the reality when you have children.”

He advise for people suffering from the condition is simple: “Seek help at the earliest opportunity, the sooner you can seek help the sooner you can start recovery, just don’t suffer in silence.”

The 40-year-old took up crafts as a positive distraction from negative thoughts and to raise money for Pre and Post Natal Depression Advice and Support (PANDAS). And she decided to take on the 10-day Sahara challenge to remind herself of her strength as well as restoring some of the confidence the illness has stolen from her.

Rachael Dobson, co-founder of PANDAS, called Emma an “inspiration to other individuals who are or have suffered from pre or postnatal mental health illnesses”.

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Determined Emma has been training by hiking all over Pool and Bramhope.

She said: “I never thought that I could do this when I was suffering post-natal depression. I didn’t think I would get through another day, never mind good enough to do this.”

To sponsor Emma go to www.uk.virginmoneygiving.com/EmmaSheppard.

To speak to someone about how you feel ring the PANDAS helpline on 0843 28 98 401.

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