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Postpartum psychosis sufferer Anna Jones: 'I hadn't even heard of it'

As EastEnders is currently highlighting the issue of postpartum psychosis - writing for ITV News, Anna Jones explains what it's like to suffer from the illness.

Anna Jones, 42, was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis after the birth of her first child. Credit: Anna Jones

It started with a mighty fry up.

Bacon, eggs, mushrooms, sausages,baked beans, toast. One for me, one for my husband. My newborn in one arm, frying pan in the other.

This having a baby lark is a piece of cake, invincible me, I can do it all.

"We need to eat a big breakfast, big breakfasts are important, especially now I am breast feeding!” Talking again, fast, unstoppable. I hadn’t slept for three nights since coming home from the birth unit. I just thought it was the famous love hormone Oxytocin,which serenades all new mums.

In fact it was mania, I was euphoric. "It’s amazing, I love it, I’ve never been so happy, oh you should see my baby, she is gorgeous. I even love breast-feeding."

As we tucked in, an overwhelming rush suddenly hit me.

I abandoned the fry up, handed our baby to my husband and headed upstairs, black dots in front of my eyes; Iay down on my bed. Heart racing, gasping for breath, clutching at my chest, choking, I yelled to my husband.

“I can’t breathe, I think I’m dying, quick call an ambulance.” I was convinced this was the end. “Take good care of our baby, tell her I loved her, you’re going to be just fine on your own, you’ll be such a good Dad, I’m so sorry we can’t do it together.”

It was February 2005, a few days after the birth of our beautiful girl; our first baby and I had just experienced an almighty panic attack.

The paramedics put it down to childbirth, reassured us and left. The next twenty-four hours were dark. I became enveloped in paranoid thoughts, extreme anxiety, irrational thoughts, and delusional imaginings. I was convinced I would become a famous author that lived in Hampstead, that I had great wisdom to share with the world.

My husband took me back to the birth unit and they called a psychiatrist. Questions. Then, “Anna, you have a rare postnatal illness known as Postpartum Psychosis.

The words smashed, shattered, disbelief. Me? No previous mental illness. No familial history of mental illness. How? Why? It made no sense.

I didn’t even know what postpartum psychosis was.

Eleven years on, I find myself fixated on the brilliant portrayal of the illness by Lacey Turner as Stacey in EastEnders. Sadly the storyline accurately represents the stories of so many of us who have experienced this devastating illness.

Lacey Turner plays postpartum psychosis sufferer Stacey Slater in EastEnders. Credit: Doug Peters / Doug Peters/EMPICS Entertainment

Unlike postnatal depression, postpartum psychosis is deemed a psychiatric emergency requiring urgent treatment. Like Stacey and many other women with the illness, I was taken in to a general psychiatric hospital instead of a Mother and Baby Unit (MBU).

My baby could not stay with me overnight.

As EastEnders highlights, separating mother and baby is devastating, often exacerbating the extreme anxiety women experience as part of the illness. MBU’s allow mother and baby to remain together and without question, is the preferred choice in ensuring a speedy and complete recovery from PP.

The lavender scented bath at the hospital was a nightly ritual for me, ‘good to calm the nerves’ they told me. I was an obedient patient. I was going through the motions of yet another doped up, numb night with a broken heart and head.

My husband and my Mum had just left with my smiley, sleepy, peaceful angel, now a few weeks old.

That was the hardest time, alone again, in my soulless, white room, every pulse of maternal love aching to hold my baby, be with her, feed her, love her, and be normal again.

I was mad. A mental patient. Really? This wasn’t meant to happen.

As I stepped towards the bath, I caught my reflection in the small, square, institutional mirror above the sink. I came closer and looked harder. Skin sallow, eyes distant, afraid and empty.

I heard myself whisper: "Where have you gone?"

I whispered again: "Will you ever come back?"

No answer. Quiet, frightened tears welled and brimmed and fell in to the sink below.

The emotional pain aside, my most often repeated line about my experience with Postpartum Psychosis is that I was one of the lucky ones. I was diagnosed and treated quickly and I had a phenomenal husband, wonderful parents and close friends beside me.

My amazing Mum moved to London and alongside my husband (who had to return to work in time) looked after our baby with me.

My Mum and baby came to see me every single day in hospital, we would go for long walks and I would do all I could manage for her.

My husband came every evening. Thankfully,with this daily connection, she and I never once lost our bond.

But had I been in a mother and baby unit, with perinatal expertise, the heartbreaking separation at night, could have been avoided.

For more information on postpartum psychosis you can contact Action on postpartum psychosis - www.app-network.org or the Maternal Mental Health Alliance campaign - www.everyonesbusiness.org.uk.

Anna Jones' views do not necessarily reflect those of ITV News.