‘Where is my sunshine?’

Leonie McLaughlin.
Leonie McLaughlin.

Leonie McLaughlin says her life is “pretty perfect, on paper”.

The 26-year-old, from Muff, has two “gorgeous” little girls and married her “fantastic” husband last December.

Leonie has also been diagnosed with post-natal depression, firstly after the birth of her first child, Miley Sky, three years ago and again after that of her youngest, Kaelyn Leigh, last year.

She says herself that upon first meeting her, you’d “probably never know” and it is for this reason - as well as many others - that she has decided to document her road to recovery while also raising awareness of depression.

Her blog, titled ‘Where Is My Sunshine?’ was launched in March and has already garnered hundreds of views, as has the facebook page of the same name.

Speaking to the Journal, Leonie discloses she has been amazed at the amount of people who have since confided in her that they have been feeling the same way.

She says it is imperative that anyone feeling depressed or low speaks out and seeks help, adding it’s also important each of us look closely at our loved ones and let them know we’re there for them.

Leonie was first diagnosed with post-natal depression four months after she gave birth to Miley. Her relationship with her daughter’s father had broken down but “there were no issues and no real problems for me to be under any stress”.

She knew things “weren’t right” and felt she couldn’t cope. She had no motivation and “was tired all the time”.

Leonie went to her doctor and was prescribed medication. But, she took it sporadically and felt it didn’t really work for her. She was offered therapy but the waiting list was too long. It was recommended she pay for it privately, but as a single mother, this was difficult.

“I tried to get on with it,” she said.

“I found that getting fit and eating healthier worked for me that time. I met John when Miley was six-months-old and later came off my tablets completely.”

However, Leonie said her post-natal depression the second time around was “drastically different”.

Even before her baby was born she was “crying all the time and ate the head off everybody,” which she told them was down to “hormones”.

“It wasn’t though,” she said.

“I felt so bad. I had a beautiful daughter and another one on the way. I was planning a wedding to a fantastic fiancé and we had a beautiful home. My life was pretty much perfect, on paper. But I just didn’t feel right.”

When Kaelyn was born, Leonie said she lacked motivation to do anything and continued to cry “all the time,” while also feeling “really low”.

Recognising the signs from before, Leonie went back to the doctor, this time attending the “brilliant Dr Bradley” in Buncrana, who arranged for her to have therapy in Letterkenny.

However, Leonie found she personally didn’t click with the therapist and on her third session, she lied and told her “everything was fine.”

She then stopped attending and soon after this, began to have “dark thoughts.”

She says: “I was driving over the Foyle Bridge and thought: ‘Imagine if I drove off now?’ I made myself think that John and the kids would be better off without me. I’ve always been an over-thinker and looking back, now that I’m stronger, to when I was younger. I can see there were issues there even then. But, sometimes I’d think things and then say to myself: ‘Stop being so stupid’. But, I have thought; ‘There’s no need for me to be here and its a very fine line’ to, ‘God, why am I thinking that, it’s silly’ to a point where you’re thinking: ‘Actually, you’re right’.”

Leonie then began planning her wedding and said things came to a head on her wedding day.

While she found the ceremony itself “fantastic,” different circumstances led to her becoming more and more stressed as the day went on.

Leonie ended up going to bed at 10.30pm as she “couldn’t face going back out there and facing everyone”.

“I passed on the way to my room that night and I can’t remember it now. It was the perfect day for me and I was over the moon I had married John. I wasn’t interested in the big party but I just knew I couldn’t go back there and I knew that if I couldn’t be happy on my wedding day there was something wrong.”

She returned to Dr Bradley, who referred her for group therapy in Buncrana, something which has been really positive for her.

She says: “I was nervous going to it at first, but I found it really helped. We’re a cosy group and have a cup of tea and a chat. Not everyone there has depression but it’s all mental health. There’s also an option for one-to-one. I wasn’t able to go one week and really missed it. The therapist does relaxation with me and there’s a big focus on positive thinking. That’s not easy sometimes but I’m trying really hard to do it.”

Leonie was inspired to begin the blog as she is a keen writer and also because of a conversation she had with an acquaintance on a night out.

She said: “We went out in a small group and were having a lovely time. Then, a big group came into where we were. I said to the girl beside me how we had been having such a nice time before then and she told me she found it difficult too as she suffered from bad anxiety and depression. I never knew. We talked then and I felt like this huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders in that I was able to talk to someone who knew what I was going through.

“As well as that, my best friend is in Australia. We wrote to each other all the time and I feel that I’m more honest when I’m writing. I think getting a letter is lovely. I wrote the first blog post and sent it to her and she urged me to post it online. I did and the response has been amazing.

“A lot of people I know have come back to me and said ‘I’m feeling the exact same way’ - people I never thought would be going through it. Unfortunately, there still is a stigma there and mental health services aren’t what they should be in this country. My blog is for me and helps me but if I help other people that’s amazing. I’ve had really young girls contact me about different things. You feel sometimes there’s no one else feeling like this but you and you do wonder: ‘Why me?’

“You do get some people who will tell you just to ‘get out there and be happy’ but that’s not going to fix it. You have to find the best way for you.”

Leonie urged anyone who feels they need some help to attend their doctor.

She said: “You are not weak. You’re stronger more than anything else as you’ve turned around and said ‘I have a problem’. With any other illness, you’d ensure you got treatment. It’s the same with depression.

“You also have to find the right fit for you in relation to treatment, whether that’s with your medication or therapy. Writing helps me a lot but I still need other wee things as well, such as medication. It gets me over that ‘bump’ but I’ve to work on it too. Please, please go to your doctor.”

Leonie stressed she does “not have a bad life” but knows that her recovery will be a “long-term process”.

She said: “I called my blog ‘Where is My Sunshine’ as I’ve sang the song to Miley since she was a baby. I always say to her and Kaelyn that they are my sunshine. My girls and John make me happy but I need to be happy for me. I need to make myself happy - where is my sunshine? I don’t let my girls see my cry and I tell them they’re beautiful and special every day. I don’t care if my blog has 100 or 10 likes as just to know it helps people is great.

She adds: “I definitely think that talking helps- I really look forward to my group. Just talk to someone. When you walk down the street, you can’t figure out who has mental health problems and who doesn’t. It’s so easy to hide it, but I think everyone also needs to look at the people close to them. Keep a close eye on people around you. Even if you ask someone: ‘Are you okay?’ and even if they say they are, just let them know you’re there for them.”

You can check out Leonie’s blog at http://whereismysunshine.blogspot.co.uk/ or on facebook at Where Is My Sunshine.