A mum feared her vicar husband was planning to run off with a nurse after developing postpartum psychosis following the birth of her son.
Ele Cushing, 31, didn’t sleep for eight days after her child Josh was born in January 2016 and became consumed by delusions.
She feared her husband Greg, 34, was having an affair, before mental health workers diagnosed her with postpartum psychosis and was sectioned.
But it only served to increase her paranoia and became terrified she was in the science fiction film Hunger Games, fearing she would be ‘sent off into the arena to be sacrificed’.
Although rare, postpartum psychosis can affect women after pregnancy and particularly those with a family history of mental illness.
Ele, from Loxwood, West Sussex, said following the birth of her son she would be ‘incessantly cleaning’ because her mind was racing so much.
She said: ‘My speech was like verbal diarrhoea. The illness was mainly characterised by paranoia, suspicion and insecurity.
‘When the crisis team visited, there was a pretty younger woman there and I remember thinking she was sending me off to be locked up so she could be with my husband – they were in this together.
‘At the hospital, they put me in a room with a window onto the staff room so they could observe me and I thought I was in The Hunger Games.
‘I remember pounding on the glass, terrified that I would soon be sent off into the arena to be sacrificed.
‘I felt like I had superhuman strength and it did take several members of staff to restrain me.
‘I would charge up the corridor trying to make a break for it and I had to be tranquilised. It was total and utter mayhem.’
Ele said that being transferred between hospitals was one of her most traumatic flashbacks.
She said: ‘I was marched in line past my parents and husband into the back of a van, barefoot in a short-sleeved pyjama top in the middle of winter.
‘I was alone in what felt like a cage with no knowledge of where I was going. I thought I was being trafficked away, shipped off.
‘I even remember thinking that my loved ones were clinging to the back of the van as we drove and fell off one-by-one to their deaths.
‘I genuinely had no hope and was so scared.’
What is postpartum psychosis?
According to the NHS, postpartum psychosis is a rare but serious mental health illness that can affect a woman soon after she has a baby.
Symptoms can include hallucinations, delusions, a manic mood, a low mood, anxiety or trouble sleeping, loss of inhibitions, feeling suspicious or fearful, restlessness, confusion or behaving in a way that’s out of character.
Women are more at risk of developing postpartum psychosis if the have a family history of mental health illness, already have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, have a traumatic birth or pregnancy, or developed postpartum psychosis after a previous pregnancy.
The most severe symptoms tend to last 2 to 12 weeks, and it can take 6 to 12 months or more to recover from the condition.
But with treatment, most women with postpartum psychosis do make a full recovery.
Baby Josh was born healthy on January 7, 2016, weighing 8lbs 13oz, but his mum was rushed straight to surgery for stitches.
Ele, who used to work in publishing, said she began linking words and meanings as she became increasingly paranoid.
She added: ‘I felt like men had conspired against women – like we were just pawns in their game, expected to produce the babies and go through all this horrific pain while they were off having affairs. I became quite distrustful of men in general.’
After eight weeks in psychiatric wards, Ele was able to move to Winchester mother and baby unit where she spent the next month rebuilding her bond with Josh.
She was treated with Quetiapine, a psychotropic medication used to treat schizophrenia.
Since being discharged in April 2016 and moving to a new house, Ele has battled depression, anxiety and OCD.
The sound of newborn babies crying would trigger traumatic memories and send Ele into a panic.
But she has regained her strength with love and support from family and friends and a peer support group set up by the charity Action on Postpartum Psychosis (APP).
She said that she wants to raise awareness about the condition and let other mums know there is ‘light at the end of the tunnel’.
Ele added: ‘I’m actually stronger and braver than I ever was before.
‘I never want to go back to that terrifying time in my life but overcoming it has given me much more of a fighting approach to life.’