When Postnatal Depression Presents As “Uncontrollable Rage”

Anna Malcolm, 42, thought she knew all the symptoms of postnatal depression. Her sister had suffered from it after giving birth, so when Anna became a mother she checked in with herself to see if she was going down the same path...

“I wasn’t crying, I wasn’t feeling awful or anything like that,” Anna says. While she felt “perfectly fine” after her first son, Max, was born, things were different when Cameron arrived seventeen months later. Almost straight away, she began experiencing bouts of “uncontrollable rage”.

“It would come on in less than a heartbeat – and I’m normally pretty ‘rancho relaxo’ – so it was very out of character.” These bouts always related to trying to get her boys to sleep. Anna’s husband works in the mines so is away “60 percent of the time”. Between being alone and having babies on different schedules, juggling sleep times became a nightmare. While trying to settle her boys, “a white hot fury” would often kick in.

To control her anger, Anna would storm to the garage, grab a pillow and just scream. Sometimes, though, she would yell at her boys. “I did do a lot of shouting at the kids which I hated, but it was to get that anger out of me so then I could go to be my ‘normal mum’ me.” When she was calm, Anna would berate herself for her actions and wonder why she would snap. “I kept on thinking to myself, ‘Why am I getting so angry over sleep, for crying out loud?’”

Though angry and frustrated, Anna didn’t think to seek help. She was “embarrassed and ashamed” about her screaming, but never thought her rage was related to a mood disorder. It wasn’t until a random conversation with a stranger 18 months later – who said she suffered rage as a symptom of postnatal depression – that the penny dropped. Immediately, Anna made an appointment with her own doctor. Having him confirm the diagnosis helped her to no end. “For me, knowing what it was – knowing that I wasn’t going crazy and that I wasn’t a bad mum and all those sorts of things – I was able to roll with the punches a bit better and I didn’t get so anxious or stressed out when things didn’t happen as I imagined it should.”

While we typically see depression as being ‘sad’ or ‘down,’ symptoms can vary from person to person and in extreme ways, says psychologist Dr Nicole Highet, Executive Director of the Centre for Perinatal Excellence, COPE. She says anger, in particular, can be a sign of depression. “It can begin as being short-tempered or impatient, but can emerge in anger and rage.” Because the symptoms are so variable, she says it’s important for women to recognise if there’s any change in their mood so they can seek help.

Since discovering that her rage was a symptom of postnatal depression, Anna is determined to help spread awareness of this condition. In a bid to do that, she joined sixteen other women this past weekend in donning parachutes and leaping out of a plane to mark the start of Perinatal Depression & Anxiety Awareness Week. The jump was organised by MotherJumpers, an annual charity event where mums (and their friends and family) parachute and abseil to raise funds for Australian charities that support mothers. Funds raised this year are going towards COPE, a not-for-profit organisation devoted to improving mental health for Australian women and their families. At the time of writing, these women have raised almost $15,000 for COPE, money which will be used to fund the distribution of the Ready to COPE newsletter. While jumping out of a plane may seem like an extreme step to take for maternal mental health, Anna describes the experience as “exhilarating”. The scariest part, she laughs, was boarding the small plane in the first place. “Going down it was just amazing, the noise of the wind rushing past your ears. But once [her tandem partner] pulled the parachute, the silence up there was absolutely deafening.”

She doesn’t regret taking the leap, nor speaking up about mental health. Anna didn’t talk about her symptoms at the time – in part because she didn’t know what they were, but also because of the “shame and an awful amount of guilt” about it. She hopes sharing her story can help other mums begin to talk about their own experiences. “We don’t talk about [postnatal depression] – I didn’t talk about it, for crying out loud… So this is a good excuse to let people know and to say, ‘You’re not alone’.”

To donate to Anna’s jump, click here.