Footballer, and mum, Torey Saisanid opens up on postnatal depression

HAPPY FAMILY: Torey and Decha Saisanid at home with their children Ari, 4, and Mischa, three months. Picture: MARK JESSER
HAPPY FAMILY: Torey and Decha Saisanid at home with their children Ari, 4, and Mischa, three months. Picture: MARK JESSER

Torey Saisanid (nee Hayes) was one of the Border's most promising soccer juniors. Having represented NSW at nationals and trialling for a W-League contract, she went on to forge a successful career with Boomers in the AWFA. However, the arrival of her first child provided by far her greatest challenge as she battled postnatal depression. The mother of two and her husband, Decha, caught up with The Border Mail's BEAU GREENWAY this week to discuss the journey.

BG: Who were some of the biggest influences on your soccer career?

TS: Definitely my dad Steve Hayes and my brother Ryan Hayes. Dad has coached me from a very young age and has always guided me through. I've been very fortunate to have dad around the game that I grew to love. His knowledge and passion for football is incredible and to be able to learn from this I am forever grateful for. As for my brother, I always followed whatever he did. Ryan was a national age swimmer and I followed him into swimming. He quit that so I quit and he took up water polo so I did that too. He played soccer so naturally my sister (Kiera) and I were always hovering and we both took up soccer. I always looked up to him and still do today.

BG: How far did you career take you?

TS: I made the NSW team and competed at nationals as a 13 and 14-year-old. We won the national title, which was a pretty big feat given we were a group of girls from the bush without the resources of our city counterparts. As a 15-year-old, I hit that patch most 15 and 16-year-olds go through and wasn't really keen on attending training camps any more and didn't really have the drive to want to play for NSW after that. Dad being dad convinced me if I disliked camps so much, would I be interested in playing for Northern Territory at the same titles we won the previous year. So Amy Martin (ex-Albury City player) and I took off to Sydney met the girls in our team two days before the titles and played for NT. That was such a great experience and one I am forever grateful for. Some of the girls came from communities in the NT that would be considered the remotest parts of Australia. It was amazing to meet and play with these girls. It certainly put into perspective that I was pretty lucky to have experienced what I had with the NSW girls. I never really took my soccer any further. I did trial for Canberra United in the W-League in my early 20s. The standard the girls showed at even those trials were incredible and I would have really needed to put everything in if I wanted to take it to the next level. I was the kind of player that didn't feel the need to do extra training. I think I had the natural ability, but the will to want it was probably lacking a little. I never took it upon myself to be better. My dad would often say 'people would die to have your ability, but where is your drive?' I just never felt it. In our day, there was no clear path. It wasn't going to get me anywhere, so why do it? You could make it, but you couldn't make a career out of it. Now you can, with equal pay and they're going to share the profits of the game they play which is great. There's definitely more opportunities these days.

Boomers celebrate after winning the 2017 AWFA Cup final.

Boomers celebrate after winning the 2017 AWFA Cup final.

BG: What were some of your biggest highlights?

TS: I would say the last cup win at AWFA level (against Albury City) in 2017 was pretty sweet. It felt like closure from the year before where we lost on penalties. Also when Boomers FC senior men and senior women won the cup in 2009, that was pretty special as well. There was a real buzz around the club. Winning a national title is also up there and something I'll hold onto forever. The girls I played with were incredible footballers and it was an honour to be able to play alongside them.

BG: Who were some of the best you played with and against?

TS: The list is seriously endless. The girls in the NSW squad were amazing not only on the field, but off the field too. Amy and Georgia Chapman were Albury girls as well and went on to further their football careers, Sal Shipard was another Riverina girl. All these girls have played for Australia. Ellie Brush is a current W-League player and it was such a pleasure playing with her at Boomers. I remember playing against Clare Polkinghorne and Lydia Williams (current Matildas) at nationals and they were incredible players as young teenagers and still making Australian squads today.

BG: What are your thoughts on the current state of women's football on the Border?

TS: When I was growing up, there wasn't girls age group teams in AWFA, so I feel we need to look at it from that point of view too. The junior girls has come along way and girls still want to play. We have all sorts of age groups for girls. I had to play for the boys teams until I was old enough to play in the senior ladies team. There may have been an under 17s competition for girls but that was it. The senior competition is an interesting one. I play water polo too and it's the same situation there. A lot of girls don't want to play A grade or seniors, they are happy playing reserves or B grade. Maybe it's a generational change. I see AWFA are out at schools now showing off our great game, so hopefully that attracts a bit of interest. It's a bit of a catch 22, on the one hand, some girls want to be the next Matilda, but some just want to have a kick for fun. I wish I had the answer. Maybe a shorter season so the commitment isn't required for such a large part of the year might attract some senior ladies back.

ROCK BOTTOM: Torey Saisanid shows her emotions after missing the final penalty in the 2016 AWFA cup final.

ROCK BOTTOM: Torey Saisanid shows her emotions after missing the final penalty in the 2016 AWFA cup final.

BG: The 2016 cup final loss in a penalty shootout against Albury City was an emotional one for you. Can you talk us through that day?

TS: I actually didn't know I was suffering PND. Those highly emotional reactions like the 2016 grand final were normal to me. I put my hand up to take a penalty, I didn't necessarily mean to be the last penalty-taker, but it just turned out that way. I didn't have a very good record with penalties as it was, so why I earth I thought I could take one in the grand final was beyond me. Maybe being a senior player in the team stepping up seemed the logical thing to do. I remember I pretty much handed it to the keeper. Credit to the keeper she still had to save it. I remember turning, putting my head in my hands and just breaking down like I had lost it for the entire team and it was all on my shoulders. This was a normal response to me. People would say 'Torey it's the entire team not just you', but to me they were just words that had no meaning at that point in time. I'd lost grand finals in years before but never reacted like that. I was still sobbing when we had shaken the City girls hands, credit to a few of the City girls who came over to see if I was OK and one player actually reached out to me that night. I went to my bag and broke down again. Comments started flying 'get over it, it's just a game of football, it's not all about you, move on already, oh stop with the carry on'. I heard it all and they were comments that definitely hurt. If I knew what I do now, then I would have said something at the time. I now know the emotional breakdown I experienced was a trigger to something much deeper within myself. I was 10 months into motherhood right in the thick of it. But to be honest, that was just one of many breakdowns and emotional outbursts in a two-year period and this behaviour was just so normal now.

BG: When did you start to think these feelings were more serious than just a game of football?

TS: It was actually a family holiday in Queensland the following August that was the catalyst for me. I was at my favourite place on earth with my favourite people and was in this deep state of despair. One day I was up and about all bubbly, the next I was an emotional mess. It was at this point Decha revealed he didn't know how to help me any longer and he was starting to get over this Torey who no-one knew anymore. He actually said to me 'I can't deal with this for much longer' and that really scared me. It was from that unstable point I said 'when I get back home, I will seek help'. Long chats with Decha about things that had happened since Ari was born started to really scare me. It was from this that I knew what was occurring in my daily life was not normal for me.

Torey with sister Kiera Hayes (front), Jenae Abel, Beth Kennedy and Erin Kennedy.

Torey with sister Kiera Hayes (front), Jenae Abel, Beth Kennedy and Erin Kennedy.

BG: Did you have some pretty dark days with it?

TS: For me, PND wasnt about suicide or anything like that. I never had those thoughts. I was just stuck in a world in a Torey I didn't know anymore. I was a shell of myself. I'm known as a pretty confident, out there personality, so I could put that persona on any time. Most people I've told now said they had no idea. I covered it extremely well. You could talk to me, but I wasn't listening. This was made worse if I had Ari with me because all I was worried about was Ari being asleep and was he sleeping enough and will he wake? I was stuck in a place of deep despair. I was just surviving each day. I didn't know how to mother. I lost control of my life as I knew it before Ari arrived. I couldn't understand this world I had taken myself into. This little human needed me. I couldn't understand why I had to be Ari's mum and not Torey any more. Why could this little being be so dependent on me? I wanted my life back as I knew it before. I was highly anxious all of the time. Things like putting Ari to bed I would dread, he would wake up before the books told me he should. I didn't know what to do with him when he was awake. I was scared. I now know this was the underlying problem to all of my emotional outbursts, in public or not, for the next two years. I told my dad I would play soccer the year after Ari was born (in 2016) but I wasn't going to Wangaratta or Cobram or Myrtleford, because what if he screamed all the way down and back in the car, how would I deal with that? Completely irrational thinking. Any loud noises in the house I would become highly anxious that it would wake Ari. All because I didn't know what to do while he was awake. Reading all this seems ridiculous, but this was me in a deep depression of wishing for my old life back. I'd lost who I was - a human. I didn't enjoy milestones of Ari because I just wanted him older because the older he was the easier it was going to be to look after him. I realise now that's also outrageous.

BG: Did these feelings start occurring immediately?

TS: When you are discharged from the hospital after your baby is born, a maternal health nurse comes and does a check-up three days after on both the baby and yourself. I remember when she arrived and all I could think about was the fact that they would need to wake Ari. I became so anxious at the thought. I also remember the checklist they gave me to see how I was going as a mum. I completely lied through the entire checklist. Why? For fear they would take my baby away from me because I wasn't fit to be a mum. Looking back, I probably should have recognised that if I knew I was lying, then clearly I am not well. But I just thought I would be right. 'Let's get this health nurse out of my house and I'll continue on with Ari'. Now I understand the health nurses come to do a check up and they are not there to remove your baby, but to in fact help you deal with those thoughts and fears.

Torey and her father Stephen Hayes.

Torey and her father Stephen Hayes.

BG: You were still playing at Boomers the first two years of Ari's life, did it affect your game?

TS: There were so many meltdowns on the soccer field. Just in general play I would stop and start crying for no reason. I think it was because I was thinking about what Ari was doing and who's looking after him. What if he's not asleep at that time when he should be? I was completely consumed by it.

BG: How have you been able to manage it?

TS: Once back from the family holiday, I booked an appointment with my psychologist. I had been to her before, 11 years ago when my nanna passed. I fell into a deep depression then as well. That was suicidal, thoughts like ' I don't need to be here, I need to be with nanna'. While I am probably wired to fall into this depressive state, that depression was very different to PND. I saw my psychologist, we went through my behaviour and my thoughts and that's when I was diagnosed. Medication at this point was an option and she even mentioned to me this would be the best outcome. I asked her if I could have a few more sessions before I took that path. I'm not against medication and I definitely think it's serves a purpose, but I had an anaphylactic reaction to medication when I was younger so I was super scared I would have another one. A few sessions with my psychologist and she gave me techniques to deal with my thoughts and behaviour. It took months to really get out of this state of mind, it certainly didn't happen overnight. I have strategies now that when I'm feeling something coming on I can deal with it, acknowledge it, be aware of my thoughts and check back in with myself. I will say I truly believe it will never really disappear entirely, but it's just about managing it and being aware. When I fell pregnant with my second child, Mischa, I was so scared I would fall back into this depressive state of mind. It definitely made me second guess whether I was capable of having a second child. I didn't want people to judge me because I didn't cope with the first. If I look back and be honest with myself, I would say I actually had perinatal depression too. Before Ari was born I was scared, I hate the unknown, I hate change and all of sudden I was pregnant and my world had been turned upside-down. I know some women try for years and years to fall pregnant and here I was falling pregnant and thinking I'm not sure I can deal with this. It's such a strange thing I was feeling like this, yet I had all this love for this little human. It made no sense.

Torey with her children Ari, 4 and Mischa, three months, at home this week.

Torey with her children Ari, 4 and Mischa, three months, at home this week.

BG: Have you experienced similar feelings with the birth of Mischa?

TS: When Mischa was born, the first night in hospital I became scared again and I thought oh no it's coming back. Those exact feelings were reappearing. I left the hospital after one night as I really wanted Dech to be there with me. I didn't think I could cope by myself. But I got home and got into the groove again and so far so good. I'd never say I'm completely out of the woods, but I'm actually enjoying it this time around. I'm embracing each milestone with Mischa and just enjoying each day. I was monitored from the very start of my pregnancy with Mischa. I was referred to the PEHP (Perinatal and Emotional Health) team in Wodonga very early on. My doctor said to me you are not suffering like you did the first time. We are staying on top of it this time. I had the PEHP team contact me regularly, checking in. That's all I needed just a phone call here and text there was fantastic.

BG: Did it affect your relationship with Decha?

TS: We often talk about 'those days' now and have done a lot of self reflection and the most common question that keeps coming up from me is how on earth did Decha deal with all this? Some of the things he has told me I did or said I honestly can't remember, which is a symptom of depression, I'm completely embarrassed about. He said I just dealt with it and took most of it on the chin. He has said he would never walk away until I had tried everything to make me better. I think self-awareness is a huge factor in any relationship, let alone one with someone suffering depression. If anything, it has made us stronger. Decha often says it is calmer in the house with two kids than one just given my state of mind alone. He stood by me while I went through it. He came to the psychologist appointments with me. He truly has been incredible. The other people that copped the brunt of this Torey no-one knew any more was my family. Mum would come to see Ari a few afternoons a week and we would sit on the couch and chat. I can't even tell you what any of the conversations were about. I would nod and pretend I was listening, but I truly had no idea simply because I was thinking will Ari wake and what do I do with him after that? It became all about me and surviving with this little baby and no-one else in the world mattered.

Decha Saisanid coached Boomers' senior men's side in 2017.

Decha Saisanid coached Boomers' senior men's side in 2017.

BG: Decha, how was your experience through it all?

DS: I was managing it without realising I was managing it if that makes sense. Subtle things like having to come home from work earlier, constantly texting and ringing to check in, showing more empathy and patience with Torey because I just thought it was natural and normal post birth seeing the things she was saying and how she was behaving. Although I knew in my mind I was doing certain things differently, I just thought it was an adjustment because I had a newborn, not necessarily because there was issues with Torey.

BG: Did it push you to your limits?

DS: In a weird way, she didn't really push me to my limits because I felt that I was doing quite well helping with Torey and Ari as a father anyway. However it was certainly highly stressful and frustrating at times because we started to argue about the most irrelevant things. We were so structured that Ari needed to eat and sleep by certain times and it needed to happen otherwise panic would set in. Those sorts of things made it a little more difficult for me.

BG: How have you compared it to baby number two?

DS: It's chalk and cheese, the biggest difference is that the household is so much more relaxed now (even with two kids). Torey is more flexible with her thinking, processes, planning and behaviours and I am proud to see how she has come through it. Torey was brave with acknowledging she had PND and took proactive steps to ensure she gave herself the best chance of handling it again and it is great to see her enjoy the newborn phase with Mischa.

Torey representing the AWFA in 2017.

Torey representing the AWFA in 2017.

BG: Torey, Do you have any advice for those who may be experiencing similar issues?

TS: There is absolutely no shame in seeking help. Depression comes in so many forms and it doesn't discriminate. If you feel like something isn't right, it probably isn't. Reach out to someone you feel comfortable with. There is great support for PND attached to the maternity ward in Wodonga, including the PEHP team. Being a mum, or even a dad for that matter, is hard. Don't suffer by yourself. Find people who are happy to listen. Having that support and knowing that support is there is vital. Find people you can trust and be vulnerable to those people. I have found since I have been honest and open about my struggles, the more people are willing to help. When people don't know they can't help.

BG: Is there a chance you'll pull on the boots again?

TS: I'm thinking about maybe going back next year. I haven't completely shut the door. I'll see if it works with Decha's coaching commitments. I would assume the girls will be on a different draw, but if it works it works and I'm fine if it doesn't as well. I was around a lot last year watching the girls play because Decha was helping with the thirds and coaching the reserves. I did start to miss it and wanted to be out there.

This story Footballer, and mum, Torey Saisanid opens up on postnatal depression first appeared on The Border Mail.