Mental Illness. It’s still not completely OK to talk about is it? We are getting there, but the stigma still remains. The conversation around Post Natal Depression seems to be becoming supportive and much more open. This is great. But what about when Mummy is just depressed? Not post-natally, but generally. What then?
For me, being desperately low (and by low I mean I have phoned the Samaritans when I was scared for my safety), sucks all of my energy. I find it impossible to do the hustle that I was used to doing as a working mum. Cooking, cleaning, washing, socialising, making a living, raising, educating and inspiring a child. A mother’s load is a heavy one. It’s one I wanted to bear and I happily juggled, hustled and kept those plates spinning. But with so much going on, when tragedy struck, everything tumbled down around me. Maternal mental health needs just as much care and attention as anything else on your to-do list. Maybe, dare I say it, looking after your mental health should be top of your to-do list. I had tried to look after my mental health, but in the hustle, I didn’t have enough strength to cope with the pain of recurrent miscarriage and my mental health nose dived.
Since May this year, I have been in a moderate to severe depressive episode. This has been coupled with generalised anxiety disorder. I have a 2 year old. I work. I am a mother and wife. Something had to give. I wasn’t about to let that be my parenting.
When I started to fall into the black hole of depression, I was desperate for one thing: to still be able to raise my child well. I didn’t want her to suffer because Mummy was ill. As a result, I have worked so hard to get better. I started to blog to help me process my thoughts. I scheduled events and meet ups. I picked up old hobbies and took up new ones. I started CBT again and read thousands of articles about mental health recovery. But all of this pressure to be well and to do well only exacerbates my anxiety and feelings of failure and helplessness. It has meant that recovery has been long and complex.
At times, all I want to do is indulge the cycling thoughts in my brain while I lie frozen still on the sofa. But my toddler says, “Mummy, are you OK?” and I’m compelled to interact, entertain and nurture. I practise positive self talk but Mummy guilt shouts louder: “Your depression is damaging her.” So my positive self talk has to shout even louder over the top of it (I mean that literally – the only way to drown out my negative voice is to talk out loud). I talk about compassion and being kind to myself, but find it hard to really shake the shame I feel for being mentally ill. Would I feel this shame if it were a physical illness? Possibly? Maybe not? Either way, again, I remind myself that being mentally ill is not my fault and not something to be ashamed of. The effort of parenting and recovery together is great. Both are mammoth tasks. Working on the two together has tested me to my limits.
I’ve learned a few things over the last few months. Firstly, despite what I tell myself, I am incredibly strong, brave and courageous. I am fierce and battle hard. If you are parenting with mental illness, the same goes for you too. The task is monumental. Secondly, I take ANY and ALL help that is offered. I have no shame in asking for help or accepting it. My husband and daughter need me to be well and I will do anything to get there. Lastly, recovery isn’t linear. Sometimes I feel great one minute, and the next I’m hiding under a duvet. I try to be really flexible, let go of the guilt of saying no and focus on right now. If all I can do right now is cuddle on the sofa with a movie, that is what is best to do right now. Sometimes I set up epic sensory play adventures or dens or spend the day baking. I am equally proud of my parenting during the highs and lows – at all times I have done my best for me, my girl and our family.
As I clamber up another step out of my black hole, I am amazed at who I have become. Somehow, this test has revealed in me the mother I always wanted to be. One who loves fiercely, values cuddles and kisses above all else, and doesn’t get het up if the laundry pile looks like Mount Everest. Parenting with mental illness is the hardest job I have ever had. It sucks. But I am proud of the phoenix that is starting to rise from the ashes.
I am not ashamed that I have depression and anxiety. I am proud of who I am.