Maternal mental health matters – it does what it says on the tin!!

This week (w/c 30.04.18) is maternal mental health matters awareness week. It is a week designed to put a greater emphasis on the importance of supporting mothers and promoting awareness of the various networks available to anyone who feels they may be struggling.
Motherhood can be a very lonely place and not just in the early days. This combined with the considerable stigma attached to maternal mental health can leave many mothers feeling ashamed of feeling anything less than grateful and ecstatic at all times. Some may feel that they will be judged or worse that they will be punished for admitting that they are finding things difficult. All around them are people who seem like they are doing a better job or those who look like they have their sh*t together and it can lead a mother to feel that she is failing in some way. But instead of reaching out, they will carry on as best they can and suppress their true feelings. To the outside world they will look like they are coping and like they are doing a fantastic job (which most probably they are) but inside they are being eaten away by feelings of inferiority, loneliness, anxiety and stress to name but a few.
I am writing this from experience, I have felt and sometimes still do feel many of these things. Initially I thought that my journey may be quite different from others but in actual fact it probably isn’t so I want to share it to help those who may be in a similar position.
My baby, like so many, was very much wanted. Being a mother was the ONLY thing I ever knew I really wanted and I absolutely couldn’t wait to get started on my journey. The birth of my daughter marked the start of the greatest job I will ever have, but like so many of the things in my life I had placed certain expectations on how it would feel and what it would be like. I’ll be honest, many of those expectations were influenced by the media. In actual fact it wasn’t at all, there was no glamour, not too much in the way of excitement and often a fair bit of loneliness. But I was lucky in that I didn’t suffer too much from poor mental health as result of becoming a mother.
However, at about the 5 month point I ended up caught in the middle of a very difficult family situation which had a very negative impact on my mental wellbeing. I see that as the starting point for the position I have found myself in now. Since that point there has been a variety of difficulties that have chipped away at my resolve.
Now don’t get me wrong, in that time there has also been a lot of wonderful times including the birth of my second child. However, I don’t feel that I have ever had the time to rebuild my resilience and consequently each time I encountered something difficult, my mental wellbeing was knocked down further. Then instead of taking time to address and deal with my response to this, I metaphorically filed it away in what a lovely friend referred to as my “wardrobe” and closed the door. Each time something happened it would go in to the wardrobe and I would continue as normal. As a strategy it seemed to be a good one and I genuinely felt like I was coping, it was a struggle at times but overall had someone asked me how I was I would have said that I was doing well. Except it turns out I wasn’t, and one day I encountered a difficult situation at work, I tried to put it in the wardrobe and the doors burst off spilling the contents everywhere. It was mess!!! A great big, ginormous, humongous mess all over the place taking on the form of anxiety and panic attacks. My resilience was no longer, it had been chipped away to nothing and it is from that point that I have had to rebuild.
And that is where I am now, at the point of rebuilding. I have made some major life changes including giving up my career and finally being brave enough to go for counselling. I am not certain what stage I am in my rebuild, mainly because I don’t know what recovery looks like. I struggle with not knowing if this is what I am going to be like from now on or if I am still healing. It is something I have to deal with and come to terms with.
Becoming a mother didn’t cause my mental health difficulties but being a mother has been a big influencer in my mental health journey. Being a parent is very difficult and does come with a great deal of responsibility which in turn causes a great deal of pressure. But I am certain that had I not been a mother when I found myself in this position then my struggle would have been harder. Those two beautiful, innocent, dependant and amazing human beings have always been my purpose and they were my incentive to keep going and to start the path towards healing. I had to get up and function every day for them. I had to drag myself out of the mire. I had to learn strategies to control the panic when I was around them.
This kind of responsibility and pressure is not always helpful for others and I can fully understand the struggle that some people will face with the fact that they have to be a parent when all they want to do is curl up in a ball and cry. But for me they gave me the incentive and the safety net that I needed. I will be eternally grateful to them for all that they have inadvertently given me during this time.
I had an unpleasant meeting with an occupational health nurse (another story for another day) who suggested that I couldn’t possibly be as ill as I was suggesting because I could still function on a day to day basis and look after my children. Little did she know that I had to battle gigantic demons to get out of the door just to do the school run. But I did it because I had to and if I had to go anywhere else I would take a child with me as my safety net. That was what worked for me, but it may not be for everyone. Having a child with me meant that I had someone else to focus on, I had a job and something to do in situations where I would normally feel exposed and vulnerable. It also gave me a reason to escape if I needed to “im sorry but we need to get home for teatime, bedtime etc” “sorry we just need to pop to the loo” etc etc. I had to function for my children but I needed my children in order to function.
So occupational health nurse I would suggest that you need to do some more research in to mental health because there is no set way to act and behave when you are struggling with a mental health issue. And much like in parenting, you often do whatever you need to do to make it through and that’s ok. It worries me that there are perceptions like these floating around amongst health professionals but again that is for another day.
My experience with maternal mental health may be different to the norm but what it maternal mental health matters means to me is exactly that – maternal mental health does matter and whatever shape or form your mental health takes and whatever path you found yourself it is all valid and important. The purpose of this week is to highlight the importance and prevalence of mental health issues amongst mothers so that we can all support one another. Remember just because someone looks like they have their sh*t together doesn’t mean they do. Don’t be disheartened if you think others around you are doing a better job, chances are they are or will be fighting their own battle at some point. Equally just because someone looks ok doesn’t mean that they are and actually they could just be waiting to for someone to ask them if they are ok so they can finally unburden themselves. So if you feel you have the capacity (and its ok if you don’t) to support someone who may be struggling then why not be the person to ask if someone is ok, you could make a world of difference to them.

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