Are you ok? Three simple words, but for some of us is difficult to answer.
How many of us are truly honest with ourselves and friends and families when we’re struggling? I know I’m not.
This week is UK Maternal Mental Health Matters Awareness week (29 April 2019 – 5 May 2019 and today specifically is World Maternal Mental Health Day 2019 so it seems timely to open up the conversation about maternal mental health and the impact having a child can have on our mental health and well-being.
When we’re physically ill we go to the doctor without a second thought, how many of us do it with our mental health? The same goes with work. It’s acceptable to have a day sick because we have flu but how many of us would actually ask our employers for a day off sick to look after our mental health?
I hope you’re not struggling and if by sharing my story even one person feels slightly less alone then that’s my goal achieved.
So…here’s my story about me and my mental health post baby…
Naively I thought second time round parenting, and specifically looking after a baby, would be a bit easier because we’d already done it once. It didn’t cross my mind that the boys would be so different, which was obviously very naive of me.
Our eldest was pretty chilled as a baby so when the wee one arrived and wasn’t, it was a shock to the system. The lack of sleep, coupled with having to drive our eldest to nursery, I could have just about coped with (I think). But both my job and his nursery place were put at risk when the wee one was just 10 days old. Add to that the hormones and some days I did great and others I didn’t.
My GP and health visitor always checked I was OK as I made them aware of the situation but I wasn’t totally honest with them on reflection.
The wee one’s appointments were mostly on ‘good days’ so when they asked how I was I told them I was fine. I wasn’t.
I didn’t want to admit to myself that I couldn’t cope with everything that was going on.
Having done a bit of research since I can see that I had postnatal rage. The only way to describe is that I felt a white hot rage like I’ve never felt before, or since, in those few months. It would come on in a flash and I had no control over what I was saying, well screaming if I’m honest.
I physically hurt myself a couple of times by pinching or hitting myself. I think it was an effort to ground myself and to take away some of those feelings.
Afterwards I would feel dreadful about what I had said and would be rattled with guilt.
Only a few people really knew what was going on as it made me feel like I was failing.
Being open and talking to just a few people really helped, as did remembering that my mental well-being was just as important as making sure the boys were OK.
My sister was undertaking a university course in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy at the time and gave me some really useful strategies.
The main strategy I used was to ask myself whether the thought I was having was helpful. If it isn’t the aim is to try to think about something else to distract yourself. It takes some practice but is actually a really good technique and worth giving a go if you’re struggling.
For me exercise works to give me the mental head space I need to cope with life as a mother. It’s why I run so much. Running gives me the opportunity to think about something other than being a parent. It’s also well known that exercise releases endorphins that make us feel better.
Motherhood is tough and sometimes we’re quick to judge ourselves in a way we wouldn’t judge others. I don’t know about you but it’s so easy to be hard on ourselves instead of showing some kindness and giving ourselves a break. Motherhood is an intense roller coaster, and even if someone looks like they’ve got it together they may not have. They may not want to talk about it, but alternatively they may be desperate for someone to listen to them so they don’t feel so alone. You don’t know until you ask.
Thank you to those who gave me support, whether you knew it or not. Sometimes a walk in the park chatting about nothing in particular was just as helpful as having a chat about what I was feeling.
A special thank you to Dave, my husband, for putting up with me through it all.