It’s Maternal Mental Health week and never has a subject been closer to my heart. I’ve documented my own battles with my mental health many times on this blog but for this week I wanted to open my blog up to other mother’s who have or are suffering and living with mental health battles of their own.
It takes great courage to openly talk about something where there is still so much stigma attached but when these issues affect more than 1 in 4 people, I think it’s the most important conversation we can have. The more we talk openly about mental health, the broader and more important the subject becomes, the less isolated we feel, the better the education becomes and the more support we can offer one another.
So today I’m passing my blog over to Amy, who is going to share her story and her experience with her own mental health.
I always expected motherhood to come naturally to me – I’d longed to have children for such a long time, I figured once the waiting was over I’d be happy. But when it came to it, I spent the first six months feeling overwhelmed.
When the sleep deprivation finally consumed me, I knew I couldn’t cope for much longer. I felt like I was getting everything wrong and I couldn’t settle into this new way of life. I no longer wanted to be a Mum. Often, I’d lay in bed looking out of the window planning to pack my bags and go – I never did decide where, I just needed to go.
There was some light at the end of the tunnel: my son, Harry, was booked to go to nursery three days a week from the start of September so that I could get back to work – I knew that would give me a break and help me to start reclaiming the part of myself that wasn’t just ‘Mum’. So, I battled through.
Only, when it got to that time, things didn’t get better… they got worse. I found the pressure of restarting my career too hard and had no confidence in myself at all. I was slow, made basic errors and I could never seem to get anything done on time.
I was made redundant while I was pregnant, so every time something went wrong with this new job, I started thinking about that and blaming myself for it all: ‘you just aren’t good enough for a decent job’, I’d tell myself every day.
It had an effect on my relationship with Harry, too. I hoped space away from him would mean I treasured our time together more, but that wasn’t always the case. On my low days I would lay in bed with my head under the covers, not wanting to go and pick him up.
There was so much going on and I couldn’t work out where to start. Even if I did figure out what needed to be done first, I didn’t have the energy to do it, so my to-do list was constantly getting bigger and I was never ticking anything off.
My breaking point came when Harry, waking in a quiet bar that we had popped into while he was napping, had a meltdown which involved his bottle of water being thrown at my glass of wine, resulting in both crashing to the floor and glass flying everywhere.
I was fuming. I just wanted to have ten minutes relaxing and smiling, but he couldn’t even let me have that. I picked him up under my arm and rushed out, trying not to make eye contact with the other punters who I was sure would be smirking or tutting at me. I stood outside with him on my hip not even able to look at him, before throwing him at my partner Luke and walking away.
A little further down the road, I burst into tears. In the middle of the street, with people walking either side of us, Luke held me in his arms while I stood and sobbed.
I hate this.
I don’t want to be this.
Harry deserves a better Mum than me.
I considered getting on a train but knew that wasn’t fair on Luke, I just couldn’t figure out a way forward and I was fed up of hating myself so much. I realised later that I had changed so much since losing my job and becoming a Mum I didn’t recognise myself and that was why I wasn’t happy. I didn’t want to be this new me.
I never reached the point of feeling suicidal, thankfully, but that was me at my lowest. I berated myself for not being brave enough to consider killing myself, I felt I was a wimp for not being able to do the thing that would get me out of feeling like this.
A short time later I attended the BBC’s Mum Takeover – billed as ‘the UK’s biggest conversation about Mums and mental health, Radio 5 Live ran a day of special programming focusing on this important topic, including the live event at Blackpool Tower which I had gone along to.
With #MumTakeover trending on Twitter as parents from around the country shared their own experiences, I started to realise I wasn’t alone – which was, of course, the aim of the event. I heard parents like Sophie Mei Lan talk bravely about what they had been through and I was in awe of these strong men and women.
(The project was so successful, it has made a return for Maternal Mental Health week and I’d recommend popping onto the 5 Live pages to see the resources they have available there or tuning in for one of their features.)
I could relate to so much of what they were saying, it triggered something inside of me. But, hearing about women whose pregnancies had led to psychotic experiences made me feel like my own problems were insignificant. How could I ask for help when there were women going through so much worse than me?
On the way back to Leeds, I wrote a blog and it made me realise I did need to ask for help. I’d already mentioned my feelings to a GP and she’d said to come back if it didn’t get better. I was scared, but it was time to admit something was wrong.
The process once I’d been back to the doctor was really quite simple, I was advised to self-refer online with Leeds IAPT and I’m grateful for how kind and efficient they were. I never once felt embarrassed telling them what was going on and they quickly arranged for me to speak to a counsellor.
Before my first session with Debbie, I was so nervous. I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew I needed to ask her for help. I wanted to come away with a coping mechanism for those low moments. Afterwards, I felt like a weight had lifted. For the first time in a long time I felt proud of myself – I’d done a good thing by getting help.
The sessions lasted for 8 weeks and we talked through so much, including things I didn’t realise were still affecting me. From left over resentment towards my ex-boyfriends, to events that had dented my confidence while I was growing up.
We realised the feelings of not liking myself, the lack of confidence and the constant putting myself down were things that had been there a long time. Combined with losing my job unexpectedly in the early stages of an unexpected pregnancy had – understandably – made me feel lost and out of control.
Towards the end of the sessions, Debbie mentioned medication. I had previously said I was against it, I was worried I’d struggle to come off them and, to be honest, having to take medication to help made me feel like it was a serious illness. I wasn’t ready to admit that because it was just another mountain for me to climb when I already had so many.
But, in the end, she made me see it was the right thing for me. My moods were going from one end to the other at an alarming rate and the tablets would help me control that. They would stop me reaching the very low points that I struggled to get out of: I liked the sound of that and realised it could only be a good thing for Harry and Luke.
Still on a journey.
I’ve been on the tablets for about 3 months now and am slowly starting to feel better. Despite my initial nerves, I’ve felt no side effects at all.
I’ve still had some low moments – including a weekend where I ran out of tablets. The change in my personality was quite scary: I’d had a fun day out at the football but woke up the next morning feeling awful. I berated myself for coming home late and having too much wine, I just hated who I was. All those old feelings came flooding back and it terrified me.
What that weekend did though was show me what a difference the tablets are making and how much I need them. It also showed I still need to remember the coping mechanisms my counsellor showed me to get through those low points, because, sadly, life is just going to keep throwing those at me.
I am incredibly grateful to anyone who has spoken out about their own mental health issues. It was people like them who helped me realise I wasn’t alone and that I didn’t have to carry on feeling so unhappy. That’s why I’m determined to be open about my own situation – I want friends and family to know that I will be there for them, just as many of them have been there to help me through this time.
You can join Amy on the rest of her journey with Harry, mental health and life as a working Mum on Mum Full of Dreams
If Amy’s story has struck a chord with you and you feel like you need help but don’t know where to turn I encourage you to speak to your doctor and / or visit the Mind website as they have so much kindness, information, experience and support to offer you – https://www.mind.org.uk