As it is world mental health day, I want to share my story, in the hope it will encourage people to share theirs. It is a long one, but I know those who acknowledge and support the sharing of mental health issues will appreciate my story.
I have only known myself to be an independent person, and I always prided myself on that. I began to realise half way through my twenties, that something that I loved about myself had slowly started to eat away at me. Why? Because being independent means you learn to live your life relying on absolutely no-one – and that is just not possible to sustain. One day you wake up and think ‘everyone I know and love goes about their day-to-day lives having no idea what is going on’ – and this realisation hurt. It hurt to think that if something ever happened to me, no one would know who I truly was, or the struggles I got myself through. And to that end, I thought about my family and friends who could be thinking and doing the exact same thing as me. A fire erupted in my soul, I wanted to talk about this. I wanted to be brave. I wanted people overwhelmed by their own demons, to read the stories of another person’s demons, and find comfort in knowing we are all in this together.
I have had the biggest rollercoaster ride from the last three months of my pregnancy with Cece until her first birthday on Saturday. I cried so much, I felt detached so much, I longed for the children to go to sleep so much. To me, making it through the day without wanting to lock myself in the bathroom every chance I got was a successful day. We, as mothers, talk about the precious firsts we get to witness in our babies’ first year of life like it is such an amazing year. It is hardly mentioned that sometimes you are clinging on for dear life, just hoping the child will sleep tonight. Are we meant to feel guilty for not enjoying every single moment of that first year? Are we meant to be viewed as ungrateful if we don’t appreciate every moment of that first year? Absolutely not. For every mom telling a friend pregnant with her first baby how magical it is, she should also be sharing the reality of how difficult and lonely it can be too.
After giving birth, I was in an incredible fuzzy bubble, I longed for the baby to arrive, not just to meet her, but so my hormones could drop, and I could feel somewhat sane again. I felt incredible for those first few days after her birth. So incredible I genuinely didn’t want to leave the hospital. I just wanted to stay with her sleeping on my chest for as long as possible. As an only child in an unhappy home growing up, I had longed for a family of my own, and I had longed to give my five-year-old the wonderful gift of a sibling that I never got to experience. All was bliss for those first few months, I was even eating well and losing weight. I felt great.
Signs of Post-Natal Depression
As I was soon to find out, the dark demon of post-natal depression naturally rears its head around three months postpartum. The transition from the hypnotic magic of a newborn, to a story of lack of sleep wreaking havoc with your brain and hormone levels occurs. I couldn’t drive due to the anxiety, I cut out chunks of my hair, I attacked my skin, I didn’t want to talk to people, I didn’t want to leave the house. The medication I was given helped with the paralysis I would feel in my spine when having to go out in public. However, it also made it near impossible to stay awake and made me ravenous. I was terrified to come off the medication for fear I would dissolve into a black hole and be unable to look after my children. Thankfully, when I did come off it, after gaining so much weight, I wasn’t as withdrawn as before. I had a milder form of post-natal depression. The type often viewed by others as looking like a tired mom of a new baby. I can tell you, many of those moms aren’t just tired, they are lonely, they feel trapped by the pressure to never do a single thing wrong, and they just want a day off without feeling guilty or judged for wanting a break from their baby.
I used to walk past the parents outside my daughter’s school giving a polite smile. No-one really talked last year, and when you are consumed into the depths of post-natal depression, you just think no-one will want to talk to you anyway. You hope you don’t get into a full conversation just in case you say something ridiculous, and leave a lasting impression of being an eejit. But deep down you would love to go over to these people and ask them how they are, how their weekend was, ask them how their little one was getting on in school. But you can’t. You’re paralysed with fear due to hormones (or lack thereof) circling your brain. You stand their numb, wondering where the fuck did Elizabeth go?
I genuinely lost a part of me for so many months, I was just a blur of a figure who looked after children and never looked after herself, for most of the time I didn’t care. The moments that I did care were so awful I avoided them. Gaining weight made it easier to withdraw because I didn’t even look like myself anymore. I was just mom, but I was ok at that. I fed them right, played with them, gave them cuddles and filled them with positive thoughts. It was so much easier to put myself on the back-burner and not think about what I needed. I’m doing my job and that is all that matters; isn’t it?
End The Stigma
I think what really lit the fire to make me want to fight it was my experience of the horrific attitude towards mental health. I have many family members with various issues: depression, anxiety, addiction and suicides. Multiple suicides, from teenagers to mothers, which is just devastating. As much as I may have put my issues into abeyance because I was busy raising kids, I do not tolerate ignorance towards mental health in any way, shape or form. I personally do not care about a friend’s cousin on the other side of the world and their ignorant uneducated opinion. I care about my therapist; my doctor and the people who support me. We tell sufferers it is ok to not feel ok. Well I want to tell the people that are ok, that your ignorant, hurtful and despicable comments are not ok. Stop thinking your opinion about something you do not understand is in any way valid or warranted.
Now, things are somewhat easier. I personally feel like the first year is tough. I have raised two babies alone, and have avoided meeting other people. Including family and friends. It isn’t the way to do it, I know. I have made things extra tough for myself. The views towards mental health in Ireland make it harder to speak about being in a dark and lonely place. Now that I am in a better place I can channel my frustration from my experience into helping fight the stigma.
I now go out and talk to everyone. I strike up conversations with all the parents at the school, the school warden, the man that delivers the bread to the local shop. I am back to being able to express the person I truly am. There is a light at the end of the dark suffocating tunnel of mental illness. It is often impossible to see, and hard to believe it can be reached. It is important we talk, it is vital we share what we’re feeling and reach out for help when we know we need it. I know how horrendous it is to make the first step to tell anyone. It is without doubt the hardest thing to do. Sitting in a doctors’ waiting room planning how to explain your’re falling apart, or tell a loved one without worrying you are a burden. You are not. I promise you. You need to chat to someone. You need someone to tell you that it is so normal to experience this. It is ok to not love every minute, It is ok to fall apart. You cannot enjoy every minute of this difficult chapter of your life. You are not superwoman. Superwoman doesn’t exist.
World Mental Health Day: Support Resources
Pieta House – www.pieta.ie // 1800 247 247
Aware – www.aware.ie // 1800 80 48 48 // firstname.lastname@example.org
Samaritans – www.samaritans.org // 116 123 // email@example.com
Lets Get Talking Counselling Service – Dublin: (01) 456 9158 // Galway: (091) 765 900