*This is a guest post
I remember the days pre-motherhood when everything seemed easy breezy. I realise that hindsight is a wonderful thing and my youth probably appears rosier than it actually was. I know there were humdrum days when I didn’t want to go to work, days when I felt down or angry or (dare I say it?) exhausted. But these days had nothing on what was to come once I became a mother.
You see, while I had long-held dreams about bearing children and becoming an “Earth Mother”, my reality was very different. You see I was one of those unlucky statistics you read about in the baby books, the ones you swear you will never be…someone with postnatal depression. Except mine didn’t begin with depression. It began with crippling anxiety and panic attacks and from the moment my first child was born, I fought with the impending sensation of death on an almost daily basis.
Thankfully, after a lot of support and hard work, I’m now in a place of relative calm (although how calm can it really be with three kids running around?) and I’ve made it my mission to break the myths of mothering with mental illness. There are some myths I’ve come across in my own journey and ones that can be quite damaging if taken as truth. Here are five myths about being a mum with mental illness
Mothers with depression don’t love their kids
When we hear about postnatal depression we often think of mothers who find it difficult to bond with their babies. While that may be true for some, this is not a defining feature of depression.
Many women struggle with feeling like they love their kids too much and are frightened to leave them alone in case something happens. Some women don’t get an immediate gush of “mother love” the moment their baby is born but would still do everything in their power to keep them safe.
We are often prepped by stories in the media and on TV that the second you see your baby’s face that you will fall instantly in love and while this can happen, more often than not it simply isn’t the case. It takes time to get to know a new person and those feelings can take time too, especially if you are also struggling with mental illness.
It’s ok to take your time and build a bond – it does not make you a bad parent. How many of us met our partner’s eye across the room and realised it was love at first sight? For most of us, it took time, many dates, long conversations and a lot of learning about how to be with each other before those flutters of true love made themselves known. The same can be true of our babies.
Mothers with mental illness should just snap out of it
This is one of the most dangerous assumptions society has about mental illness – that it’s a choice. Pre and postnatal mental illness doesn’t mean there is something fundamentally flawed with you. It is an illness like any other, and like any other it can be treated. We wouldn’t ask someone with a broken leg to walk it off would we?
It is difficult to ask for help and support without feeling like you have done something wrong. Self-blame and shame only serve to worsen mental illness so let go of those feelings and accept that you didn’t choose this but you can do something about it.
If I take care of myself, I’m being selfish
As mothers we are bombarded with messages that we have to put everyone’s needs above our own, especially those of our children. We are expected to carry out a litany of care duties without complaint and it’s often only when we finally break that anyone pays any notice.
I’m here to tell you that you are not a terrible mother for occasionally putting yourself first. Having a self-care routine does not make you selfish. Recognising when you’re beginning to run on empty before you reach crisis point and doing something to redress the balance is how you are looking after your family. The saying goes that you can’t pour from an empty cup.
Likewise we can’t care for others and neglect ourselves. By taking time to look after yourself, you will improve not only your health but also the happiness of your family.
I am the only one who feels this way
Over the years I’ve learned that mental illness tells lies. Lots of lies. The most pervasive of these is that you are alone, that you are the only person not enjoying motherhood, the only person feeling this way and that you should be ashamed. You are not alone. I’ll say that again. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
Right now it is estimated that half of all new parents are experiencing some form of mental health difficulty ranging from mild anxiety to psychosis and everything in between. Whether you’re having intrusive thoughts or can’t get out of bed. Whether you secretly hate being a parent or whether your completely overwhelmed by it all. Someone, somewhere is feeling the way you do. Find those people.
Look for support groups, helplines, friends who have been through something similar. Find someone you can trust and use your voice to say how you are feeling and you will soon realise that there is a global club of us, all struggling, all fighting for better and most importantly, all supporting each other.
Talk, talk and talk some more until you find a way out of it and use your voice to say how you are feeling and you will soon realise that there is a global club of us, all struggling, all fighting for better and most importantly, all supporting each other. Talk, talk and talk some more until you find a way out of it.
Life will always be this way
Motherhood is hard. It’s so damn hard. Even without any additional struggles, raising little human people is the most difficult, exhausting and yet rewarding thing you will ever do. Those early years feel like being spun in a washing machine that feels like it will never stop. If you’re struggling with mental illness on top of that, it can feel completely and utterly earth-shattering. It won’t always feel this way.
With the right tools and the right support, perinatal mental illness is 100% treatable and while I can’t guarantee that there won’t be days where you want to pull your hair out, those will just be the standard days that every parent has. Right now you might feel completely stuck in the mire of depression or anxiety but there is a way out of it. Just keep fighting for it because guess what mama? Your kids deserve it. Your family deserves it but most importantly of all YOU DESERVE IT.
To read more about Michelle’s experiences with pre- and postnatal mental illness as well a self-help guide for anyone who is struggling, you can buy her new book “Pangs: Surviving Motherhood and Mental Illness” from Amazon.
Michelle is a mum of three children. She also runs an online perinatal mental health peer support group and a resource site for parents and health professionals seeking further information: www.wearepangs.com.