Mental Health and Mothering
There is an increasing amount of attention paid today (and rightly so!) to postnatal depression. However, there is less spoken about the experience of women who are already suffering from mental health problems prior to, during and after becoming mothers.
I am going to talk about depression, anxiety and PTSD because that’s where my experience lies. Due to an abusive and traumatic childhood and subsequent adult relationships, I have been left with a brain that was physiologically damaged at an early age, and that I have been fighting all my adult life to come to terms with and ‘fix’ the ‘broken bits’. I’ve undertaken CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy for those who don’t know) and counselling, various medications, and currently, a support group for survivors of childhood abuse. This is the best thing so far, as it is directly targeted at people exactly like myself.
Fighting constantly with the inside of your head is exhausting. I am programmed to think negatively about myself, and never feel ‘good enough’ so outwardly although I am strong, confident and sunny, inwardly I am a mess of self-deprecation and doom. I use the word ‘fighting’ because that’s what I’m doing, constantly fighting to reprogram my programming and develop a better brain.
I am generally a positive and optimistic person – I see the bright side in situations, and have a resilient and philosophical outlook on life…however, to keep this positive focus often feels like a true battle against my demons. When you have children, this battle becomes highlighted further as you are suddenly stricken with massive guilt. You question why you are suffering internally when you have been externally gifted by this beautiful creature…you feel terribly guilty about not being constantly joyous, because you have something that others would kill for.
You constantly worry that in some way, your inner demons will affect your child, that they’ll be able to tell when you are unhappy. The logical part of my brain knows that my daughter is developing brilliantly, that she is bright and funny and happy and confident. But my demons tell me that all I do for her is never good enough…that by asking for help with my mental health I might be judged by professionals, that they might question my parenting.
I didn’t suffer from PND…I was already depressed so it was more like CND (constant natal depression!) and wasn’t really picked up on after birth because I didn’t feel any differently to the way I had before, I was just used to living in this state of mind. I think things only became bad enough for me to begin to fight for help after I separated from my daughter’s dad and began to realise the impact of my childhood upon the rest of my life. Partly, it became highlighted because I desperately want to be ‘OK’ for my daughter…I want to be strong, happy, and a good role model.
Someone said to me ‘but why aren’t you happy…you’ve got a lovely partner, daughter, house, and pregnant again, what have you got to be down about!?’ And that’s exactly what the demons say…how DARE I not be OK when I’ve got such a beautiful life? How DARE I suffer, how selfish I must be, to be unable to ‘snap out of it!’ But it’s not that simple. It’s just the same as having a physical injury. I wouldn’t berate myself for a broken leg that was taking a long time to heal…so why do I do it to my brain?
I’m lucky to be surrounded by support. My partner is amazing and I’ve got a circle of wonderful women around me. I know I WILL get better…I am learning to be kinder to myself. I am learning to retrain my brain. But it IS a battle, a dark, stormy, bloody battle and is still taboo to talk about. We need to be more open with each other. Be honest when someone asks ‘how are you?’ Ask for help to get better. Push for it. Fight for it. Because our children deserve happy mummies, and we deserve to be happy mummies.
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