Adoption, Mental Health, Parenting

Behind The Smile

It’s not very British to air your woes, unless you are complaining about the weather of course. The ‘keep calm and carry on’ mantra has continued long since the war ended and our chronic apologetic nature makes us too polite to challenge attitudes or actions we don’t like. In short, we have become very good at hiding how we really feel, and this is to our detriment.

When I was first diagnosed with post natal depression in July 2013, I felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. Following the birth of my second son in 2013, I had felt like an utter failure. I couldn’t juggle the demands of a baby and a 3 year old and became increasingly unable to cope. I was hugely emotional and irrational and I couldn’t seem to get my words out or process simple information. My husband noticed and said that sometimes I would just walk into a room and ramble, then walk away. He felt like a light had gone out in my eyes, and I wasn’t ‘there’.

My diagnosis felt like a relief; I wasn’t going mad, I wasn’t a failure, there was something wrong with me and I needed help. I was very open with my diagnosis and would tell anyone and everyone because I felt that if they knew what was going on they would understand why I was different. Only trouble is, I had been so good at masking the depression with all except my very closest loved ones, that no one had any idea there was anything wrong. They would say things like, ‘Oh but you always look so put together, make up on, outfits carefully chosen, kids dressed and at church/playgroup…’ I had painted on a smile, presented my family and projected the fact that I had it altogether, when really I was crumbling side.

I had painted on a smile and projected the fact that I had it altogether, when really I was crumbling inside.

It makes me so sad that I did this. Not that I should have been unkempt, scruffy and miserable all the time either, but that I felt the need to tell the world ‘I am okay, I have got this.’

Friend, it’s okay to not be okay. I’ll say it again – it is okay to not be okay. It’s okay to drop the ball, let the tears fall, let your guard down and let others in. Because it is only when we reach out that we can be pulled out.

I sought professional help with both my depressions. My GP was incredible, so compassionate and supportive. I was prescribed medication both times following diagnosis. It worked brilliantly first time and I was on SSRI’s for six months, but second time round I didn’t react well to them at all. With my post adoption depression there were different triggers and it was less of a hormonal imbalance as opposed to an emotional one, therefore I sought weekly counselling which was a lifesaver, I exercised and spent time outdoors whenever possible, preferably in the woods or at the coast, and I began to use essential oils to support my emotions.

Depression is no respecter of persons, ages or stages.

Depression can hit at any time. It is no respecter of persons, ages or stages. You can be living in an ivory tower and have depression so deep in your soul that you want to leave this world. You can have the perfect family, the perfect job and still struggle with mental health. It isn’t necessarily because of what you have or don’t have, it can be the result of emotional injuries from long ago that surface due to a circumstance, it can be due to a stressful period in life, illness, hormones, you name it. We are emotional creatures, and our feelings need to be heard, acknowledged and processed, not brushed under the carpet or put back in a box.

I have shared my story ever since to try and reduce the stigma attached to mental health and encourage others that they are not alone. I began a peer support group for moms affected by mental health back in the Midlands and am now proud to be a Mental Health Swim Host here in Port Talbot, South Wales.

If you are struggling wiht mental health or know someone who is, then please reach out to someone you trust or to a mental health organisation such as the ones below:

Mind

Ask them mental health problems, where to get help near you, treatment options and advocacy services.

Tel: 0300 123 3393
Email: info@mind.org.uk
Text: 86463

Samaritans

Samaritans are open 24/7 for anyone who needs to talk. You can visit some Samaritans branches in person. Samaritans also have a Welsh Language Line on 0808 164 0123 (7pm–11pm every day).

Tel: 116 123 (freephone)
Email: jo@samaritans.org

Sane

Offers emotional support and information for anyone affected by mental health problems.

Website: sane.org.uk

Shout Crisis Line

If you’re experiencing a crisis, are unable to cope and need support, text Shout to 85258. Shout can help with urgent issues such as:

  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Abuse or assault
  • Self-harm
  • Bullying
  • Relationship challenges

Rethink Mental Illness

You can call the Rethink advice and information line Monday to Friday, 10am-2pm for practical advice on:

  • different types of therapy and medication
  • benefits, debt, money issues
  • police, courts, prison
  • your rights under the Mental Health Act.

Tel: 0300 5000 927 

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Lifestyle, Mental Health, wellness

Why swim in cold water?

Swimming in cold water may not appeal to many, but it could be the key to your physical and mental health this season.

I have always loved the ocean, and will happily swim in any weather, but it wasn’t until recently that I realised the tremendous health benefits it offers. Here I share some of the many reasons why we swim in cold water and why you should too.

It can boost your immune system

When we swim in cold water our body is forced to react to the changing condition and it fires up our sympathetic nervous system to protect us. This voluntary action can, when repeated over time, help our body to activate its defences faster.

It can improve circulation

When we swim in cold water our heart has to work harder to force the blood to our extremities to keep us moving and keep us warm. As it does this, it flushes your veins, arteries, and capillaries and aids the lymphatic system in expelling toxins from our body.

It can reduce inflammation

Swimming has long be known as a superb low impact exercise for our joints, but cold water swimming can go one step further. As adrenaline and endorphins are released, this can soothe or even stop joint pain and reduce inflammation over time.

It can support and sustain mental health

Cold water swimming is by no means a cure for any condition, however our body released endorphins when in the water which gives us a natural high. This study in the British Medical Journal on a 24-year-old woman shows its effects. She had been treated for symptoms of a major depressive disorder and anxiety since the age of 17, but wanted to live medication and symptom free after the birth of her daughter. She began open water swimming each week and this led to an immediate improvement in mood following each swim and gradual reduction in symptoms of depression. A year later she was medication free.

How to swim safe

Cold water swimming is a euphoric experience, but it can be dangerous too. These are some important safety tips from the Outdoor Swimming Society:

  • Never swim alone
  • Never go out of your depth
  • Keep immersions brief – a few minutes is all you need
  • Warm up when you get out with layers, hats, gloves and a warm drink
  • Have something to eat to rasie your blood sugar
  • Walk around to raise your body temperature
  • Never have a hot shower straight after as the sudden change in blood flow can cause you to pass out.

As with any exercise, cold water immersion affects your blood pressure, heart rate, and circulation, which means it can cause serious cardiac stress. If you have a heart condition or any underlying health condition, please discuss the risks with your doctor first.

Join a cold water swim

Each month Mental Health Swims hosts cold water swim meets up and down the country. I host one here in Aberavon, Port Talbot and you would be so welcome to join us! Details can be found here. Alternatively, check out the Outdoor Swimming Society for other meets.

Happy swimming!

R x

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