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 

Standard
Parenting

Why new moms need new expectations

Expectation. What a word. To some it can bring excitement, to others it can bring exhaustion. To one, it can bring fun and to another, it can bring fear. We all have expectation in our lives, whether that is how we expect our day to pan out, or how we expect our careers to pan out, whether we expect to build a FTSE100 empire before we are 30 or build a family home.

I love having a goal, a dream, an expectation. My expectation was to get married and be a mom before I was 30. I happily achieved said expectation, but did the reality live up to the dream? Not quite. Rest assured that I am happily married and couldn’t be more grateful for the blessings that have been bestowed on me in the form of my three little ones. But that doesn’t make my long-awaited expectation of the motherhood experience any less challenging.

My first son was born (relatively) easily in a peaceful water birth, but he soon made his presence known by keeping his poor unsuspecting parents awake all hours for the first three months. I expected to cherish these first few weeks of his little life as I blissfully washed his bamboo nappies (yes, really), however, these were some of the hardest and saddest weeks as we desperately tried to fathom out our new family member and survive on next to no sleep. I vividly remember one night, around 2am, when Dave and I were literally on. our. knees. and I placed our son in the middle of the bed and stepped back, not knowing what the heck to do next. In our sleep deprived state, we had tried everything, except swaddling, and this turned out to be the saving grace for our sanity, as we turned a corner and saw our firstborn sleep for more than 2 consecutive hours.

Then came the second son. Another much loved, much planned for baby, albeit with a much larger gap than I would have liked. Surgery necessitated the long wait, and my health was more important than expanding our family, but when he came oh what joy I awaited.

Only the joy didn’t come.

Don’t get me wrong, I was head over heels in love with this little one who snuggled up to me so calmly, but my heart raced as I contemplated juggling two children. I expected to breeze into motherhood second time round, but as reality set in, my fears became nerves that grew into anxieties. I soon felt so overwhelmed that I just couldn’t face being a parent to anyone, much less the precious boys I have been blessed with. All this, despite a hands-on, supportive hubby and a fantastic network of family and friends.

After five months of juggling schedules and struggling to keep my head above water, I was diagnosed with Post Natal Depression. The diagnosis came as no surprise in the end, and if anything, it was such a relief to know that I wasn’t losing the plot and that I wasn’t a bad mother. I was not alone. Accepting the diagnosis was no problem. If anything, I almost wore it as a badge of honour to explain that actually, I wasn’t failing, I was a work in progress, and within 6 months I was back to my normal self.

PND is no discriminator of people or circumstance. My baby was wanted, planned for, prayed for. Yet when he came, I was so overwhelmed with the responsibility; the sudden influx of hormones, the sudden immersion into baby world, and the sudden subjection to his every need. I was an experienced parent, who knew what to expect, and my son was a relaxed little man, yet I was so completely overcome with emotion and anxiety that I could barely think straight. I thank God for the medical professionals who helped me through this difficult time, not to mention my faithful husband and my many friends who had journeyed this path before me or with me.

So onto baby number 3. She was no less planned for, prayed for, and prepared for than her brothers, if not she was more so. The nursery was decorated, the work schedules were created, the books were read and the home was ready, yet when she came I felt the old anxieties creep into my mind as my expectation stood at odds with my reality. There I was, with this sweet little one who fell into our arms with a smile and fell into a routine without batting an eye lid, yet I found myself feeling totally overwhelmed by the now enormous task in front of me. How was I ever going to juggle three children along with a writing career, keeping my home (and me) in a half reasonable style and state of cleanliness, oh and build a blog and write a book….. and manage more than 5 hours sleep in the process.

To raise another is the greatest privilege. As a mom of three, I can safely say this is the greatest, most rewarding role I have ever had, however, coupled with my expectations, it has caused the most pain, upset, anxiety, and, at times, even depression. A classic ‘achiever’, my character is such that I want to do everything to the best of my ability. This means holding it all together, at all times, having the tidy house, the contented babies, and the completed deadlines. My ambitious striving, of course, can be a strength, but for those, like me, who place too great an expectation on themselves, it can be a curse.

When it comes to motherhood, the thing I have craved, dreamed of and desired, I expect to succeed, I expect to flourish. I expect to sail through because I am a ‘do-er’, and ‘achiever’. I constantly measure myself against impossible standards, then wonder why I fall short. The advice I dish out to others I can barely swallow myself. The prayers I pray for friends are barely audible for myself.

Why? Because I expect too much of myself.

It is OK for a friend to fall apart, but I cannot. It is OK for a family member to need counselling but not me. It’s OK for a loved one to ask for help but I must march on. How ridiculous.

I recently read this quote from the inimitable William Shakespeare;

Oft expectation fails, and most oft there where most it promises or in modern day language; Expectation is the root of all heartache. 

I put too much expectation on myself, and the resulting wave of heartache that accompanies feelings of disappointment when I don’t ‘make the grade’ hurts like heck.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to succeed, with wanting to achieve, with having a dream. New mom’s do not need to cast off all their ambitions and put their lives on hold in order to raise their baby, but friends, we need to stop putting too great expectations of ourselves. Stop trying to have the Pinterest worthy house, the picture perfect family, the insta-flawless selfie. We need to embrace our flaws, our failings, and our frustrations because this is what makes us human. And I am speaking to myself before anyone else.

So next time I feel overwhelmed, fall down or mess up, rather than just painting on my face and marching on I might just let someone in. If someone texts to check in on me or taps me on the shoulder at the school gates, I might just let them know how I am really doing. I might just say, “Do you know what? Motherhood is a gift, but man is it hard work!” I might just accept the offer of a hug, a prayer, a cuppa or a meal.

Fellow parents, let’s stop being proud and start being real, and today, this starts with me.

Just sayin’.

R xx

 

Standard