I have blogged in the past about my mental health journey. Initially, the shock diagnosis of Goldenhar Syndrome for my son Harry lead to depression. More recently I have been happy to share that I am struggling with anxiety like I’ve never known before, brought on by financial stress. You would think that knowing the triggers would help me to work through the feelings related to them in a calm and rational manner but that’s not always the case. One thing that people really struggle to get their head around with mental health is that in many ways you feel powerless and passive in your own life as the depression or anxiety happens TO you. The overwhelm comes thick and fast, can take you off guard, can often last for days or weeks and sometimes has no trigger at all. In those moments it can be incredibly hard to focus on anything other than the feeling of utter fear and rational thinking can be hard to grasp.
Over the past 12 years since my mental health journey began I have refused help and advice, denied that anything was wrong, pretended that everything was fine and told myself that “it will pass soon”. None of those things have ever helped me and as I know that quite a few people have asked me in the past how I moved from lost to found mother I wanted to share a few of the things that I have done consistently over the years which I feel have made a positive difference to me, my mental health and my family life.
I didn’t talk about my thoughts or feelings anywhere near enough when my twins were born. I was consumed with misplaced guilt and grief and felt that I couldn’t fall apart for looking like even more of a failure than I already felt. Instead, I tried to take in overwhelming amounts of information, suppress my thoughts and feelings and smile as I silently imploded. Talking to my Mum, however, saved me. Getting the words out of my head and letting someone take the thoughts for a while was a blessed relief. I cannot stress enough how important it is to talk to someone. Ideally, it would be your partner but someone is better than no-one at all. Unspoken thoughts and words have a way of swelling to fill a space like a sponge in a sink. My Nan always said ‘Better out than in’ and that’s never been truer than when we are talking about mental health.
I took my boys for craniosacral therapy when they were about 3 years old. As part of that process, I had to introduce myself and my boys and explain about our journey so far. I didn’t realise for a while that I was benefitting just as much as the boys were even though I wasn’t directly having the therapy. After a while, I did start to have one to one sessions too and I do believe that those visits helped me enormously. Although talking to my mum was important to me, when you are talking to someone who knows you as well as yourself there are things left unspoken as you simply assume that they ‘get it’. With a therapist who didn’t know me, I had to explain every aspect of my thoughts which made the postmortem much more thorough and under the expert guidance of the ‘right’ questions to answer, I found the sessions really productive and a great help.
Checking my self talk
One of the skills I learned during a very short CBT session was to ask myself ‘Is that really true’? For each thought that I had. So for example, when I was telling myself that I was a terrible Mother I had to think ‘Is that really true?’ and find the evidence to support the answer. Sometimes it took longer than others to finally see that my critical thoughts were unfounded but it’s a skill I still refer to now with myself and my own son Oliver when he is feeling low and unsure of himself.
My boys didn’t sleep well from the start. I’m sure they planned some sort of tag team offensive to ruin me during the day and at night, due to Harry’s breathing being compromised with his one nostril we had to watch him several times. What I should have done was made time in the day when my mum and nan were visiting, to go back to bed for a couple of hours. Or drawn up some sort of plan with their Dad so that we both got the rest we needed. Sadly, it took our separation and shared custody of the boys to give me the full nights sleep that my mind and body so desperately needed. Being tired is awful but being clinically sleep deprived is a whole different level and is horrific. If you get the chance to sleep when you need it, then take it.
Acceptance and moving on
I questioned everything I did and ate throughout my pregnancy after the boys were born, desperate to find a reason for Harrys syndrome. Now, I know that even if I had known the reasons it would have made no difference at all to the outcome. Fixating as much as I did robbed me of many weeks where I should have been enjoying motherhood and getting to know my boys. Once I accepted that there were no answers and let my search go I felt better but that took months and months. If I could go back in time I would point that out and hopefully accept our life a little sooner. Nowadays, I try to see the situation for what it is and not panic about the ‘what ifs’. Accepting it for exactly what it is today makes all the difference. After all, it could all change again tomorrow and all that worry would have been for nothing (not that it’s ever helpful!)
Planning a day at a time
The future can be a scary place. Its full of questions and answers are very hard to find. It’s a place of stress and uncertainty. An inevitable place that you know you are heading for but a destination that never arrives. For parents like me, the ‘not knowing’ about what life will look like for our children as they become adults and, more terrifying than that, what will happen to them when we die torments our days and nights. As soon as I stopped looking forward and focused on simply one day at a time, it really did help. I have to say here that I am aware that the future needs careful consideration and planning so while I am focusing just on today (particularly during my depression or periods of anxiety) I’m not burying my head in the sand to the things that do need to be addressed such as creating a trust fund for Harry’s long-term care. But even then, I take it slowly and try not to get overwhelmed by the enormity of what lies ahead. One day at a time is all any of us have.
Facing fears and having confidence in own abilities
I have explained in my book that probably THE most life-changing moment for me with my boys was confronting the children who were following us to peer at my son and answer their questions. A simple action which changed everything now reminds me that often, the answers are easy and that I CAN get through the challenges I face. Reminding myself of all the things I have got through in the past helps me massively in the present and let’s face it, when you have considered taking your own life and lived to tell the tale, nothing else comes close.
More recently, my partner Andrew has been incredible in discussing my finances and showing me in black and white, the best and worst outcomes for me financially. He has given me ‘reality goggles’ which have helped to calm my fractious mind and a reassurance that whatever happens, I can cope with it. We need to remind ourselves constantly that we are made of stronger stuff than we think and are more capable than we give ourselves credit for.
I absolutely did not want to take antidepressants. My mum practically dragged me to the doctors but within a few weeks of taking them, I did feel much better. I stayed on them for another two years and only came off them because I went away for a week and forgot to take them with me so decided to see how I went (I would not recommend anyone else does this. It could have proven quite dangerous!) I always said afterwards that I would go back on medication if ever I needed it. I need it now. This time for anxiety rather than depression but I have absolutely no problem at all in taking them. If my arm was broken I would welcome a cast to support its healing. The mind is the same and so rather than feeling like a failure as I did the first time, I feel proud that I have addressed my anxiety now rather than letting it get worse. Ultimately, me and my family would have suffered more for my reluctance to go back on medication and while its not the answer on its own and not for everyone, I really hope people are open minded to the idea of receiving some extra help when they need it most.
I know its a cliche but truly, time has been an incredible healer for me. My mum always said “This time next year it will be so much different” and I didn’t want to hear it because I wanted it all to be ‘fixed’ straight away but if time has taught me anything its that there is no such thing as a quick fix and mum is always right! One of the reasons I wrote my book was to try and help Mums in a similar position as me to work though their emotions with me as our journey unfolded in the hope that they could find some peace a little sooner than I did.
It makes me sad that my depression robbed me of so much at the start and now I just feel frustrated that I can’t even breathe properly! But these things work themselves out and it’s important to remind myself of all the things above, to try and stay grounded when I feel like my head come off. If you are struggling too then please give these a go or let me know what is working for you at the moment if you are feeling like you’re having some success on your mental health journey. Either way, trust me when I say this, as I have it on very good authority, this time next year it will be so much different. Love you Mum.
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When your daughter becomes a mother with an altered life ~ An interview with a grandparent aka more wise words from my mum!