With World Mental Health Day being the 10th October 2018 I thought I’d do a mix mash of a few of my related previous blogs to do my little bit in raising awareness.
When you break a limb and are in plaster people see it and understand. If you sprain your ankle and walk with a limp people see it and understand. So what about our mental health? It’s far more complicated. People can’t see it and may not even know that you’re unwell if the smile and brave face projected outwards isn’t a true reflection of what is going on in the inside.
Pre small human I probably didn’t give much thought to the subject of mental health. Well the feelings I had post small human #1 hit me like a ton of bricks. With the winning combination of sleep deprivation, anxiety and feelings of being constantly overwhelmed everyday was exhausting.
Pre small human I had not suffered with anxiety. Sure I’d been stressed with exams, work, planning big events, etc but I actually thrived on that to get through the situation and it would always come to an end eventually.
Maybe it was the sleep deprivation that caused the anxiety. Maybe it was the constant worry of keeping the small human alive and my obsession with his feeding. Why the hell was there not some contraption that could tell you just how much milk they were getting out of you? Maybe it was the constant worry that I’d drop him when walking down the stairs or the dogs getting to him if I turned my back for a second (it didn’t help that there had been a lot of media surrounding dog attacks on babies at the time even though our beagles would only lick anyone to death).
I didn’t want to be left on my own with him, I felt lonely, but equally the thought of packing up to go out was overwhelming. Maybe it was my confidence slipping away on a daily basis. People were surely looking at me when we were out and I couldn’t stop him crying. Maybe it was my identity slipping away as I seemed to be in a weird version of groundhog day except instead of repeating the day the process of change, feed, check all ok, sleep (him, not me) was repeated every 3 hours.
I tried to continue to be a perfectionist, wanting to meet people on time. I set unrealistic expectations of myself and would be unduly critical of myself if I didn’t live up to them. I didn’t ask for help and if people did help I would often politely decline, I had this.
I look back at pictures of that time and you’ll see two smiley faces. But the picture on the outside was not a true reflection of the turmoil raging within. I’d never experienced feelings like this before. I was used to stressful situations, tricky clients, problem solving so why was I feeling like this? I was actually really embarrassed that I couldn’t ‘sort myself out’ and thought if I told anyone they would take my shiney human away from me. I lost a lot of time in those first 12 months worrying about anything and everything.
I really wish there had been a leaflet in my bounty pack that said something along the lines of “You might feel completely normal/full of love after your tiny human arrives. Good stuff, that’s normal. But you might feel a bit crap (perhaps something a bit more eloquent), confused about your feelings, overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, wobbly. That’s also normal but make sure you talk to your HV, midwife about it as with some help we can nip that in the bud.”
I’d heard of PND but deciding I wasn’t depressed I just assumed it was the ‘baby blues’, this was something everybody got, and this was something everybody just got on with. I declared that there would be no siblings for Toby, there was absolutely no way I could go through these feelings again, feelings that lasted for months, feelings that were exhausting.
LOSS OF IDENTITY
I can’t recall a specific ‘looking in the mirror’ moment and wondering who the sleep deprived woman was looking back. I do remember once singing ‘wind the bobbin up’ for the millionth time wondering who I had become. I think it was a slow burn scenario, each day a little bit of the old me vanished until I just felt a bit ‘mweh’.
I’d never really considered what my identity was pre small human. But when I started feeling ‘lost’ in the monotony (yes I used this word. Doesn’t mean I didn’t love the bones off of him but it could be monotonous) of the baby paraphernalia I didn’t recognise myself. Was this how I would feel until the end of my days? Perhaps a little dramatic but when you’re in the sleep deprived groundhog day scenario of looking after your tiny human you can’t see the wood for the trees.
I was actually looking forward to returning to work. That was me wasn’t it? Emma the lawyer, the problem solver, the professional fixer. I was going to rock motherhood and going back to work. I think things actually got worse after that because on top of the small human’s numerous new ‘phases’, including an old phase of waking like a newborn, I now had all the stresses that came with a caseload. I was exhausted and felt I was looking after everyone else but me. I’ve written previously about self-care, and giving up my hobbies as I was just too tired/didn’t have enough time/dare I say it, didn’t really care.
FINDING ME AGAIN
Things had to change and I’m now a big fan of self-care. There’s a reason why cabin crew tell you to put your oxygen mask on first because if you don’t you’ll pass out and wont be able to help dependants. If I’m happier I’m calmer and that directly impacts on my family. Giovanna Fletcher has it spot on – ‘Happy Mum, Happy Baby.’ Small human #2 is so chilled out. That may of course just be the way she’s wired but I’m so much calmer this time round.
I love spending my time with my small humans but I also like some time to myself to do the things I enjoy. It doesn’t have to involve galavanting off for a spa day every month (although I’m totally up for a spa anytime) but maybe something simpler like going for a walk, reading a book/magazine, having a cuppa with some hobnobs, knitting, colouring…. Just anything that I do on my own which doesn’t involve looking after somebody else or running an errand. I used to feel guilty about spending time on myself but now I appreciate the importance and make sure I truly enjoy the moment.
I also make sure I accept help when it’s offered. I’m not putting someone out if they have offered and genuinely want to help so why turn it down? Equally I’m not afraid to ask for help, acknowledge my limitations when I’m tired and make sure to tell my nearest and dearest when I’m feeling wobbly. It can be hard to open up about your feelings but I felt so much better when I did.
I am so fortunate to write this on maternity leave experiencing what I thought it would be like to be a mum. Don’t get me wrong it’s not all a walk in the park but I’m genuinely enjoying my time with her, enjoying my time watching her relationship with her brother blossom, not wishing my time away just trying to get through the day, and I’m talking more. I made sure I spoke to my midwife and HV about my past experiences. It’s for that reason that I started blogging because I wanted other first time mums to know that if they’re feeling wobbly it’s normal and the best way to get through it is to speak to whoever you feel comfortable talking to but not to struggle on in silence.
If you fancy talking about this topic with a fantastic group of mums come join the private FB group Light It Up: Let’s Talk on Wednesday 8-9pm. You can either search for the group or join it via my FB page @lightboxblogger. I’m also on Insta lightbox_blogger.