Mental Health and Motherhood – Reaching Out

I would like to start this off by saying, “it’s ok not to be ok” and there is no shame in asking for help no matter how proud you are.

I am a mother of two daughters and have suffered from diagnosed mental health conditions for most of my adult life but I didn’t seek treatment until I became a mother. Motherhood can add different pressures and therefore compound any existing issues you have which can have catastrophic consequences if you do not seek help.

Prior to having children, I hid my mental illness from everyone. I thought I was clever by doing so but in reality the only person I was hurting was myself.

After the birth of my first child, I decided to go back to work a month post-partum. This was the beginning of a downward spiral for me. For some reason I thought I was martyr going back to work so soon. I thought that it would prove how strong I was. Boy was I wrong…

The guilt crept in when I least expected it. I would cry for no reason. I had severe outbursts (usually aimed at those closest to me) and I would throw huge tantrums. I would then look back at my behaviour and feel ashamed for my actions.  The moment I felt anxious or upset, I would find myself obsessively cleaning the house to all hours of the night. I was a nightmare to live with and to a degree, I still am, but the difference is I finally sought professional help.

I now see a Psychologist and Psychiatrist regularly.  I am not going to pretend or say that it’s easy to recover from a mental health issue or tell you that you will be healed after just a few sessions. The truth is it is a long, hard road ahead.  Depending on your conditions and the severity it could take years so you need to be prepared to commit to yourself and put your needs first in order to find some inner peace. If you are like me, you could spend the rest of your life dealing with mental illness in some form or another which again isn’t a bad thing. I have to accept that it is me and respect myself for putting the steps in place to help me cope with these issues and in turn the positive flow on effect these steps have on both my relationship with my husband and my two children.

The hardest thing to comprehend for most people is that mental illness is that is an ‘invisible illness.’ Those closest to you will see the effects it is having on you but those outside the family unit will generally be none-the-wiser to the battle you are fighting. It is the war that rages inside your head and when you are feeling at your most vulnerable, it finds a way to sneak in.  For me it brings out my compulsive behaviour, fills me with irrational and intrusive thoughts and paranoia, gives me an inability to relax and makes me angry.

My biggest support in seeking treatment has been my partner and the father of my two adorable girls. He continues to support and love me even though he has largely been the person who has had to deal with my outbursts and help me manage my mental illness. Talking is the best form of healing and you need to share your feelings with those closest to you so they can help support you and understand what is happening and indeed recognise the triggers. If you don’t communicate with them, you’ll find you will continue to push those away that you love and you need that love in order to heal.

When I fell pregnant I knew I needed to be mentally strong and be the best me possible. As you know, being a mother is tough. You love your children unconditionally but it can also be very testing at times. I knew I needed to be able to cope with sleep deprivation and all the changes that come with being a parent. My partner also travels a lot and is away for extended periods of time. In his absence, I take on both Mum and Dad roles and being by yourself for weeks on end is tough especially when I work full time as well. I needed to ensure I can process what I am dealing with in a healthy way because at times, life is full on.

Part of the process to help manage my mental illness is to take time out for me and do things that make me feel good. Being a parent is a selfless role. You do everything for your children and we often forget to look after ourselves. Part of keeping my mental health in check (especially when my partner has been away) is ensuring I take some time out for me. Maybe it getting my nails done, doing the grocery shopping alone, attending a Pilates class or going out for a coffee, these are all things I need to keep me calm. Having time out is important for everyone and if you need this, there is nothing to feel bad about. For me, it helps me be a better mother to my girls.

I also use a diary to write down my thoughts. I try and make a conscience effort to park any negative thoughts and enjoy the moment and then when the girls go to bed, I write all my feelings down. It helps me work through them in a more constructive manner and have found it has really helped me. If you too are struggling, I would encourage you to start a diary to track your thoughts so you can work through them rather than have them build up and implode (which was the old me.)

I want to finish by saying if this is you, YOU ARE NOT ALONE! Assistance is out there if you are prepared to admit you need help. It takes a lot of courage to ask for help and a lot of inner strength. Sometimes admitting you need help is the biggest step of all and once you can admit that, you can set yourself free and open you mind and heart up to getting better and loving yourself again. I am very grateful that becoming a mother also helped me address my own mental health. If it hadn’t been for my daughters, who knows where I would be?

Please remember that everyone is fighting a battle that you don’t know about. No matter how big or small understand that that issue it is important to the individual. So remember to be kind.

Written by Christina Watkins for Wattle Health

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