My journey with mental health began from as early as I can really recall. It has been a part of my life in some form or another through family, friends and eventually my own experiences for as long as I can remember.
My own journey began shortly after my first daughter Mia was born, for the first few months everything was great, I had a great bond with her and enjoyed it all, slowly however that light seemed to darken, I really struggled to stay connected.
I took care of her base needs in feeding and changing her but I had little interest in doing much else than that. It was a horrible feeling that I still carry huge guilt for. Guilt I am slowly learning to let go. It was a very hard time to go through, I wanted nothing more than to enjoy my child like I was told I would. I wanted the picture perfect relationship everyone is portrayed to have. I didn’t have that and it wasn’t fair, what was wrong with me? Why had I failed so horribly at being a great mother? I put so much pressure on myself to breastfeed, it didn’t work and when I had to stop it caused my immense guilt. In hindsight I was not a failure at anything, I am human, I experienced what so many mothers feel and yet nobody wants to talk about. I didn’t want to talk about my feelings, I kept quiet, withdrew from my husband, my friends and my family.
Eventually after a month or so I decided enough was enough and I needed to speak to somebody. I nervously made the initial appointment with my GP, I knew going in that I was not ready for anti-depressants to be started and rather that I wanted to speak to somebody first, talking was always a great healer to me. Unfortunately I had a poor experience with said GP and was handed a script and told to comeback in a number of weeks to discuss how I was feeling then. Being a young mum, already struggling with my own feelings I was not strong enough to push back and say no I want this instead. I left that appointment feeling even more alone than I already was. After a few weeks I went back and explained once more that I was not happy with the tablets, they didn’t help me and I wanted to speak to someone. I left that appointment with nothing. No referral, no guidance, just the words ‘it is baby blues, every new mum experiences this. It will pass’. It did not.
While I was trying to figure this all out I was also helping my own mother through her cancer treatments and day to day life. I was determined to keep going and try and put on that brave face for her sake. She needed me, that was that. I spoke to her over time about how I felt and again tried to get help from the doctor to no avail. I had given up hope on it by then, I had no confidence that I would ever be heard. I felt stuck and alone.
Soon I started to read and connect with others who felt the way I did, I started to realise that it was ok and I would come through. Thankfully by the time my daughter hit 9 months the darkness had lifted but I was still left with the overwhelming anxiety. I couldn’t be away from her, not even to walk to the local shop. I was terrified that nobody would know what she needed. I am her mother, I knew her cries, I knew her signals. It didn’t matter that I was only going to the end of the road. I was convinced something would happen if I wasn’t there. I realise now that those where my own fears projecting onto her, rooted in my own anxiety and fear from not feeling heard by those who should have been listening. I recall very vividly the first time I truly experienced an anxiety attack when I left her at home with my husband and parents for 5 minutes to pick up food. My heart raced from the moment I left the house until the moment I walked back through the door. I knew she was safe and I was not going to be long but for the rest of the night I held on to her as tight as I could and when she went to sleep for the night, I cried.
As she started to talk and learn how to communicate those fears slowly started to dwindle and I was secure enough to leave her with a few trusted people for short periods of time. It was exhausting on me, emotionally and physically but slowly I was able to learn to cope with the anxiety and rationalise the fears through mindfulness.
Sadly just a week after my daughter’s first birthday I lost my mother. On top of the feelings I already had the grief was to much, I couldn’t deal with that pain. I was ripped to shreds, it felt like I would never feel happy again. I had become so used to the pain that it stopped being different, it just became me. I did the typical thing and went full speed ahead, everything and anything to keep myself busy and occupy my mind so it didn’t wander. I couldn’t force myself to do simple things like cleaning the dishes because it forced me to stay still, it forced me to be present and I would start to think about things, remember things and the pain would catch me up. I had to be one step ahead of it at all times. 9 months in and I couldn’t run any longer. I was worn out, angry, upset, hurt, I missed my mum so terribly much.
I can recall vividly the moment I finally realised the damage I was doing, my wonderful now husband finally called me out on it and I am so glad that he did. Although at the time I was so upset, how dare he accuse me, talk to me like that, doesn’t he understand what I’m dealing with? Of course he did, more than anyone he seen it, the real effect it was having on me. I couldn’t hide from him. I can’t remember why I was angry but I was and he finally asked me to stop shouting. I hadn’t realised how angry I had been but that shock was enough to burst the bubble. I was angry, for everything. It was so unfair, why her, why my mother, I needed her more than ever and she was taken from me. Why, when there are so many horrible people out there, did it have to be of the great ones. I stopped that day, it hit me full force like a truck. I felt broken, beyond repair.
I was introduced to the services offered by Marie curie at this point, their bereavement services are great and I was very glad to have that support. It was somewhat comforting to return to the people who had become a daily part of our lives, who had taken such wonderful care of my mother and gave her those precious extra moments. I was pared with a wonderful psychologist who helped me immensely through things I wasn’t not even aware I was doing.
I was finally able to breathe again. It was ok to enjoy my life, it was ok to be happy again. It was ok to want to spend time apart from my daughter. It is ok to have my own life aside from being a mother. I learnt to stop guilting myself for wanting to have time for myself. I didn’t realise how much I needed that time until after going out for coffee with friends and one commented on the fact it was the first time he had seen me without the baby since she was born. She was almost 2 by this stage.
I set time aside to focus on myself, do what I wanted to do, even if it was simply locking the door and taking a long bath in peace. I was finally feeling stronger, like I could pull through this, and I did. Our wedding was soon approaching and we had a wonderful time, although the gap was felt, the entire day was filled with my mothers prescence and it was a healing time also with my family and friends to enjoy and be together.
As Mia was coming to 2 and a half years old, I fell pregnant with her sister. From the start I was very sick, just as I had been with Mia. However this time it was worse, I was in a lot of physical pain, found it hard to move and couldn’t play with Mia like she wanted me to. As a result I was really struggling to enjoy this pregnancy, again the anger resurfaced, it wasn’t fair, my first pregnancy was so rough on me and now it was worse this time. Why didn’t I get to enjoy my pregnancies like everyone else? I spent many nights on the sofa unable to get up to go to bed I was in so much pain. Soon it took over and I sunk back into the darkness. I spent days in bed, I refused to get up, what was the point? It hurt so bad, I couldn’t do anything anyway so why bother? Again I hid from those I could, only really letting my husband see how hard I was struggling. I felt extremely guilty for my daughter, I felt like I had lost that bond I worked so hard to get back with her. I couldn’t do all those fun things she was used to, she didn’t understand why I couldn’t play with her all the time and she became frustrated with me also. It hurt.
Then one day I felt good, I didn’t feel depressed, I didn’t feel angry but I couldn’t stop scratching. I felt like my entire body was crawling and I scratched myself raw. I was covered in scratches and soon went to the hospital to rule out any physical issues. It was highly likely that I was suffering from Cholestasis, bloods where taken and I was given meds to help. So off I went, took the meds and waited for it to stop. It didn’t. For 3 days I scratched constantly, I went back to the hospital and this time I was told there was nothing they could do. There was no physical reason I was so itchy. It was at this point that I broke down, I begged the doctor to do something, I couldn’t take the scratching, I was losing my mind. She quickly asked my husband to leave the room and went through the usual list of questions, soon she had made a few phone calls and I was asked to go to A&E and speak to the emergency mental health unit. I was ushered in and left in the middle of the chaos of triage when finally they brought me to a side room and I felt so much relief to finally be listened to. At this point I was quickly given follow up appointments and the scratching went away. For the time being at least. It would flare up as an anxiety tick, it was a good indicator to my husband that I needed to get out of whatever situation I was in.
Anxiety took over at this point, I was having daily panic attacks and struggled to leave my house. I became fully dependant on my husband to do everything, I was unable to drive. Loud noises and bright lights sent me into a panic attack, crowds made me feel like I was drowning. I felt totally helpless. I couldn’t cook or clean, I couldn’t even do up buttons or pull zips on my clothes because my hands where so raw from scratching and biting my nails. I shut myself way, avoiding everything I could just to survive. Even Mia would set me off. I couldn’t speak once the anxiety took over so I was prisoned in my mind, my heart raced, my head thumped, I felt like I was being squashed and couldn’t breathe. At this point I would start to scratch, it was a cry for help when I couldn’t cry out. Soon I would reach for anything to scratch with as it got to painful to use my hands which left me with some bad scratches but as I have worked through it over time the scratching has subsided unless I am extremely nervous.
I thankfully was given an appointment with my psychologist who has very quickly helped me find the root of these issues and fears and work through them. Sadly if this had just been offered when I originally asked for it 3 years ago this journey would likely have been a very different one. It has taken me a lot longer than I would have ever liked it to but I am finally near the end of this tunnel, the light is getting brighter, even with a few bumps in the road.
If you managed to make it all the way to end of this post then I am very impressed. It is a long read and likely won’t even make full sense because it still doesn’t make sense to me most days. I felt it important to show that I truly understand these experiences and I am committed to helping others through their own journeys.