Postnatal Depression & Anxiety made me believe that not only was I a terrible mum, I was also a terrible human. A monster. A useless waste of oxygen and a burden on my family. Violent intrusive thoughts convinced me I should be dead or locked in hospital. My Anxiety was so out of control that I didn’t feel bonded or connected to my son for many weeks after his birth.
So how have I come from that dark place to actually believing experiencing PND and Anxiety has improved my mothering skills? Through lots of time, support, learning and acceptance. I wish I had a quick fix solution for you but sadly recovery takes time and, in my experience, even after recovery we have lots of learning and discovering to do to get us feeling really mentally strong. But when you do go through all that the benefits can be huge, here are just a few.
I worry less
All my friends and family will vouch for the fact that I was a dreadful worrier pre-PND. If someone was late home by five mins I’d have my finger hovering over 999. If someone was sick my mind would instant run through a dozen worst case scenarios. Becoming a parent can turn even the most laid-back person into a catastrophiser but during the months of therapy and soul-searching that was recovery, I was forced to train my anxious mind to work with facts instead of fears and I now do my best to bring this skill into all areas of my life.
I make time for us
I accept now that I sometimes need time for myself and I prioritise self-care. I’ve given up feeling guilty about not playing with Caterpillar all day every day and have taken a more 1980s approach to parenting! But the flip-side of this is that I carve out specific time for Caterpillar and I where we sit down together and I give him 100% of my attention (as opposed to more time but with less of my attention). I personally believe this is better for him as he knows that when it’s our play time he has me to himself but he is independent enough to entertain himself when I’m busy.
I love myself more
This sounds twee but I genuinely feel better about myself than I did before Caterpillar was born. I see myself as a warmer, calmer and more empathetic person. I know myself better. And I hope this positivity will spill over into how Caterpillar feels about himself too.
I choose our activities carefully
The time we do spend together is all the more enjoyable because I’ve slowly learnt to let go of my expectations of what I should enjoy playing with Caterpillar and instead we focus on what I do enjoy playing. These things (reading, singing, cooking & baking, creative & messy play) have, in turn, become things that Caterpillar loves too. And anything that I’m not so great at (imaginative play, construction etc) he gets from other family members or from school. Let go of the guilt! Find ideas for bonding with your children here.
I can better understand his emotions
Having experienced a mental health issue, and been through recovery, puts me in a much better position to understand any emotional difficulties Caterpillar is having. I live in fear of him experiencing mental health problems in the future but at least I know I’m better equipped to deal with them if he does.
I know when to take a break
Dealing with an Anxiety relapse while Caterpillar was in the midst of the “terrible twos” was quite a challenge! But one thing it taught me was how to recognise when I’m reaching the end of my rope and to physically remove myself from conflict. Supernanny’s “naughty step” technique was incredibly helpful here as 1) it gave my son time to calm down, 2) it gave me time to calm myself down and 3) it totally works!
I know how to ask for help
Without my amazing friends and family I don’t know where I would have been during recovery and the wonderful support they offered me taught me that it’s more than okay to reach out to others for help – both practically and emotionally – and this is something I’ve continued to practice long after I’m well.
If you’re struggling with a perinatal mental health issue at the moment, I know it feels like you will never come out the other side, and certainly won’t gain anything from it. But I hope this post helps you to feel a little more positive about the future. And remember, if you ever want to talk come find me on Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org.