Middle of the week again already, summer holidays fast approaching, which means one thing - the panic is setting in about how to keep the boys happy and myself sane over the coming weeks! Plans are afoot, they have to be, it's how I operate. In his wedding speech, my husband even informed everyone that our roles are very clear, he's in charge of morale and I'm in charge of organisation. It's very true.
Play dates, trips out, and visits from Nana are all on the agenda, but I am also acutely aware that similar to a pregnant woman writing a birth plan, I will have no idea how it's actually going to go until the time arrives. In fact I will only really know in hindsight, once summer is over. There are moments when I'm dreading it, even though I love my children dearly. Forgive me if I sound a little dramatic about the impending end-of-term but the memory of summer of 2011 has left a pretty deep scar. An eighteen month old & a new baby, a house move to a different county, and the giving-up of my career to be a SAHM, amongst many other things contributed to a very sharp decline of my mental health. That summer in a few words - terrifying, despondent, and very, very sad. What I knew of postnatal depression before that summer could have been written on a piece of A4 when compared with the thirty volume encyclopaedia I know now. I didn't recognise that something was wrong until my son was 5 months old and even then I certainly didn't relate to the word 'depression'. The word itself sounds gloomy and that bore no relation to my feelings (I felt I just couldn't cope); perhaps that's the reason so many people don't admit to depression, nobody wants others to think they are miserable. Happy people attract others by the nature of their personality and people want to be seen in a positive light. However it's time for the taboo of being open about mental illness to be put to bed. It is not possible to go through life without being affected by mental illness either personally or by experiencing it through a loved one. It's therefore time for greater understanding, compassion, and education to facilitate quick access to help and successful recovery.
I descended into a place I never want to be again. At my worst I could not care for my children, make a meal, or be alone; never mind get dressed or even get up off the floor sometimes. I self-harmed and had suicidal fantasies many times a day (one of them was to go and ask a neighbour to get a gun and shoot me - I can almost laugh when I think about that one, good job it stayed a fantasy!). I am so grateful and lucky to have had the amazing support that I did and still do from my morale-boosting husband and fortunate enough to be admitted into a Mother & Baby Mental Health Unit. This is not easy to admit, nor pain-free to relive by writing about it however I believe it is crucial to be open. I am not ashamed of it, I know I was ill. The fact that just two weeks of medication brought me out of that hole and that 4 months later I was coping again and caring for my children on my own proves that. It is a very sad fact that many thousands of women in the UK will be experiencing some level of postnatal depression right now. Many hundreds of thousands more will be experiencing some level of depression and/or anxiety. Even more, the many other forms of mental illness such as eating disorders, addictions, phobias, post-traumatic stress, and bipolar disorder. The vast array of mental illnesses is hardly surprising given the complexity of the brain and thus should have a much lower threshold for recognition that things can go awry.
The purpose of this blog post is simply to talk about mental illness. Don't be afraid of it, just be aware of it. If you feel your daily life is becoming too difficult to face, tell someone. Get someone on side who cares about you and go to your GP. When you are in the midst of it, it is very tricky to recognise that your life isn't just 'like that' and that's how it will always be. It really isn't, and won't always be like that. But you do need help. Getting referred to the right people is like having a closed door unlocked for you.
I just happened to catch an interview on 'This Morning' yesterday of a very brave woman telling her story just two weeks after an actual suicide attempt, although I do think it somewhat unethical of the producers to put her on live television whilst she is still so vulnerable. However hopefully influential in raising awareness for younger viewers, therefore very praiseworthy, as she is a former star of 'The Only Way Is Essex'. See the interview here.
For me this summer won't be easy, without the fantastic support from the boys' nursery and staff. Last summer I had help at home twice a week by one of the staff members, our very own Mary Poppins! This year she has her own house move on the cards and so I'm on my own. There will definitely be times I will feel like buckling under the strain; when the boys are fighting, I still haven't got the washing on, haven't had time to go to the loo, we didn't make it to the park, there's nothing in for tea, I shouted too much today and the neighbours probably wished they could indeed shoot me, but... I can do it, I can cope and am well now and I have support. But if I really do fall over, I'll ask for help. Most of all, it'll be okay, might even be great!
Some important links for help and support:
Mental Health Foundation
Back to my next card therapy creation tomorrow!