Parenting through Darkness
Trigger Warning: Talk about mental health and suicide
If you know me personally you’ve probably noticed I’ve been more active. Talking and posting about cooking real meals, cleaning my house, organizing, doing fun things with my kids, keeping up with my dishes, and being in a decent mood overall. Normal things people do every day, right? No, not for some of us.
You likely would have seen some moment of bravery or just of pure exhaustion where I’d mention something about being diagnosed with persistent depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. You may have seen me mention perinatal mood disorders or mental health issues being exacerbated by pregnancy and early motherhood.
What you more likely noticed was my bad mood. My complaints, my anger. You likely noticed I wouldn’t go out or invite you over. You may have even noticed some of my moments of distress in a Facebook post or masked in a shared meme. Snippets of my life I share to lighten my mood, hopefully lighten someone else’s, and to feel a little comradery in the likes and comments that indicate I have people at the touch of a button that can relate. Even if just on the surface.
What you didn’t see, what you couldn’t have noticed was that I was so much worse than I let on. What was showing was a fraction of what happened in my daily life. I know people don’t like to talk about this for obvious reasons. I don’t even like to talk about this. Fear of judgement and being vulnerable in this way is hard.
When there is darkness people can’t see, they don’t want it to come to light.
What you didn’t see in my moments, in my snippets, were my real raw thoughts. What was actually going on in my mind. You didn’t see the tears, the frustration, the anxiety, anger, shame, disappointment. You didn’t see all the hard work I’ve done in the last two years.
We all have a story, this is mine in a nutshell
I grew up with mental illness in people very close to me, in fact my family has a strong mental illness background. I watched someone suffer for most of my child hood. I saw the doctor appointments, the medication, the hospital admissions. I watched her suffer in a way I couldn’t grasp then. I just knew she wasn’t well. I eventually realized I wasn’t all that well either. So, growing up I struggled with my mental health. I don’t blame anyone or anything; but I haven’t had a particularly fun life both in my environment, situations, and in physical health. I had my first real panic attack, although I didn’t know what it was at the time, when I was 9.
I coped as best I could. I got through high school and went on to do two college programs which I graduated from with honours and awards. One of my diplomas is in the field of social work.
At the tail end of my college life, an unbelievable 6 years ago now, I found myself expecting my first child.
While I do suffer from some diagnosed mental health issues outside of becoming and being a parent. It wasn’t until I was pregnant with my first that I stepped up to get the help I needed.
You see, I get a lot worse in pregnancy and even more so post partum as I quickly found out. With both of my kids it took me 2 years post partum to have a semblance of normalcy.
What should be the happiest time in your life
I look around now and I realize that this is what normal people feel like. They feel like this all the time. I had no idea. I had no idea how bad I really was until I was able to step out and look around. This is what the people around me feel like daily. My mind is blown.
It sounds a little ridiculous, I know. Let me put it in to a better perspective for you. Over the last few years I have been lucky enough to come across well meaning people in my life. People that have reached out and helped me. This led me to a public health group in my city for new mother’s suffering with postpartum depression. I started this program about 3 weeks in to my second son’s life. I stayed with this group/ the nurse running it for 2 years. As a part of this group we used a tool called the
Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. We would do these tests roughly once a week. Over the last 2 years I’ve done these tests I have scored almost the highest score you can. To simplify it, the higher you score the more depressed and/or anxious symptoms you are experiencing. It is a tool to see how you are doing. The tool also has an indicator for self harm and suicidal thoughts.
For the last two years I have had that box checked off every time. For the last two years I have had public health nurses calling to check in on me. I have gone through an out-patient psychotherapy program, I have been on medication, I have seen a psychiatrist. I was having suicidal and self harming thoughts. This wasn’t something I talked to anyone about aside from my health care providers because I knew I needed to. I told them because I was afraid of my own thoughts. I told them because I needed help. I had no plans to act on my thoughts. These thoughts weren’t welcome. These feelings weren’t ones I wished on myself but I never wanted them to become that. So, I worked to get better. Now I score in the single digits on the Edinburgh scale.
For the last three years I’ve spent hours of my days on my anxiety and the behaviours that helped in the moment. I would spend hours checking appliances, locks, plugs, whatever my mind has deemed a possible hazard in my home. At my lowest points I would be at the minimum a half an hour late anywhere because I would have to keep checking to make sure my door was locked. I often still had to pull myself away from my door in a state of panic in my mind, in tears, in stress. This is my obsessive-compulsive disorder.
My life was dark. I didn’t feel much of anything aside from overwhelming dread in moments of anxiety, and a dark nothingness otherwise.
It was like making and giving life would take mine away.
Because I am a mother
Because I am a Mother and I know people like to judge I feel the need to have to put out there that:
I may not have been at my best but I loved and still do love my children fiercely. My children have always had their needs met, they have always been well taken care of, felt loved. They have never lacked. They are the reason I am here, they are the biggest reason I first sought help to begin with. My children have my whole heart. I never want anyone to read anything I write about any of this and think that there was ever even a moment where I haven’t been a Mother or that I ever had anything less than absolute love and respect for my children.
The fact that I even felt the need to make sure you know that my children are loved is the very reason I am writing this post. I want to end the stigma. I want people to talk, I want people to get help and not feel like they have to put on a front just because they are Mothers or just because they aren’t okay.
My children were the reason I kept going and fought to get better until I could recognize that I was enough to fight for myself. That my life aside from being a Mother was worth something.
You aren’t alone
Postpartum depression and perinatal mood disorders although common are still taboo subjects. As Mothers we all know what mom guilt feels like. We all know how hard it is to admit that we aren’t coping. Our society doesn’t like to see people be unhappy. That isn’t reality though.
I’ve read information that says anywhere from 7.5% – 15% respectively of new mothers in Canada develop postpartum depression. I would wager that the numbers are likely higher, and I would also like to point out that those statistics only look at major postpartum depression and not peripartum mood disorders as a whole. They also only look at those who admit to not being able to cope. As Mothers we face a bigger fear and stigma aside from the general mental illness is taboo one. We fear losing our children. Even when we are seeking help to get better, even when we know are children are well cared for.
The term peripartum mood disorders seem to confuse people. Everyone knows what post partum depression is, even if they just think it’s the “baby blues” (which it isn’t). Because the topic is so hush hush people don’t realize that you can develop both PPD and/or other issues not only once the baby is born but also while you’re pregnant. Conditions such as anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder can manifest peripartum or they can be made worse.
My point? Is that if you’re struggling, you are not alone. If you’re struggling please seek help from a professional. Find the support you need to push through. It is okay to not be okay. It is okay in the sense that you aren’t alone in this and there is help available.
Who is at risk and what can you do
Like any mental health issue having either your own history or a family history can put you at a greater risk peripartum to develop a problem. Women who are pregnant or have newly become mothers are obviously at risk, even if you don’t have a past history. Our bodies and lives go through so much becoming a parent. Trauma/traumatic events, health issues, and personal/ stressful situations are also factors for people that are at risk for developing mental illness peripartum. It doesn’t have to happen in all your pregnancies if it does happen to you, but it helps to be aware of this.
As an example, for those of you that have read my blog for a while or know me in real life, know that I had 2 pregnancies with complications, I had a traumatic birth with my second, I had health problems ( being told at 25 that I had “a little bit of heart failure” 3 days postpartum with my second), and also dealt with other health issues after that as well including an emergency surgery. I certainly tick a lot of the boxes for ending up with something such as postpartum depression. The truth is, a lot of us do. My experiences together may not be the norm, but many women deal with their own combination of stressors in their life. Don’t we all?
PPD, perinatal mood disorders, and mental illness doesn’t look the same on everyone. There are many symptoms in the scope of an illness. Just as there are different personality types in the world there are different ways people can present in illness. For example, you may know one Mother that suffered from PPD and struggled to bond with her baby whereas you may know another that didn’t have that issue and had a lot more anxiety instead.
There are treatment options for the struggles you are facing. If you find yourself in need of support please reach out to a loved one and to professionals. I had a whole team of people I used for support in different ways. I had my family doctor who made referrals and helped me even if to just talk in the mean time, I went through time limited ( because they are covered by OHIP) out patient programs through hospitals, had the post partum support group and the support from the people who run it, my psychiatrist who helped me with medication and diagnosis, and my family. I used talk therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, art, writing and mindfulness. I found that compassion-based mindfulness techniques worked best for me but that was after years of work. It is easy to be compassionate towards others, but self compassion is incredibly difficult. It was self compassion that helped propel me farther and over the hump into wellness.
There is no one size fits all answer to mental illness but there is something out there that can help you.
If you’re interested in learning more about mindfulness, I wrote an introduction to it for the holidays as a post for another site. You can read it here.
Ending the stigma
Having my education in social work I felt a lot of anger towards my problems. I felt like I shouldn’t be having mental health problems at all. Rationally I know better than this but it is how I felt. The truth is anyone can struggle. It is important to be there for one another and to support people and programs out there that provide help.
Am I completely better? No. Recovery has been a rollercoaster of hard work. For every good day there were 3 bad ones. Will I ever be completely better? I have hope that my life will look lighter from here on out. I know that mental wellness is work, it is something that needs to be practiced and looked after like any other part of our being. I have gone from being buried in a darkness with no light in sight to now being at the opening of the tunnel. To me there was no light before, there was no tunnel. Yet here I am now.
I will continue to fight for myself, I will continue to raise awareness, and be there for those I can be. I hope that you will do the same.
If you know someone that is struggling please let them know that they aren’t alone. Even if you just send them this post and let them know you are there for them.