I am in therapy. There, I said it. Once a week I drive to my psychologist’s office and spend an hour working through my issues, mainly with anxiety.
There would have been a time when I might have been ashamed to share that publicly. When we become mothers, we’re expected to enjoy it right? We’re not supposed to admit when things are going wrong. That would mean we aren’t coping right? That we’re bad mothers?
I call bullshit. One of the biggest factors preventing people from seeking help for their mental health is the stigma. Shame that they will be seen as less-than, as ‘other’. It is getting better with many more people speaking up about mental illness but there is a long way to go.
How it began
While I’ve always struggled with anxiety on some level since I was a child, it wasn’t until my eldest daughter was born that it truly took over my life. Three days after her birth I was gripped with panic, convinced I was dying. Every day after that I shook with anxiety. I stopped eating properly, I saw germs everywhere, I couldn’t be alone. I struggled to connect with my baby as my fight-or-flight response used all my resources, all day, every day.
After months of crippling anxiety, I reached a point where I didn’t think I could live anymore. All I could see was darkness and fear in my future and I didn’t know how to get out of it. That was when I first began to seek help. I tried many treatments from medication to counselling to Rewind therapy and eventually began to get better.
Three babies later
I struggled with mental illness throughout my subsequent pregnancies and postnatal periods. After my youngest was born, I become agoraphobic, not feeling safe outside of my house. I would often spend days at home, too afraid to venture out, even to put something in the bin. With three small kids, it became unmanageable and I once again sought help. For the last year, I have completed twelve sessions of cognitive behavioural therapy and I am just about to wind up seven months of psychology.
How has therapy helped
Having someone to talk to on a regular basis about your worries is a great help, especially when that person is impartial. However, psychology is more than that. It’s about working through your issues and finding a way forward. For me, this has meant challenging safety behaviours I have built up over the years. It has meant exploring the things that frighten me and learning to face them head on through gradual exposure.
I no longer stay indoors, I can quite happily take my dog out for a walk on my own, something that seemed impossible this time last year. I am a more patient parent as anxiety doesn’t have me constantly on edge anymore.
Talking about mental health
I talk very openly with my children about my struggles in an age-appropriate way. They know that mummy sees a doctor to help her manage her worries and we have lots of conversations about our mental health. I’ve been able to teach my children strategies for managing their own fears and building their own resilience which is fantastic. In our house, we treat our mental health as importantly as we treat our physical health. It is my hope that by talking about it, we can face any challenges head-on together.
I wrote the book
When it comes to antenatal and postnatal mental illness, I wrote the book…literally! Pangs: Surviving Motherhood and Mental Illness was released on Mother’s Day 2019 and it chronicles my journey through mental illness. I didn’t want it to stop there though. The book also contains self-help techniques and resources that parents can use in their own recovery.
I also set up www.wearepangs.com which is a resource site for parents and health professionals looking for help with perinatal mental illness. My hope is that through my experiences, other parents can find help quickly and begin to enjoy parenthood in all its messiness.
If you have been struggling with your mental health, please reach out for help. Perinatal mental illness is 100% treatable and you can recover much faster the earlier you seek help. You can get through it. I know because I did.