Tag Archives: mental illness

Motherhood and Mental Illness

They are the strangest and most uncomfortable bedfellows. For some; motherhood heralds the beginning of mental health struggles, for some an improvement and for others motherhood entangles itself in a pre-existing mental health condition.

For me, my mental health was the best it’s been since I was thirteen. Pregnancy seemed to soothe the anxious waters of my mind and, despite a traumatic birth and my son arriving with a chest infection, the calm and contentment continued.

Motherhood is everything I hoped, quite a bit like I expected but more demanding than I could have imagined. My son has so far been what some might call “an easy baby”; we escaped the newborn phase without colic and he generally eats, poops and sleeps as one might expect.

What I’ve discovered however, is that an “easy” baby doesn’t mean that parenting is easy!

There are shades of difficulty; I for example was an objectively difficult baby for my poor parents (I didn’t sleep through the night until I was nine), others seem to breeze through babyhood as if they got an instruction manual in utero. Most are somewhere toward the middle of the spectrum, but wherever on that spectrum you find yourself in, there is the uncertainty, less sleep, recovery from a child’s arrival (however that happens) and general “winging it”!

For my little family, learning to navigate parenthood alongside pre-existing depression and anxiety has been the steepest of learning curves. For whilst I’ve been better than I can remember over the past year, I constantly feel as if I’m walking a tightrope. I want to be the best Mum I can be – but I don’t want to get unwell.

The things I have done for the last decade to manage my conditions are exponentially harder with a baby. You can’t be a freelance Mum, for starters! Whilst I would usually protect my sleep at all costs to prevent my mind going into free fall, it’s almost impossible to ensure a solid nine hours a night every night, but I am beginning to navigate this new normal.

And my new normal wouldn’t be possible without my village – not my actual village, although I do live in one, – but the people who step in and step up.

A few weeks back, I found myself stumbling (I’m mixing my metaphors quite spectacularly, aren’t I?!) I started to sleep less, laying awake for hours after getting up to do a night feed. My mind began to spin with anxiety and I felt shame shroud me like a dementor’s cloak.

And then the tears started to fall.

This is a well worn path for, a scarily predictable descent into what we euphemism as “a dip”.

Usually, I would hide; cry and sleep for a couple of days and re-emerge slowly into the world when I felt stronger.

Instead, I had a six month old baby who needed me to feed, play and care for him.

The curious thing is, that this responsibility made the situation simultaneously harder and easier.

Harder because when I could barely think straight, I had to think on behalf of a helpless baby. But it also made me take care of myself and take action in a way I don’t think I’ve been able to before. I rang my husband, we arranged for my best friend to take my son for a day long play date so I could get some rest, and I took a break from trying to be both full time Mum and full time freelancer, working out a new rhythm that wouldn’t completely exhaust me.

Motherhood and mental illness are the strangest and most uncomfortable bedfellows, but they can and do co-exist.

The bright side, if there is one, is that it has already taught me that taking care of myself is not an optional extra of parenthood – but vital. It doesn’t mean candles and massages (although I do quite like the both) but getting enough rest, food, exercise and fresh air. It means allowing people to help out without feeling guilty and being honest about how I’m coping.

For some, mental illness is a far more disruptive and difficult bedfellow, but taking care and being taken care of are universal needs- even for those without any mental health conditions!

 

 

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Reflections

I’ve just listened to Rick and Kay Warren being interviewed at the HTB leadership conference.

I was hesitant to listen to it. I knew it would hurt. I knew it would poke me in the parts of myself that are still raw and still painful.

I was right.

It is full of the most profound reflections on pain and mental illness, on suicide, on grief; that I have ever heard. If you haven’t listened to it, I really recommend you do.

There are wonderful nuggets of wisdom – but what is most astounding to me, is that through the agony of their words and the beautiful grace of God – that which is the most painful and destructive in life will be the greatest foundation of the greatest works of God.

His words echoed through my memories to one of the hardest seasons of my life when I wanted out. When I wanted an ending more than I wanted restoration, when I wanted oblivion more than I wanted to make a difference – the chaplain of my school told me that these darkest days would be the beginning of my life’s ministry.

I didn’t believe it.

I believed, even in those days, that I had been called into some kind of christian pastoral ministry, but I didn’t believe I would ever be able to live out that calling. I didn’t believe that the agony of those days could ever come to any good.

I was wrong.

I do not claim that this calling is easy, nor do I claim that I want it 100% of the time. Sometimes, I would love to do a job which didn’t involve me opening my heart to those things that have most bruised it. What I do claim, is what an enormous privilege it is to be able to see, in this lifetime, a restoration of some of my darkness.

I quote the book of Joel a lot on this blog – but it’s the promise that I cling to and the promise that I see every day when I go to work.

“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten – the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm – my great army that I sent among you. You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the LORD your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will be people be shamed.” 2:25-26

I so often felt that the years when my depression had its tightest grip had been lost to me. Not only metaphorically, but because even now I can barely remember those days through the haze of mental illness. These verses from Joel were my promise and are my reminder of why I do what I do.

And when I get weary, I turn to them and to John 10:10 which says “The thief comes to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Mental illness has been a thief in my life, it has stolen years and killed parts of my, left its own legacy in my heart and my mind and on my body.

But in this I have hope – God is bigger than the thief. And more than that, he restores what was lost and gives us more than we could imagine. Truth be told, this side of heaven, it is often not what we would imagine (we prefer to imagine a much easier ride, I think) but what he gives us is greater than an easy ride (however much an easy ride might tempt us). God gives Himself. On a cross. The God of Heaven and Earth, for us, as a broken and scarred young man who understands pain and understands struggle and remains with us through it all. 

It isn’t easy.

But God is in it all.

So it is more than worth it.