The good the bad and the ugly

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The good, the bad and the ugly

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A belated post about mental health week

Possibly the first time I have voiced this outside of my close family and close friends. I wrote this Skerries News for world mental health day.

“Last week saw the marking of World Mental Health Day, on 10 October. World Mental Health day is an opportunity raise awareness of mental health issues and advocate against social stigma. Nowadays we are much more tuned into the area of mental health and the issues which can arise, not least of all for families who have just welcomed a new baby. And I say families because mental health difficulties in the post-partum stage are not just reserved for mother or those who have physically given birth because nothing prepares you for the sleep deprivation from bringing a newborn home.

These days there is so much pressure on mothers (and parents) to be perfect in every way. My own parents have often proclaimed their relief at raising a family in the 80s away from the judgy eye of social media and the ‘mom shamers’. With that external pressure to be the perfect parent and the perfect mummy it pains me to admit I struggled with my own mental health following the birth of both of our children. If I am brutally honest with myself, my mental health and battle with Postnatal Depression was particularly difficult after our second little arrival. 

Having duelled with the Black Dog previously, I considered myself battle prepared the second time round. My armour was shiny and my sword was sharp. I was ready should I face the demon again. How wrong I was.

The second time around the symptoms were very different. So different I completely missed the Black Dog consuming me. With Olivia it happened around four months and was a gradual change, my mood was darker, I was disengaged with those around me, I was weepy and lost. But it was treatable. Some counselling a low dose meds for a short period of time and I was back on the straight and narrow.

Thomas arrived and the birth was unfortunately a bit more dramatic that we had hoped for. He also came screaming into our world with tongue tie meaning getting breastfeeding established was very difficult. I took this very hard, my feeding journey with Olivia had been such a walk in the park. And then the reflux and colic. If anyone says to me they think their child has reflux I am liable to upend them with a blunt shovel. If your baby has reflux, believe me, you will know. The endless blood-curling screaming will leave you in no doubt. One night, I counted, he screamed, red in the face, inconsolable no matter how we tried to comfort him, from 8pm until 6.03am when he fell asleep on my chest. He woke at 6.17am and screamed for another two hours until I arrived in the GP reception a broken woman begging for help.

Of course a very bumpy start you might well expect a dalliance with PND. So I was on my guard. But it hit me with such a force this time in a way I was not expecting. There was no anxiety. No dark thoughts and very low moods. There was anger. Irrational anger at the most insignificant of things. 

I find it very difficult to admit that. As the attitude to mental health has positively changed there is an understanding of PND to some extent but this was something I had never heard about and so did not think to assign it to depression. It is ok to be a sad mummy, ok to be an anxious mummy, but an angry mummy? Someone call social services!! Or at least that is how my mind would work as I lay wide awake at 3am thanks to insomnia (also a symptom of PND that I wasn’t aware off, those posters and pamphlets with pictures of people lying around in bed all day have a lot to answer for).

Thankfully I had, and still do have, a great support network. Himself spotted the transformation, as did my own family and in-laws. A few frank conversations with Derek helped me come to terms with needing help. Never the finger of blame being pointed. Never an accusatory tone. A two way conversation with nothing hidden, just honesty. A trip to a very supportive GP, counselling again and support from my PHN started me on the longer road to recovery. It hasn’t been easy. Definitely harder than the first time around. Thankfully, in Skerries, us mums are blessed with a plethora of support networks. The hardest part most days is getting out the door to them, but trust me it is so worthwhile when you do. 

Helping me on the road to recovery I spent mornings with the local breastfeeding support group run every week by the ‘two Siobhans’ as they are fondly known among the mums, and I attended the month cake get together run by Tara and Sarah. I met other mums (those who breastfed and those who didn’t – NO exclusions in these groups ever apply) and got to understand that I wasn’t alone. I made friends who were not only in a similar boat to me, but who helped me paddle my own boat back into calmer shores.

I spent Wednesday mornings in the Cricket Club at Baby Sensory and Fridays in the company of the wonderful Jo Jingles. I joined the Skerries Theatre Group to help out backstage and have a hobby that was just for me. Never underestimate the power that a bit of ‘me time’ can have on your mental health. If theatre isn’t your thing, there are running groups, Pilates classes, yoga groups, you name it and you can bet Skerries will have it. And nothing blows away the mental cobwebs like a walk on one of our many beautiful beaches. We also are lucky to have an amazing community of mental health advocates and professionals here in the village – Carla Gower of Perinatal Mental Health Ireland, the aforementioned ‘two Siobhans’ our wonderful Public Health Nurses, Aoife and Seana in Skerries Mental Fitness, to name but a few.

It has taken me a long time to write, even briefly, about my experience. I hope that in sharing it if someone else is going through the same that they take away one thing. This too shall pass. To any mum struggling there is help out there please just be brave enough to ask for it because admitting you need help is far from weak, the opposite, it is a sign of the strength that is going to get you through to the other side.”

Mental Movember

[This is a post I just wrote for my own site http://www.bluejester.com – but figured it is worth sharing here as well]

I haven’t posted anything in a while because I’ve not really had anything to say.

Actually, that isn’t true. I’m notorious for having “something” to say: whether it should be said or not. But if I didn’t self censor sure this part of the Internet would be full of the ramblings of madness that I should keep to myself.

But today I figured what the hell.

As most folk will be aware, it currently is Movember. That wonderful charity event that happens in November and makes folk walk around like 1960’s pornstars with lip caterpillars that belong consigned to the bins of history.

Originally it was an event targeting testicular cancer, the whole purpose being that folk sporting a ‘tache were meant to encourage people to talk about this topic. One thing the male folk are notoriously bad at is talking about health things with each other. It probably stems from the whole “man-up” culture that was prevalent for so long in the world, but luckily we’ve evolved past that and people are needing gentle nudges to talk about things these days. I learned recently, however, that the scope of the event has changed in the last few years. No longer is it about just testicular cancer, rather the purpose of Movember is to encourage men to talk about all manner of health concerns: mental and physical.

It’s the first health topic that I figured I would post an entry about today, because it is just as important in this world as the physical health conversations. Maybe even more so.

Recently I was at a conference for work and there was a fantastic talk on this topic called ‘The Unmonitored Failure Domain: Mental Health’ by Jaime Woo who works at Incident Labs. The whole premise of the talk was that the world is now moving at such a fast pace that people can find it hard to look after their own mental health. More importantly the talk highlighted people need to pay attention to external signals to identify a problem, much like how a computer system needs to be monitored.

The example explained how system monitoring itself may never see that an issue is occurring, as it contiguously makes adjustments and corrections to remain at 100%. But external signals viewing the system can come back and point out that the constant adjustments are not keeping things in a healthy state but rather compounding the problem.

Just like a person who is fighting with their black dog. They can keep telling themselves that the mood swings, the dark thoughts, the lack of motivation or interest in things that bring them joy are all normal. Part of everyday life. But that is how the black dog works, whispering in your ear that joy is bad and misery is good. It is the system making those adjustments to prevent you truly questioning if you’re doing okay or not.

Then somebody comes along and asks ‘Is everything okay?’ – the external signal that has seen something isn’t as it should be.

With Movember now encompassing all manners of health it is important for people to pay attention to their external signals, just on the off-chance their black dog is tricking them. Never forget that people, generally, have good intentions when they ask these questions. You should never assume they are trying to trick you or are pointing out a flaw. Rather if a person has asked this question it is coming from a good place, because they want to be part of the solution and not add to your problems.

Plus, as I’ve said before on this topic, talking is really easy to do. You open your mouth and words come out. Maybe they don’t start as the words about your problem, but like water falling over a cliff it is very hard to stop the flow once it starts (anybody who leaves comments about dams and the likes can just bog off :P). But the joy of Movember is that the world is going to be full of people for the next month literally wearing a sign that is basically saying ‘I am doing this charity event so that people like you can have a stranger to talk to if you need it.’

All you have to do is ignore the fact they look like a 1960s pornstar and have that chat, you’ll feel better for it.