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.”

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