If you’ve ever stopped by my blog before, you’ll know that I tend to write about the humorous and positive side of parenting. I rarely speak about my mental health, even to my nearest and dearest. And I definitely don’t write about it. Or the impact that this has on my ability to be a parent.
But I’ve really been struggling recently, and I found there aren’t that many posts about parenting with mental health disorders.
There are the official pages of various mental health services, giving great general advice. Which is of course, fantastic. But I wanted to read real accounts from people actually parenting with mental health disorders. I wanted to read something more personal about the realities of trying to be a parent whilst battling through bad times.
It’s all very well telling people to go and see their GP, but what if you’re struggling in the middle of the night and can’t leave your children? What if your children are ill and you need help with your mental health? What if you’re struggling with a tiny baby that relies on you for everything and struggling with your mental health too? In situations like this, it’s not as simple as picking up the phone and making an appointment to see your GP.
Chances are, you might not even recognise that you need help until you hit crisis point.
These are all situations that I’ve been in, at least once, so I thought I’d share my experiences. Just in case anybody else is searching for similar. This is the first one in what will be a series of posts. I’ll be adding to them in the coming days/weeks.
My mental health history
I’ve never been the kind of person to do things by half – which I’m sure my Mum will agree with. So my own mental health isn’t limited to one condition. I have been diagnosed with;
- Bipolar II (rapid cycling)
- Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder
- Social phobia
- General anxiety disorder
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
- Perinatal depression (pregnancies 1&2)
- Post Partum psychosis (after pregnancy 4)
If you click on the blue words, you’ll be directed to pages with more information about the mental health disorders.
As a teenager, I struggled with self harm and depression, particularly during my GCSE’s. But mental health wasn’t so well understood back then. (I’m old).
For me, the scariest diagnosis I’ve had was the postpartum psychosis. I had no idea what was happening at the time, and was very ill. It directly caused the end of my marriage. I put 4 children aged between 6 months and 10 years in a car, and drove them 500 miles from our house in Scotland to my Mum’s house in England. Overnight. With no warning to anybody. Looking back now, I think I realised I needed help, but didn’t trust anyone other than my Mum & Sister to help me get it.
So, as you can see, I’ve a long history of suffering with mental health disorders. Some of which I have successfully recovered from, but others I haven’t. And probably never will.
I have always found my mental health disorders frustrating, because I know I’m intelligent and I’m lucky enough to have a photographic memory. So trying to fight against these disorders constantly to get to the me that I am underneath them is so annoying.
Sometimes, I can cope and sit and write a 1500 word blog post in a couple of hours. But then all of a sudden I can’t remember anything. My brain feels like it’s spinning really fast, but it’s not connecting with anything, and I can’t take any information in at all. When that happens, I can literally stare at a blank screen for hours or even days, not even knowing which word to start with.
I now have terrible problems with short term memory and have no memories at all of the very difficult times. It’s literally like my brain just decides it’s doing enough by just functioning enough to get through a day, and just won’t bother remembering anything else.
This affects anything from never knowing where my car keys are, having no idea what day it is, forgetting simple things like turning the oven on or off, or completely forgetting about things I’ve agreed to do.
It is maddening. Even if I try to be organised and write things in a diary, I will then forget where I’ve put the diary. And it’s no good me adding things to my phone calendar either, because I often lose my phone.
I drive everybody else crazy!
And if all these things drive me up the wall, I can only imagine what it does to other people. Like my children for example. Sometimes they think it’s funny that I can’t remember anything, but other times they get really cross with me. I know I particularly drive Jess loopy, because she’ll ask me for a lift somewhere a few hours in advance, which I happily agree to. And then forget all about it and go down the beach with the dog, leaving her shouting down the phone at me.
And the number of birthday parties my children have missed, or play dates with their friends because I’ve got no memory of agreeing to them is ridiculous.
Which then makes me feel terrible and wracked with guilt that I’ve let them down again, and let their friends down too. I’m always letting someone down. And each time I see a disappointed face, I slip a bit further down the spiral of shame, guilt, anger, frustration and depression. And it can be very hard to pull myself up. Even by the smallest of bits.
The times I have remembered something, I then have to wrestle with myself to get over the fear of actually going out and doing it. I find so many excuses and reasons not to do something. If it’s something that can easily be cancelled that’s one thing, but if not, I make excuses and then tend to go into myself for a while to avoid everybody rather than deal with their disappointment. Dealing with the huge weight of guilt I feel after swerving something I’ve said I will do or somewhere I’ve said I would be is exhausting.
I don’t want to be like this. I want to be the kind of person who can stick to plans and never feel crushing anxiety at just the thought of leaving the house. On a good day, I can force myself to go somewhere I feel comfortable going to, or have been to many times. But the thought of going somewhere completely new is incredibly overwhelming.
I have to fight the very strong urge to just not go at all. I have to psych myself up for days to plan an outing to somewhere new or to attend something I don’t want to – like an appointment. And I definitely can’t go somewhere new alone. I have to have someone with me, even if it’s just the girls. They are very much my protective factor. The whole fighting with myself and psyching myself up to do something or go somewhere leaves me absolutely shattered mentally, and physically exhausted. The amount of effort involved in just taking my children somewhere new is huge. So that’s why you might notice that we tend to do the same things over and over.
Most of the time, it’s easier to avoid it entirely. But there are times when I really really have to do something, or go somewhere, and it wipes me out for days afterwards. And even worse, I have zero memory of actually doing it or being somewhere.
Mobile phone = Memories
The birth of mobile phones with decent cameras and mobile internet has helped a lot. I take hundreds of photos whenever we go somewhere, in replacement of my own memories. When we get home, I sit with the children and go through the pictures and get them to talk me through it. At least that way, I can kind of attach their memories to my photos and have some kind of mental record of an outing.
I can use my phone to navigate to places, or look up information as and when I need to. And the various support services I use online are literally always in my hand for the times that I am petrified or incredibly overwhelmed and need some support to get me through.
Mental health safe spaces
I have various safe places that I can go to that don’t cause me high psychological distress. Our local beach for example, is one of them. And it’s where I spend the majority of my time outdoors.
Weirdly, the huge open expanse of the sea doesn’t frighten me. I can sit on the pebbles and watch the waves coming in and out, regularly like breaths, for hours. It doesn’t matter to me whether it’s rainy, sunny, windy, stormy or the most beautiful day of the year. The sea is constant. The waves come in, and then they go out again. All day and all night.
Sitting and watching the constant waves, lapping, splashing or thrashing against the shore always calms me down. If I’m feeling very anxious and struggling to regulate my breathing, watching the waves helps to steady my breaths. In. Out. In. Out. In time with the waves or just inspired by the waves if I’m not on the beach.
I find that sitting on the beach really helps with massive anxiety attacks. I’m sure there is research out there that explains why, but I call it getting a dose of vitamin sea. I don’t know whether it’s the salty mineral sea breeze that helps regulate breathing, or whether it’s just breathing in time with the waves that helps. But it does help.
I’m lucky that my youngest two children are also happy on the beach. But for them it’s about getting wet, exploring, digging, throwing, running, splashing and playing. For me it’s about resetting myself. And giving myself the time and space to breathe evenly and freely.
It’s not a lie when I say I am happiest on a beach.
I love sitting and watching storms. With huge waves crashing and smashing against the shore, high winds whipping the sea into a foam, that’s thrown across the groynes and onto the beach. Winds that take my breath away, and make my hair go wild. Winds that lash sea spray against my face, making it feel salty, hard, cold and fresh. I love the storms because it reminds me that even nature has powerful angry moods.
Even when the sea is at it’s darkest and scariest, I’m not scared.
Because it brings me comfort, reminding me that like the storms that rage inside me, it will soon pass. Then the sea will be calmer, more welcoming and inviting. It won’t push people away with the force of its storm. It will welcome people again, with the beaming sun, gentle waves, glistening water, and promises of fun times ahead.
And I know, that I won’t always be stormy. I’ll have bright sunny days, where I want to surround myself with friends and family and enjoy fun times again. And I have days where I push everybody away whilst I work through the storm inside me.
The other place I tend to run to is a local woodland/forest that I first visited as a scout. It’s small enough that I can’t get lost in it, but big enough that I feel like I’m in a different world. It doesn’t matter which season it is, just sitting amongst the trees or walking through them is enough. I’ve written a post previously about Forest Bathing – what it is and how it helps with mental health. I’ve only recently discovered that forest bathing is a ‘thing’ but I’ve been doing it for years naturally.
The beauty of my mental health safe spaces being outdoors is that I can easily disguise needing a mental health break as a fun activity for the children. I rarely discuss how I’m feeling with them either, mostly because I don’t want them to associate these places with their Mum not feeling well. At the moment they associate these places as having fun, adventuring, exploring, exercising and walking the dog. Which is fine by me for now. When they are older I will tell them. My older 2 know about my struggles, but I don’t want them turning into my carers rather than concentrating on building their careers.
It’s definitely difficult managing my own health (or ignoring it as I mostly do) and bringing up a family. And very hard doing it as a single parent and shielding the children from the majority of my struggles.
If you’re in crisis or struggling now
Never be afraid to get help. Never wait until the morning or put it off if you need support right now. Mental health problems rarely occur during normal office hours. If they do, that’s great, you can contact your GP surgery for advice, an emergency appointment or details for crisis team service in your area.
If you need help outside of office hours, don’t panic. There is help available 24/7.
You don’t have to call and speak to people if you don’t want to. The Samaritans have a great email service. You might not get an instant reply, but they will reply and will keep replying to you and supporting you for as long as you need it. It states 24 hour response time on their website, but I haven’t ever had to wait more than a few hours.
I find this service especially helpful, because I hate speaking on the phone and I never have a minute where there isn’t someone listening in. It was great to be able to email them when I was up all night with a newborn screaming, and feeling hugely overwhelmed too. Being able to pour everything out silently and still get support is incredible.
Similar to The Samaritan’s email service, is a text service run by Give Us A Shout.
Shout is the UK’s first 24/7 text service, free on all major mobile networks, for anyone in crisis anytime, anywhere. It’s a place to go if you’re struggling to cope and you need immediate help.
I haven’t personally tried this service yet, but their aim is to answer texts within 5 minutes. It’s worth storing their phone number (85258) in your phone so you can text whenever you need to.
You can also call 111 for help. This service is for when you need fast help but it’s not an emergency.
If it is an emergency, and you’ve either already taken steps to end your life or have immediate plans to do so, PLEASE call 999.
Mental health emergencies are just as important as any other health emergency.
That’s it for this post. If you found it helpful or want to read the next instalment, you can subscribe to receive posts with your email address or follow me on social media. My aim is to publish a mental health/parenting post every Friday. I announce new posts by adding a link to social media once it’s been published.
Thanks for reading Hx