I have spent a large majority of my adult life battling with depression and anxiety, and had developed my own coping mechanisms to weather the storm. These mainly involved eating carb rich foods, drinking large amounts of alcohol at night, and spending most days watching daytime tv in my dressing gown between extended naps. Then something amazing happened, someone fell in love with me, and I started to believe that maybe I wasn’t as useless, hateful and hideous as I felt. For a while I started to feel normal and lived a normal life; I went out, I saw friends, I went on holiday, I even went back to work. I dared to think that my mental health problems were finally behind me.
Then something wonderful happened that destroyed my stability, I had a baby. My baby girl was amazing, she loved me, she needed me, in a way no one ever had before. It didn’t take long for the weight responsibility to weigh down on me, the hormones to drop and the sleep deprivation to kick in. This was the most joyous thing to have ever happened to me but I was depressed, really depressed and every day I cried because I thought my baby girl deserved a better mummy than me, someone that didn’t have a panic attack whenever she dropped her dummy on the floor, or screamed with frustration louder than she did when I couldn’t get her to latch onto my breast.
In time I allowed my health visitor and GP to help me, I began medication once again and gave up trying to be the perfect mum. Recovery was slow but after 17 months I finally felt comfortable being mummy. Then something very unexpected happened, I fell pregnant again.
Immediately I panicked because I was still taking medication, so I swiftly weaned off and began preparing for the new addition to our family. This second pregnancy wasn’t plane sailing, I suffered with terrible morning sickness and was exhausted all the time. Looking after my over excited toddler, working part time and hauling my giant belly around soon took its toll on my fragile mental health. I fell into a deep depression and was referred to a specialist mother and infant mental health team. Once again I reluctantly started medication and waited for a referral to a psychologist. In the meantime I had support from the mental health team, my GP and my health visitor, support I found invaluable.
My daughter had just turned 2 when I gave birth to my son, and everyone told me I had my work cut out, little did they know I was already close to breaking point. This should have been the happiest time of my life but all I could think of was how to escape it. I loved my new son more than anything and became almost obsessed with him, no one else was allowed to hold him, I insisted he co-slept with us to make breastfeeding easier, and I carried him everywhere in a sling. All these things seemed like the actions of a normal loving mother from an outside perspective, but inside our home I began pushing my husband and daughter away.
To me, it was most important that I succeed in my second chance to be the perfect mummy to my baby. My daughter became a source of irritation to me, and as much as I loved her I didn’t want her to be under my feet while I adoringly showered my son with affection. I hated the sound of his crying and did everything I could to avoid it, even if it meant ignoring my daughter’s needs. Potty training became battle of wills as she used it as an excuse to get any kind of attention from me that she could. I became so stressed and anxious that I stopped taking the children out on my own, feeling that everyone would be staring at me and judging my inadequacies.
As the panic attacks increased and became more and more severe I could no longer leave the house at all, and even stopped going in the garden for fear of people hearing me or my children crying. I begged my husband to stay home from work everyday so that I wouldn’t have to be on my own, and sobbed uncontrollably when he left. I lived in a sleep deprived, depressive, obsessive nightmare for 6 months until the inevitable breakdown happened. I could no longer be strong, I couldn’t keep going, I couldn’t manage anymore, I was on my knees and everyone around me was suffering. My psychiatrist saw me as an emergency appointment and sent me straight to a mother and baby clinic for mothers with mental health problems. My son came with me, but my daughter had to stay behind with my husband. I have never felt so guilty or so low, I felt like I was ruining her life, and the life of my husband.
I firmly believed that my family would be better off without me, rationalising that my children were too young to remember me and my husband would soon remarry if I left him a widower. The staff at the clinic were wonderful, welcoming and genuine, but I still felt worthless. The nursery nurses took care of my son while I caught up on much needed sleep and attended various therapy sessions. I sat with other mums, consuming copious amounts of tea and biscuits, and chatting about motherhood and its unexpected challenges.
After 6 weeks away from home, seeing my daughter and husband only once or twice a week, I began to see my own worth. I felt crushed every time my daughter left after a visit, when her little face looked up at me and asked “mummy, why can’t you come home with me?” She still loved me, and I missed her and knew that I loved her more than ever. She needed me, my husband needed me, and I learnt that I did have enough love in me to share it with all my family and leave some for myself.
Since returning home I have had up and down days. I’ve had panic attacks and some days my depression is still crippling, but I know I’m getting better. I want to be around to watch both my children grow up. I want to feel my husband hold me and tell me everything is going to be ok. And most of all I want to prove to myself that I’m not such a bad person, that I am actually a good mummy, and that my mental illness is just that, an illness, not part of me or my personality, so it has no place in destroying my life. I just have to remind myself that I am a person, not an illness.
Thank you anonymous mum
With all good wishes
Please email your submission posts to firstname.lastname@example.org Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist