When mental health illnesses are present
Navigating our way through motherhood can be hard enough, as women, we are expected to be all things to all people and often we neglect our own physical and mental health as a consequence.
There are so many parenting books and a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips when parenting situations arise, just a quick Google search can help us know what to do if our baby has a fever or how to respond to any unexpected questions our little ones ask us, usually at the most inconvenient times.
What is not so easily accessible are the books on how this motherhood journey works when mental health illnesses are present.
With around 1 in 6 Australian women suffering from depression and 1 in 3 experiencing anxiety at some point of their lives, resources are still lacking, we can only read so much but when the mental health system is so overcrowded and underfunded, women and children are suffering.
Where the journey began
My journey began when I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and anxiety after my first daughter was born and later went on to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it became painfully apparent that there was little support offered to mums with diagnosed mental health illnesses.
After countless hours of researching and sleepless nights trying to find valuable information about parenting with a mental illness, after numerous medication changes and multiple appointments with different counsellors, psychologists and even psychiatrists I was close to giving up.
It all changed for me when I was suffering a particularly severe bout of depression after seeing yet another mental health professional at the ever-revolving door of the public mental health system and I lost faith in my ability to be a safe and attentive parent to my three children.
I started having suicidal thoughts and attempted to take my own life. The universe had other plans though. I needed to be around for my beautiful babies and to discover my purpose.
I suddenly felt compelled to help other women and mums know that they were not alone, that mental health is not something to be ashamed of and to give them the knowledge and confidence to ask for help.
Acknowledging your own trauma to be a better mum
The first action I took was to start dealing with the childhood trauma I had experienced, I work with so many women every single day who are desperate to change their lives but like so many of us, they just had no idea where to start.
It may be that they are suffering addictions to food or alcohol, they may have toxic relationships or feel as though they can no longer take care of themselves or their children and they feel it has reached crisis point for them.
In nearly every single case, the women are looking at fixing what is happening right now in their lives, understandably we all want to solve the issue at hand. What we don’t acknowledge more often than not, is that our problems we face today are just the tip of the trauma filled iceberg.
Going back and learning where these patterns and behaviours stem from is vital, once we sit down and open up in a safe place where we feel heard and understood, childhood and adolescent trauma are often identified as a main contributing factor regarding mental health issues.
Once I started to acknowledge my childhood trauma, the sexual abuse I suffered and domestic violence I had witnessed, my mental health slowly began to improve as did my relationships with my children.
I started to truly understand that having a mental illness did not make me a bad parent and asking for help did not make me weak, I started really connecting with my children in a way I had not felt comfortable doing previously and the bond between us strengthened every day.
How to strengthen then bond and still take care of yourself
Each woman I have spoken to has learned her own coping mechanisms and found her own ways to break her cycle.
For me, it was opening up, talking and implementing strategies that effectively created a safe and reliable space for us as a family unit by doing the following:
1. Triple P –
I found a parenting course called Triple P (positive parenting program) to participate in. I learned that quality time is far more valuable than quantity. I make the effort to have time to engage with each of my now four children one on one each day even if only for 10 minutes. Asking them how their day was and engaging in the conversation has led to an open dialect in our home, conversations flow freely and nothing is too taboo or embarrassing to talk about.
2. Develop a routine –
Developing a routine that works for you and your children is highly effective in alleviating stress, especially around mealtimes when tension can be high. Meal planning and getting the kids involved with cooking can bring families closer together as well as being a fail-safe on the days when your mental health may be low.
3. Disconnect from social media –
Disconnect from social media often. This is a big one and it is not as easy as it sounds but with social media it is easy to lose hours at a time mindlessly scrolling and comparing our lives to others. Make a point of putting your phone down and looking at your child when they are talking to you.
Social media can have such a negative impact on our well-being, with online bullying, harassment and a constant stream of negativity at our fingertips, it is easy to be left feeling overwhelmed and disheartened. Talk openly to your kids about how to safely navigate social media and set clear and firm boundaries for both you and your children.
4. Nourish your body –
Nourish your body with healthy foods and exercise, I truly believe that it is key in maintaining a healthy body and mind and science backs me up on this one. I found that the healthier my body is, the healthier my mind is and my children witnessed my changing habits regarding food and wanted to be a part of that as well. Monkey see monkey do!
Finding your passion
I felt empowered as a mum and a woman living a healthy life and wanted to go further in helping others, so I started an online group teaching other mums how to live a balanced lifestyle as part of their self-care routine. The group has grown to over 5600 mums and each day women from all over the country come to me to share their stories and ask for guidance and my advice is always the same – seek professional help and address the root of the problem, not just the symptoms.
Allow yourself time and space to be healed. Make the decision to work on yourself without the mum guilt of being selfish, in fact, making that choice is a truly altruistic act because you are doing so in order to be better for yourself and those around you.
Find your passion and engage in it the way you’d foster your children’s passions. I decided to finally follow my writing dreams and sharing my story with as many women as possible in hopes that they too would be inspired to find their passion and pursue it.
But most importantly, do not ever let the stigma of mental health silence you.