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I’ve wanted to write about mental health for a long time, but I’ve always been hesitant in case someone ‘in real life’ reads it. I don’t know why that bothers me so much – my family all know about my struggles, so why do I care what other people think? I guess that’s anxiety for you.
Mental health isn’t a new thing for me, I was diagnosed with depression in my teens and anxiety more recently in 2013. I’m no longer on medication for either, and have been managing it myself for the last few years. I have good days and bad days, and I can recognise when I’m falling into a slump, and I know when I need to pull myself out of it.
This isn’t post natal depression. In fact, since having my daughter I’ve felt the most ‘whole’ and together that I can ever remember feeling. I know a lot of new mum’s struggle with losing their identity but becoming a mum for me was like finally finding the place where I fit. But even with that said, I’m not ‘fixed’ and anxiety in particular is still very much a prominent factor in my everyday life.
The difference is now I have to get over it. Those days I want to curl up in my pit of despair and forget that the outside world exists, I can’t. I have to put my big girl pants on and be my baby’s mum, because that’s my job now. And I am beyond thankful for that. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Since having Elise, I’ve been wracked with ‘mum guilt’ – worried that I haven’t socialised her enough because I don’t want to socialise – and attending mother and baby groups really is my worst nightmare. I dread having to talk to other mother’s because I just don’t fit in. I’m horrendous in social situations and nearly always say something stupid which I will dwell on forever even though the person I was talking to probably didn’t bat an eyelid.
I worry that my social awkwardness and my anxieties will somehow rub off on her and she’ll develop her own issues because that’s what Mammy was like.
I worry that people are judging my ability to be a mother, like I’m not cut out for looking after her and off the cuff comments like ‘oh her neck’s a bit red’ or ‘her nails are long’ make me question whether I am caring for her properly and if those people are quietly judging me as a bad mother.
So how do I deal with it?
I’ve made compromises – tea and cake groups are more for the parents in my opinion and I don’t believe she has a lot to gain from going to them so I stopped putting pressure on myself to go. Instead we enrolled her in swimming lessons and I regularly meet up with my close mum friends and their babies (friends I already had before the baby rather than mum friends I’ve made since as they simply don’t exist!). I’ve also signed up for messy play and music groups – groups which focus on child development rather than being a social escape for parents.
You’re probably thinking it would do me good to go to these groups and make new friends, and maybe you’re right, but I’m not in a place where I’m comfortable to do so right now. There’s so many other areas in my life that I can’t compromise on anymore, that ones I do have control over I will continue to do so… for now.
I remind myself that I am not my parents, so why would Elise be me? We all have our own interests and personality quirks which are not influenced and impacted by one person alone. Obviously, your environment has an impact on you but you don’t identically mirror any one person.
I remind myself that I am not just my anxiety, that there is a person and anxiety isn’t where Katie begins and ends.
I reassure myself (though it can be hard sometimes) that I am a good mother and I am doing just fine. Elise is well looked after, she is loved and she is developing well. She’s a playful, happy, cheeky child and is surrounded by people who adore her, so I can’t be doing that bad!
Reading this back, it all sounds so petty and silly but honestly these things are such a big deal for me – and unless you’ve suffered with anxiety personally I guess it’s something you can only try to understand. It feels weird putting this out there, and this post sat in my drafts for a while before I psyched myself up enough to hit publish. But hopefully, there are mums reading this who googled ‘mum with anxiety and depression’ to reassure them that they’re not alone in how they’re feeling. And I hope this post did that.