Birth, Baby & Family is about the wellbeing of families, it is about being open and accepting about mental health because I passionately feel that we need to get rid of the stigma. The recent Mind Over Marathon brilliantly brought mental health into the mainstream – for me it was one of the most honest and inspirational documentaries about mental illness and I think I cried all the way through both episodes, not because I was sad but because I immediately felt less alone.
I have had ‘episodes’ of depression and anxiety throughout my life. A recent trip to London caused me to think about how I didn’t take advantage of opportunities in my 20s due to anxiety and lack of self-worth, when I was mainly rudderless. Becoming a mother grounded me and gave me a purpose I didn’t have before and I reached a point a few years ago when having my children kept me alive.
Ten years ago when my son died, the trauma and the grief changed my brain forever and it has been a long healing process. Therapy, medication, support, love, time and places of safety mean I am now well and happy most of the time. But there was a time when I could only do one thing a day, there was a time when I could do the school run but spend the rest of the day in bed, there was a time when I cried a lot, there was a time when I really struggled, there was a time when I just wanted it to end. But I’m lucky, I’ve done alright. Some days are just about holding on, waiting for it to pass and just breathing but most days are now good, I feel strong and healthy and I can look forward once more.
I have learnt to live with my head, to know my triggers, to know what helps me. Depression, anxiety, loss, grief and trauma have shaped my brain, how I think and process. I am someone who is empathic to stress, tension, anxiety, depression, tears, exhaustion, struggling and keeping on going – sometimes we need someone to get it, someone to listen, someone to not judge or expect too much. Work reflects this now as well – I am able to support, reassure and listen to parents with any stresses, uncertainties, anxieties and struggles. I can do this with listening, breathing, safety, tea and cake.
Despite how well I can feel, my mental health is always a consideration because I need to take care of myself, maybe even to protect myself. My fear is that I will be ill again – crippling depression and anxiety is isolating and scary, panic can rise out of nowhere and consume me and I am left wondering if I will get out of it alive.
In Mind Over Marathon one of the participants said he hates the term mental health because it makes him sound mental, unhinged and he is not, he’s depressed. And I so get this. Part of the stigma, part of the lack of understanding and openness around mental health means that there is fear: fear of witnessing a breakdown, fear of being hurt, fear of being with a pscyho. I am not mental, I’m not a psycho but I can sleep a lot – you are more likely to find me in the safety of my duvet when I am struggling, so not a danger at all really.
I am only an expert in my mental health but I know some of the fear, the isolation, the confusion that comes with it, I get it. Having a mental health issue is not a failure – the strongest people I know are fragile. Please keep telling your story, it’s too important.