Mental illness, motherhood and finding the real me

My name is Suzie and I have experienced mental illness. There I have said it. Not so difficult really was it? Actually, this was a difficult post to publish and for many people it is practically impossible to come out and express how mental or emotional distress has affected their lives. There is a real fear of the stigma attached to mental health issues and for me, as a wife and mother, professional woman and yes, a person in my own right it is only now that I can truly sense how destructive any such perceived discrimination can be. For the past two years I have worked for the local mental health charity Mind in Taunton & West Somerset and have seen at first hand how people struggle to re-engage with whatever passes for a normal life in the 21st century.

I can’t remember when I experienced my first real bout of depression. I was an anxious child, terrified teenager and after I had my children was diagnosed with a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). All parents are anxious, but I took it to extremes, convinced that if I didn’t follow certain rituals (such as making the beds properly, or laying the table with matching cutlery) some terrible accident would befall my family. I developed an eating disorder as a means of introducing some control into my life and was eventually desperate enough to approach my GP. I was lucky to be offered CBT and the OCD became manageable, but the lingering thought that something I did, or failed to do, would bring some disaster on us all remained. Unluckily for me this feeling seemed to be confirmed by my diagnosis with breast cancer 4 years ago. All my fears having come true, and despite coming through all the treatment successfully, I became swallowed up with anxiety about my health and I felt terrified of everything the future held for me. However now, at last, I feel there is light at the end of the tunnel, but (as I suspect many others who have experienced anxiety and depression would agree) even saying that phrase can fill you with dread at what you may bring down upon yourself. It is an ongoing struggle.

As a mother I have struggled with how my illness manifests itself in front of my children. It must be frightening to see your mother raging at herself for her inability to cope with the simplest set backs. I have never thought it wrong to express your emotions in front of the family but there are limits and  I must have exceeded them many times. As a mother I knew I was supposed to bring up my son and daughter to be confident, caring people with a proper sense of who they were and what their place in the world might be. I should give them all the opportunities I could to equip them for a future with choice and the ability to forge happy relationships with their peers. How was I supposed to do that when I had no sense of myself, no confidence that I had anything to offer anyone? My desperation to please, to make everyone happy, inevitably failed in the hurly burly of life with little ones, simply reinforcing my view of myself as a bad mother. Those little ones are now teenagers, better able to express how they feel but they are growing up and moving on and I must find a new path, they are not responsible for my well-being. I have a lovely husband who is as supportive as he can be, a sister who keeps me on track and writing, blogging and going freelance again  are all part of a process to take me on through whatever middle age has in store for me.

Now, believe it or not, this is an upbeat story in many ways. I am OK. I have come to accept that my various health issues are part of who I am. I am endlessly thankful to the friends and family who love me and despite how I may feel sometimes I do enjoy a bloody good laugh, get tipsy and forget myself. I have survived breast cancer for goodness sake, isn’t that something to be grateful for? To be proud of? I have learnt how I work best, am most productive and yes happiest. And I understand and believe that I have a right to be happy.

For me though the very best thing, the most positive aspect of all this pain, all the unhappiness I have put myself and my family through is that my James and my Evie have turned out to be confident, caring and as certain as any teenager is about what they want out of life. They are polar opposites of each other – one philosophical and bookish and one sporty and firmly rooted in the here and now – but they are great kids and I am very, very proud of them. I hope my experiences show that however dark the world seems sometimes, however wintery and cold, there is always something to cling to to take you forward. You  may struggle for breath but you can get there. And ‘there’ is where you will find the person you really are.

Resources:

Mind

Time to Change

Phot credit Jaci Berkopec

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This entry was posted in Mental health, Random musings on family life, love the universe and everything and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

40 Responses to Mental illness, motherhood and finding the real me

  1. Linda says:

    A fabulous, fabulous post.

    When you say:
    “As a mother I have struggled with how my illness manifests itself in front of my children,” I hear you so much and I have written about this on our Breaking the Silence blog. I never thought I would see the day!
    Your kids sound a credit to you of course and it’s brilliant that your post can be so upbeat, thanks for suggesting this post for our mental health carnival, love it!

    • keatsbabe says:

      Thanks Linda. I am so pleased I posted this now, it seems to have struck a chord with quite a few people. I really enjoy reading through the posts on your blog and there is obviously such a real need for the support you offer. Thanks!

  2. Sarah says:

    Beautiful post Suzie xx

  3. Jill says:

    Heartfelt and strikes straight to my heart and that of many others I am sure. New beginnings, hey? Enjoy the excitement of it all, Suzie x

  4. Louise says:

    It is very difficult to express how depression feels and I admire anyone who can do it with eloquence. It is a very brave thing to do. Louise x

  5. jamie says:

    Awesome post, very very brave to hit that publish button :D I can also attest that at least one of your kids came out an extremely awesome loving and open minded guy :D

    Jamie + Lion

  6. anon says:

    This is a great post.

    I have suffered with bouts of depression including a really bad spell right now (which is why I am commenting anonymously, I hope you understand) and one of my greatest fears is the effect it has on my family. Your last paragraph has given me real hope for my children’s future x

    • keatsbabe says:

      Thank you for commenting and of course I understand why you want to hold back on publishing your name. My family have proved amazingly resilient, and although it is tough for you at the moment all I can say is from my experience they can grow up to be confident, tolerant and open minded young people. Take care x

  7. Lucy says:

    Great post Suzie. I often hear people making jokes about mental health – I guess we all do it, sometimes dark humour is a perfectly normal defence mechanism! – and it brings me up suddenly and I find myself wanting to say: “Did you know, I spent time in psychiatric care?” But I very rarely do… I mentioned it to someone I know recently and she was really shocked. It is just a part of life, I suppose, something normal but best avoided… like D&V…

    “I do enjoy a bloody good laugh, get tipsy and forget myself”

    We must do this soon…

  8. Jane Earthy says:

    luvs ya! xxxx

  9. wurzel says:

    Sorry my comment is a bit late Suzie, but as I said before this blog is superb, it really does tell how it how it feels to hit rock bottom and feel. However, the important message that you send out to everyone is, that it IS possible with grit, and determination, to clamber your way back to where you want to be. Thank You.

  10. Pingback: After pushing the publish button… | No more wriggling out of writing woman…

  11. Lynne Earthy says:

    Excellent blog Suzie. I too have suffered and still do at times (due to my health) and a lot of what you have written is a real comfort. Thank you x

  12. A beautiful post that resonates deeply with me.
    I wrote here, about my concerns about passing on my own insecurities to my children.
    http://marketingtomilk.wordpress.com/2010/05/28/can-i-give-my-kids-self-esteem/
    What a wonderful thing that your children are growing with confidence and happiness.

    M2M

  13. Nick Miles says:

    Can’t believe I haven’t sat down and read this until now, but you know how it is running around after a ‘just’ 2 year old!

    Fantastic post, so well written! And as one of those people who are pleased to call you a friend, we love you!!! x

  14. jillsmo says:

    This is a great post, thank you for having the courage to share you story. I’ve been depressed my whole life and have been taking SSRIs for 15+ years. I’ve gone back and forth over the years with wanting to stop but have never been able to. After I had post partum depression with my first born I just accepted that this is how I am and the medications allow me to function

  15. keatsbabe says:

    Thanks for your lovely comments. It is hard to share these things but we need to get our stories out there. I have a monthly guest post spot for mental health issues now so it would be great if you could check in again every so often. Good luck and take care x

  16. Lynn says:

    Great, brave post Suzie. I’m visiting from Jen’s Blog Gems hop and I’m glad that I read this. I’ve had anxiety and OCD issues my whole life. I now have a daughter with autism and wonder how much my genetics played into that. How wonderful that you raised great kids in spite of all of your trials!! I hope that I get to say as much in 10 or so years!!!

  17. jean says:

    I had to do a double take to make absolutely certain that I wasn’t reading about myself (narcissist that I am)…but then I got to your breast cancer diagnosis and knew that there is another equally loopy mum out there. Phew! To have kicked breast cancer’s arse is real GI Jane stuff. Huge kudos to you. But to do it while struggling with your mental health issues…well, that’s just damn amazing.
    I had the really Bad Idea of stopping my prozac a month ago as I felt just dandy…yikes. I’m waiting for it to kick back in now in the hope that the sky won’t fall in the meantime.
    Lovely to read your post. Your courage is not lost on me.
    XXX

  18. Livi says:

    So lovely to read such a positive post about mental illness. I suffer depression and anxiety and have found ways to muddle through life, it’s good to know that you have too.
    Extra congratulations for kicking cancers butt!

  19. Jen says:

    A really thought provoking post. The stigma attached to depression annoys me because it often means people are afraid to say, ask for help and get understanding. One person at a time is the only way to reduce the stigma, well done you and wtg on beating breast cancer. As Jean said, GI Jane stuff :) Jen

  20. Elaine says:

    I’ve just read this and have a pretty good idea how hard that must have been to write and make public, Suzie. Very pleased you have. Like your husband, I too live with the ups and downs that depression brings a much-loved spouse, and know intimately the joys and the sorrows, the frustrations and the helplessness, that accompany the struggle, knowing that the best I can do at times is just ‘be there’. Thank heavens for CBT … it can make such a difference….

    • keatsbabe says:

      Thanks Elaine. It is a tough one – but unless we talk about things like this then mental health never goes up the NHS priority list and peopple will still be discriminated against in the workplace. You are right – at times the only thing you can do is be there and that may be all that is needed.

  21. Ian says:

    Quite often I’ve wished part of my life away. Without that lack of confidence-lack of opportunity-poor employers etc what might I have achieved? Now towards the autumn years I see more clearly that what really matters is the things we can take with us i.e. NOT positions held, or bubble reputations, or money but the wisdom and compassion which grows inside us. Without those negative things that growth might not have occurred? Maybe it’s best to suspend judgement until we get to the end?
    Congratulations on your post.

  22. I’m really late to the game here, I know, but I just had to say thank you for sharing this. I’m raising a little girl. She’s turning 3 in a few months and since my pregnancy, I’ve struggled off and on with anxiety and depression and then terrible, terrible guilt as I worry over whether I’ve passed any of this down to her or how it affects her to be around me. I really needed to know that our children can grow up to be well and happy. I love her so much, but even that love is not enough to pull me out of the worst low moments sometimes.

    The line “however dark the world seems sometimes, however wintery and cold, there is always something to cling to to take you forward” is one I will write down and keep with me forever so I can look back on it when I’m feeling weak and take some comfort from it. Thank you again. I can’t tell you how healing this was to read.

    • keatsbabe says:

      I am so pleased you came to my blog. I really do empathise with you. If you look at the mental health page on my site there are some guest posts on there that might also offer some words you can take comfort from. You most certainly need never be alone with these feelings, and I have found my children to be so much more resiliant than I could imagine possible. Good luck x

  23. Suzie, this is so powerfully and sensitively expressed. I’m a total catastrophist (catastrophe did actually happen in the past, so I’m always braced for it to happen again) but also find the love of my husband and children, my pride in how wonderful my sons are, gives my life meaning. Congratulations on speaking out so honestly and on beating breast cancer. You’re an inspiration. x

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