In a few months time a book will be published; an anthology of prose and poetry on the experience of mental health issues. It will have my name on the cover and I will have written some of the pieces the book includes. It will be called ‘Dandelions and Bad Hair Days’, inspired by one of the posts written by writer Viv Tuffnell and all royalties will go to nominated mental health charities. The picture at the top of this post is the original artwork painted and donated as the cover by Ingrid Smejkal. However nervous I might feel, there is much to be proud of in bringing it to publication.
But as I do so, and especially as I have been drafting the acknowledgements, I have been thinking about how it all started. And it started with ‘mummyblogging’.
In fact, this is a great moment to celebrate that fact. This post is written for Jo Middleton over at Slummysinglemummy, the funniest blog about the joys (or otherwise) of single parenting you are likely to find. I am lucky enough to count Jo as a friend and ex-work colleague and it was as we were procrastinating over some fundraising project or other that she explained to me about how her blog was gathering readers, and how it was helping hone her writing skills. I was intrigued. Newly redundant with a lifelong ambition to spend my time tapping away at a keyboard being creative, this seemed an avenue I needed to explore.
So nearly two years ago now I started Nowrigglingoutofwriting and quickly got into the parentblogging community. Although everyone was really welcoming, my kids were clearly older than those of most posting about toddlers, terrible twos and the first days of school so I felt a little sidelined. I had to find a niche that suited me and in which my life experiences could be valuable. So I posted ‘Mental Health, motherhood & finding the real me’, and it took off from there.
I nervously pressed the ‘publish’ button on my post – which included the following admission – the first time I had ever expressed it publicly:
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.
I waited for a response – or worse perhaps a total lack of interest. Then the comments and hits started coming. Who would have thought that in a community so often full of upbeat stories of toddler tantrums, afternoons cutting cookies or finger painting; one that paid tribute to grandparents, offered ideas for days out and gave a platform to new writing, there were so many parents out there – particularly mums – experiencing post-natal depression, long-term clinical depression and acute anxiety?
It became clear to me then that ‘mummyblogging’ was clearly a vehicle for many isolated women to find others in their situation who understood what it felt like to be disappointed with their ‘Earth mother’ skills and had similar feelings of inadequacy in the face of a squealing baby. I had so many comments and kind responses to my own admission of long-term clinical depression that I came to understand that this experience could provide my blog with a focus. So my monthly mental health guest post slot was born, and eventually the idea I had for a book became a reality. Thanks to ‘mummyblogging’ a writing career I could only have dreamed of a few months before was a real possibility
Since the first post 18 months ago I have featured many mums - and a couple of dads – who have either experienced mental ill-health themselves or who have cared for or come in to contact with others who struggle with it. The stories of life with post-natal depression (PND), post-traumatic stress, bipolar disorder, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety occasionally made difficult reading. Many were worried about the effect their mental health issues were having on their own children, an issue Jo addressed in her blog for me as she wrote of the impact of her mother’s anxiety state on her upbringing.
Occasionally stories were of tragedy. One woman lost her daughter to an extreme form of OCD, a piece that served to highlight how important early, correct diagnosis and treatment is.
Most stories were, however, full of hope, inspiring others to seek out or persevere with treatment options; highlight the creative side of mental illness and show that there is that proverbial ‘light at the end of the tunnel’. It may advance and recede but it is there and you can reach a position where you can manage your condition, and ensure your families have all the help they need as they support you.
Although I have taken my blog along a number of different paths since its beginnings in the world of parent blogging and have lost contact with many of the great bloggers I came across in those early months, I still keep up with a favourite few, especially those that had an input into the book. It is so important that we acknowledge that parenting is hard work; potentially isolating; fraught with anxiety, fear and disappointment. Staying mentally healthy is the best way to ensure your children grow into strong and confident young people and it is so easy, as a parent, to feel inadequate or that you are failing in some way.
So huge thanks to the British mummy blogging community for getting me staarted. I hope Dandelions and Bad Hair Days will offer support to those currently struggling. Parental self-esteem is a critical component in the building of a robust next generation so don’t go on alone – you are part of a bigger community than you might think…