f there’s one thing that really gets my goat (apart from small dogs in handbags (seriously, where do they poo?) and the incorrect use of skim milk instead of the full fat stuff in my sacred, once a day coffee), it’s the stigma that still surrounds mental health and its various faces. I am not one to rant (ok that is a blatant, blatant lie, I can rant with the best of em’) and I certainly don’t want my sparkly, happy blog space to be the ramblings of a bitter and twisted woman BUT when I feel passionate about something, i just gotta get it out into the universe.
The feedback i’ve been receiving about my posts on my personal experience with OCD and anxiety and mental wellness in general has been fantastical. It’s not only been a hugely cathartic process for me, but being able to share with the wider world, well that’s just the brie (King Island Triple Cream if you’re wondering) on top of a delicious water cracker. After publishing my posts and speaking face to face with people, one of the things that often gets asked or at least inferred is whether or not it’s hard/scary/detrimental to share so much, both in the ‘real’ and online worlds. I guess people wonder if it effects my relationships with other mums, my career or even my friendships. If i’m 100% honest, it’s not always easy and my fingers often hover over the ‘delete’ key after typing certain things but for the most part, i’m pretty cool with the whole thing, and firmly believe that it can do only positive things for my wider world. What is hard for me to handle though is the fact that the question, and the thought that there may be some real negatives to being honest, even needs to be asked in the first place.
It seems writing about the stuff that goes on in our head is somehow much more delicate, more of a taboo than say writing about teeth grinding or obesity or diabetes. I count myself extremely lucky that I don’t have to battle the ongoing challenges that these conditions present (maybe not the teeth grinding cos i do kind of do that) but what I do battle and what I do experience is a little thing called anxiety and as far as I am concerned, there is no shame in that whatsoever. It saddens me when I hear of the struggle people face in discussing their situation with employers, colleagues, friends and acquaintances. It seems, in many circumstances, that to admit that you’re dealing with some stuff in your head is akin to wearing a large sign that says ‘I am unstable’, ‘I am not a good employee’, ‘I am not good friendship material.’ It’s like, by confiding that you’re having a bit of a tough time, you suddenly are not longer ‘Naomi who happens to have anxiety’ but ‘an anxiety suffer who also goes by the name of Naomi’. By creating this stigma around conditions like depression and anxiety, it becomes very easy for the people who are suffering to remain silent, lest they suddenly be affixed with that hideous sign that defines them by the condition that just might happen to have, as opposed to the person they actually are. And I think this is a load of goat poop, and especially harmful in the context of motherhood.
When it comes to motherhood, and admitting that things aren’t 100% rosy, the fear, guilt and shame surrounding having a tough time of it, seems to magnify. It breaks my heart a little to think of the mothers out there who are silently waging war against those pesky ‘what if’s’ and bleak horizons but are so fearful of what other people will think that they continue to fight that battle on their own. I think if I could sit down with 100 other mothers, like me, who have experienced post natal mental health issues and ask what their biggest fear in telling someone what they were experiencing would be, I reckon they’d say something along the lines of; ‘I’m afraid people will think i’m a bad mother.’ And I hear you. I too dwelled in this pit. How can a good mother feel this bad? How can a good mother think these thoughts? Why doesn’t it look like the ads on the TV?’ The stigma still associated with having a bit of a rough time after birth is huge, and it needs to be dismantled.
This is why I try to be so open with my own experiences. Because it’s hard to get to a point where you can say that things are a bit crap. Even if you aren’t suffering from PND/OCD/PTSD/anxiety, motherhood is bloody hard work and it can be kind of crappy at times. This often isn’t shared though. Mothers groups will discuss the lack of sleep, the issues breastfeeding, the change in lifestyle, but i’ve never been part of a group where, over coffee, one mother comes out and says ‘you know what? I’m having a really hard time of it at the moment. I think I might be suffering from anxiety, maybe a bit of depression and i’m really doubting if I should have had a baby at all as I seem to be so rubbish at this.’ Chances are good that, in a group of 15 or so women, someone else, most likely more than just one person, feels exactly the same way. Sure, not everybody feels comfortable expressing their deepest thoughts and emotions, and that is 100% a-ok, but I wish that this was a personal choice, a desire to deal with things on a smaller scale, than fear of the response that such a declaration will have. While I don’t have a cup of coffee in hand and am not in fact surrounded by a bunch of other women and babies, I am publicly declaring that I have felt that way and have survived.
To the mothers out there who have taken this step, and admitted to a small or large group that it’s not all unicorns and rainbows, you rock. To those who are thinking they are doing an awful job while they keep their baby well fed, warm, clean and loved, you rock. To those mothers who are singing ‘The wheels on the bus’ for the millionth time and thinking that they would really rather be somewhere else but that they should feel blessed to have a healthy chid, you rock (and you aren’t alone in thinking that.) To those women who work outside the home and those who stay at home with their kid(s), you rock. To those who have taken the first step and told someone that things are hard at the moment, you rock. And finally, to those women, who have met PND/OCD/PTSD/anxiety and anything and everything else in a dark alley and switched on the light to expose that bastard, whether you are the Kerri Sackville and Jessica Rowe of the experience and share it with thousands, or the one who confides in other mums and perhaps helps someone without even knowing it, you my friend, rock.