Today, October 10th, is World Mental Health Day. I‘m ashamed to admit that I didn’t actually realise it until earlier today when it popped up in my Facebook newsfeed.
World Mental Health Day is an intiative dedicated to raising public awareness and promoting advocacy and education around mental health issues worldwide. It aims to encourage individuals to seek help when needed and necessary, foster connectivity and reduce the stigma sometimes associated with mental health issues.
I’ve written openly about my own mental health experiences before, (HERE, HERE and HERE if you’re interested) and am of the belief that anything that helps lift the lid on the sometimes murky, often unseen world of mental illness is a great thing. I am especially passionate about reducing the stigma that is still attached to suffering from mental health issues.
To put it plainly, that such a stigma still exists is really, really shitty. It confuses me, in this day and age, how mental illness can still be construed as something that’s all in ones head, as opposed to an actual illness that requires treatment. Whenever I publish a post about my experience with OCD and PND, I receive the most lovely emails and messages thanking me for speaking out. The people writing the emails and messages usually preface this by sharing that fact that they are unable to speak about whatever it is they may be suffering, either publicly or even to close friends and/or family. This makes me so sad. While it is every persons individual choice to share what they feel comfortable with when it comes to illness, the fact that those suffering from mental illness in particular feel so reticent to speak out breaks my heart just a little. How can we be expected to openly and honestly tackle these enormous issues when there’s still so much fear surrounding the admission that things are a little less than rosy?
I find this to be especially true for women and women who are mothers in particular. There’s an all prevailing ‘myth’ that still exists when it comes to the idea of what a ‘good’ mother is. I bought into it (to be honest, I still do some times). In my mind and eyes, a ‘good’ mother didn’t feel the way I did. A ‘good’ mother didn’t think the thoughts that I did. Being a ‘good’ mother and suffering from PND or OCD or anxiety just wasn’t possible. The two (three) things were mutually exclusive. Being an all or nothing kinda gal, I managed to really develop the ‘good’ mother myth into a whole range of character traits and personalities.
A ‘good’ mother breastfed. A ‘good’ mother used a sling and not a stroller. A ‘good’ mother pureed all her own fruit and veggies. A ‘good’ mother never used the TV to entertain her child. A ‘good’ mother ensured a range of educational, entertaining activities were constantly on offer to help nurture young minds and little hands. A ‘good’ mother was besotted by her children, constantly in awe of their capabilities. A ‘good’ mother thought motherhood was the best darn thing she’d ever done, never missed her pre-baby life or days spent in the office with other adults.
Yeah so that profile was hard work to maintain. It was exhausting and demoralising, especially when I soon realised that half the criteria were impossible to fill on a regular basis. By setting up the expectations that I did, I put my mental health in a precarious position. As someone who doesn’t do well with ‘failure’ and/or not being the best at whatever it is she tries, not meeting my own expectations was never going to end well. Luckily, I was able to re-set my expectations and re-calibrate my understanding of motherhood with the help of a wonderful team of professionals.
It’s probably apt that I’m posting this particular post today as I haven’t been feeling great. A combination of being under the weather, having my son go through an especially demanding phase and having my husband return to work after a blissful period of school holidays at home has messed with my head a little. I’ve felt anxious and on edge. Unable to pinpoint exactly why, I’ve just felt, quite frankly, pretty crappy. I’ve been chastising myself for working when my son is awake. Right this very second, I’m feeling the familiar sensations of guilt for tapping away at the keyboard while daddy and son read stories together before toddler bedtime. I haven’t been enjoying myself. It’s all felt like hard work. I’ve been berating my lack of mothering skills as I serve up fish fingers instead of my usual homemade crumbed fish fillets.
It occurred to me tonight that I seem to have bought back into the ‘good’ mother myth. After banishing it from my life and replacing it with a more realistic manifesto, I’ve somehow resurrected the old and leapt straight back into it. The result? Well I feel like I suck. Amazing how quickly that way of thinking and pretty darn low opinion of myself managed to stand back up. Then again, it’s always easiest to embrace the negative I think instead of working towards the positive.
I’m posting all this tonight though as a way of showing that while things MAY be less than rosy right now and while I MAY have bought into the ‘good’ mother myth, I am capable of realising that that is what it is; a myth. Whatever may be going around in my head right now does not, in any way, change the kind of woman, and indeed the kind of mother that I am. Being awesome at motherhood AND suffering from PND, anxiety, OCD.. whatever else there may be out there, is not mutually exclusive. You can be and do both.
Here’s to smashing the stigma into tiny little pieces.