Mental health is a subject that has always been close to my heart. Having suffered with my own mental health for a number of years, and watching the people I love experience their own difficulties, it is a topic I will always try to talk about. Today is World Mental Health Day. I want to use this day to share my story. Hopefully, it will help others realise they aren’t alone.
My Mental Health Growing Up
I always remember growing up and feeling that there was something wrong with me. As a young child I had been described as naughty. In fact. I later found out that my primary school teachers had nicknamed me “hell on legs”. Then throughout the rest of school I tried to blend into the background.
I didn’t want to bring attention to that fact that I was petrified of my own mind. And terrified of what I might end up doing. I was an angry child. But I was also very scared. As an adult I can name these emotions, but as a child I couldn’t understand what they were. Nor did I know that they were a reaction to trauma in my life. I was so scared of hurting other people with my words or actions that I started hurting myself. I was picking and scratching at my skin from a young age, and started self-harming at 12. It was the only way I could find to cope at that time.
Finding Some Help
It wasn’t until I spoke out and got the help I needed at 19 that I realised I wasn’t overreacting or being dramatic. I wasn’t a problem child or invisible. I was mentally ill. and reacting to trauma. What I needed was support, not being labelled “hell on legs”!
Over the next 3 years I tried different therapies and medications. To be honest that can be tricky, and is a bit of an experiment for everyone. It took a little while but I finally found a mix that worked for me. I was making progress. I then experienced a relationship breakdown. Moved 6 hours away from family and friends, and ended up finding out I was pregnant. The medication I was on wasn’t suitable to take throughout pregnancy, so I stopped taking them. This meant that I had to find a new way to handle the voices that were wedged deep within my brain. But now that I knew I was going to have this little baby relying on me. I couldn’t allow myself to fall back into the same routine and patterns.
Mental Health in Pregnancy
I found pregnancy a rough old ride. Then the birth was incredibly traumatic. It wasn’t until Grayson was around a year old that I finally accepted that his birth had traumatised me and I had probably experienced some form of postnatal depression. However, rather than do anything about it I felt I had to just push on through. I was doing my best for my son and husband, but I didn’t get support. I felt like had to make myself get better. To be strong and in my mind at the time this was by ignoring the problem. Now I know that this was wrong.
No One Is Invincible
I think a lot of people can probably agree that growing up our parents were a pillar of strength. They were never ill. Never seemed to take time off unless it was for something that could not be ignored. The only memory I have of my own mum being ill as a child is when she got Pneumonia. So when we become parents ourselves, it feels as though we have to be invincible for our own children.
There in lies the problem, because no one is invincible. I had hoped when I had my son that my mental health issues would magically melt away. Then I could be this perfect parent that was always happy and well. I now know that isn’t normal or healthy. Just because I had this new baby in my life, didn’t mean the depressive episodes stopped. It didn’t mean that constant pit of anxiety in my stomach had gone and it didn’t mean that the intrusive thoughts suddenly stopped. I still had a chemical imbalance within my brain.
I was still me, and I still had issues with my mental health. That would not disappear just because I was now someone’s mum.
Managing My Mental Wellbeing As A Parent
We have all experienced that extreme sense of parental guilt when we snap at our children. You know the ones, where you’re short tempered because we’ve had one of “those days”. Or we stick them in front of the telly because we just need some time to ourselves. But in reality, these are not moments that our children are going to remember when they grow up. And we are still entitled to moments of self care as parents. If we want our kids to grow up and feel comfortable enough to be honest with their feelings, then this is a behaviour they need to learn from us.
Showing your emotions is not a sign of weakness. Although it may feel uncomfortable at times, it is something we all need to try to do.
I will have days where you the depression is too overwhelming that I struggle to function, and rather than completely hide it or push through, I tell Grayson that I’m feeling sad and I don’t really know why. I reassure him that I’ll be okay, but that I just feel a bit sad. He gives me a hug. Tells me it will be okay. That I can talk to him about it. Then goes about his day as any normal 3 year old should. Obviously there is more to it than just feeling sad. But it’s about explaining in simpler terms depending on the age of the child.
By doing this small act, Grayson will come to Mark and I when he’s feeling sad or angry or any other emotion and tell us. He may not always be able to explain why he feels it, but he is comfortable enough to tell us and we can try to offer him comfort and reassurance. We are normalising difficult emotions so that he doesn’t feel scared of his own mind like I did.
There are still times when I can see the anxiety I know all too well showing itself within him. Or the struggle to diffuse the anger that is rising within his chest. I feel like I am looking at a mirror image of myself. The pain that makes me feel can often bring me to tears. But rather than try to ignore how he’s feeling or distract from it, I will embrace his feelings. I give him what I needed growing up. I feel by doing this he is still going to be experience negative emotions – because every human does. But hopefully he will have the appropriate tools to handle them as he grows.
I Am Still Me
When we become parents, we do not become super humans that are incapable of negative feelings and pain. We need to be more kind with ourselves, because we are only human. You can still be a good parent, and battle your mental health.
I am a mum, a wife, a daughter, a sister and a friend – but I am still Ashleigh. I am still battling my mental health every single day. Regardless of who you are and the titles you hold, you are allowed to struggle.. You are allowed to have issues with your mental health. It is about finding the right coping mechanisms that work for you.
I’ve accepted the likelihood that I will live with these mental health issues for the rest of my life. I am likely to be in therapy and on and off medication for as long as I need it. However, this doesn’t upset me or make me angry. It doesn’t make me a failure, or weak. It makes me incredibly strong, because there is no weakness in admitting that you need help.
Don’t Suffer Alone This World Mental Health Day
If you feel that you are struggling, or you don’t feel yourself and you haven’t in a while, then please find someone to talk to. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to a professional start by talking to someone you trust. Failing that, write everything out in an email to yourself or a letter. When you read it back – pretend someone you love has written it and what you would tell them to do. Once you’re able to, please reach out to professionals.
But above everything else, please remember to be kind to yourself – because you are strong and you are doing the best you can.
Happy World Mental Health Day.
Has This Post Impacted You?
If you need some help with your own mental well-being, there is so much great support available to you. To find support in your local area visit Hub of Hope, enter your postcode. Or you can contact the Samaritans anytime for mental health support.
Or you can visit Mental Health Foundation – the creators of World Mental Health Day for more great resources.
More On Mental Health
To mark World Mental Health Day, we had a great mental health open mic night over on the Dad Chats on Friday. We heard from our community about the importance of talking about our mental health. Head over to watch it.