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Navigating Motherhood with Mental Health Problems

Reading time | 5 mins

Motherhood has brought with it a long-running series of ups and downs. For a long time, the downs far outweighed the ups. When my daughter was four months old, I experienced a breakdown that eclipsed all the other battles I’d fought with my mental health in the past.

Long nights were spent making small talk with police officers in emergency departments. Long hours were spent convincing doctors that I was okay, and that I was fine to be discharged.

I wasn’t okay.

It wasn’t long before I was sitting in the emergency department with a police officer I’d encountered previously. He watched me for some time, occasionally asking how I was feeling. Eventually he asked me what had happened. What had led to us sitting there, waiting for the results of a toxicology screening that would determine if I needed extensive rehabilitation treatment. I didn’t know.

What I did know, was that I just couldn’t adjust to being a mum. I was responsible for looking after this tiny human, yet I was barely capable of looking after myself.

After weeks of hospital visits and appointments with mental health professionals – with a brief stint on a psychiatric ward as a precaution – I was finally given a new diagnosis. Six years earlier, I’d told a doctor that I didn’t think anxiety and depression was the right diagnosis, only to be met with a refusal to refer me for further evaluation.

Finally, I felt listened to

Now, I had a psychiatrist asking me what I thought. He listened. He realised I knew what I was talking about when it came to my own mental health. When I suggested I was experiencing the symptoms of borderline personality disorder (BPD) – also known as emotionally unstable personality disorder (EUPD) – he agreed.

At that moment I turned a corner. Suddenly I was feeling listened to. My opinion about what I was dealing with seemed to matter. My anxiety and depression were being treated as symptoms rather than standalone illnesses, and it was being accepted when I said I didn’t want to go on daily medications. Doctors started to work with me to figure out which path we should take.

Finding out that the waiting list for dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) was two years long, I realised I needed something to help me get through those next two years. So I got back to researching. I’d been aware for a long time that my anxiety was worse than my depression, so I agreed with my doctor that beta blockers would be a good way forward. I only had to take them when needed (not daily) and was told that they would have an immediate effect.  

I found new purpose in my stability

The next step was to decide how I was going to move forward in life. I started looking at college courses, and by September I was enrolled to study Health and Social Care. This gave me an identity aside from just being a mum. I felt I was an individual in my own right again.

I’d known for some time that I wanted to overcome my mental health issues to the point that I could re-enter the world of work. I wanted to be able to set a good example for my daughter. In today’s world it seems more important than ever to show young girls that they can have a career and a family.

As it stands, entering the workplace is still a long way off for me. First of all, I’m focused on getting an education so that I can get the job that I want, instead of going back to hopping around jobs that I don’t want to do.

I’ve decided to make the most of what life has given me. I’m tired of sitting back and talking about what needs to change, but feeling powerless to actually make any of the changes. So after my difficult perinatal experience (I wrote about this previously), I’ve decided to undertake a training course alongside my studies to become a qualified peer support leader.

I want to make sure that no new mum feels alone in the same way I did.

I want to become a voice for new mothers

Suicide should not be a leading cause of maternal death. I feel we should be better equipped to support mothers, and for once, I’m going to be part of that. I’m going to be a listening ear for new mums. If I manage to make one person feel less alone, that’s potentially one life saved. It could mean there’s one less child who is growing up without a mother. And that matters.

I’m studying and training for the same reasons I started writing. I want people to hear a voice of experience in the midst of the professionalism and jargon. I want them to know that they aren’t alone in their turmoil. I want them to see that it is possible to get through the turmoil and come out the other side stronger than before.

Medicine helps and is often vital in treating mental health issues – it’s helped me! But we must be careful not to underestimate the power of solidarity and empathy. I am certain that without those two things, I wouldn’t have tried medication, and I most definitely wouldn’t have set out to redefine myself through education and training.

Reflecting on my journey

As I’m writing this today, I’m watching my daughter playing. I can’t believe how much she’s grown, or the fact it’s been over six months since I nearly left her life. She’s going to be one year old next month, and I’m truly glad that I’ve stuck around to watch her grow. Sure, we have tough days. Just this morning, she refused to eat, throwing a spoon full of food at me and screaming. She’s got that temper out of her system now, and we’re back to laughter and smiles. Those are the moments I wouldn’t want to miss for the world. Those are the moments I don’t want other mums to miss out on with their little ones. Because those are the moments that make it all worthwhile.

UK/MED/20/0060 March 2020