My life as a mum has been riddled with ups and downs. I’ve had to get better at monitoring my own mental health, and I’ve had to do so very quickly! I’ve also faced my fair share of the all-too-common ‘mummy guilt’.
When my daughter was four months old I suffered a severe breakdown. A year has passed since then, and I’ve had the privilege of speaking to some of the people who pulled together to keep me safe when I was in crisis. I’ve even spoken to one of the police officers who saw me at my absolute lowest point. It was an emotional conversation, and a few things were said that I needed to hear.
I’ve decided to share some of those things here, in the hope that they reach another parent that might need to hear them too.
1. They don’t know you’ve been gone, they’re just happy you’re here now
When I had my breakdown I ended up being absent from my daughter’s life for almost a month. As any parent knows, small children grow and change very much in the space of a month. I felt guilty for missing it. Hearing these words seemed to unleash a year’s worth of built up guilt within me and I immediately burst into tears. It was an emotional moment, but I could almost feel the weight of the guilt lift off me.
2. I know you’re a good person
During my breakdown I was aggressive and rude to an awful lot of people. I’ve spent the last year making apologies, and letting people know that both me and my daughter are doing well. I don’t think anyone took this badly, but this particular response had a big impact on me. Being reminded that I’m not the worst of my illness, and that people don’t see that when they look at me is reassuring. It helped me combat the guilt I feel about my behaviour during that time.
3. You are, and will continue to be, a fantastic mum
During my pregnancy I had far too many people tell me I was irresponsible – that it was selfish of me to have a child when I live with a mental illness. When I was in crisis mode their words echoed around my head. I would walk the streets in the middle of the night convinced that I’d been reckless, even cruel, for having a child. Even now reminders like this –that I can be a mum and a good one at that – get me through the rough days of being a parent.
4. I’m sorry
These words often come from people who don’t have anything to apologise for. But that doesn’t make them any less meaningful. Those two words mean that someone has recognised my pain, and while they aren’t responsible for it they recognise that I have a right to it and that means a lot.
When you boil it down, all the things I needed to hear gave me both reassurance and validation, as well as the occasional reminder to get my head out of the past and start looking to the future. I have a beautiful, happy, healthy toddler. She hasn’t been raised by other people, I have been her primary carer, except for that one month when she was young. Her smile alone is evidence that my mental illness doesn’t stop me from being a good mum.
I’ve done a good job, as have countless other parents with a mental illness. These are the things I needed to hear – maybe you or someone you know needs to hear them too.
NPS-IE-NP-00009 October 2020