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Entries in postnatal depression (2)

Saturday
May242014

Becoming a Parent: the Loss We've No Time to Grieve.

It was Maya Angelou who said “I've learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way (s)he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.”

The life situation missing from Ms Angelou's short list is the one about "handles parenthood". Perhaps that's why we underestimate the impact that this momentous change in everything about our lives will have on us?!

After all, we spend a good few years working things out: finding our place in school; perhaps studying, getting a job, working out our place in the working world, finding our feet in relationships and getting to a place that society would call 'sorted' or successful or surviving.

Then we think we are ready to have children (or it happens) and so we begin that process. 

If we are lucky enough to have those little people arrive in our world, we are sure we are relatively prepared for what it all means. We can look around and say to ourselves "if they managed it, we will be OK". We buy or collect all the necessary (distracting) items required to help us raise our children the “right” way. The marketing tells us that to be good parents we need this and that. 

What we are not prepared for is the way in which the experience challenges our previously held ideas about ourselves and our place in the world.

Not only that but the experience of parenting and handling the challenges to our self-view are enough to completely knock us sideways – we were so sure of our place before ... and suddenly we are not. Instead we feel unhinged, disconnected, numb, clouded, and fragmented.

Some of us blame the baby: we feel guilty about that because a baby is so small and defenceless – that guilt makes us feel even worse about ourselves.  Some of us turn that blame on our partners: they don't do enough, they don't understand, it's their fault we are swirling around ... if they helped more we wouldn't feel so bad or so out of control or so out of our depth.  Our own parent's skills come into question: they did a bad job of preparing us, weren't there for us in this or that way. We blame the lack of money or the country we live in or the neighbours ... 

... but ultimately we suspect that WE are the problem. WE are somehow not good enough, not well equipped enough to be a parent. Afterall, WE made the choice to have a baby – a choice that, in our darkest moments, we regret because now we have gone and ruined the calm we had worked so hard to create. To add to matters, that choice we made has changed the relationship we have with our partner.

There is no turning back ... and the inevitable forward motion of life can be terrifying.

All of this conspires to rock our world so convincingly that many of us feel we are going mad. Combine that with messages via media that we are supposed to look and feel a certain way, back that up with comments from friends or other parents about how well they are handling it all – we can end up feeling very isolated, incapable and ultimately not up to the task.

It's no wonder we lose our confidence as parents, no wonder we struggle to remember what we wanted out of life before our children came along, no wonder we lose interest in careers or things that captured our attention before parenting. It's not that we don't have those interests, dreams, desires within us anymore. It's that our priorities have changed or we can no longer connect to the Self from before.

What we are never really told about becoming a parent is that not only will life never be the same again, Self will never be the same again. This loss requires a grieving process ... one we have little time, energy or headspace for when we have young children.

Sooner or later, we need to grieve the loss. If we don't, years, decades, lifetimes can pass without us reconnecting with Self. 

Sarah xx

 

Thursday
May312012

My annual journey into the dark.

Last Saturday, my youngest child turned 8 years old. One of the most remarkable things about this event each year is that it provides me with a moment of recall and reflection: of a different, tougher time in my life - a time when I barely held on...

... a time when I was in so much pain that taking my life, or leaving my family was the only solution I could see to saving them all. 

Each year on my daughter's birthday I am reminded of her first year of life. I had barely finished breast-feeding her older brother before she was showing in my body.  There was little time (for me at least) to get a handle on the new world I was living in, the choice I had made and the consequences/results of that choice. There was little time for my relationship to catch up and right itself enough to handle a second child. Little time to re-find Sarah to the extent that I could find her again easily enough after a second child arrived.

Each year I recall the people around me who "saw" me. I remember the ones whe reached out to me in small ways to encourage me to hang in there (what for exactly I had no idea at the time), the people who told me it would get easier. 

It was a terrifying place to be. A place of such disconnection from my Self, my partner, my children and my place in the world around me. A lot of it felt familiar: I recognised the signs from feelings I had after the birth of my son.

I stood in my kitchen crying at 3am night after night, imagining my departure from the family and my death, or both. I came up with ways to distance myself further from my children and partner - to ensure that they would not have to put up with me any longer: not suffer my messiness, my anger, my pain, my abhorrence of those parts of my Self I found faulted, lacking, imperfect.

I wanted to run and hide from my incompetence, my inability to feel, my numbness, my psychotic moments. I wanted to save them all from me. I was certain my death would be a better all-round solution. I would do the one thing I could do to help them all - I would take myself out of the equation for good

I believed it was something that so many Mothers had no experience of ... and now I know that SO MANY do.

I didn't talk to anyone about how I was feeling: that would have been the ultimate failure ... to show the crazy shit that was in my mind? No way!

Then one of those 3am mornings I decided that I had to hang on: that an imperfect mother was better than no mother at all, that my 3am madness was just that ... a sickness, a dis-ease. 

I went in and woke up my partner (now husband). I told him the crazy stuff I had been thinking for months. I let it all tumble out into the darkness and cold. I let him see my insides. I risked it: I showed him my dirty, nasty guts, my diseased mind.

(He's a great sleeper and 3am wake-ups are not his forte - so you can imagine what it was like for him!!!)

I talked out all the acid and hate. I shared the black, dark poison inside me. I dumped it all upon him, unable to take responsibility for it all (at that point) or to know what to do with it: I knew I had to get it out into the light if I was going to be able to hang on. 

It was the moment I began the journey back. I knew by my actions that I wanted to live and love more than I wanted to die or leave.

I know now that I always wanted that and always will - but that mental illness has a way of making us think things that are not true. 

I know the value of having someone to turn to in the wee small hours of terror.

I know the importance of facing the fear, shining a light upon it, baring its core, sifting through the pieces to see what is, and what isn't real. 

I know the courage it takes. I understand the risk that it is. I honor and value that journey. 

I take it every year ... to remind myself of how far I went and how far I've come. 

Where does your journey take you? 

Sarahxx