What mental health concerns have you come up against? Are they yours or a family members?
I have lived with depression since I was about 13 and anxiety since childhood. I have also experienced PND after the birth of my first child.
Who does this impact the most?
My partner and children really bear the brunt of my emotional health. Obviously it impacts me too but they are the innocent bystanders in it all.
How long have you or your loved one fought against mental illness? Did you deal with this before having children?
I’ve lived with depression and anxiety for so long now I can hardly remember life without it, and I’ve spent a lot of my life learning how to deal with it. The anxiety is definitely harder to live with than the depression because it’s more present, I will have some form of anxiety every day. It hasn’t so much been a fight for me but a learning curve. I’ve needed to learn how to listen to my anxiety and work through whatever the anxiety is trying to tell me then I can let it go, but it has been a hard slog to get to this point.
Do you feel that it changes the way you parent?
It absolutely changes how I parent! In the midst of my PND after my son was born I could hardly parent at all. My brain knew I loved him but I never actually felt love for my son until he was about one. I was in and out of hospital because I could feel my throat swelling shut, but that was just the anxiety trying to take me down.
Some days I used to have so little energy that I would just lay on the floor with him and not even talk or play with him until he need a bottle. I used to wish that FACS would show up and take him away because I knew he didn’t deserve to be treated like that. I emotionally neglected my son for the first 12 months of his life, and that does real damage. My son has always struggled to connect with people and wouldn’t even hug or kiss me or his Dad for close to 3 years. We’ve had to work so hard to teach him how to develop appropriate emotional bonds. He lives with a constant fear of being alone, to the point that we watched The Force Awakens and he was sobbing because BB-8 was left alone.
I have let my son get away with so much for so long because I have felt so guilty for my lack of parenting that now we are struggling to implement any appropriate boundaries.
Do you children know about it? Will you talk to them about it?
I think my son is too young to talk to about it but I will always be 100% honest with him about my mental health history. Our young people are so at risk for issues with their mental health and are less likely to get help because of the stigma around it, so I figure if I can normalise the subject around my kids then they will be more likely to reach out without feeling shame if they need help.
In your circle of close friends and/or family, are you open about your journey? If not, why? Is it because you feel that it is personal, or because you’re worried about judgement?
I am so open about my journey, especially the PND because I remember exactly how alone and afraid I felt, so I want everyone to know that there is zero reason to feel shame and that I will always be here to help. It is one of those things that if we have good honest conversations around mental health and especially PND we can begin to deconstruct the stigma that stops so many women (including myself) from getting help.
Could you tell me about a situation you’ve experienced where mental health concerns have impacted your day-to-day life as a parent?
For two years I was completely unable to leave the house without another adult otherwise I would have a full blown panic attack. I couldn’t even take my son to the park because I was so terrified.
Do you have any coping mechanisms?
EATING!!!!!!!!!!!!! I really don’t recommend it though, I gained 40kg in 2 years!
Getting out of the house is my biggest coping mechanism, even if it is just a walk around the block, fresh air will do you wonders.
Listening to myself. Like really listening, I will often have conversations with the anxiety to try and figure out what is worrying me. It allows me to let it go.
Who is your biggest support person? Do you have a wide support group?
My partner, even though he drives me completely nutty some days, is 100% my biggest support person. He has gone to hell and back to help me get well again (now if he would just learn to put on a load of washing!)
Both my family and my partner’s family have been a great support and I have a few friends that I know will be there no matter how bad it gets.
Does anyone else in your life battle the same demons?
I know so many people living with depression and anxiety or who have had PND.
How do you think the public feel about mental health? Do you think enough help is given? Do you think people understand it? Is there a stigma?
Mental health services are grossly underfunded in Australia, especially in our rural communities and I truly believe that is a reflection of the stigma around mental illness.
We need better access to affordable counselling and other treatments (medications, yoga, meditation) and there needs to be better education as a community starting in primary school. These early years are where we can stamp out the stigma behind mental illness.
Personally, I have found people can be quite resentful towards a mother experiencing PND. It seems to go against the grain for a woman to not take to being a mother naturally, it’s scary to think a woman might not be attached to their child and they lash out due to that fear.
Are you concerned that your children may have to fight against their own mental health concerns one day? Do they now?
My son lives with anxiety already so yes, I am really worried about him and my daughter. We have a significant history of anxiety and depression so it is more likely than not that they will experience the black dog too
Do you have any advice for people with a family member who is battling mental health concerns?
Be there, show up as much as you can. Be present in their life as much as possible and don’t be afraid to talk honestly with them. Let them know if you think they need to get help. Make them shower and put on clean clothes and take them for a walk or out for coffee, or offer to do some housework or cook a meal to take the pressure off. Love them no matter how hard they are to love, and spend some time getting educated.
If you could be brutally honest about your journey, what would you want to say?
GET SOME F**KING HELP!
The absolute biggest regret of my whole entire life is that I was too embarrassed to get help. If I wasn’t so scared things would never have reached the point that they did.
How are you coping now? Are you in a good place? Are you struggling? Are you receiving help?
Things are great for me now; my second child is nearly 9 months now and I didn’t get PND this time which I had been worried about. I am in a better place than I have been in such a long time and I have been doing a pretty good job of keeping my anxiety in check. I feel like I have finally reached the light at the end of the tunnel that everyone talks about, and no it’s not a train!
Written by Jess Bright for The Joys of 3 Boys
If you or a loved one is in need of some help, I urge you to speak up! There is no shame in it. Let’s band together and end the negative stigma surrounding mental health.
You can check out PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia), their helpline is 1300 726 306.
Beyond Blue has a great page with places to get help. Check it out here: Beyond Blue
Or if you just want someone to chat to you can click here, fill out the form, and it will shoot me an e-mail. I’m always up for a chin-wag x