Maternal Depression – my lifelong battle with Selma & Patty

I’ve suffered from Depression & Anxiety disorders for as long as I can remember, except they were not given a name to me until I was in my twenties & went to my GP & saw a checklist of things that if you experience for more than two weeks is considered depression. I cried. They were tears of relief. They were tears for all those times I pulled out of social appearances, put up appearances or just wanted to disappear.

The biggest depressive episode occurred after the birth of my first baby 4.5 years ago & was actually termed Postnatal/Postpartum Depression. I was admitted to a Psych clinic with my daughter, was medicated, received intensive therapy & slowly recovered. To say that I have not suffered from Depressive episodes or anxiety since then would be a complete lie, but I have learnt how to cope, to deal & to move forward even though I want to stay in bed & sleep the days away. At these times, I am less visible on social media & it takes more energy than normal to look ok & to get on with the daily chores tasks of motherhood & parenthood. And two years ago, I went on to have another baby after my PPMD & although I wasn’t sucked back into the eye of the storm, I was certainly tested.

So, nearly five years on from my PPMD, I’m still battling the Demons that are Depression & Anxiety disorders. I’ve actually named my depression Patty & my anxiety Selma – giving them names helps identify who’s with me on any given day or impacting my decisions. And then I read a book as part of the Warrior Mom Book Club called, ‘ The Ghost in the House: Real Mothers Talk About Maternal Depression, Raising Children, and How They Cope‘ (by Tracy Thompson) & the same sense of relief I had in the doctors surgery many years ago was felt again. You see, I now consider my Depression as Maternal Depression. I have a new profound understanding on what I am battling against – it’s depression that affects mothers of older kids & no longer infants/toddlers (although I still have two preschool children). My Depression does not only impact me, but impacts my children too. And more so, I can’t sleep the days away as I have a family to look after & take care of.

Searching for information & resources for ‘maternal depression’ & the results that come up focus on Postpartum Depression/Postnatal Depression which ‘medically & scientifically’ speaking occur/commence within the first 12 months following the birth of a baby. However, what happens after that? Is it still considered PPD/PND years later when you’re still suffering the cyclic pattern of low moods, apathy, irritation etc? When researching Maternal Depression, you find articles discussing the long-term effects on children whose mother doesn’t read to them, sing to them, interact with them etc. They’re also referring to those mothers who are unable to work & contribute financially to the family also adding financial stress to the equation. I’m neither of the above. My postpartum period is well & truly reached its expiry date & I interact all the time with my kids BECAUSE I don’t want them to experience any lasting effects of MY ongoing mental illness. In fact, most of my exhaustion stems from showering my kids with my emotional availability that by the end of the day sometimes I am too exhausted to show my husband the same amount of consideration.

There are not many resources for us mums suffering maternal depression, other than being pigeon-hold with other women suffering depression or those suffering with PPD/PND which I think is wrong. I think we need special consideration as our depression doesn’t affect just us, but can also affect our kids – the very people that learn off us & who actually ‘see’ with us & see us without our masks on. They aren’t old enough to rationalise it like our partners/friends can – they feel responsible, learn how to not cope & handle situations etc. I’m not just a female that suffers depression, I’m a mother looking after preschool aged children. My depression is not as severe as above & I’m able to interact with my children, I just have those episodes that can last a few days or a few weeks. I am still capable of caring for them.

In my teens & twenties, I would retreat during my depressive episodes. I would throw myself into my work, being extra ambitious & working long hours. With maternal depression it’s impossible for me to retreat & hide away until I feel up going out. I can’t throw myself into work either because being a mum & taking care of my preschool aged children is my work. There is nowhere to hide except into my own head & with my ongoing internal dialogue.

I have often forced myself to playgroups, to walk to the shops for adult & social interaction & to ensure my kids exposed to other faces, places, sites & experiences. I make the effort to not let my moods impact them. I work really hard on this. We know that kids are smarter than we give them credit for. They’re able to spot a fraud a mile off & this sometimes scares the hell out of me on the days I’m wearing my mask or forcing a smile on my face.

I also feel guilty at times that my mood disorders are preventing my kids from having a fulfilling childhood – the times where I don’t have the energy to take them to the park or the times when planning a trip to the zoo becomes too overwhelming because of sleep schedules & my anxiety linked with this. I know that day naps will not be forever & the future will be filled with concerts, movies, zoos & aquariums etc, but not now & not yet. I want them to look back on their childhood & remember feeling loved, safe & secure more than I want them remembering giraffes & fish anyway!

So where does this all leave me? I am a work in progress. I’m not sure I’ll ever be cured or free of Patty or Selma accompanying me throughout my, or my children’s lives, but I am learning strategies on how to better manage these episodes & instances. I want my kids to know that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. I want them to be accepting of me & the experiences I bring to our mother & child relationship & to motherhood. I want them to one day know that I did my best to shield them from anything too scary or long term by having ongoing therapy & by being medicated. I want my children to be proud of me – by not letting my mental illness or mood disorders affect my decision to start a family & bring these two amazing little people into our life.

 

Source: The Ghost in the House: Real Mothers Talk About Maternal Depression, Raising Children, and How They Cope by Tracy Thompson

An open letter to the International Mummy Olympic Committee

Dear IMOC,

I’ve been a proud member of your organisation since September 2008 when my daughter was born. I didn’t know this then, but I was thrust into this organisation by association, rather than membership. For the most part the members of your ‘infant, baby, toddler & pre-school’ divisions are supportive, informative, constructive & compassionate. And then there’s the other part – the judgy, high-horse & disapproving members that seem to have a louder voice than the members I feel I have more in common with.

I try to avoid interactions with these members, or remain tightly lipped when in their company because frankly, it causes me to become defensive, bring out my sarcastic smart-arseness & get my back up quicker than anything you can imagine.

I often wonder why these members are so judgemental. Sometimes I rationalise it by saying it’s because they’re covering up their own insecurities, questioning their own parenting decisions & choices & gripping onto their own anxieties. There are other times I actually don’t care why they are the way they are, I just want them to stop it & shut up – respectfully of course.

We all want to be the best parents we can be. We all want to have happy & healthy kids. We all want them brought up to be contributing & respectful members of society. We all do the best we can with the means we have. Why can’t we all just support one another through this hard, unrelenting, testing, tiring, confusing & all encompassing part of our lives? There are so many events in the mummy Olympics & I’m just not interested in competing.

I know there is the other layer to my parenting decisions & actions based on the whereabouts of Patty & Selma as those bitches often cloud my brain making me over-analyse, over-think, deplete my motivation & energy & I have to work extra hard sometimes to just make it through the day. And I’m well aware that Selma often rears her head when it comes to Flynny because of the start he had & because of his ongoing medical & behavioural issues & concerns, but this response is because of the feelings & memories that come about when thinking about it all & no one can judge me about that (can you see my back up through your screens yet?) One thing I can say is that I’d fair well in the ‘mad sad mummy’ events!

If my kids have taught me anything, it’s that they do things in their own time. Orli decided to crawl at 19 months & got up one day at 25 months to walk. There was nothing wrong with her. We still had a Pead assess her & also do a hip x-ray in the case there was something medically compromising her. Despite all of this, I got questioned as to why she was being lazy, being a ‘lump’ for just sitting & blaming me for her delayed walking as I carried her everywhere & had her in the pram at the shops, or worse, let her crawl around at her age.

Years later, Flynn couldn’t drink more than 40-50mls from his bottle because of his Laryngomalacia, but we got to the stage that he was drinking enough so that he maintained or even (slowly) gained weight. He was also called lazy, often bothered the nursing staff that had to tube feed him as they had other things to do & other patients to attend to.

I often get questioned by mothers of kids that are (luckily) healthy & never been unwell as to why we are pursuing certain therapies for him. Flynn has feeding delays & due to his reflux & sensitive gag reflex he’s still eating puree as he chokes & gags & then vomits any food that doesn’t feel safe for him to swallow. He eats dissolvable snack & even biscuits but it takes him a long time for him to find these snacks ‘safe’ to eat. I watch him & read his queues & he tells me when he’s ready. We’ve spent days playing with food before he’s put anything in his mouth, but when he does, it’s the most rewarding feeling ever & keeps me motivated & hopeful for days. And that’s something that some high-horses won’t see from way so up high.

As a result of Flynn’s feeding delay & lack of chewing (hence jaw development) & a number of ear infections last Winter, at 22 months he’s not speaking yet – he only has about six words. He can hold full conversations, but only he can understand them. I am not concerned about this because I know he will speak one day, but if there is something I can do to help him I will. So we started speech therapy this week. That’s right judgies, my less than two year old is having speech therapy. (I’m giving you some time to mumble mumble your opinions here – yes, I know it’s considerate of me). And I am crying as I’m typing this, but the same place, they also have a feeding clinic so they’re going to help my little boy learn to eat & to trust food & textures & provide him with confidence – something that I try each & every day but aren’t able to provide him on my own. So, yes, I’m taking him to feeding therapy too. My 22 monther that looks healthy, is engaging, is lovely & edible & my heart explode to a feeding clinic.

No one can understand the level is sadness, frustration, disheartening moments, anger & dread when your child can’t eat. Being able to feed your child is primal & when this is taken away from you the grief & feelings of being robbed overtakes you & take a long time to dissipate, if ever. To even know that my son can attend a feeding clinic is beyond thrilling for me. To those judgy high-horses, no my son is not lazy, I have not enforced his eating preferences, I have not delayed his feeding because of my anxiety & because it’s easier. He chokes, he gags & he vomits. And if you’re comfortable watching your child do that, then kudos to you.

No parent, whether the members of the compassionate committee or high-horses, would avoid, delay or refuse to provide their kids anything that would help them. So do it, don’t do it, but don’t judge me for doing it. And if you’re going to judge me, make sure you’re far enough away from me or my family or be prepared for me to hand my shoes to you & offer you to wear them for a day (thank you Kirsten xoxo). Oh & if we’re going to be honest, I give myself enough judgmental crap… I really don’t need any more from you gavel holders! Now, gallop along to the next Olympic event with all your ribbons & medals as you head back to the stables.

Thank you IOMC for providing me with so many supportive, wonderful, caring, generous & beautiful mums for me to ask advice, lean on, cry & celebrate with. One thing I know for sure, is that this gig would be a lot harder without them. And for the ‘other’ members, good luck & don’t hurt yourself as you climb down from your horses or break a nail on your gavel.

PS. If you would like to become a member of the most non-judgmental group ever, join the Mama’s Comfort Camp. I’ve written about them previously herehere & we are celebrating our anniversary (or birthday) the month of March. To join the group, click on the link below. This URL goes to the Mama’s Comfort Camp open FB page. If you would like to join the closed group, please let us know on that page & you will be added. New members are added every week on New Member Monday, so I’ll just say, see you on Monday!

 

 

Doing it right – they’re loved & feel safe

My friend Jaime, from James and Jax, started a weekly Bloghop that will be exploring those things we’re doing right. There’s no topic per say but a general heading by which you can write whatever you want about & how you’re feeling. I’m a few weeks late in jumping on board but I’m starting today. Life is busy. It’s full of ups & downs but this weekly reminder of things I’m doing right will make a difference to me & help keep Patty at bay. Cos that bitch is back at the moment which pretty much sucks.

I’m sure that it’s not just my house that has what is known as ‘feral hours of bath & bedtime’. It’s the end of the day & everyone’s tired & Orli sees this as an opportunity to test her authority, independence & her stubbornness all while being exhausted because it’s the end of the day. It’s bloody exhausting. I actually get anxious leading up to this time, not because I don’t think I can manage the situation (because I always do & one way or another she gets into bed) but get anxious about ‘the unknown’. There’s absolutely no way I can predict her mood or behaviour from one minute to the next & this unknown factor every night can be really challenging.

I often wonder if she can sense my anxiety, my fear, my trepidation as we get closer to bath time. I then tell myself to stop being ridiculous as there’s no way she can see or feel it as I’m not displaying anything that could lead her to making those assumptions.

There are some nights that things run smoothly & everyone goes to bed happy. And then there are those nights…. full of frustration, tantrums, shouting, demanding & defiance that I would do anything to just get her in bed so I can forget it ever happened & gear up & re-energise for the day ahead. On those smooth running nights, I reinforce how lovely it all was after I finish reading her her bedtime story & she agrees & we snuggle & cuddle & say goodnight. But there’s no guarantee that moment will be remembered, cherished or replicated the next night.

On those hard nights, I often wonder if my giving her time out or arguing with her is going to damage her long run. I wonder if she knows that sometimes I feel terrible & guilty at yelling at her about putting her shoes away – cos really, who cares? They’re just shoes. I wonder if my friends are having the same challenges & wonder if they’re handling them better than me, differently or just have angel kids that don’t require any reprimanding. Thinking, wondering, obsessing, convincing mental loop. It’s one thing that I struggle with when my mood is low (when Patty’s visiting) because the negative thoughts, negative self-reflection & negative self-talk turns something like how I handled bath time & bedtime into a yardstick on my parenting as a whole & my capacity & ability of being a good mother.

And then each morning I am met by a happy four year old who wants to give me kisses & cuddles & say ‘good morning mummy’. And for that time I relish her happiness, forgive myself & remind myself that she’s ok & she’s going to be ok. Because for every battle, for every argument, for every time she defies my authority, challenges me & asserts her independence I know that SHE knows, she’s loved. And I also know that she feels safe. And you know what, it means that I’m doing an ok job. I’m being a ‘good enough’ mum. Some might even say, I’m doing it right!