Just don’t think about it

So, I have realised recently that my mental health over the past year seems to noticeably deteriorate after someone has asked me how I am doing and I have responded – I’m doing really well!

I was thinking about why this could be the other day, as a massive meltdown over my inability to do basic tasks around the house caused Mike and I to have a discussion about where this last weeks mental instability has come from.

Essentially it seems, when someone asks how I am doing I am forced to think about it. In the moment, I just respond with how I am on the surface, which, at the moment, is always fine but tired. It seems though that this is because I just don’t think about how I am anymore. I don’t have the time or capacity to deal with the inevitable fallout that will come.

On reflection, considering my behaviour over the past year and considering the sudden bursts of very poor mental health I have had for a few weeks at a time, I am forced to conclude that lack of self care – that thing I like to promote and encourage in others, is the root of the problem.

The thing with that though, is that outside of being Elijah’s mum there is too much to consider and think about. He is now 15 months old, and in his short life we have moved house (and town/community etc) and I have written and published a book all about my deepest vulnerabilities.

Neither of these things was easy to do and both had a significant impact on my mental health, as did the birth and subsequent life of Elijah. Now though, on top of needing to process all of that, I have the looming prospect of what and who I am now.

See, I am a mother and that takes up pretty much every ounce of brain space and energy I have. I want to write and campaign and do stuff as well. Essentially, I want to work, but the truth is my capacity is just not really high enough for that. The book showed me that burn out is probably two months into going back to work. So, the reality is that I will do the odd speaking arrangement and blog but other than that, I will be unlikely to ‘go back to work’. I will be a full time mum.

This fills me with dread and joy and much confusion. Who am I if my whole identity is in being Elijah’s mum? I feel sort of ashamed, and like I need to justify this choice of path to these extraordinary women around me who manage to work and be a mum. I feel that I am failing at being a modern woman.

Then though, I think of what I would say to anyone who said this to me. I would find it a ridiculous idea. My own mum was a stay at home mum and I neither think of her as failed, or as ‘just a mum’ or in any negative way at all. In fact, she is the single most extraordinary woman I have ever known. My best friend, likewise, is a stay at home mum and I love and respect her not in spite of her choice or because of her choice but for who she is, what she does, copes with and how she lives, regardless of her choice. I don’t see it in any way as failing or ‘lacking’ or any other negative. So why can’t I allow myself the same?

I don’t see the choice over working or not as a mother as good or bad whichever way you go. I see it as a personal choice and something individual. Some work because they have to, some because they want to, some don’t despite a lack of money. It is complex and judgement around it is deeply unkind, unnecessary and cruel. Yet, despite all of that, here I am judging myself.

I have too much in my head to process. I can’t work out if I am feeling bad about not going back to work because of judging myself or because I want to. I honestly though, feel it’s the former. I enjoy my life with Elijah. I can keep doing odds and ends of work here and there but this choice takes so much pressure off my health. I want to get through the early years of parenthood without any mental health crisis and I honestly believe that taking time to enjoy him without the added pressure and stress that work would bring is the best thing for us.

This though, is just one part of the chaos in my head and so, this is the extent of my thinking about it. I feel shame about having written my book. I feel embarrassed and foolish for putting it out there. I feel lost and oddly lonely and isolated by all the change of the last year and I feel that if I really allow myself to think about it, to dig into it, to process it and deal with it, it will take me weeks or maybe months of deeper depression and anxiety than I have the capacity to deal with.

So for now, when it bubbles to the surface, I am doing exactly what I encourage others not to do and I bury it. I cry and sob saying ‘I can’t let it out, I can’t let it out, I can’t think about it, it will break me’.

Being a mum is hard, but it is fun and rewarding and honestly, I don’t think I have ever found life in any way anything other than hard, so I may as well enjoy this tiny, complicated little human and enjoy watching him grow and be grateful that I have the opportunity to worry and fret about these issues because I have the opportunity to be a parent.

4 Comments

  • Many years ago now I made exactly this decision and wish I had realised at the time that it was the absolutely the right one! Do trust your instincts and just do as much or as little writing or work as you feel like. It’s sometimes boring and often exhausting looking after little children but I used to think I would rather my son was getting a bored and exhausted me rather than a bored and exhausted carer. You might lose some confidence to work but my advice is to wait until Elijah is older and a bit more independent and then take up one or two of the opportunities which will be offered to you. In my case after a bit I became scared of trying jobs and roles, worried that I might not cope or fail but actually I think now I should have given them a go. It’s all possible if you make sure you have the right help in place and begin to explore new things gradually. Hope this helps a bit.

  • Katharine, this is fab. It made me reflect on more things than I can mention here, so just one. My friend and I, both mums around 40 were reflecting on the fact we haven’t doggedly pursued careers and were expecting to have ‘made it’ by now, or at least have a decent, well paid full-time job. But both of us have made huge sacrifices in order to prioritise parenting, and are try to do it well, and finally agreed that’s got to be worth sooo much more in this life than any money or status. With kids of 12 and 15 now, they still like it that I’ll be here at the end of their day. Nothing is worth more than that. Take heart!

  • Wonderful post what are your opinions on recovery stories it feels like we only hear I had a mental health issue and overcome it rather than stories of people with mental illness that will probably last there whole lives I’ve had depression for 15 years and get tired of people saying I know someone who had that and they are fine now as if I should be over it like its a choice or have you tried medication yes about seven its not a cure people don’t seem to understand the severity of it its like comparing a chest infection short term to lung disease long term although stigma has reduced with short term issues it seems to be adding to long term mental illness as if you have done something wrong or your not trying hard enough sorry for the rant

    • Yeah, everyone has a hopeful story to tell. I generally take them as people meaning well and accept that for now, this is the way it is for me. It’s really hard! I’m sorry.

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