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.