I’ve learnt to not be ashamed by my struggles with mental health. I’ll talk about them openly and honestly now, it helps me and who knows it might help others. However I rarely talk about how it affects my parenting, how it might affect my daughter.
Facebook is awash with inspirational little quotes about parenting, about how children imitate what they see, about how your time is all your child needs, and about how no parent feels like they’re doing their best. They’re meant to encourage you to be the best you around your children, or make you feel a little bit better about watching Eastenders on catch up with a cuppa rather than taking them to soft play. They have a different affect on me though.
When I read that ‘children are great imitators, so give them something great to imitate’ I am riddled with guilt that my child will only ever grow up to be the mess that I am.
When I read that my child needs my time to feel loved I hide further under the duvet I can’t leave and am certain I am setting her up for years of resentment and therapy.
When I read that no parent feels good enough, I know that’s not aimed at me. It’s not saying that it’s totally fine that you’ve sat your four year old in front of Netflix again today, only dragging yourself out of bed to shove something that would send Jamie Oliver into seizure on to a plate and told her, over and over, that ‘mummy feels a bit poorly today’. Because nobody in the world would consider that good parenting.
When you’re struggling with depression you read/hear/see a thousand things telling you that it’s ok if you didn’t manage to shower today, it’s ok to not be able to drag yourself out of bed, it’s ok that you found yourself crying on the kitchen floor again. Except when you’ve got a toddler who watches and emulates your every move, is it ok then?
I hate that my four year old, on seeing me cry, will ask ‘does your throat hurt’. Because once I used that as an excuse for a meltdown. I hate that she has already learnt that if mummy is staying in bed, telling her ‘I’m poorly’ she should go and entertain herself in another room, because I’m of no use. I hate that from the day she was born she’s been lumbered with a mother that has only ever been just about coping.
I’m certainly in a better place right now, more so than I have ever been in her short four years. Which is the only reason I’m able to even try and write about it now. I’m able to get out of bed and take her to the park and actually pay her some attention. Things that are normal behavior for most parents, things that are seen as the basic roles of parenthood.
Depression is a selfish illness. It is all-consuming and refuses to allow those who suffer to see past it and the way it affects them. Anybody in the close circle around those suffering are pushed further away and rejected. I wish I could say that this is different when it comes to your own children, but it’s not. They are equally pushed to one side as the illness eats away at its host.
We don’t have it easy as it is. We’re skint, living on the breadline, and a few months ago, well below it. It’s better now but for a short while I had £10 a week, before bills. I couldn’t afford fun days out, or that magazine she wanted or even to feed her something new and exciting every night. Alongside the depression I was convinced these things meant I was failing as a parent. People are swift to say that the only things children need to be happy are to be fed, watered and loved. There have been times when I’m not sure I’ve been succeeding on any of those.
I said in my last blog that I feel the NHS needs to focus more on therapies for mental health, rather than just medication. I think this is especially true for families. Especially those like me who are not only parenting solo, but hours away from family or friends who may be able to offer a hand. It’s hard enough at the best of times.
There have been so many times I wish I could start again. I would seek treatment for my post-natal depression early on, rather than wait a year for somebody else to spot it. I would do more crafts, cook more foods, let her run free, take her to the park, give her my time. There have been so many times when I have thought of other lives she could live and be happier, with my mum, with her dad, with somebody who isn’t simply being held together with tape (and believe me, those thoughts feel more final and more horrific than those at my darkest hours of depression).
My daughter will always be the reason I keep fighting, the reason I refuse to let any illness destroy me, let suicidal thoughts take over and give up. She is the one constant in my life and I will never cease to be amazed at just how much I love her.
Now I am healthier I hope I can make up for all those lost times and show her that I can be the mother that beautiful girl needs and deserves.