'Postnatal Depression Is Nothing To Be Ashamed Of'
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Featured Image Credit: Anna Mathur
Fearne says: "I cannot speak from experience about postpartum depression as I didn't experience it after the birth of my children. Straight up depression crashing into my life, yes; but postpartum is not part of my story. I cannot imagine the pain and sorrow that tramples on a moment as sacred as a new born baby that this and I'm curious to learn more. All baby imagery features doting parent and small, wrinkled, fleshy baby. Mother usually grinning inanely with eyes only for her new bundle of joy. This only accentuates the feelings for a postpartum mother who feels nothing but despair. We think it's a dead cert we'll fly in to motherhood, breast pump in hand, loving every minute but it's far more complex than that. Hormones, sleep deprivation, a lack of support and shock can all play a huge part in how we feel after we've given birth. When talking about any form of mental health it is so important we discuss shame and guilt as they are two feelings that crop up a lot. I have felt both when in a dark spiral and they're not helpful in any way. Guilt and shame only worsen the problem and create even more separation and anxiety for a new mum. We must all strive to ensure all new mums feel supported and have an open and un-judgmental space in which to speak openly about their experiences. There is so much judgement around parenting which irks me greatly. We must all be there for each other with open arms, zero judgement and ears willing to listen."
Words by Anna Mathur, 34, from Surrey
Shortly after my first baby entered the world, my psychotherapy certificate dropped through my letterbox. I proudly snapped a pic of my little babe lying next to the fancy paperwork. I was officially a mum and an accredited therapist - a double celebration.
My first year of motherhood was the full cliché. Coffee dates, music classes, constant WhatsApps comparing details of naps and weaning wobbles.
Then, around the time Oscar was blowing out the candles of (OK, dribbling on) his first birthday cake, I felt that familiar twinge in my belly and the rise of raging hormones. Nine months later, my husband Tarun and I bought a second boy home to meet his brother. I felt confident. I'd done this before; I knew the ropes.
But what followed was an entirely different journey. Charlie had silent reflux which had him screaming around the clock. Some nights, I'd manage just 45 minutes' sleep. And then came the guilt.
What kind of mother couldn't settle her own baby, I thought? What kind of mother couldn't make it through the day without repeatedly reapplying a mask of makeup, scared the blotchy face would give away how much she was struggling? After all, I had two happy healthy little boys; I should be happy.
Slowly, the cloud in my mind got thicker, the façade of 'I'm fine' began to crack. Naïvely I'd imagined that being a therapist would automatically mean immunity from my own mental health challenges. I'd spent years helping others, surely helping myself would be a breeze?
One sunny summer day, I strode into town pushing the double buggy. To a passer-by, I probably appeared like someone winning at motherhood. The reality was that my sunnies hid my tear-sore eyes. Only moments before, I'd sat on the kitchen floor on the phone to my husband, stating: 'I can't do this'.
In that moment, I had a revelation. I felt so much shame at being the therapist who couldn't fix herself - but does a heart surgeon perform his own surgery? No matter our skillset, or how resilient or experienced we may be, we all need other people.
Regardless of whether you have children, whether you're 16 or 60, I want to share with you four things that not only changed my bout of postnatal depression (as I later realised it was), but have continued to change my life.
1. Acknowledge that your resources aren't limitless
You are not supposed to do this alone. Be it motherhood, a tricky work situation or an overloaded diary, you aren't designed to a be a one-woman band.
Needing the support of others isn't a sign of weakness, but of human necessity. Take steps in verbalising your needs and feelings with others. When I opened up about how I felt, I could see the relief on the faces of those who'd found it hard to witness me struggle alone.
2. Be wary of the comparison trap
We have the ability to scroll through the highlight reel of thousands of other people's lives. When we compare elements of our lives with other people's, we see through the lenses of our current mood. If we feel low, or not good enough, we'll find something to prove that to be true.
Remind yourself that all you see, is never the full story. Comparison merely robs us of our ability to enjoy the good things in our lives, someone will always seem to be doing it better.
3. Set the bar a little lower
I constantly adjust my bar of expectation of myself. I can do a lot, but it doesn't mean I have to do it all. Rest has become something we feel we need to earn, but when our standards keep getting nudged up, we will never feel deserving.
If you're constantly tired and feel guilty when you slow down, you're asking too much of yourself. Your worth is not the sum of what you do. Rest is a cornerstone to mental health, not a reward. It can feel impossible to fit it in, and but it's amazing how much space we can find when we re-adjust our expectations of what we 'should' be doing.
4. The most important conversation you'll ever have
Considering the way I spoke to myself was life-changing. Would you speak to someone you care about in the way you speak to yourself? If the answer is no, then it's not good enough for you either. If you are impatient, critical or cruel to yourself, it negatively impacts self-esteem and will make it hard to treat yourself with the kindness you deserve. Try to tweak that voice to swap the criticism with the kindness and compassion you offer others.
I have so many more tips for mental health and wellbeing on my podcast The Therapy Edit, my book Mind Over Mother (Piatkus, £12.99), Instagram @annamathur, or on the downloadable courses on my website annamathur.com.
I hope other mums find these tips helpful. I've been a therapist for over ten years and am now a mum of three. The two main things I've learnt are that openness is the turning point in every story, and there is always hope that the dark times will pass and the sunshine will return. It has for me, it always does, and it can for you too.
Happy Place Festival is a a month-long schedule full of passionate people promoting mental and physical wellbeing running until July 12th. Find out more at HappyPlaceFestival.com