parent opinion

"I am my own worst critic": Recovering from depression is harder when you're a mum.

I have experienced issues with my mental health for as long as I can remember. My first major depressive episode was at 12 years old after moving school due to bullying. I’ve had other episodes since and will have more in the future. 

Due to experiencing these episodes time and time again, I became skilled in managing my own mental health. I knew exactly what to do to get me through an episode. I was even becoming quite good at spotting the early warning signs of an episode and nipping it in the bud. 

My quality of life was great. I was able to do all the things my mental health had previously stopped me from doing. In fact, I did a lot more with my life than many people without mental health problems. 

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But then I became a mother. 

I thought long and hard about having a baby. It was very much a planned pregnancy, and I put lots of things in place to care for my mental health. I was under the care of the perinatal mental health team, a service that specialises in mental health problems during and after pregnancy. 

I wrote a relapse plan and made members of staff involved in my care aware of my early warning signs. As soon as I spotted the signs of postnatal depression, I rang the team for help. 

But no matter how much preparation I put into preventing a depressive episode, nothing could have prepared me for the reality of suffering from depression as a mother. 

Before motherhood, recovery from depressive episodes wasn’t plain sailing, but I had more control over the journey.

I had plenty of opportunities to have time for myself. I could take my recovery at my own pace. I didn’t have many responsibilities so a duvet day or even a week in bed wasn’t out of the question. I could take time off work and the financial repercussions were manageable. 

Now things are very different. If I experience a depressive episode now, it is almost impossible to use any of my previous coping strategies.

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Time to myself? Not happening. I have a one-year-old who is teething and is particularly clingy with me. 

Duvet day? Not unless I’m okay with my little girl fending for herself, which I am not. And although I am having time off work, I feel a pressure to return due to financial issues. 

Being a parent is expensive, no matter how frugal you try to be. 

Trying to mend your mind when you have a little person depending on you is hard.

Things that usually don’t bother me feel like the end of the world. My little girl is mischievous and likes to knock over the cat’s bowl of water. Normally I feel minor irritation, but I deal with this and then let it go. 

When I’m depressed, this harmless act of mischief makes me burst into tears. 

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Then there’s the guilt. Like many mums, I am my own worst critic. But in the grip of depression, I’m even harder on myself. I feel like because I’m not quite myself, I am less of a mother to my daughter. I can’t keep up enthusiasm when we play together. 

Sometimes I don’t have the energy to play with her at all. Often, I do the bare minimum to get us through the day. 

But we do get through the day. And that’s what matters. 

Although healing from depression is harder now, I am a mum; I am far more motivated to recover. I have a little person who needs me and my love for her spurs me on. Sure, I can’t go to bed for a week like I used to, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. 

My daughter keeps me in a routine when depression wants to destroy any structure I have in my life. 

I have to get up in the morning. I have to get us both dressed. I have to feed her. And because she is having a meal, it prompts me to grab something for myself. 

Although it’s excruciatingly difficult to do these things when all I want to do is hide from the world, it’s better for me that I’m forced into doing them. 

Before motherhood, I wouldn’t get out of bed if I was depressed. 

I wouldn’t get dressed. I wouldn’t eat. And although the recovery from depression was more peaceful, and I had the luxury of taking my time, my actions often prolonged the episode. 

Even though recovery is a lot rockier and painful as a mother, I always recover. Because I have to. 

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I am by no means saying having a child will cure your depression. 

If anything, the stresses of motherhood have been worse for my mental health. And most importantly, it is not a child’s responsibility to heal their parent. But what I am saying is that although recovering from depression when you’re a mum isn’t great; it doesn’t mean you can’t be a great mum. 

I have been forced to accept that the coping skills I got attached to are no longer practical. 

My life is different now, so my coping skills need to change too. This is a scary thought. But I have to remind myself I literally adapted to motherhood overnight. I was in labour, and then she was in my arms and bam! I was a mum, and that was it. If I can do that, I can definitely do this. 

Developing these new coping skills takes time. 

I’m not there yet, and I keep making lots of mistakes. But even though I’m not where I want to be, I’m not in the same place I was when I was hysterical over my daughter knocking over the cat’s water bowl. 

I put off having a child due to my mental health issues, convinced someone like me didn’t deserve to be a mother. 

This is simply not true. Children do not need perfect mothers. They need mothers who love them. They need mothers who are role models. And if you are fighting depression and taking responsibility for your mental health, then you are a fantastic role model. 

As a child, I never had anyone to look up to in order to learn how to manage my mental health. 

It was a taboo subject, and all I learned was that adults bottled up their feelings and took them out on their children. 

I don’t want that for my daughter. I want her to understand mental health. I want her to learn from my example, so she knows how to regulate her own emotions. And I want her to know that just because the recovery from these episodes is difficult, it doesn’t mean that she is difficult. 

In moments of self-doubt, and as a mother there are plenty of them, I like to remember this:

Parenting is tough. Depression is tough. But I am tougher. 

Feature Image: Getty.

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If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, please contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue 1300 22 4636.

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