For world mental health day I decided to read over the blog post I wrote about my PTSD a year ago – follow this link if you fancy doing the same – and doing a spot of compare and contrast to see how far I had come.
I remember myself a year ago, grappling with a second pregnancy alongside work, looking after a toddler, and inexplicably losing a best friend, and I remember feeling sort of in control but also like everything was in total chaos. The symptoms of my PTSD were fading, and they are so reduced now that they very very rarely affect my day to day life and more (I had a dream like the ones it used to give me the other day and realised I couldn’t remember how long it had been since that had last happened).
What I didn’t know was that I would find being a mum to a newborn for the second time around, with a best friend shaped hole in my “village”, would be a lot harder than I anticipated. Not only was the person who had most consistently been by my side through life events since secondary school disappeared, but I also got much less in the way of general interest or visits from other friends.
Everyone is excited when you have your first baby, especially if you are the first in your friendship group. You find out who the real ride or die ones are the second time around.
The assumption that I knew what I was doing, probably twinned with the knowledge that meeting up with me would be an irritating maelstrom of toddler interruptions and baby cries plus zero chat about things in common any more meant distance from some and radio silence from others. That shit was hard.
Mentally, I struggled. It was so difficult to appreciate what I had at home when it felt like that was the reason other people didn’t want to know, and hormones and mum guilt enhanced those feelings. As most parents reading this will know, it is especially hard to look after little ones when you are feeling this way, as the way you are feeling is separated from the way you should be feeling by a great yawning gap, and the innocent expectations of your children only serve to further heighten that and make you feel like a worthless and useless piece of rubbish.
It took time to come to terms with and start to overcome those feelings, and by time I mean months, but I got a bit better at asking for help and setting boundaries, and I learnt a lot about what I needed and what I could cope with in that time, that I will use for the rest of my life. I also learned who will be there for the rest of my life, and who I will also be there for.
What was also surprisingly brilliant was Instagram. I set up my account when I found out I was pregnant but couldn’t yet tell anyone in “real life” and needed people to talk to who could relate, but I never realised quite how much of an effect it would have. People who I have met through those squares have made me feel heard and understood at times when it felt like no one else around me could relate or would listen. I know there is a lot of negativity on Instagram about all manner of things, and that I have been lucky in this respect, but my experience has always been a positive one, that reminds me on a daily basis that I am doing a good job and it’s ok to feel the way I do and I am not alone in my experiences.
Returning to work was also a surprising help. It is exhausting and has been overwhelming at times, but it gives me what I have realised I crave: structure and regular, varied social interaction. I have properly thrown myself into it this time around, in a way I have never felt myself do before, and the results have felt genuinely rewarding, as never feeling good enough professionally is something that has also got to me since becoming a mother.
I am getting there. I’m not quite sure where there is yet, and last year I wrote about a light at the end of the tunnel which while I think is still appropriate, I think I have also come to realise that what you think is a tunnel isn’t actually a tunnel but the right path for you to be on, and that you won’t necessarily reach the end, you’ll just get to a bit where you start to be able to see your world around you a bit more clearly and it all makes more sense. Always expecting to come out at the other end isn’t necessarily a healthy approach when there isn’t a defined finish line, and when things are not actually as linear as that because they tend to fluctuate. That slightly convoluted metaphor is what I plan to return to in a year’s time and see how I’m doing then, and for now I will continue to keep focusing on living life in the present and accepting that whilst everything isn’t perfect or ideal and never will be, there are a hell of a lot of things that have improved and continue to do so, and hopefully they will continue to do so.
It’s so brilliant and encouraging to see so many people sharing their own mental health stories, and talking about others, and it really is the first step to understanding and removing the stigma of mental health problems. If you have made it this far then thank you, you are part of the solution, and you have no idea how much of a difference you are making just by being a listener, which for me is what world mental health day is all about.