Last week was mental health awareness week. Sadly as a society we seem to have difficulty accepting the diversity of mental illness, and our sensitivities and ignorance have alienated some of the most vulnerable and misunderstood.
I watched a compelling documentary by Louis Theroux called Mothers on the Edge on BBC Two. Depicting an insight into the stories of mothers who found themselves facing mental illness. A fascinating programme which really highlighted the nature of mental illness and it’s indiscriminate, potentially destructive reach. If you haven’t already, it’s worth a gander. It told stories of women who were staying at a residential mental health facility with their babies being treated for various illnesses. Some with a history of mental health concerns and some whose first experience of their illness emerged when their babies were born. It told of women, just like me, living and hoping, working towards a future and through no fault of their own struck with sometimes unexplainable mental illnesses. It humbled me to think that this so easily could have been me. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate, it transcends class, wealth, social position, employment history, and notions of ‘strength’. When people speak of women on the edge I slightly recoil as I feel we’re all living on the edge of something… and sometimes the smallest and seemingly insignificant catalyst can push any of us over the edge.
Motherhood as I’ve documented in my blogs has been an experience I will treasure forever. It’s been beautiful and rewarding, and yet the hardest journey I’ve ever encountered and whilst I’ve never experienced mental illness I could identify with some of the emotions the women claimed to be feeling. Helplessness, anxiety, exhaustion to name a few. I saw myself in some of them and wondered what pushed them to the edge? Most of these feelings I guess are just part and parcel of motherhood… but when these emotions begin to overwhelm you and you literally feel like you’re drowning, it’s time to ask for help. At what point should you ask for help…
Now…the time is now, it’s never too early to speak and be heard, to share your thoughts, your fears, the confusion that envelopes you, the debilitating anxiety that grips you. You’re not alone. I’ll be honest and say that the documentary made me tear up. When I thought about these women facing their demons, struggling in their daily lives, suffocated by their thoughts, I felt sad. Sad not only because of the compassion I felt and the poignance of the relationship between a mother and child, and the daily challenges, but because that could so easily have been me, or one of my loved ones… and I’m not sure I’d recognise the signs.
We live in social media perfection, striving to show our best, put our best foot forward and ensure we keep it together at all costs, and when we can’t, insta doesn’t send help… facebook doesn’t give you a warm embrace and twitter certainly doesn’t wipe away your tears. And yet we continue to expect mothers to have it all ticking along, because Grandma had 8 kids and could balance 3 of them on her hip whilst ploughing the field. Grandma was awesome. Props to her! I on the other hand hate gardening and can barely balance one kid on my hip. I have it as all together as I can, regularly questioning my ability to keep all my balls in the air, and even more regularly deciding to put the balls down and just have a nap. I try, like we all do and have moments of vulnerability, despondence and darkness, sometimes no amount of self motivation will do, and we just need some help. So as we come to the end of Mental Health Awareness week, I implore you to consider the mothers who may need a little extra kindness, patience, compassion and a non judgmental ear.
If you find yourself on the edge I hope you remember there are so many of us right next to you. Don’t look down and lose your balance, step away from the rim and keep your feet firmly on the ground. I hope you find a source of help and support, and get back to your happy place.
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