Being More Than A Mum
Being a parent is all-consuming, especially during those early weeks and months. Your old life can suddenly seem like a distant memory and your new life is such a steep learning curve you may barely have time to consider yourself at all. But as those first few weeks pass and you begin to find your feet and a new routine it's important to remember that you are still the person you were before. You still have all the same interests, needs and passions. Being a new mum is not the time to abandon those things, but to embrace them instead.
The birth of my son in April 2013 changed my world forever, and not just in the normal becoming-a-parent sense. Within nine weeks of his birth I'd had a complete breakdown of my mental health; I was gripped by Postnatal Depression & Anxiety; symptomised by constant panic attacks, insomnia, lack of appetite, intrusive thoughts and derealisation, as well as some delightful physical symptoms. I had literally no idea who I was, what I had done or where my old life had disappeared to. I even had thoughts of suicide.
Thankfully, I sought help and started treatment. Within a few weeks I was sleeping and eating. Within a few months I was coping. Within a year I was almost well. But that was a long year filled with analysis and self-reflection, and endless learning.
A huge source of the discomfort that ultimately led to my illness was fear that I didn't enjoy being a mum, and that I'd made a huge mistake. I now realise that this was because my expectations were way too high. I didn't much worry about hobbies or passions before I had my son because I assumed being a mother would be enough; I would be fulfilling my whole life's purpose. This was a massive mistake. How can anything in life, even the biggest thing we ever do, be enough on its own?
Mental health issues aside, becoming a parent is the most incredible experience any human can have but it can also be jarring, scary, lonely and isolating. It’s the biggest adjustment we’re ever likely to face. It can often feel like the essence of what makes you you is totally lost, at least for a time.
During the latter stages of my PND recovery I found myself at a plateau and it was only through my passion for writing that I began to connect with myself again. I now partake in a host of activities - both related to my mental health work and self-care treats during my free time - that contribute to me feeling emotionally strong and well.
Everyone has a passion or ambition inside them, even if you didn’t think you did before parenthood. Being a mum is not a time to let go of that sense of self but to instead indulge it wherever possible. You’ll likely be a better, happier parent because of it.
My illness meant I was forced to streamline what was important to me and prioritise certain passions, but I honestly believe all parents should pay more attention to themselves, and their needs, in an effort to remain mentally and emotionally healthy. Plus, you never know where those interests may lead you.
Laura Clark is a mum, writer, mental health advocate and peer support worker. Read more of her ramblings at The Butterfly Mother or sign up to her free subscription service to receive fortnightly mental health and emotional wellbeing content.
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