Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

I always got high grades at school. I played several musical instruments. I went to university and obtained 2 degrees. I had good jobs, first as a forensic scientist and then as an analyst for part of the Foreign Office.

And now here I sit. I am unemployed, unfit to work and living on benefits. My husband is also unemployed at the moment and has been for some time. We have 2 small children whom we manage to feed and clothe adequately (partly thanks to my mother, who pays for their coats and shoes). My husband and I aren’t fed or clothed as adequately – we mainly eat pasta, I’m down to my last pair of jeans and the only shoes I have are an old pair of hiking boots. (At least they’re practical for this never-ending winter! :-)).

So what happened? After the birth of my daughter I was unable to return to work due to a combination of PND and what I now know to be generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). I was eventually dismissed from the job I loved on the grounds of ill health. My husband had lost his job some months earlier, when DD was only a few months old, and so we had no income and no way to pay the mortgage. Eventually the inevitable happened – we were declared bankrupt and our home was repossessed, forcing us to move in with my parents 200 miles away.

After a couple of months we discovered that I was unexpectedly pregnant with DS. We had to move out and start claiming benefits. Fortunately by this time DH was working again but he was made redundant when DS was 6 months old.

My mental health still isn’t good enough for me to work (I have recently been diagnosed with cyclothymia as well as GAD). Degenerative disc disorder means that even if I was mentally fit to work I would be unable to do any job more physical than sitting in front of a computer.

And I am ashamed. Although this situation isn’t my fault, isn’t our fault, I am deeply ashamed of what my life has become. I hate not being able to work, being reliant on the state and my mother’s charity. Every time someone asks me what I do I say brightly “Oh, I’m at home with the children at the moment” as though it was a choice we had made (and of course if money was no object I’d be happy to be a SAHM while the children are young).

Most of my friends are university friends and have good jobs. Many of them are starting to have children of their own and returning to work, something I was unable to do. I hate my weakness in not being able to go back to the job I loved. I feel inferior to those who choose to return to work and inferior to those who have to. I feel inferior to those who are wealthy enough to have one parent at home through choice. In short I feel inferior to just about everyone.

I used to be so confident, so good at what I did and I had a bright future ahead of me. These days I do almost anything I can to stop acquaintances realising the truth of what I am – the double stigma of being mentally ill and living on benefits is too much. I can’t remember the last time we had friends over, or the children had someone round to play – we always go to other people’s houses instead.

Rationally I know that I have little to be ashamed of. This situation isn’t our fault, we do all we can and things will improve one day. But I feel the shame nonetheless, and inferiority has become a part of my identity now. It’ll take a lot to shake it loose.


Comments on: "My inferiority is complex" (10)

  1. Inferiority should not be part of your identity at all. I’d say resilience and guts are much more prominent traits….things will get better I am sure, just keep on keeping on. X

  2. I suffered PND and a mild form of PTSD after my daughter was born, and it’s taken a very long time to shift it – I don’t think I will ever feel quite myself again. I hope that one day you are able to lift yourself out of your situation. You are in no way inferior. And by the way your writing is very good – thought about developing that?

  3. Perhaps she meant professionally blogging or freelance writing? I wanted to say I know exactly how you feel, I am on long term disability for PTSD, was forced to leave my beloved career and am mostly housebound. Although I know I am not shiftless, lazy, irresponsible, etc. I am ILL, I beat myself up about being unable to work. I am lucky to have benefits to support myself and my child but it’s not the same feeling as when I was earning a wage. You aren’t alone and thank you so much for being so courageous as to share your experiences so candidly.

  4. Unfortunately, I think as a society we’re taught to measure our success by quite superficial things: money, status and career progression. And, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that everyone whines about the welfare state, most of those who are struggling for whatever reason and have to rely on it temporarily or permanently feel totally misplaced shame at having to do so.
    There is nothing for you to feel ashamed of. Your health problems are not your fault – and even if they were it wouldn’t matter (many people’s are – do you think years of anorexia will leave me unscathed?). That’s why we have a welfare state. Being a useful member of society isn’t about earning a lot of money. It’s about being a loving mother, sister, daughter, wife and friend and bringing happiness to others. Although I’ve not ‘known’ you very long, I’m already fond of you because you seem such a lovely person. Many of those ‘paying their way’ are not as funny, caring and smile-inducing as you. We all need help and support in different ways and you provide those things to others in ways that are not financial. So you happen to be currently unable to do a paid job. Big whoop. Look at the little unkindnesses many people do to each other on a daily basis. No-one has the right to make you feel inferior.
    You are rich and successful in the ways that matter: you have two children who you clearly adore, an awesome husband, friends who care about you and amazing eyeliner.

    • I think I love you! I may print out your comment and put it on my wall, to try to internalise that instead of the feelings of worthlessness.

      Anorexia isn’t your fault though, any more than cyclothymia is mine. It’s an ED but it’s still a mental illness as well. You need to be kinder to yourself young lady.

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