Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

Posts tagged ‘change’

All change

September is going to be a difficult month for me. There are a couple of very major changes due to occur in my life and I don’t cope with that sort of change very well. In fact I’m feeling overwhelmed and panicky just thinking about it.

First of all DD, my eldest child, will start school. She only turned 4 a few weeks ago and will be among the youngest in her class. I know she’s ready for school; she’s a confident and sociable child and her reading and maths abilities are way ahead of most children her age. It’s a great school, her teacher seems lovely and she enjoyed her visits there last term. She’s a bit unsure and nervous of course but I know she’ll enjoy it once she’s settled in.

I’m dreading it though. I feel, somewhat melodramatically, that school is taking her away from me and our lives will never be the same. Even in the holidays there will always be the spectre of school looming ahead, ready to reclaim her. I love our time together, being able to have days out and pyjama days and do whatever we like. I’m going to miss her dreadfully and we will never have this sort of time together again. I briefly wondered about the possibilities of home educating but I know that DD will benefit more from attending school. Also, if I’m completely honest with myself, my mental health isn’t good enough to be solely responsible for her education.

The second big change in our lives is because DH, after 13 months of unemployment, has finally been offered a job! He’s very pleased of course, and so he should be, he’s worked hard for this. Unfortunately he starts a couple of days before DD starts school so he won’t be able to see her off or collect her on her first day. And after he’s completed his training he’ll be working shifts so life is going to be all over the place for a while until we’re used to the new routine.

So in just a couple of weeks time our lives are going to be turned upside down. In a good way, mostly, but I’m worried about how I’m going to cope. I’m already planning to force myself out to some toddler groups with DS, because it would be all too easy to remain housebound apart from the school run. And maybe I’ll finally get on top of the housework, although I doubt it!

But the idea of looking after everything on my own terrifies me. I feel like such a wimp; lone parents have it far harder than this, parents with more than 2 children have far more to cope with. But this is me and I’m afraid that I will fail. Even simple things like bedtimes will he hard – DS still nurses to sleep but how can I do that when DH is working late shifts and I have to settle both children? I can’t just abandon DD for half an hour or more while I nurse her brother, it wouldn’t be fair. But DS won’t settle any other way, he’s not ready yet.

My mind is whirling. I know that these changes are positive and that in time I will become used to our new life and wonder why on earth I ever worried. But right now I want to just lock the door and keep my little family in our familiar bubble, our familiar life. And I know I can’t.

But you don’t seem the type…

Friends are often surprised when I mention my mental health problems. To me it feels as though I’m walking around with a brand on my forehead, marking me as separate from all the ‘normal’ people. But others never seem to see me this way; typical responses include “But you’re so cheery!”, “I would never have guessed” and my personal favourite “But you don’t seem the type!”.

Then once it’s out in the open a lot of people never mention it again. Which is good in a way, because it hasn’t affected our relationship. But it also means that I don’t know what that person is thinking – whether they are comfortable around me still or whether they’re just going through the motions, waiting for me to  ‘go mental’.

In contrast to this are the reactions I get to my physical disability. I have degenerative disc disorder and frequently need to use a walking stick. I get a lot of sympathy and friendly interest from strangers as well as friends. No-one has ever told me that I “don’t seem the type” to have a physical condition, although as a woman in my thirties using a walking stick I do sometimes get odd looks. 🙂

So what’s the difference? Stigma, misconceptions and ignorance. One in four people will suffer a mental health problem at some point yet it is still taboo; people talk about mental illness in hushed tones and using euphemisms. Depression is often seen as a sign of weakness and thanks to misconceptions and inaccurate media portrayals many people are scared by illnesses like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

A physical injury or illness is usually more obvious than a mental illness and more easily understood. Because of the taboos surrounding mental illness quite often people don’t understand what it can be like. You can understand what it would be like to have a broken leg, right? Can you understand how it would be to have depression so badly that it’s impossible to get out of bed or speak to people?

Mental illness is often viewed as a sign of weakness, that if the sufferer merely pulled themselves together they would be fine. But no-one thinks this way about physical illnesses because it would be ridiculous. No-one tells a diabetic to stop taking insulin and yet people taking anti-depressants are often encouraged by friends and family to stop.

Is there a point to this rambling ranty post? Yes, a very simple one. If someone tells you that they or someone they know is suffering from a mental illness, please pause before you react. Think, would you react this way to news of a physical illness? Having a mental illness can be incredibly isolating and a lot of sufferers feel ashamed – together we can change that.

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