Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

Posts tagged ‘shame’

Food glorious food…?

This post follows on from My big fat problem.

I have had issues with food for almost as long as I can remember. When I was a young child my mum kept a large tupperware box of chocolate biscuits (Club, Viscount, that kind of thing) on top of one of the kitchen cupboards. I used to wait until I was the only person downstairs then drag a chair into the kitchen, clamber up and get down the box. I would rummage through to find my favourites; sometimes one or two, sometimes half a dozen. It was a fairly big box so I knew I was unlikely to be discovered. At the first opportunity I would sneak my pilfered biscuits upstairs and hide them under my bed. Then after bedtime, when I should have been sleeping, I would sneak them out again and scoff them; I can vividly recall the glee, delight and guilty pleasure I felt. Then I would hide the wrappers in my shoes, and bury them at the bottom of the kitchen bin at the first opportunity.

I don’t know how old I was when I began doing this. I suspect it began around the same time as my self-harming so I would have been about 7. It makes sense to me that these behaviours probably began together as I have long suspected that my binge-eating is merely another manifestation of my urge to self-harm. Certainly the urge to binge and the urge to cut are both triggered by strongly negative emotions such as anger, despair, grief, unhappiness, frustration etc. Since I finally managed to stop cutting in early 2011 my binging has become more and more of a problem.

I’ve mentioned before that the psychiatrist I saw a while ago told me I was a compulsive binge-eater. After talking with some very kind and knowledgeable Twitter friends recently I found myself googling binge-eating today and was directed to this page on the NHS Choices website. It’s extremely informative and eerily familiar – every aspect of binge-eating that it describes applies to me. Eating excessively quickly, eating large amounts when not hungry, eating alone or secretly, feeling out of control, experiencing feelings of shame, guilt and disgust after a binge… This is what I do. This is me.

Despite having been given a good (and kind and helpful) talking-to by my knowledgeable friends on Twitter (you know who you are!) I still don’t feel that I have an eating disorder. Eating disorders are serious illnesses, while I just have no willpower. No self-control. I am greedy. I don’t have an eating disorder. Except… These experienced, knowledgeable, lovely people say that I do. The NHS website says that I do. The psychiatrist said that I do.

So. I may not be ready to admit that I have an eating disorder but I know that my eating is disordered. The difference just be semantics but for now that’s as much as I’m comfortable with. I’m waiting for a referral to a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist for my anxiety and I will definitely be mentioning my problems with food.

In the meantime I am not going to follow any faddy diets, no Atkins or Slimming World or 5:2 or anything like that. Partly because I can’t afford to but mostly because I know that they will not help me stop binging. I need to focus on my binging, not my diet as a whole. I need to arrest the impulse to binge before I act on it and I need to get into the habit of examining why I want to binge each time.

I’m not going to set myself any big scary weight-loss targets, even though that is a major part of why I need to get my eating under control – I am 5 stone overweight and that’s affecting my health as well as my happiness. For now though my only goal involving scales is to weigh less each week than I did before, even if it’s just a few ounces less.

I expect I shall blog about this again in the future but for now this is it. I know what I need to do. I know why I need to do it. I think I know how to begin doing it. So here I go…

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My inner critic

I’ve written before about the stigma surrounding mental illness and how the mentally ill are perceived, approached and treated differently to the physically ill. I am a strong and vocal believer that this needs to change, that we need to be more open and accepting when it comes to mental illness. I am always open about my problems when I write online, whether here or on social media.

However it was brought home to me today that although I deplore the misconceptions and judgements that are made about those with mental illnesses, I am nonetheless guilty of having an unacceptably unforgiving attitude. Not towards others who are ill but towards myself.

I encourage others to recognise that having a mental illness is nothing to do with mental strength or attitude; yet I despise myself for being weak. I encourage others to be open and yet I am ashamed of my illness. I am honest online but I shrink away from admitting my illness to real life acquaintances. I explain to others that mental illnesses often have a physical cause and yet I berate myself for being unable to just pull myself together.

Why this division? Why can I be kind and supportive towards others and yet so harsh and judgmental about my own illness? Why am I unable to make the same allowances for myself that I make for others? Why do I acknowledge with one breath that mental illness is not my fault, and yet with the next admit my guilt for being so weak?

Any thoughts gratefully received…

When misery is selfish

A while ago I wrote this post about how I would dearly love to have more children but am unable to, mostly due to issues with my mental and physical health. I thought that I was gradually adjusting to the knowledge that DS is my last baby, that the large family DH and I yearn for will never exist. But this afternoon I was sorting through my maternity clothes and some baby clothes that DS has outgrown and I found myself sobbing quietly into a sleepsuit.

My last pregnancy wasn’t great, I suffered from AND (antenatal depression) and my mobility became so poor that I was housebound for the last month or so. But I would do it again in a heartbeat and the pain of knowing that I will never again know the thrill of having a small life growing inside me hurts me almost more than I can bear.

However I’ve been told on many occasions (mostly via social media but occasionally in person) that I shouldn’t feel like this, let alone admit it publicly. Apparently it is selfish and inconsiderate to those who are unable to have any children. I should count my blessings and stop feeling sorry for myself. Now, I have the deepest sympathy for anyone who wants children and cannot have them; I remember how desperate I was before DD was conceived and I can’t imagine the misery of knowing that you will never have a child. But I have come to realise that that doesn’t make my pain at not being able to have more children any less real, any less valid, any less painful.

As friends have pointed out to me, my having children doesn’t mean there are fewer children left for others – there isn’t a finite number to be shared out. Equally my pain should have no bearing on whether friends and acquaintances have more children; their reproductive decisions should be based on what is best for their family, not whether or not it will twist the knife a little deeper for me.

Conception isn’t the only topic where I have encountered this attitude; I have also been criticised when discussing poverty and finances. I have made no secret of the fact that DH and I are both out of work, that we have very little money, that every penny is stretched as far as it can go. But again I have been accused of selfishness if I admit that constantly counting the pennies and going without is stressful and makes me deeply unhappy. Yes, there are people who are worse off than I am, people whose children have no shelter, no doctors, no food. And of course I know this and I am grateful to live in my circumstances and not theirs. But knowing that there are many people worse off doesn’t make my money go any further. Knowing that there are families who are homeless doesn’t make me any happier about having to ask my mum to buy the children new shoes because we can’t afford to.

It can be helpful to remember that there are those less fortunate than ourselves. But there’s a difference between “Hey, it could be worse” and “You have no right to feel that way because of X”. Lecturing and berating someone for how they feel will not make them any less unhappy. It will change how they view you and whether they’re honest with you in the future. It may also change whether they’re honest with anyone else about how they feel or whether they merely bottle up the misery with an added dose of shame and guilt for feeling as they do.

My inferiority is complex

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.

Motherhood and my secret shame

I was recently asked to write a post on the topic of ‘Mum Shame’ for the wonderful website Story of Mum. This is that post.

What, as a mother, am I ashamed of? Well there’s quite a lot, as it happens.

I’m ashamed that my house looks like a cross between a toy factory explosion and the place where clutter goes to die. I’m ashamed that I always seem to be running late. I’m ashamed that I’m not as patient with my children as I feel I should be. I’m ashamed that sometimes I just wish they’d bugger off and leave me in peace for half an hour. To be honest I think most mothers (and probably a lot of fathers) would agree with at least one of these so I’m not unusual.

But the secret I feel deeply ashamed about, a white hot shame that sears me to the bone, is the fact that my children aren’t enough. I have two – a wonderfully kind, clever and articulate 3 year old girl who has a wicked sense of humour, and a sweet, funny and bright 14 month old boy. They bring joy to my life and I love them fiercely. I watch them play together and with other children and I marvel that my body brought forth two such amazing individuals. But they are not enough for me, I want more children.

My husband and I had always planned to have a large family – at least three, maybe four or perhaps (discussed in hushed tones when a little too much alcohol had been imbibed) even more. But circumstances change and at the age of 32 I have finally had to admit to myself that I can’t have any more. My body wouldn’t be able to cope with another pregnancy; my mental health is certainly not robust enough to go through the stresses of pregnancy and the newborn months again. Financial constraints are a big factor too.

But oh, how I yearn for more children. I suffer an almost physical pain when friends announce pregnancies or births, although I’m getting very good at masking the pain and giving smiling congratulations. Large families aren’t unusual where we live and I feel bitterly envious when I see a mother with her crowd of children while I just have my two, incredible and amazing though they are.

I know my feelings aren’t particularly unusual. But if I’m honest the real reason I feel such burning shame over this is the thought of how my children would feel if they ever realised that they aren’t enough for me. I am ashamed that I feel there are people missing from our family. I am ashamed that I could look at my exquisite, loving, wonderful children and feel that they are in any way inadequate. I am ashamed that I feel this way when there are so many women who struggle to have children at all.

This is my secret shame.

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