Sink or Swim?
I’m happy today, perfectly fine. Yesterday too. But earlier this week, I felt like the world was ending. I guess that’s a bit of an overstatement, but I did feel like I couldn’t cope anymore. On a ‘normal’ day when I am my ‘normal’ self, solutions are easy to find, energy and strength is easy to muster and I can deal with just about anything life can throw at me. Every now and then though, this is not the case, and on these days I berate myself for not being a better mother, wife, daughter and friend. I really don’t like those days. The words overwhelmed and out of my depth are the best to describe it.
Don’t know what it is about giving birth, but it would appear that as soon as we enter our parenting cycle of life we cannot help but think that we could be better at what we do. I remember when I had my first baby, not having any close family or friends who had kids, I second-guessed myself all the time and had very little clue as to what I was doing. I assumed most of the time that I was doing it wrong. Didn’t help that I had breastfeeding problems too. I didn’t suffer Postnatal Depression like many poor souls do, however knowing so many women who go through periods of unbearable emotional turmoil, I thought I would share mine in an attempt to show how commonplace it is.
Do you ever wish you were a better mum? I know I do, especially at my low-times when the house is a mess, I can’t seem to complete the simplest of tasks, I’m in a state of exhaustion and the TV has been on for ages. Just sit down with them I tell myself, and sometimes I listen. At other times, I can’t even bring myself to just have a rest. If I can’t keep a tidy house, why do I deserve to relax? At these times, dropping a spoon, failing to sort my clean laundry, or even tripping over lego can cause me to break down into tears. Remember the ‘Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale’? At times throughout pregnancy in antenatal or postnatal appointments you are read the 10 statements that are supposed to indicate whether or not you are depressed? Well I can’t remember ever scoring a 0. Not to say that I have always been depressed, I don’t believe I have been or am now, but somehow naturally we have anxieties that we keep bottled up inside. Those burning statements that make you look inside yourself such as: I have blamed myself unnecessarily when things went wrong; I have been anxious or worried for no good reason; I have felt scared or panicky for no good reason; Things have been getting on top of me; I have felt sad or miserable; I have been so unhappy that I have been crying, did you ever answer yes to these? I have, every time I’ve been asked. Thankfully the only one I can confidently answer “No, never” to is: The thought of harming myself has occurred to me. We torture ourselves over the smallest things… I feel like a failure when I forget the library bag. But ridiculous as it may seem these emotions are very real for some, and it isn’t easy to know how to get out of the frame of mind you seem to get trapped in.
If, like me, you are often found trying to think of ways to be a better wife (support, love and snacks), a better mother (less TV, more craft activities), a better friend (more listening, less complaining) and a better daughter (more visiting, less excuses), you are setting yourself up for failure. Not because it can’t be done, but simply because it is impossible to be everything for everyone. So why do I push myself to the limit, seemingly at times when I can’t even be a better me? Why is it that when I am suffering as a zombie-like sleep-deprived crazy woman that I think that I am not good enough? Staying on top of things isn’t easy at the best of times, but when stretched to the limits of my patience, sanity and budget, I sometimes feel like I have been plunged into the water and I am sinking, I’m drowning, and can’t even see the surface anymore. When in that state of mind, all I should be thinking is positive affirmations: I can do this; It will get easier; It’s only for a season; Rise up, it will all work out, all good healthy thoughts to have, but aren’t the ones that pop into the forefront in the midst of the cloud. The words that are there at those times are: overwhelmed, helpless and incomplete.
Now the psychologist in you is probably thinking: “This woman is depressed, get her some Zanax!” While that isn’t the first course of action I would take, there are a number of issues to think about first to help you realise that the feeling of depression, either mild or severe, is almost a rite of passage as a woman, and what is to blame? For one, it’s hormones. Bloody hormones. I’m sure the men out there curse women’s hormones more than women do, but people who haven’t experienced the roller coaster can’t really sympathise without having been there themselves. Since having my third child, my menstrual cycle affects me a LOT more than ever before. As our hormone levels spike and crash throughout the month, it wreaks havoc with our mental well being. Progesterone blocks the normal ability of the stress hormone to turn itself off, so it would seem as our bodies produce an excess, we are leaving ourselves vulnerable to stress. Depression also seems to effect women more so in their childbearing years than any other time, and I would attribute that to the lack of sleep, lack of control, and in many cases a pressed purse. Not to mention that we all at times try to put on a front and pretend that everything is okay when it clearly is not. Other factors to consider are that women are far more likely to experience depression than men, the numbers sit around one in eight women will experience clinical depression at some stage of their lives.
There is genetic disposition, social situations, and traumatic experiences to think about as well. Well I for one believe that eight out of eight women feel overwhelmed and helpless at stressful times in their lives. Loss of control and hopelessness can effect us so savagely that it something not to be ignored. So where does all of this leave me? After feeling like I was being pulled under the current with no control one day, and back to happy the next in a crucial peak hormonal time during my cycle, I recognised myself (with a little help from my friend the Naturopath) falling to the mercy of my hormones once again. This happened to me a while ago and my friend and I spoke at length – I tried Evening Primrose Oil for a few months and it worked wonders. So I am back on it again and I hope that in a few weeks time I won’t be crying over spilled milk, again. There are lots of other good natural remedies to try keep an even keel, and there is no end to the therapies one can find. The important thing to remember however is that if you get that drowning, sinking feeling you are not alone. Help is out there, you just need to ask for it. Whether that be in the form of a partner, family member, friend or health professional, support and understanding is essential so please don’t be afraid to talk to someone. You may be surprised at how much better you feel simply by voicing your feelings.
Emma Eastman 2013
Emma is a busy mum of three, part-time paid in money and part-time paid in love. The other time she is SuperWoman. Chasing after small children, stopping fights, standing up to injustices, a lot of cooking and dashing off to school in a tearing hurry take up most of her time. And then there’s the washing! After studying psychology for a number of years (BA Psyc) Emma cannot help herself but analyse the way things are in an attempt to understand the world.