World Mental Health Day – 10th October 2019. There is no force more powerful than a woman determined to rise!
It’s been a busy day teaching children’s yoga and acknowledging World Mental Health Awareness Day in nurseries and schools across Kent, however I’ve been living with a HUGE secret for almost four years, that I’ve been so ashamed and scared to share even with my closest friends until recently, let alone publicly!
So let’s talk DEPRESSION – IT GOT ME! Its a paradox really! I’m encouraging children to connect with their inner being, discuss their feelings and teaching children to build skills for resilience through yoga and mindfulness, but I’ve been hiding my own feelings and experiences in fear of judgement! This last four years have been a journey of strength, and I finally feel that on Thursday 10th October, a global day of mental awareness, that I need to close my experiences therapeutically and unwrap my body and mind from the heavy burden I have carried for all of those years.
I’d always longed of having a child, but with the diagnosis of Endometriosis which I have suffered with since my teens, (but wasn’t diagnosed until by early twenties, despite my mother and grandmother having the condition and both having fertility issues and early hysterectomies) I wasn’t entirely sure how simple it was going to be!
I was accepted at university to pursue a doctorate in Theology (PhD), which would mean five years of part-time studying whilst working a part-time job to assist in funding my further studies. However, six months in I was also told that I needed not to put off having a baby. Despite having surgery, much of my Endometriosis could not be operated on as it would be too risky as it was too near to my bowel and Pouch of Douglas and the internal scarring as a result was extensive. They informed me that it would only get worse and not to “miss the boat”, so to speak. My mother had a full hysterectomy aged twenty eight, so this obviously heightened the fear of missing the opportunity.
I was lucky, despite the condition I fell pregnant fairy quickly, although pursuing a PhD and becoming a mother, and working part-time was impossible! I did not want to compromise this special gift of becoming a mother to be overwhelmed by pressure and stress in front of a computer screen creating a thesis baby, instead of nurturing the one I had always desired. I felt damned, trapped, and let down by a system of false fascade, in which your are led your can have it all- career and motherhood! You work so hard getting those A* stars and A grades during secondary school, gaining a First class undergraduate degree and the system fails to help empower women who wish to have it all! Well, I don’t think you can have it all- but we’ll come to that later!
I was pregnant, and didn’t I know it- and didn’t everyone else know it too! I had Hyperemisis Gravidarum and was vomiting no less than forty times a day, I couldn’t open the fridge, I physically couldn’t prepare any meals, I could not bear anyone wearing aftershave or perfume or the smell of milk. I was hospitalised and was on IV fluids, as I was so mentally and physically drained. I never had a day off work and I changed my pathway so I could still complete my postgraduate research degree, but rather, a Masters by research two year programme. I warriored through, determined to get my 35,000 word thesis complete before my baby arrived. Two weeks before the birth, it was submitted, a year ahead of deadline! Looking back at my former self, this is where my depression slowly started creeping in, although I haven’t acknowledged this until recently.
I was immersed in this post-graduate environment which was fierce, egotistic, high pressured and demanding – I felt vulnerable, anxious, and believed I wasn’t worthy of my place as a PhD student. However, in hindsight – I’ve always felt like that! I’m a perfectionist, and my husband has this great saying “a strength overplayed becomes a weakness”. Being conscientious, having dreams, liking yourself, is vastly different from the feelings of perfectionism. This strength was overplayed indeed, the constant feelings of not measuring up, the desire to do better, the dialogue of self-criticism eventually leads you to believe that despite what everyone else recognises in you, you create unrealistic expectations which will never be attainable.
Wednesday 25th November 2015, my beautiful boy Rafi was born, a natural process of life entering the world, and during the same moment losing myself. The birth for me was traumatic, and because it wasn’t how I had created this ideal in my mind – it stuck, replayed over and over and it was recognised that I was experiencing Post-Natal depression and birth trauma. The feelings of guilt surrounding the birth were over compensated by my unattainable expectations of motherhood I had created. I did not experience Postnatal depression in the respect of feeling I didn’t wish to bond with my baby or that I couldn’t look after him, it was quite the opposite. Again, I went into warrior mode and focused entirely on the needs of my baby- totally obsessed with him that I didn’t want to share him for cuddles with anyone, just wanted our time together so didn’t want to meet with friends, self care wasn’t important, and I was incredibly anxious in case he may become unwell or the fear of not detecting a medical problem haunted me. I was sad- sad that I will never be the person I was before I gave birth – I was so sad that I become numb- where you no longer really cared about anything else, apart from my child, I was sad that I wasn’t the woman my husband married. I’m sad that I will never have another child because of my experience (I think my husband is secretly happy, three boys is enough for him!).
I have practised yoga since I was twelve years old and it saved me during this time! It become my sanctuary, my safe place, my strength. When my little boy was two years old, I felt like I needed to now kick-start my career after spending all those years at university. No ‘career’ jobs existing for two days a week, I was adamant that was my limit as I wanted to spend as much quality time with the only child I was every going to have. But it just didn’t seem far that I had to pay a price for motherhood. After maternity leave, I returned to my admin job that I had whilst I was studying and it was great – the people were fantastic, once I left the office the work was finished, the hours were incredible I even got home in time to bath and feed Rafi on those working days, and the company had always supported my academic pursuits and valued me as a person. However, I felt that I needed to use my degree and I longed for a creative outlet, which was once writing as a student.
After lots of soul searching and crying, I put on my warrior pants again and decided to launch my own business. I booked myself onto a qualified teachers children’s yoga training course, which was also my first time away from Rafi, within six months “Once Upon the Mat” was created and I gave up my job and launched! For me, this was the ONLY way I was able to feel like I was having the best of both worlds- career and motherhood, however it comes with sacrifices – the long evenings doing business work, creating and sourcing props and materials for classes, never switching off from business. Perhaps my desire was a little hesitant and that my goals my have been more realistic to achieve once Rafi was in full time education- however, what I do know is that keeping busy helps my mental health. My experiences of mental health have led me to what I have created, and I’m so thankful for that. I’m also so honoured I am able to have a business which supports, nurtures and encourages mothers and children during vulnerable and pivotal transitional times in their lives.
To look at me, everyone thinks I’m confident, outgoing, bubbly, but the only thing more exhausting than being depressed is pretending you are not! Just because someone is smiling, appears to be holding it together, being the greatest parent, friend, sibling, wife or husband, doesn’t mean that behind the mask that they aren’t suffering silently. They may not be ready to share their story, I wasn’t, but for anyone reading this – ALWAYS BE KIND! You don’t always know what someone is going through and I’ve had my fair share of unjust unkindness, be mindful!
It’s okay to not be okay !