mental health word cloud, including words like trauma, grief, stigma, genetic, clinical, bipolar

Guest Post: Women and Mental Health

Today’s guest post comes from Elizabeth of Mommatwo who is looking specifically at women with mental health problems. Please offer your support to her.

Mental Health Awareness week makes me think about my own mental health, and that of the women in my family.

When I was very young my Mum’s fiancé was killed in a car crash, following which she had a nervous breakdown and we went to live with my Grandparents. Since then my Mum has struggled with her mental health, finally being diagnosed as bipolar in my late teens. My maternal Grandmother also had long term depression problems, being treated with electro-shock therapy for PND.

Growing up around women with mental health issues I was convinced that I would escape – that I wouldn’t be “weak” like they were, that I wouldn’t “indulge” depression the way I saw them indulge theirs. I wouldn’t take my own difficulties out on the people around me and I would cope spectacularly with every issue that did arise.

Then I reached my teens and struggled to adapt to a body filled with conflicting hormones and feelings, I struggled to cope with being unpopular at school and being bullied horribly. I struggled to deal with a family I felt I didn’t belong with and I struggled to communicate with anyone at all about how desperately unhappy I was becoming. Aged 14 I took an overdose and my family were all shocked that I – a feisty, mouthy, independent teenager – was struggling with anything at all, never mind to that extent.

Whilst I’d love to say that the incident preceded a change in me, I can honestly say that it didn’t. I still don’t really talk to people about my feelings, my anxiety, my depression. I’ve been off anti depressants for 9 months (I was weaned off them when I was pregnant, and had been on them on and off for a decade for an anxiety disorder) and am currently aware that I need to go back to my GP to get more – but can’t face the conversation, or the look on his face, or the knowledge that  he thinks I’m failing as a person, and as a mother.

When I was in my early pregnancy my usual GP was very supportive about my medication and weaning me off slowly and was working with me on my anxiety. I went for my regular appointment four months into my pregnancy and had to speak with a locum, as my GP was away. The locum told me I was “poisoning and damaging” my unborn child with my medication and told me to have an abortion if I wouldn’t come off the medication. His attitude was that, in having an anxiety disorder, I was choosing to make myself ill and choosing to struggle, and that I was doing so selfishly and harming my unborn child – judging me in the same way that people who drink, smoke or abuse illegal drugs are judged.
To him, and to anyone else who feels the same way, I don’t choose this life. I don’t choose these feelings. I don’t choose lying awake all night thinking over the many, varied ways in which I’ve failed as a mother, as a wife, as a human being. I don’t choose to fantasise about self harm, about suicide, about simply walking out and closing the door and leaving my life behind. I don’t WANT to live like this, I don’t WANT to feel like this. Most of all I don’t want to be so utterly unable to talk about feeling like this to the people who could help – because if they do help I feel like even more of a failure.

During my first pregnancy the disorder took control to a much greater extent – I hadn’t been taking any medication for it and I scared my husband by calmly and logically explaining how and why I ought to take my life, once the baby was born, to save him and the baby from being damaged by my presence because I was so poisonous. He managed to convince me to go to the doctor with him by telling me the baby needed me to go, and I was referred to the crisis intervention system. The doctor and my husband discussed my being sectioned, and this was discussed again with me by my therapist at the crisis intervention centre.

That therapist, that doctor, most of all my husband saved my life that day – since my first meeting with the therapist I managed to begin the climb out of the hole I’d spent years living in. I saw the sun, I felt the warmth of love and laughter and joy. I understood, for the first time, that I was worthy of love and capable of love. I lived like a real person.

Since I stopped taking my medication I have felt myself sliding, very slowly, back down that hole and now, though I’m a long way from the bottom, all I can see is the rest of this well – and I’m beginning to get to the point where my anxiety and depression are feeding one another and I’m starting not to want to get better. I know this feeling – I’ve lived here before – it’s like a blanket. It smothers out the outside world, full of fear and terror and Bad People, and in this well there is just me and my family. The only thing stopping me sliding further down right now is the knowledge that if I don’t get out of bed today my children will starve, they will get ill and sore from neglect, and I cannot fail them that much – I’m failing them too much already.

Today I am teetering on a knife blade. One way is health, happiness, well. I don’t know that I can get there. The other way is the bottom of the hole, poison. I’m tempted.

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