How ‘Mental Illness’ Prepared me for Motherhood

‘Nothing prepares you for motherhood!’ I hear the wise woman say. ‘You’re never really ready for birth and beyond.’ I get the picture, that the magnificence of childbearing and motherhood is a learn-on-the-job experience. I’m the first to admit, nothing could have prepared me for drawing the short-straw of 8 months of ‘morning sickness’. But I challenge the assumption of unpreparedness, granted I have drawn other short straws in my life and emerged triumphant. Developing robust mental health – peace of mind, freedom from disorder – showed me riches of the human condition that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. I’m days away from birthing my baby and getting all sentimental over demons of the mind.

It’s not often that we thank our mental health challenges for the life-skills they encode us with. We still stigmatise, hide and reframe them when we really could boast a little about growth. Especially if it stretches beyond the zone of recovery, if we believe, as I do, that complete transformation of psychological suffering is possible. My story, which is not unlike many others who have experienced psychological, emotional and spiritual challenges, has lined within its chapters special dictums I will take with me into motherhood. Tricks acquired from the darkest games of the mind, that I consider, if shared, might prompt you to revel in your own dreaded mind-field and uncover that which has turned to gold.

 

1. The Setting of the Boundary

Conscious Prowess

Healthy boundary setting is an art worth developing. If you intend on getting anywhere in the world this interpersonal style of fencing is a must. A boundary sends a message to let others know your needs, values and no-go zones, and ultimately it is up to you to get your message across. You have the right to set boundaries out of self-love and worth when you sense someone is disrespecting your truth.

If you experience mental health challenges, you need to get savvy (and non-violent) with drawing your sword, and expect that you might ruffle some feathers. Perhaps you can’t work full-time, be a jovial, reliable friend, or raise your head from bed everyday while navigating a deep depression. Maybe you don’t want to increase your anti-anxiety medication despite what the doctor says; you demand an alternative way. Or perhaps you see the need for medication for short-term support and rebalance, despite what your yoga friend says. Not all head-stands lead to transcendence.

The same applies in motherhood from the word ‘dot’ when we protect our pea-sized embryo from toxins, toxic people and environments. As a mother, fierce and protective, we must claim our right to defend a little being who is too little to defend itself. The Setting of the Boundary is something we can’t afford to shy away from and nor should we, as we guide the emerging generation with conscious prowess.

2. Self – care: the oldest chestnut

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I know I bang on about it like a war-cry but it is so pertinent to the realm of mental health, pregnancy and overall wellbeing. Self-care is a priority; when we are weak, we let the team down.  Routine self-care supports us to be our best for our loved ones.

Nurturing oneself through psychological trauma promotes healing, just as nourishing your body during pregnancy makes a healthy baby. It’s a personal responsibility to take charge of your self-care, even if you think you look like that person that needs more self-care than others. Quit the comparisons, move on and book a massage. Activate The Asking of the Help or dial a doula. In a world ravaged by industry built on pressure and a ‘push through’ mentality, self-care is a gentle power that still leads to success.

3. Understanding rites of passage

Rites of Passage

Equating psychological, emotional and spiritual challenges as ‘mental illness’ is something I try and avoid (unless crafting a catchy headline) because I am a believer in the endurance tests of the soul. A rites of passage urges us to confront, destruct and recreate our reality to enter a new phase of life with matured attitude. The life-death-rebirth cycle is prevalent everywhere yet often lost to mainstream avoidance of the dark and dirty.

Depression teaches us about the death, to be comfortable in the black hole, and experience the discovery of the ‘other-side’. Changed, evolved, enlightened, we are born anew but it’s unlikely your GP will glorify the possibilities. All mental health challenges bring with them degrees of psychological breakthrough so that we may build a better self, just as birthing and mothering initiates us to new frontiers. Dig a little deeper into the post-natal depression construct and you will find the ‘letting die’ stages of a mother being born.

If we deny these rites of passages bestowed upon the human condition we miss out on such profound awakenings! Whether in the metaphorical context of suicide survived or the bloodied, flesh and bone birth of a baby, teachings of the life-death-rebirth cycle create a map to navigate territory unknown. To trust in this passage affords us great confidence and peace. It is natures way of reminding us we are at the mercy of something greater.

4. Surrender, surrender, surrender

A mantra for labour and dark nights of the soul, learning to surrender is something you can count on. Morning sickness is a delightful analogy for accepting something beyond your control. I consider my relentless nausea as the first lesson of motherhood: to accept that which is uncomfortable as I carve space for new life and love. Morning sickness snatched my work-life, my writing, sex-life and social butterflyness. Surrender, surrender, surrender.

The same is called of us when we realise we have mental dis-order and must design our life around its limitations. It’s a fact: full-blown depression, anxiety and psychotic episodes are debilitating. They force us to build lifestyles that make our challenges manageable, which inevitably means putting some desires on hold. They remind us of our humanness – that which we can strive to be at peace with – and the grievances beyond our control. If we are taking steps to overcome these challenges then we would be wise to occasionally surrender.

Natures Power

Natures Power

5. Claim your power

It’s important to trust that the vulnerability of a depressive funk is also the springboard to reclaiming your power. Just as the stretching, opening, tearing, expansion of childbirth invites us to be our most powerful. It is power, hidden in the weirdest of unlikely places, waiting for us to claim it and assert our truth and needs in any given moment, that propels us towards our dreams and aspirations.

I gave voice to power the day I rocked up to a psychiatric clinic and asked for help. I found power when I resigned from a 5 day working week to a week of 2, prioritising pregnancy. Power snakes through us when we question medical procedures, prescriptions, immunisation, routine testing and diagnosis. There is power in the choice a woman makes to birth her baby in the space she feels most safe and held.

And isn’t that what we all strive for: to be empowered in a world that assumes it knows best? Maybe a buzzword and most likely a fad, empowerment is the key through mental health challenges and motherhood. It’s the confidence we long to feel and dare to own.

This self-confidence we lose sight of in the throes of trials and challenge keeps us turning to the light of our friends who ‘hold the faith’ and when we pick ourselves up there’s no harm in believing we are strengthened, not broken, from the fall.

My birth prep for motherhood is based on a growing confidence and I acknowledge my mental health challenges for delivering opportunity, to let myself see myself shine.

We all have these winning streaks to draw from and I suggest you do today: to reflect on that which you once conquered and watch it galvanise your next ‘hooray!’

Photography by PLinc – Creative Image Solutions (Pauline Langmead) with gratitude for beautifully capturing this precious time in my life.

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