Elaine Hanzak – Learning from Mental Illness
I had the pleasure of meeting Elaine, a couple of months ago, when we attended a debate in the House of Lords together – you can read about our time in Westminster here. I’d actually read her book “Eyes with Sparkle” months before and had been recommending it from then onwards – so I was delighted to get a coffee and chat and to learn from her. Thank you, Elaine! But enough from me…
“I have only one son. I had only one opportunity for it to be like the magazines implied and my mind imagined. It wasn’t to be as my journey of motherhood lead to a spiral into the previously unknown psychiatric world. I survived and learned from my experiences. I shared my full story in ‘Eyes without Sparkle – a journey through postnatal illness’ (CRC Press) back in 2005 and I am so pleased that it helps others to appreciate that as bad as perinatal mental illness can be, you can come through it.
I believe that life gives us many opportunities and decisions to be made. We may not be in control of what happens to us; we can be in control of how we deal with it by the choices we make.
I have chosen to learn from my period of mental illness and on a daily basis continue to discover and appreciate how I can make life happier for myself and those around me. I would like to share some of the key aspects with you at whatever stage of life you are at now.
Always remember that whatever you are going through is only temporary. So if right now you find yourself in a dark and difficult place, or even mildly irritated, it will pass. Ask yourself if there is something you can do about it. If the answer is yes, then do it! Of course this will dependent on the situation and whether it is a quick or gradual solution. So often I reflect on times in my life that I was unhappy about something and I spent hours of wasted worry, anger and frustration stewing over something instead of taking necessary action. If it involves another person talk to them about it and not everyone else! If you are in an extremely happy place right now, brilliant. Enjoy it. Remember that in the words of the Ronan Keating song ‘Life is a rollercoaster’, you have to ride it. The peaks and troughs tend to be times we remember the most and we need one to appreciate the other or life would be dull.
Cherish where you are right now because it WILL change. So whichever stage your child or children are at now, for example, appreciate that the challenges that come with it will pass. If you are currently struggling with lack of sleep; teething toddler tantrums; teenage moods – whatever it is, your child will grow and pass through it! Also appreciate and enjoy the other stages of where they are now. Remind yourself to STOP and BE with them too. Each stage of parenting has its joys and they change. I loved breastfeeding (until it stopped due to me being hospitalised without my baby). I still remember the sensations – the noise of the guzzling; holding his little hand as our eyes met; the giggles when he dribbled. I loved that the world had to STOP at those times. If that is where you are now – enjoy it! We have all become so addicted to technology. How often are you not fully engaged with the people currently in your presence because you have one eye on Facebook? Put your phone down! If your four-year-old has spent time painting you a picture and needs you to make comment on the beautiful flowers they have done for you – actually look at the painting and appreciate with them, rather than a cursory glance up from the screen. Otherwise they will give up on showing you because it will feel to them that you don’t care. The same will apply to other relationships. Make technology rules that suit you both and stick to them.
Recognise where you need support and ask for help. One of the main reasons that contributed to my poor mental health was exhaustion brought upon by unnecessarily feeling that I had to be Superwoman and do it all. I now know that asking for help is a sign of courage and also a way of giving – why? Because if someone asks if they can help, they usually mean it and they feel better for doing so. Pushing them away makes them feel frustrated and denies them of pleasure. I learned this through my younger sister having her baby 6 years ago. My parents and I adore any time we spend with her. Last week I spent an hour in a craft place with her painting a turtle. I allowed myself to simply ‘be’ with her. At Christmas I gave her a range of home-made vouchers of things she could choose to do with me, e.g. a sleepover; a girlie pamper; a trip to the cinema. We keep ‘spending’ them. In the years ahead I believe that she is more likely to remember us eating popcorn in a candle-lit bath together than an expensive item I bought. This links back to ‘being in the moment’.
Can you see how all these are connected?
If you are struggling, one way to get through it is to ask for help. That will give you space and time to either ‘be’ with yourself to find a solution, rest or recuperate and also allows someone else to feel good by helping.
We all need a reminder to look after ourselves so that we can look after others. You may find this book of use.
So who are you going to be ‘with’ now as you walk away from the technology?
Elaine’s second book is now available. ‘Another twinkle in the eye – contemplating another pregnancy after perinatal mental illness’ (CRC Press, 2015).