Laura Stitt – Me, Myself and Mental Health
My name is Laura, I am married to Colin and we have a very energetic almost-two-year old- Caleb. When I’m not being a wife and mum, I am a full time mental health social worker, working 32 hours per week in an acute inpatient setting. When I’m not doing that, I enjoy sleep and watching Casualty, needless to say I get very little of either!
Since the age of approximately 16 I have struggled with depression, from the age of 25 I have lived with it.
I say this because from early teens to mid twenties I denied I had a mental health issue, blaming situational factors such as exam pressure, relationship issues and lifestyle changes for my chronic low mood, withdrawal and inability to manage my emotional health. However when I got married things began to change- let me emphasise it was not the ‘getting married’ part that made me realise I had depression although I do joke about that, I was happy- happier than I had ever been yet totally sad at the same time. It was sharing my life with someone else that really opened my eyes to my daily thoughts and feelings not being quite ‘normal.’ This is when I realised it wasn’t me, it was an illness. Together with my supportive family and helpful GP I began to come to terms with having mental ill health and I began to live my life embracing it as much as I could.
As you can imagine, in early 2014 when I found out I was pregnant with Caleb, panic struck, my thoughts began to race, I stopped sleeping- I felt crippled with the fear that it was inevitable that I would develop Post Natal Depression (PND), I had just got on top of depression, found a medication that was helping and I was beginning to feel ‘more like myself’ and now I would have to go back to square one. I was terrified. The GP had to cease my medication for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and my life went in to meltdown. I believe I went into withdrawal being withdrawn from medication completely- the symptoms were horrible- I had inconsolable tearfulness, no motivation, intense itching and wanted to sleep- constantly. Again I had wonderful support from family and healthcare professionals and at 14 weeks pregnant I made a difficult, joint decision with my GP and husband to restart medication- I knew the risks but for us this was the best option. The remainder of my pregnancy was great, I managed well, I worked full-time and life was filled with excitement for the adventure ahead.
Birth-day arrived, it was difficult and complicated- I won’t go in to details. I remember Caleb being handed to me and although overjoyed, panic did race through my veins and I remember asking myself ‘Can I do this?’ I couldn’t face giving him his first feed or changing him into his first nappy but I am very grateful to say that after a few hours of rest I felt an overwhelming maternal feeling and I entered into the post natal phase depression free.
That’s not to say occasional low mood, withdrawal and exhaustion hasn’t reared it’s ugly head or that thoughts such as ‘You’re a bad mother, your child has no routine, you’re fat,’ haven’t tormented me at times but I have been as well as I have been in a long time.
For me, working in mental health has had an impact on my journey mainly for good- as a mental health social worker, I know mental health, it’s my bread, I also know child protection, it’s my butter! I know what it takes for a child to be removed from a parent and I know that mental illness in itself isn’t enough to automatically make you a ‘bad’ parent. I think that having experienced mental ill health albeit in a milder form than what I usually work with has enhanced my ability to empathise with individuals with mental ill health and their families.
I have a keen interest in the ‘The Family Model’ by Dr Adrian Falkov (check it out here: http://www.thefamilymodel.com) – this model aims to promote a better understanding of the links between mental ill health in parents, the development and mental health of their children, and the relationships within family units affected by mental ill health. I have enjoyed working with not only inpatients but their children, partners and wider families.
I also love to work closely with social work colleagues in family and childcare and I am so passionate about helping my colleagues to ‘Think family.’ Mental ill health whether it be PND, OCD, Anxiety, Bi- Polar Disorder and the list goes on, affects more than just the person living with it. Children, families and friends feel the effects and the more we can be open about mental ill health the better understanding we can have and share.
I do worry if my mental health history will have an impact on Caleb…I have read the research and statistics and can’t deny that risks exist however like Lindsay shared in her letter to Reuben, the most important thing for Caleb to know is he is loved, wanted, he brings light to our lives and none of my health issues are caused by him (apart from the stretch marks and wobbly tummy!). Life without him would be very dull…and less sticky!