Maternal Mental Illness has changed me. When you’re pregnant everyone tells you “life will never be the same again” and that is true – once you have a baby everything you know is turned on its head. I was not prepared for that change nor the one that mental illness has brought about in me. It feels like the rug of my life has been pulled from below me.
‘Have you seen that girl
That everybody says I used to be?
Have you seen that girl
Where along the way did I lose me?
Have you seen that girl?’
Lee Ann Womack, Have you seen that girl
A couple of months ago, I wept as I said to someone – “I’ve forgotten everything about myself”. Not that I had lost my memory, what I meant by “I’ve forgotten everything about myself” was simply this – I have no idea of who I am anymore. I felt like I had completely lost my identity. I could not recall what I believed, what mattered to me, what I liked or what I enjoyed. I was no longer “me”, just a shell of a person who had the same name as someone I used to know. Nothing seemed to ‘click’ or make sense, no matter how hard I tried. I couldn’t relate to anything or anyone, in the way I used to. I went from feeling nothing and empty, to feeling overwhelmed with emotion and enveloped in sorrow.
I could find no fun or pleasure in anything, in the way I had before. For example, you might have worked out, from previous blogs, that I love American Country Music! Oh I do! But I had ‘forgotten’ that – I had lost all interest in it. The new season of Nashville was on TV and instead of having it set to record and watching it weekly to get my ‘fix’, I would flick past it without a second glance.
I couldn’t concentrate long enough to watch a movie. If we were going to the cinema, I would check the length of the movie, so I knew how long I had to try to focus. If I read a book, even my favourite light-hearted Sophie Kinsella novels, the words would swarm on the page and I would have to re-read sentences to follow the story. It made no sense, I loved reading.
I had no clue what my gifts and abilities were, I could not honestly tell you one thing I believed that I was good at. When I started counselling, with my good friend Karen, she asked me to name three things that I liked about myself. I felt sick at the thought, but she made me – even though it did take ten minutes of thinking and what felt like hours of silence. My confidence was at rock bottom, and I despised the person I’d become.
I could not abide to make any new ‘mum friends’ – I had no idea why they would ever like me or want to be around me. The only couple of friends, who are mums, I kept in touch with, were people who knew me before I had Reuben.
When I looked in the mirror I genuinely did not know who was looking back at me. My hair began to fall out and break off, shedding every time I brushed it or took a shower. My face looked different, more strained and constantly pale. When I looked at photos of our wedding or other special events, I longed for that girl to return and felt such grief at having lost her. I absolutely hated myself and who I had become.
I got to the point where I would rather not have to go out of the house. I’d just about be happy to walk Reuben in the buggy, or do the shopping in Asda, but being at home was much safer and my preferred option. At least that way I could hide ‘this person’, whoever she was, from the world.
On top of all of that, I was constantly anxious, insecure, fearful and felt that the smallest thing would send me over the edge. I spent every day trying desperately hard to hide who I was from those around me – until that facade crumbled at my feet.
My faith seemed to disappear completely. Reading the bible was a chore which I avoided most of the time. When I did get around to reading I would weep, feeling like God was disappointed in me and punishing me. I hid from Him, scared every day at the list of ‘sins’ I had committed, wondering if they would mean I would get worse not better. I was absolutely sure that God existed, I have never doubted that, I just stopped believing He was for me or with me. My faith has been tested many other times in life, but this was something different. In truth, this is the area which I am only slowly recovering in, it’s probably what I have grieved the loss of the most.
This isn’t who I used to be, if you knew me before I had Reuben I hope you will agree. I remember a girl who was confident and secure, honest and straight forward, easy-going and enjoying life, capable and determined. Do you remember her? Oh yes, she could be single-minded, stubborn, too quick to judge, a perfectionist and too cautious. But I also hope she was loyal, trust worthy and a good friend who enjoyed fun and laughter – Have you seen that girl?
Feeling like I have lost myself has been one of the most terrifying things, but I am assured it’s a ‘normal’, as far as this goes. Maternal mental illness is a thief, it has robbed me of myself, my life and my joy – it has rocked the foundations of my world to the core. It has left me vulnerable, ashamed, terrified and has turned me into someone I don’t know.
As I am now on the journey of recovery, I guess I have to choose to believe that one day I will find myself again. I can see glimpses of who I used to be returning. But I also think I have to accept that I will never be the same again. I don’t think you battle something like this and come out the other end the same as you went in.
Perhaps the most important thing I can say, at this stage of the journey, is that I want to re-discover/discover who I am. To find myself again.
So tell me, have you seen that girl?