When ‘just keep swimming’ no longer works | Tanya Castillo

Let me introduce myself.  I’m Tanya, mum to 3 little bugs: Olivia, 5, Luca, 4 and Isabela, 2.

“You’ve got your hands full!” is usually what follows that introduction…and it’s true, I do.

I won’t lie and say I love every second of the chaos, but I adore them and love being their mum.  Some days I love it more than others, but the good days are outweighing the bad, finally.

I’ve put off writing this post for a good while, for several reasons.  On some level there has been, and probably still is on my part, a fear to be totally open about me as a mum and my mental health.  I’m not ashamed of my experience, but there is still a part of me worries about others’ reactions (don’t we all?!).   I also worry that by writing this post I’m declaring that I’m ‘Ok’ again, everything has improved, I’m ‘better’.   While my mental health has drastically improved, I don’t know that I could say I’m ‘better’.  I still have bad moments, hours, hours that turn into days.  What has changed is my ability to focus, adjust my thoughts and move on.  Although even that is definitely a work in progress!

Finally, the last thing I want is pity.  1 in 4 mums suffer with their mental health after pregnancy/childbirth so I’m no different to any of them, my story isn’t worse than or not as difficult as someone else’s; it’s mine.  My main reason for sharing is that if even one small part of what I share resonates with someone and encourages them to speak up, look for support, then it’s worth it. That’s what Lindsay did for me.  Reading her openness and honesty helped my to recognise my own struggles and that what I was going through wasn’t just a ‘normal’ part of motherhood, but something that there was support for.  So here goes…

Postnatal depression…postnatal anxiety…postnatal stress…birth trauma…  all of these are terms I’ve become very familiar with, but only within the last 18 months or so.  It took 4 years and 3 children for me to accept and recognise that my mental health was suffering and that there was a reason for it.  On the outside, for the most part, things looked pretty normal.  I was tired, my social life had reduced dramatically, my short term memory and concentration were practically non existent.  But I had 3 little ones 4 and under so it was to be expected, right?

The me people saw was tired.  What they didn’t see was all I wanted to do was be in bed.  People understood I didn’t have time to hang out as much as before, they didn’t see that I was exhausted ALL the time and couldn’t be bothered to do anything, especially if it meant being in company where someone might spot I wasn’t coping (cue cancellations, excuses, not replying to messages, last minute flake outs).

They saw that leaving the house was nearly a military operation (it still is!!), but they didn’t see how sick I felt at even the thought of leaving the house on my own with my children, the fear that if I went out something dreadful would happen.  And I’m not talking about fear of a toddler tantrum in Tesco (although that is still not easy to deal with!), I’m talking fear that I’ll crash the car and we’ll all die, fear that someone will try and kidnap my children while we’re out, fear that a lorry will drive up the footpath and run us over etc etc.  I spent 4 years telling myself it was normal to have these thoughts all the time.  I’ve learnt that it’s not.

Those close to me saw that I wasn’t as patient as I used to be, what they didn’t see was how angry I felt all of the time, feeling like I could burst at any second.

I didn’t let people, even those closest to me, see that I felt hopeless, that I cried every day, that I was scared of everything, that even making breakfast was a struggle, that I didn’t know who I was anymore, I felt lonely and lost, just existing, without really enjoying any of it.

I loved my children, adored them, but people didn’t see me thinking how I could have 3 blessings, love them, bond with them, but feel little to no joy in being their mum.  It felt like such a struggle.  No one saw that every day I felt that they’d be better off with someone else as their mum.

The me people saw smiled in pictures I posted.  The me they didn’t see felt she’d lost control.

Then came a spark of light, some hope.  I came across Have you seen that girl? and recognised Lindsay from work connections.  I read her story and immediately realised, oh.  I’m not ok, and it’s not because of something I have/haven’t done.  I went to my GP that week and for the first time in 4 years voiced what I had been too afraid to.  I got referred for counselling, after a time started medication and then got referred for CBT.  Just over 18 months have passed since that first GP appointment.  I still worry, I still have days where I just want to be in bed, I still cry and I still get angry.  The difference? I have hope.  Hope that things will keep improving.  Hope because these things are no longer all consuming.  I’m much more like the me I remember pre motherhood but I’m a work in progress.

What I have learnt, and am still learning, is that the power of speaking out loud our fears and concerns cannot be underestimated.  I allowed things to stay hidden, to fester for too long, which made bringing them into the light painful.  But it was the most important thing I could have done.  So please, if you are struggling, speak out.  Seek guidance and support.  Help is not a bad word.  Needing help/support does not make you a bad mum.  If anything, it’s enabled me to be a better mum.  It’s ok not to be ok, don’t put pressure on yourself to live up to expectations (for me they were self-imposed), no one has it all together all the time!  Try to be in the present , enjoy the little moments that happen in a day rather than overwhelm yourself with a whole day/week etc.  And lastly, now is not forever.  It won’t always be overwhelming, it won’t always be a daily struggle. Things can improve.  You can feel better.  You can feel more like you again.  I say it because I am 1 in 5.  I’ve lived it and now see the streams of light flooding in!

Do you have a story to share?

Email haveyouseenthatgirl@outlook.com

We’d love to hear from you!