MENTAL MUTHA MEETS ANYA HAYES
MENTAL MUTHA MEETS ANYA HAYES
Are you a mental Mum or a Mum that’s mental?
Such a good question – I have always “battled” mental health issues all my life, but I never really framed them that way before I had kids…I always just thought I was rubbish in social situations and generally beat myself up about being crap at things, constantly over sensitive and self-critical, that was “just the way I am”. It’s only now that I realise these are symptoms of social anxiety and generally depressive/anxious tendencies and that if I’d been aware of this, I could have steered myself out of low periods more consciously. D’oh! So in a lot of ways, motherhood has been amazingly powerful and positive in terms of me actively seeking to take positive action when it comes to my mental health and being resilient and a better presence for my kids to be around, (most of the time…).
Before having children, I had one of those “world explosions” that are like a grenade being thrown into your life, when my best friend from school died suddenly in a stupid pointless DIY accident, when we were 28. That was such a huge wake up call to shock me out of my lifelong mental health self-sabotage, and really made me realise that the cliché is a cliché for a reason: life is so short, precious, not a given, can be taken away in an instant. So I began to think why on earth should I put up with being slightly miserable all the time and not take responsibility for it. That was the first time I realized that I maybe had power to change the way I responded to situations, to life. After she died I went through a real, “true” depression, deep deep sadness that I had never experienced ever before. Six months after she died I split with my long-term (all our 20s) partner just before we turned 30, which meant within a year I felt like I’d had an arm and then a leg swiftly chopped off with no anaesthetic. I’ve never experienced emotional pain feeling like a physical searing pain before, and started to understand how people could literally die from a broken heart. So I really had to build myself up from being stripped to the core.
In many ways, when I then went through postnatal depression/birth trauma a few years later, it was almost familiar territory, “oh hello depression, it’s been a while” and that was handy in terms of knowing that this will pass. I feel like motherhood triggered my natural lifelong propensity towards low mood and self-criticism, feelings of self-doubt and zero belief in my competence and abilities/compare and despair… but since building myself up after the forest fire of bereavement I had more of an idea that you have to take a bit of control over the way that you deal with things rater than allowing yourself to be fully swept away by a depressive circumstantial (inevitably sleep deprived) wave. Find things that anchor you in those times so you’re not totally carried away. Hormones and sleep deprivation should never been underestimated when it comes to their influence on mental health.
What do you do when you feel overwhelmed? Meditate? Talk? Hide?
True full overwhelm, I swear a lot. I growl, I make animal noises. Like a wolf howling at the moon. But then as soon as I notice that I’ve got to Wolf Stage, I breathe. My first instinct when I get to overwhelm stage is that I want to shut myself away, and it’s taken me a long time to realise that this only shuts down positivity even more and makes the bleakness envelop more. So I am gradually realizing that I need to reach out and talk, to the right people, and it will instantly feel better and lighter. But it’s almost like I have a panic room like the one Phoebe in Friends gets stuck in when she inadvertently steals a diamond ring, where dungeon gates come up around me without me really allowing them to and I’m a bit trapped and don’t know how to get out. It’s more and more fleeting now, my low points… I know the triggers and I am kinder to myself when I’m in there, I know I need usually to ask someone to help me get out.
Do you discuss your mental health with your mum mates?
Yes. Again, it has to be the right group….I used to blether about my mental health (didn’t really know that that’s what I was doing, but I used to reach out and ask for solidarity, sympathy, empathy) with my NCT group, but it didn’t really work. I felt like I was constantly leaking emotion, like a runny egg, while they were all hard boiled eggs and totally fine and I was always met with utter tumbleweed which of course makes you feel so so much worse and more neurotic than when you started.
I started a blog when my first son was 6 months old, 6 years ago. It was exactly the same type of mental health exploration that I now share on my Instagram and blog, and my way of trying to reach out, exploring having a baby and my physical and emotional recovery. I had a very challenging birth and recovery from a crash caesarean, and being a Pilates teacher my physical strength had always been something I was proud of (one of the few things I allowed myself to be proud of!) so having that whisked away was a real blow. So my blog was, crucially I felt, trying to offer ways to find light within those dark moments and strengthen, give voice to those slightly complex sleep deprived feelings and I guess work through my birth trauma although I hadn’t really labelled it as such at the time. But one of my friends then took me to one said and rather patronizingly (in hindsight) told me to “stop blogging Anya no one wants to read this kind of thing, you’re only making yourself feel worse”… So I always felt like I was slightly out of control and the one that everyone thought was a bit weird and neurotic. It’s only since Instagram has come into its own that I’ve felt in any way “normalized” by how I express my mental health.
Now, I seem to have gathered myself and joined a flock of more supportive likeminded women, although I still sometimes leak over people who aren’t ready or don’t want to hear it in the moment – you get the sudden look in the eye of a line crossed or an overshare… and then I start to backtrack or zip up, and just realise that sometimes you share and it’s not the right time/moment/person … and it’s all a learning curve isn’t it!
How do you tackle mental health chats with your kid’s?
My manifestation of losing my sh*t with my kids is that I become Hulk Mum and I shout…and if I’m at overwhelm, things like not being able to find my keys when we need to get out to the school run can tip me over the edge on a bad day. So I always explain calmly afterwards, and in the moment if I can remember and have the composure, that I was feeling (emotion) because of (event), hopefully rather than making my kids internalize it as something to do with them, they can then see that emotions are something that wash over us and can release and flow past, and it’s not reflective of a feeling I have about them per se, or angry at them for the way that they are (even if it is because they are refusing to put their shoes on or have just deliberately thrown a bowl of cheerios on the floor #blessed…).
I try and talk about feelings with my 6 year old in this way, and practise breathing stuff with him when he’s visited by anger. We have a “positive journal” which he loves writing in and we tend to take it out and about with us. One moment that broke my heart was when we were out at a café in Poole for lunch and Maurice wrote in his journal “I’m grateful for having fish and chips for lunch” and was so happy with himself and his impending lunch, and then we were told by the waitress that they had run out of fish and chips…lol…and actually he was totally fine with a jacket potato when at other times he might have flipped out, so it made me realise that there is a resilience there, you just need to nurture it and rather than always pre-empting the negative reactions I need to point out and celebrate the positives more. It all adds up like putting beautiful pebbles in a jar.
With my 3 year old I let him stomp and shout and huff, always offer hugs, and allow him to feel anger, sadness, etc rather than telling him not to or trying to shut it down and tell him to cheer up and be bright and happy. It’s a learning curve which I don’t get right 100% of the time by any means, but the intention is there….
Who helps you in the dark? (In your pits, your mental rock bottom - who is your hero?)
My best friend from university lives in Aberdeenshire which is so fricking far away it’s really unfair we basically never see each other in person any more since having kids, but despite this, we are always each other’s crutches. I know that however I’m feeling, however bleak or neurotic or “crazy” she will always understand and not judge me, and vice versa, and even just checking in with a quick Whatsapp is lifesaving in those moments. So that is a really important support, even if it’s not face to face. And my husband understands me, and isn’t judgmental or dismissive of peaks and troughs, which I am forever grateful for.
What helps you in the light? (Meditation? Procrastination? Perspiration? People?)
Green space, listening to music, Pilates, yoga, seeing friends, laughter. Time alone. Pottering in my very tiny garden.
Is it hard to talk about your mental health? (Doesn't mean on Instagram necessarily, but do you feel the stigma is lifting and do you feel safe to speak your mind, even if it is possibly 'mental'?)
I think it is still quite hard, in person. Without feeling guilt or fear. I sometimes worry what my mum and dad think about me being so open about stuff. But then my mum’s sister committed suicide when she was a teenager…mental health has therefore cast its shadow hugely over our family history, so I know that it is only a good thing to explore these things outwardly , publicly, without shame or embarrassment, and find ways of gaining peace rather than keeping it all in.
Where’s your head at?
Really good thanks! Hormones are on an even keel, I’ve drunk enough water and not too much caffeine, lols. I feel a normal amount of worry appropriately mingled with action plans to overcome said worry. My internal dialogue is supportive rather than critical. So it’s all good today, thumbs up.
Soft Play or Rehab?
Love a bit of softplay as long as there aren’t loads of school kids being bonkers. Is it weird that I actually really enjoy tumbling around with my toddler in softplay when it’s relatively peaceful and not too many of other people’s children, ha.
Jacobs Creek or a Jacobs Cracker?
Creek all the way. Actually I feel quite lucky in that vino doesn’t trigger anxiety for me at all, I don’t get “beer fear” like I used to in my pre-kids days of drinking way too much and then over analyzing things I’ve said or done. I feel like those days are behind me.
Nut Job or Nut Allergy?
Total nut job.
Self Care or Self Sabotage?
I am very big on self care now. I guess I have to be, I’ve hung a career around it…but yes. I am much much better at not self-sabotaging, but I used to be the queen of self sabotage. Still a work in progress some days/times of the month.
Journal or jog?
Both. Both are really important. Although when you say “jog” you mean brisk stroll, yoga, swim, right? Not much of a runner…wish I was, and have tried and tried to be, but I Just. Don’t. Enjoy it. That runner’s high always eludes me. Love a swim though.
Ask for help or happy to hermit?
Both….I know now that when I’m feeling low and I hermit, this is a sign of descending into The Spiral. So I am a bit better at not responding to my hermit tendencies then. But actually I am a happy introvert and I need to have space to recharge on my own otherwise I turn into Howling Wolf.
If you'd like to read more conversations with Mental Muthas, click HERE.
Women talking unashamedly about their mental health and parenting innit.