THE NEW NORMAL
If I could choose one word to describe the health visitor I had after my son’s birth, it would be ‘bored’. I don’t blame her, day after day spent in the same way, answering the same questions; I’m sure one vagina blends into another after a while. At my first home visit she perched on the edge of the sofa, between a pile of clean(ish) washing and a stack of baby manuals and went through her checklist with a glazed look on her face. Was he eating? Was he peeing? Was he sleeping? Was he waking? And finally, almost as an afterthought, was I okay? I was not okay. I was exhausted. Yes, all new mums are exhausted but I was more exhausted than any person living had ever been. I had the kind exhaustion you could die from (I had Googled it). I was scared. Yes, all new mums are scared but I was more scared. I knew I would drop my baby; I knew that it was only a matter of time before he would fall from a bridge or a cliff, even though I rarely left my house. I wasn’t even living in the same timezone as ‘okay’ but I said, ‘yep, I’m fine.’ And she ticked her box. I told her I was fine because I had a genuine fear that saying otherwise would trigger a train of events that would result in my son being removed from my care and I also said I was fine because, that’s just what you say innit?
I kept saying it for almost a year and I think everyone bought it because they would see me and I’d have a new top from ASOS, and a funny story about a man I saw on the train, and I had a baby, and a bed to sleep in at night and someone with all those things must be okay, right? But I wasn’t. And eventually I got tired of pretending, because pretending is hard work, and I was honest with my GP about how I was feeling. He listened, and he believed, and he offered help and I thought, maybe there’s something to this honesty business?
So, from then, I started to get real about my mental health concerns. Instead of dodging calls and making crappy excuses, I tell my friends when I’m not up to meeting; I sleep in late if my body and mind needs it; I have the following conversation with my mother every other week:
Mum: What’s wrong?
Me: I’m depressed.
Mum: What about?
Me: Nothing. That’s the point.
And it’s been great because everyone accepts me and even better I accept myself but something even more wonderful happened – people started to be honest with me. When I began to own up to not being okay, I heard about the secret therapy sessions, the stashed prescriptions and the nagging anxieties of those around me. My close friend told me that the sabbatical she had taken, and that I had envied so greatly, was planned after a breakdown that left her unable to work. My colleague shared that her divorce had left her so traumatised that she had been in counselling for the past year. My friends with children shared the pressure of parenthood and the strain of sleep deprivation. I started to understand that I am part of a huge community of people dealing with a truckload of shit every day. Statistics show that one in four of us in the UK will experience a mental health problem every year but those statistics show the one in four that are speaking up. What about the people still too scared to share? What about those on the edge, those that are just getting by? I’m sure that if we all came forward the confident, content, instaperfect people would be in the minority.
I’m going to keep talking and more importantly I’m going to start asking because the next person I meet might be someone desperate to tell. I think about that health visitor today and wonder if she was in fact bored, maybe she was anxious or depressed and if I had asked her what was going on for her she might have told me, because almost no one’s completely fine, that’s just not normal.
Written by Charlene Allcott
If you'd like to read more conversations with Mental Muthas, click HERE.
Women talking unashamedly about their mental health and parenting innit.