My dark thoughts look for my most vulnerable spot – and now that’s my amazing and exhausting little boy (some thoughts on parenting and mental health).

I’m writing this to make sense of how I felt yesterday. I’m sharing it because I’m sure I’m not alone. Parenting is really hard and parenting with mental health problems can sometimes be a real struggle.

Like many of us, I’ve managed mental health problems most of my life. Mainly eating problems, anxiety and depression.

Resiliance and vulnerability

I became a mum in October 2017. In some ways, it’s made me more resilient. But those dark and anxious thoughts have always found my most vulnerable spot to poke away at – and now that’s my gorgeous, loveable, wakeful, clingy, frustrating, exhausting, friendly, kind, smiley little boy.

Uncertainty, blame, guilt and comparison

When I’m really struggling with my mental health, all those normal parenting concerns are magnified. I lose all perspective. I question everything. I blame myself for his tears and worries.  I get frustrated that he rarely wants to get down from my arms and play, when there’s so much I want to explore with him. Then I feel so guilty for wanting him to be even the tiniest bit different. He’ll have enough of that in his lifetime without me doing it too.

I compare myself to others and find myself wanting. I overthink his naps, the amount he breastfeeds, the time he sleeps, the little he eats. I wish I could have his Dad’s strength and calm.

I struggle to find the energy to bounce him through the day. On the very worst days, I hold him with tears in my eyes, unable to see my way through the next ten minutes of parenting tasks, let alone the hours until bedtime. And then I feel pathetic – and guilty that he saw me cry.

My heart feels raw when I think of him. I hurt for the pain he’s bound to feel, for the upsets and the bullies and the difficulties I can’t protect him from.  And when my defences are low, I get horrible intrusive images of him falling, or drowning, or burning.  Images that send my adrenalin soaring and leave me shaky and tight chested.

Fundamental emotions, twisted and distorted

It doesn’t get to this point too often, thank goodness. Usually, I have more perspective. I’m more resilient, patient and practical. But when I do spiral down, it’s faster and harder than before.

Those fundamental mum emotions of intense love, protectiveness and wanting the best for him get twisted and distorted into guilt, sadness, fear and negativity about myself and my ability to cope.  And these emotions are so strong, so deeply fundamental, that their distortions are powerful and destructive too.

Strength and love

The love I feel for Oaklan is incredible. When I’m not with him, I feel as if I’m slightly holding my breath until we are back together (even if I’m also desperate for a break!). These feelings will never fade. I never want them too. Perhaps part of being a parent is accepting that I’ll always be dealing with deeper and stronger emotions than ever before. But I hope that by starting to recognise how they interact with my mental health, I can stop letting the worries and fears take over too easily.

We’re never alone

Almost as soon as I posted on Twitter I got this response from another mum. I knew it wasn’t just me but sometimes it feels very lonely in my head. It’s good to be reminded that we’re not alone.

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